Draft '13 Overview

The bowl season is over and the draft season is underway. SCI publisher Jim Wexell provides an overview of how the prospects fit the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Just as I was lowering my ranking a bit on Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o, down to just above LSU linebacker Kevin Minter in the first round with both now ranked slightly below Georgia linebacker Alec Ogletree, I realized I had yet to watch my Alabama-Georgia tape.

My bowl season is finished, but not my catalogue of big games from the 2012 season.

So it dawned on me that every time I watch a linebacker play against running back Eddie Lacy, I lower that linebacker's ranking.

The same, I recall, occurred with Minter and LSU free safety Eric Reid, before Reid and Minter began to rebound later in the season.

I guess that's what Lacy can do to a defender's reputation, and I'll be on the lookout for how Ogletree fares against the most physical back in the country when I watch that tape later in the week.

Is Lacy a fit for the Pittsburgh Steelers? Obviously, but then again it's probably not a need since the Steelers already have a couple of physical backs on the roster and will more than likely fill a different need in the first round.

They have plenty of needs, but nothing really pressing, so that means this shapes up to be a Best Player Available first round for the Steelers, and Lacy will certainly find his place on that list.

But those BPA drafts are more difficult to predict. I'll start by eliminating the true, blue, top-10 athletes, but a quick scan of one typical media list reveals there are only three:

* LT Luke Joeckel, Texas A&M.

* CB Dee Milliner, Alabama.

* DT Star Lotulelei, Utah.

The good news for Kevin Colbert is that he'll be able to fill any need with a top 1-2-3 prospect at any position with the knowledge those players are pretty close in ability.

Let's start at quarterback. Some rankings list Geno Smith as the top prospect of them all. But would you even take the WVU signal-caller at pick 17?

Of course, that assumes the Steelers are even looking for Ben Roethlisberger's backup and a future replacement.

Matt Barkley of USC and 6-foot-6 Mike Glennon of North Carolina State will possibly be available at pick 17. Later in the first and through the second are more raw prospects such as Tyler Wilson of Arkansas, Ryan Nassib of Syracuse and underclassman Tyler Bray of Tennessee. If the Steelers were to wait until the third round, big-school vets Landry Jones and E.J. Manuel might be forgotten talents at that point, or if the Steelers wait until the fifth round, as they've done so often under Colbert, the big, mobile and inaccurate Logan Thomas from Virginia Tech, a yet-to-declare underclassman, would fit the stereotype they've already established.

Running back is another need. Lacy is expected to declare for the draft and he certainly has the power and feet the Steelers covet at that position.

Michigan's converted quarterback, Denard Robinson, proved to be a lethal threat as a tailback in his bowl game and could become the Antwaan Randle El of this draft as a second-round pick.

The rest of the RB crop is thick with speed but lacking somewhat in size, so the Steelers would be able to find quality in rounds 3-5. And a player such as Rex Burkhead of Nebraska could become the Alfred Morris of this year's sixth round.

If Mike Wallace leaves via free agency in March, the Steelers will be desperate for a wide receiver. It could even become a first-round priority, particularly if the guy who tore up LSU on New Year's Eve, DeAndre Hopkins of Clemson, opts to come out.

Keenan Allen of Cal should be another option at pick 17, or even Terrance Williams of Baylor, Tavon Austin of WVU, or Cordarrelle Patterson of Tennessee would be available in a trade-down scenario.

Stedman Bailey of WVU and Ryan Swope of Texas A&M are personal favorites in the third round. Some of the top college DBs are also raving about shifty Quinton Patton of Louisiana Tech. The underrated speedball of the 2nd-3rd round is Oregon State's Markus Wheaton.

If the Steelers expect Heath Miller to miss some early-season action, tight end could come into first-round play, and perhaps another talented tight end is necessary for Todd Haley's offense anyway.

Tyler Eifert of Notre Dame is as close to a Miller clone as there is in the draft. Stanford's Zach Ertz is more of a playmaker and less of a blocker than Eifert, while Florida's Jordan Reed is a second-round playmaker. Dion Sims of Michigan State is all blocker, and he in fact could turn into a decent tackle. He already weighs 280 and has great athleticism for a big man. Travis Kelce of Cincinnati and Gavin Escobar of San Diego State are intriguing mid-round prospects.

On the offensive line, the one position at which the Steelers could opt for first-round talent is left guard. The best is clearly Alabama's Chance Warmack, a mauler with the ability to get to and play at the second level or pull into the power side. And as witnessed last April, the top guards do fall in the first round.

A couple of nose tackles might interest the Steelers at pick 17: Alabama's Jesse Williams moved in and played well over center this season, while Ohio State's Johnathan Hankins played defensive tackle. Hankins was ranked near the top of most boards prior to the season, but lost ground with uninspired play. He might fall far enough to provide hidden value at NT with his powerful anchor.

Another player who dropped from the very top of the media mocks this season is outside linebacker prospect Barkevious Mingo of LSU.

Built like a 4-3 outside backer, Mingo played defensive end at LSU and was often neutralized in the run game. But his suddenness as a pass-rusher can't be denied and he could make for an interesting decision in the middle of the first round.

Mingo's teammate Sam Montgomery is another first-round 3-4 OLB candidate, as are Florida State's Bjoern Werner, Georgia's Jarvis Jones, Texas A&M's Damontre Moore, Texas's Alex Okafor and Oregon's Dion Jordan. They each elicit a wide variety of opinion, as is typical of defensive ends who project as rush linebackers.

A couple of "freaks" who deserve attention at pick 17, regardless of schematic fit, are BYU's Ziggy Ansah and SMU's Margus Hunt. And an interesting pass-rusher could be Auburn's Corey Lemonier, who brings to mind former Chicago Bear Otis Wilson because of his position, number, sculpted body, and the slight hip stiffness that will drop him into the second round.

At inside linebacker, Ogletree, Te'o and Minter are first-round "mikes," but 4-3 outside linebackers such as second-rounders Sean Porter of Texas A&M, Arthur Brown of Kansas State, and Khaseem Greene of Rutgers would easily transition inside in the Steelers' 3-4.

Do the Steelers really need a cornerback? Well, if the unexpected occurs and Keenan Lewis leaves as a free agent, Florida State's Xavier Rhodes fits their tradition of fast and physical cornerbacks and should be available in the pick 17 range.

Johnthan Banks of Mississippi State also fits that fast-and-physical style, and bowl-game standout Jamar Taylor of Boise State could be available in the second round.

The safety position could use an influx of talent, particularly someone to learn behind masters Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu.

A consensus is forming around Texas's Kenny Vaccaro and LSU's Eric Reid as the top free safeties. Vaccaro is better in man coverage and breaks down better in the open field, but Reid provides highlight-reel hits and probably has better ball skills.

The top strong safety is Matt Elam, a high second-rounder from Florida who's always clawing at the football as was consistently the most active of the Gators' talented defenders.

Phillip Thomas of Fresno State is a second-round ballhawk and D.J. Swearinger of South Carolina is a second or third-rounder because of his speed, toughness and desire for the football. And he knows Jadeveon Clowney! That might be enough for me, but the 2014 draft will have to wait for now.


Steel City Insider Top Stories