By Alex Kozora
Overall, this mock is more about what I think should happen if I was in charge as opposed to what will happen. Without mocking other teams in this draft, there’s no point in predicting the latter.
Round One: Odell Beckham Jr/WR LSU – 5’11/2 198
In scribbling down different options for this mock, I kept coming back to three players: Justin Gilbert, Aaron Donald, and Beckham Jr. I’ve made my stance on cornerbacks clear although I am a big fan of Gilbert and wouldn’t be upset with the pick. Donald makes a lot of sense for a team with by far, its biggest issue at defensive end but I simply don’t believe he’ll last to 15.
Wide receiver is a slightly smaller need than some make it out to be. I believe coaches were encouraging by Markus Wheaton’s progression. A lot of players in that situation, missing OTAs, dealing with multiple injuries, wouldn’t see a snap on offense. Wheaton didn’t do much statistically but got valuable playing time on offense and became a starting gunner. All steps in the right direction.
But even with the Lance Moore signing, adding another receiver would be welcomed looking towards the future.
Beckham Jr is not tall but his play speaks volumes. He reminds me a lot of Antonio Brown. Lacks elite speed but extremely explosive and can pluck and tuck. Natural separator who shows good body control. And though he has a svelte frame, his hands are ten inches, bigger than Martavis Bryant or Mike Evans. Makes defenders miss in the open field and a strong YAC receiver.
What attracts me most to Beckham however is his versatility. You’re looking at a player who can make an impact right away, even if it isn’t at wide receiver. Beckham Jr can become the team’s starting kick returner from Day One. He was the 2013 Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player, returning 32 kickoffs and 18 punts. He also had a 100 yard return for a touchdown off a missed field goal against UAB. In all, he had 2,315 all-purpose yards his senior year, 2nd most in SEC single-season history. So even in a worst case scenario where Beckham Jr starts the year as the #4, he’ll make an impact on special teams and make his helmet worthwhile.
Some may knock this pick because the team already has a similar player in Antonio Brown, but if you told me that Beckham Jr was going to turn into the next AB, a #1 wide receiver, I’d sprint to the podium, card in hand.
Round Two: Chris Borland/ILB Wisconsin: 5’11/4 249
He’s back. I’m unapologetic about my mancrush on Borland. He went from a player I nearly dismissed after looking at his size and T-Rex arms (29 1/4 inches) but am elated I decided to give him a second chance.
It may sound bold, but I honestly think Borland is the next Luke Kuechly. What he lacks in size, he makes up for in everything else.
Fundamental tackler who can sink and snap his hips. Powerful tackler who rarely misses in the open field. Tremendous motor. Extremely active hands and rarely gets stuck on his blocks. Takes proper angles to the ball. Weight room warrior. High character. Ultra-productive career in Wisconsin and regarded as one of the top players in the Big Ten (Braxton Miller called him the best player he faced).
Wonderful article here (Link: http://espn.go.com/college-football/story/_/id/9826232/wisconsin-badgers-linebacker-chris-borland-big-ten-elder-statesman) that highlights the type of player he is. You’ll find out about his time working with children at elementary schools and what coach calls him “The Thing.”
He’s not a superior athlete but is the kind of guy that can do a backflip, kick a field goal (he has three career extra points) and can hit the crossbar from 30 yards out on the first try (Link: http://instagram.com/p/fVPOFWDgFl/# ) .
His lunch pail attitude and style makes him a leader on the field. Guy that is labeled as saying few words but when he talks, everyone listens.
Borland is well-respected by coaches, too. Northwestern’s Pat Fitzgerald and Ohio State’s Urban Meyer shook Borland’s hand and remarked how much they loved watching him play during the Big Ten media day this past summer.
For his 2013 efforts, Borland was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. In his career, the Badger started 48 games, racking up 420 tackles and 17 sacks. His 15 forced fumbles good enough for the second most in NCAA history.
I’ve maintained all along the selection of Borland has less to do with Vince Williams than it does Borland’s ability. Williams had a fine rookie season and showed growth. But I’m as certain as I can be that Borland will be a ten year starter at inside linebacker. Can’t say the same about Williams.
Give me players that I think can succeed. That’s what the draft is about. That’s what you’re getting in Chris Borland.
Round Three: EJ Gaines/CB Missouri – 5’10 190
As the Steelers tend to do, they wait until the mid-rounds to grab a cornerback. Gaines is not an elite cover corner and his five interceptions are misleading, mostly coming off lame duck throws or tipped passes, but he did help hold Mike Evans to four catches and eight yards.
What I like most about Gaines is his physicality. Isn’t a soft corner who bows out of contact. Will get his nose dirty, support the run, and you can count on him as a tackler. All critical components to play under Dick LeBeau. 244 career tackles, including 75 in 2013, illustrate that point.
Three year starter that missed just two games so he’s experienced and dependable in that regard, too.
Because the Steelers have four cornerbacks at their disposal: Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen, William Gay, and Shamarko Thomas, Gaines will have the opportunity to sit and learn for a year while contributing on special teams. He can work his way into the starting lineup from there.
I don’t feel he’ll ever be a #1, shutdown cornerback but ideally, Cortez Allen moves into that role. Allen’s ceiling allows him to become that player. Gaines is similar to William Gay but has slightly better coverage skills to be a #2 cornerback.
Round Four: Will Clarke/DE West Virginia – 6’6 273
This is where my draft gets a little murky. I’ve admitted the team’s biggest need at defensive end but recognize that it’s unlikely a rookie, in any round, will be able to remedy that problem in Year One. The team should give serious consideration to Aaron Donald should he fall in Round One and to Stephon Tuitt or Ra’Shede Hageman in the second round.
Clarke is similar to Hageman. Love Clarke’s physical tools. Imposing frame with a ton of length and can definitely add 20 more pounds to give him the weight of a five tech. Shows good strength and can hold the point of attack. Flashes as a pass rusher and has short-area quickness. At times, he was dominant.
But like Hageman, Clark is raw and maddingly inconsistent. Disappears at times. Needs to show consistently active hands to avoid getting stuck. Won’t always play to his strength. Trouble staying square to the ball against the run. And he only has one year of true production.
He does have the experience playing in a 3-4 with the Mountaineers running it last year. Will help him ease into the transition. As you saw with 4-3 defensive tackles like Ziggy Hood, sometimes they get fully comfortable playing five tech. No question that was a big reason why he jumped ship to Seattle to play under Gus Bradley.
Clarke will likely have to take extra time to gain weight and work on his technique but his ceiling his high. At its peak, he has the tools I see in Cam Heyward.
Round Five: Taylor Hart/DE Oregon – 6’6 281
Back-to-back picks at defensive end. Like pairing Hart with Clarke because they are two different styles. Hart isn’t the athlete Clarke is and frankly, doesn’t have the same ceiling. He’ll never be a dominant pass rusher.
What Hart is something very similar to Brett Keisel. Decent athlete with a non-stop motor and will be a great personality in the locker room. Part of the reason why he pairs well with Clarke and on the whole, a young defensive line. When you see a player working hard in the locker room and on the field, running down every play, it permeates to the rest of the group. In that competitive setting, no one wants to be outworked or look bad.
It’ll push someone like Clarke, who had some effort issues on tape, to be better than Hart. Because even though Clarke is more talented, Hart will outwork you. Ditto with the rest of the group. Now you don’t have an all-star but a cagey group of guys like Nick Williams, Brian Arnfelt, and now Hart.
He does have some areas of his game where he must improve. Chiefly, with his leverage. Pad level is poor and he plays too tall. Something that must be repped and develop that flexibility and muscle memory. Few better equipped to handle that task than John Mitchell.
Round Five: Ross Cockrell/CB Duke – 6’0 191
Should clarify this is the one pick I don’t support. But it feels very likely that Cockrell is one the team’s radar and if available, will be drafted by the Steelers.
Cockrell does have decent size and is a good enough athlete for the position. Earns high marks for his starting experience (49 games), academics, and leadership (two-time captain).
But I struggle to find many other positives in his game. Is past the six foot threshold but has short arms and small hands, 29 7/8 and 9 inches respectively.
I see a player that shies away from contact and is weak with hardly any functional strength. In that regard, doesn’t have the traits typically seen in a Steelers’ corner. But good chance he gets selected and fulfills the team’s manta of double-dipping at cornerback in the middle rounds.
Round Six: John Urschel/OG Penn St – 6’3 313
Some “experts” may profess the Steelers need help along the offensive line. Those are probably the same “experts” who think the defense is old and Steve McLendon is not a capable nose tackle.
The team has a core starting five but depth is a little murky. Nik Embernate will probably be a camp darling but what he can offer is unknown. Fenando Velasco could be re-signed but that remains to be seen.
The Steelers give Mike Munchak a toy to play around with. A smart, technically sound player like Munchak was in his Hall of Fame career, Urschel played in a zone blocking scheme in Happy Valley. Same system the Steelers will try to revive after flaming out under Jack Bicknell Jr. All he did was scoop and reach block and Urschel is a better athlete than probably given credit for. Above average strength and shows the nasty in his game that’s appropriate for an offensive lineman.
He should fit in well as a backup lineman. Although he only played right guard in college, he’ll have to learn to play multiple spots. Considering how smart he is, he’s working on his second masters degree, that shouldn’t be an issue.
Round Six: Quincy Enunwa/WR Nebraska – 6’2 225
Third position the team has double-dipped at. Another man crush, Enunwa compares to a slightly bigger Hines Ward. Loves to block and got a lot of experience at Nebraska. Cornhuskers ran it nearly 1250 times the last two seasons.
Shows toughness at and willing to absorb a blow to make a catch. Quick feet who can separate and shows good body control. Captain and MVP in their 2013 bowl game, catching a 99 yard touchdown pass.
Negatives include dropping the occasional easy pass and lacks elusiveness after the catch. May never be a #1 but there’s an outside chance at has a good chance to become a “Z” receiver that will take a lot of pride in his blocking.
Round Seven: Nat Berhe/SS San Diego St – 5’10/4 193
Only player in this mock I don’t have a scouting report on. Just reading the tea leaves with Berhe, who met with the team at the Combine. Fairly productive player recording 193 tackles his last two seasons. Said to be a physical player and willing to support the run.
Nice to grab a defensive back late in the draft and throw him on special teams to see if he can make some noise.
Could also see a flier taken at tight end or running back in this round. Rob Blanchflower is the only tight end the team visited with so he’d be a favorite. I’m a fan of Storm Johnson and Jerick McKinnon though they may not last this long. Syracuse’s Jerome Smith has some LeGarrete Blount to him.
To recap, I have mocked two wide receivers, defensive ends, and cornerbacks. One inside linebacker, guard, and safety.
Assuming Brown, Wheaton, Moore, and Beckham Jr are locks to make the team, that likely leaves on spot open for Enunwa, Darius Heyward-Bey, Derek Moye, and Justin Brown. Creates a lot of competition and that’s a healthy environment in training camp.
Ditto at cornerback with five presumably locked in.
Finally add depth at defensive end with Clarke and Hart. Team goes from just four defensive ends, if you count Cam Thomas, to six. Not sure if it will happen, but re-signing Brett Keisel and getting a veteran back would be critical with all this young talent.
Get a low-floor guard in Urschel and of course, a stud in Borland.
To conclude, a list of UDFAs I’d be interested in.
Jamie Meder/NT Ashland – 6’2/2 293 An ox who played five tech at Ashland, having an extremely successful career. Not the greatest athlete but heady player who showed well at the NFLPA Bowl Game.
Roy Finch/RB Oklahoma – 5’6/3 177 Undersized scat back. Dri Archer light. Great burst and maintains speed through his cuts. Kick return value. Got in the doghouse at Oklahoma because of work ethic issues but could have a better pro career than college.
Lawrence Martin/OG South Florida – 6’3/1 318 Tea leaves here. Steelers reportedly had a visit with him. Moved to tight end/fullback after starting the year at right guard and then moved back to the offensive line during the NFL Draft Bowl Games.
Brandon McCladdie/CB Citadel – 6’1/1 221 Mentioned him in my last mock. Came into his Pro Day 20 pounds heavier than listed, possibly showing a sign of him moving to safety. Regardless, similar to Cortez Allen. Long frame and high character. Two year captain with 36 starts under his belt.
Jonathan Krause/WR Vanderbilt – 5/10/7 187 Had no intentions of watching him but caught my eye when I did a scouting report on Jordan Matthews. Willing blocker who makes up for his diminutive size. Ran a 4.37 at his Pro Day. Averaged 17 yards per catch in 2013, scoring three times.