By this year's third round the Steelers will likely have addressed their two most pressing needs, cornerback and wide receiver, but after those positions it gets dicey in terms of what starting roles they need to upgrade and/or the starters they may have to replace in 2015 following free agency.
V. INSIDE LINEBACKER
Jordan Tripp is being projected by some to go in Round 2. He would be an intriguing third-round selection. He has very good size, speed, and fluidity, although his physicality leaves something to be desired. With the top-tier talent gone by pick 97, I'm not sure the Steelers will invest in the inside position this high in the draft. The visits of Kevin Pierre-Louis and Jordan Zumwalt seem to suggest the Steelers will target this position in the fourth or fifth rounds.
There hasn't been any word of interest shown by the Steelers, but I would love for them to draft Telvin Smith at pick 97. I understand he's built like a wide receiver, but he's always around the ball. He's an athletic upgrade over Terence Garvin and would excel at covering tight ends in the red zone and on third downs. The Steelers have used three safeties with Troy Polamalu serving as a linebacker in their sub-packages. Smith could step into Polamalu's role as a hybrid linebacker/safety. Smith could also provide insurance while the Steelers get another year to gauge the development of Vince Williams, Sean Spence, and Garvin. At worst, the Steelers would get a quality sub-package defender. At best, he puts on another 10-15 pounds and becomes a stud inside. This would be my pick if he was available, but I think the Steelers will pass.
The Steelers could still draft another corner in Round 3, considering both returning starters could be free agents in 2015. Pierre Desir provides intriguing length and ball skills but will likely be gone. It's possible Marcus Roberson, Jaylen Watkins and/or Bashaud Breeland could slip to 97. But based on the draft-eligible corners who visited the Steelers, it looks as if they plan to draft a corner in Rounds 1 or 2 and possibly add another in Rounds 4 or 5.
III. OFFENSIVE TACKLE
Of course, Ramon Foster spoke glowingly after the season about how Gilbert gutted much of 2013 on one leg because of a quad injury, and Gilbert could show great progress under Mike Munchak's tutelage along with returning to full strength. But his questionable desire and average physical ability likely makes him replaceable.
I think it's even possible that Mike Adams could be released before training camp. Adams had a short leash from the start. The reports emerging from the court room pertaining to the night of the stabbing are troubling, from the standpoint of his drunkenness and alleged belligerence. Not that Adams should be stabbed for his behavior but being out and wasted at 3 a.m. doesn't sound like a guy who's walking a fine line after begging his way back into the good graces of the organization.
Cameron Fleming and Billy Turner are expected to be gone by the time the Steelers pick. Fleming is a Stanford guy while Turner has very good athletic ability for his size. They would be solid choices at pick 97.
Antonio Richardson has the size and strength but questionable mobility. He could be a tough run-blocking right tackle. But the Steelers might not consider him a good fit for their zone-blocking scheme.
II. OUTSIDE LINEBACKER
I could've listed Marcus Smith in my second-round breakdown because he'll be long gone by pick 97. At 6-1, 266, Chris Smith has the leverage the Steelers like on the outside but he struggles to drop into coverage. Even if Chris Smith is available, I don't view him worthy of a third-round selection.
The selection I fear is Jackson Jeffcoat. The Steelers had him in for a pre-draft visit. Watching tape of Jeffcoat, Bruce Davis came to mind. Like Davis, Jeffcoat rushes with poor pad level and with his chest up, so he doesn't collapse the pocket because he has little leverage. Like Davis and Alonzo Jackson, Jeffcoat put up good college numbers, but his lack of explosion and leverage don't translate to the pro game. Jeffcoat is a better athlete than Davis or Jackson. His 4.6 speed along with outstanding 20-yard shuttle and 3-cone times suggest he could be good in coverage. But I see him as a late fourth or a fifth-round talent.
I. DEFENSIVE LINE
I don't see the Steelers taking Penn State's DaQuan Jones. His height/weight is nearly identical to that of Steve McLendon and Cam Thomas, and so the Steelers have already cornered the market on 3-4 tweeners. I think it will ultimately come down to what those in the organization feel they have in Brian Arnfelt, McLendon, and Nick Williams. Only they know if McLendon is in the long-term plans as a nose tackle and if they see starting potential in Arnfelt as they did with a young Brett Keisel. Or maybe they would like a Casey Hampton-sized nose tackle to replace the limited Loni Fangupo. I can't get past some of the comments made by Steelers defensive players about how much they missed having Hampton anchor their defense.
Justin Ellis would seem to fit the bill. At 6-1¼, 334, Ellis is just a quarter-inch taller and 19 pounds heavier than Hampton at his combine in 2001. Ellis ran a 5.27 at the combine, while Casey ran a 5.25. Ellis, however, ran a 5.03 at his pro day. His athleticism suggests he could possibly play in sub-packages or in a one-gap scheme.
Ellis' measurements are nearly identical to that of Louis Nix. Ellis performed substantially better in the 40, vertical jump, and agility drills than did Nix. A pick at the end of Round 3 might just be the most logical for a position that sees the field approximately 35 percent of time due to modern NFL spread offenses.
If the Steelers believe McLendon is more the NT for today's NFL, they could look to a true fit at defensive end as insurance for the developing Arnfelt and Williams. Taylor Hart would fit that bill. Analysts have already compared him to Keisel and Aaron Smith.
At 6-6, Hart would provide the length the Steelers seek in their ends. Hart's stance is much like Keisel's at the line of scrimmage. While his four-point crouch looks awkward, Hart explodes off the ball from his three-point stance. On a few occasions it was clear he had a step well ahead of his teammates on the Oregon line.
Toss up a coin. Since you'll be reading about Hart elsewhere on this site, I'll go with the nose tackle.
Third round pick: Justin Ellis.