This second round reminds me of Jimmy Johnson's draft strategy when he was head coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Johnson's strategy was to target players that would make his team better. If that player was projected lower than where the Cowboys selection was, then he would look to trade down. If the player was rated higher, then he would trade up.
It seems like a strategy that would be ideal for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2015 draft. This team has specific needs in certain areas while many other areas of the team have young developing talent that is either at a championship level or has that potential. But in order to reach the promised land, a championship push starts with significantly upgrading talent at the cornerback position while adding a significant piece that improves the team's pass rush.
The most glaring need is at the corner position. While it's nice to get the best player, the Steelers must address the role of a tall corner who can press and run with the bigger receivers in the league.
First-round options might have decreased with recent reports that Jalen Collins failed multiple drug tests during his time at LSU. In a draft that should prioritize players with high football character, Collins' failed drug tests just aren't going to make the grade. With Trae Waynes likely long gone, the Steelers first-round options seem to be Marcus Peters, Kevin Johnson, Byron Jones, and Eric Rowe. One or two of these players could be gone by pick 22.
The Steelers have showed seemingly no interest in Jones (possibly because of his shoulder injuries). Peters has legitimate questions about being a coachable player. Johnson is good in zone but lacks the frame/speed combination of a lockdown guy. Rumors persist that the Steelers really like Eric Rowe. If that's the case, that's fine. Then be aggressive and look to trade down to the bottom of the first round for a third-round pick or to the top of the second for something like a fourth and a fifth. Take Rowe and then look to use some of those picks to aggressively move up to draft a pass rusher in the top half of Round 2, because as fans there's a good chance we're going to be disappointed with what is left with the 24th pick in Round 2.
Last year, the Steelers had the luxury of a late first-round talent slipping to them at the 14th pick of the second round with Stephon Tuitt. Picking 10 spots lower this season, the Steelers likely won't have that luxury and instead could be picking from a selection of late second to third-round type of prospects.
The following are 13 draftable players I give second-round grades. I omitted late first/early second-round prospects (such as a Nelson Agholor) I feel have very little chance of slipping to pick 56. I also omitted running backs, inside linebackers, and guards with a second-round grade. I see virtually no chance the Steelers will draft those positions in Round 2.
13. Quinten Rollins - A third-round slot corner but a second-round free safety prospect. Great ball skills and a fearless, instinctive tackler. He's not fast enough to stay with NFL receivers on the outside.
12. Nate Orchard - A highly productive college player with poor measurables. My complaint about Mike Tomlin with cornerbacks is that over the last two or three seasons based off of free-agent acquisitions and draft targets, he's targeting 4.3 sprinters rather than football players. I don't want a high 4.6 corner either, but I think a corner who runs in the 4.5's has the prerequisite speed to be a great player. I don't feel the same way when it comes to outside linebackers. I like big, fast, explosive guys. A guy who lacks great size with 4.8 speed, a 31-inch vertical, 9-7 broad jump, and 4.43 20-yard shuttle is not going to cut it. James Harrison and Terrell Suggs are exceptions to the rule. Harrison's game is about leverage and power with the ability to turn the corner. Suggs has tremendous size and long arms. I want to avoid players who are underwhelming athletically and undersized. The Steelers already have one of those on the outside in Jarvis Jones.
11. Eli Harold - I watched tape against Florida State, Miami, and Pittsburgh to see how Harold performed against offensive line talent projected to go in the top two rounds from those particular programs. Harold got nowhere in those games. Besides getting blocked on nearly every play, he hardly got any push on the pocket. It left me struggling to figure why he's regarded as possibly a potential late first-round pick. I must be missing something. But all I see is a long-legged, undersized guy who will struggle to play with leverage. His 4.61 speed didn't show up for me on tape, but he is young and fast. For a team that needs a young pass rusher to develop, he might be the guy. I guess there is athletic potential there, but he's more of a right side guy and this team needs a left side guy that can set the edge. For some reason he likely won't last to pick 56. If that's the case and he's gone by the time the Steelers make their second-round selection, I won't be losing any sleep.
10. Jaelen Strong - Has a chance to be selected at the end of Round 1. The Steelers brought him in for a visit that was likely just a medical check. Strong would be good in the red zone. That said, the Steelers already have three potential championship level receivers whose arrows are pointing up. Drafting another receiver this early that would take away from rebuilding the defense, being more committed to running the ball, and therefore being more physical on offense. I would be tempted to throw my TV out my living room window should I see the Steelers select a receiver in one of the first two rounds. That's why I'm not even going to add Devin Smith to this list.
9. Michael Bennett - This defensive lineman could provide the type of outside-the-box player the Steelers could use in their nickel defense. Bennett could be a penetrating tackle in the nickel and allow Tuitt to slide out to end. Bennett could add size to the Steelers' front four, which could improve the pass rush and allow them to improve their nickel run defense in the process. Bennett to me, however, is a borderline Round 2 prospect. I thought he was on the ground way too much when I watched the tape against Alabama. For a short, squatty player, he lunges and loses his leverage too much. But I think he could be highly effective as a rotational guy.
8. Grady Jarrett - "The Disruptor" is the label I gave him while watching film. One gap penetrator with a tremendous motor. Still not sure if the Steelers plan to add this dimension to their team. John Mitchell did express an admiration for one-gap, penetrating tackles. Jarrett won't get a lot of sacks, but he makes players around him better. He would provide the same role as Bennett, only do it better. Jarrett could give the Steelers something similar to what Tim Jernigan provided the Ravens last season.
7. Ronald Darby - He has enough size and the speed to start on the outside and be a very good corner. Could be a trade-up target should the Steelers trade back and Rowe gets selected ahead of their pick (and therefore the Steelers address the pass rush). Darby will likely be gone by pick 56. Provided his character checks out, he would be a nice double-dip option should the Steelers select a corner in Round 1 and should Darby slide.
6. Mario Edwards - I thought he looked fantastic in combine drills. He had a down year trying to play over 300 pounds for Florida State last season. Edwards could be stud as a hybrid specialist if he keeps his weight in the 270s. His 4.76 speed at nearly 280 is impressive. Like Tuitt last season, a superior talent could fall to the Steelers after a failed weight gain experiment.
5. Jake Fisher - I have a first-round grade on Fisher. I think he could be the kind of second-round steal that Andrew Whitworth was for the Bengals. Fisher's ability to bend along with his athleticism is impressive. He doesn't give the Steelers am option to convert to guard. This is an example in which I'd have to stick to my board and draft best available over need. I'd develop Fisher as my swing tackle while identifying during the season which side Fisher would fit best and look to slide Marcus Gilbert or Kelvin Beachum to left guard next season.
4. T.J. Clemmings - Raw first-round talent who could slide due to a stress fracture in his foot. He could provide the Steelers the nasty, athletic guard prospect they need who also has legitimate upside at tackle. He's a premiere talent who could benefit greatly from developing under Mike Munchak.
3. Preston Smith - A trade-up target. I was pleased to see the Steelers bring Smith in for a visit last week. He provides tremendous versatility for the nickel defense. Mississippi State lined him up everywhere and also dropped him into coverage. A very good football player with a great motor. A nice fit as a player to improve the Steelers' nickel pass rush while providing the length and size to also help with the run defense.
2. Owamagbe Odighizuwa - Another trade up target, Odighizuwa has the ideal size, speed, and motor wanted in a hybrid. Owa is a much better run defender at this point, and that isn't a bad thing. The Steelers of the past were predicated on stuffing the run, making a team one-dimensional, setting up long down and distances, and releasing the hounds. Hounds like Ryan Shazier, and even Mike Mitchell, could provide blitz pressure should the Steelers develop the corners that would allow a variety of players along the front seven and secondary to go hunting. Owa isn't inept as a pass rusher. He might not have piled up sacks last season at UCLA, but unlike Harold, Owa collapses the pocket. When he does beat a tackle, too often I've seen him try to outrun the tackle and therefore get pushed out of the play rather than bend and lean into the tackle to turn to the corner. I think it's something he can learn. A player can't perform the way he did in the 20-yard shuttle and not possess the ability to bend. There's been no buzz with Owa and the Steelers, though. It's possible they may feel that the hip injuries aren't worth the the early-round investment.
1. Maxx Williams - He's not necessarily an immediate need. But teams that blindly select for immediate need are those that are perennial losers. The Steelers in the past have always done a good job of taking players for a year or two before that position became an immediate need. Williams would be an ideal player for Heath Miller to mentor. Williams would also provide more versatility in the Steelers' two-TE sets. With Matt Spaeth on the roster, there's also no need to rush Williams. Tight ends that can both block and receive are tough to come by in today's college game. Williams' father Brian was an offensive lineman for the Giants, which should provide Maxx ideal knowledge of what to expect and how to handle life on the professional level. Pass rush might be more of the priority, but Williams is the surest choice of the potential second-round targets.
All that said, it is more likely that the Steelers will remain at pick 56 rather than trading up or down. The top 11 players I rated for the second round (with the exception of Bennett) will be gone by the Steelers' turn. There is a drop-off of potential pass rushers who can play outside linebacker after the second round. How much do you factor in measurables versus how well a guy can play football? I recently watched a piece in which Rich McKay said the fortunes of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers turned when they stopped drafting measurables and started drafting the best football players. The Steelers probably don't pass on a significantly productive football player at a position of need, especially when that position has a significant drop off in talent. For those reasons, I believe it is most likely that the Steelers select Nate Orchard in the second round.