The Steelers go into the 2017 with two clear needs – a cornerback who can excel in man coverage and an outside linebacker that can get to the quarterback. Other needs include a backup running back, backup receiver, and help in slot coverage – whether it be with a safety, cornerback, or even inside linebacker.
This mock draft tries to realistically addresses some – but not all – of those concerns, keeping in mind the Steelers were active enough in free agency at the receiver (Hunter) and corner (Sensabaugh) spots enough to hold some of these concerns temporarily at bay.
Carl Lawson, Auburn
9.5 sacks in 2016
6’2”, 253 pounds
Lawson is one of the few edge rushers in this class who has the size and strength to stand up vs the run while excelling as a pass rusher. Good burst and a variety of pass rushing moves – he’s more seasoned than most pass rushers out of college. Think Lamarr Woodley. What he won’t give you is that quick bend around the edge or terrific ability to drop into coverage But he can play DE in their 4-3 looks and has just enough ability to cover to check that box.
2. CB Cordea Tankersely, Clemson
6’1”, 199 pounds
Tall, aggressive CB that can play man/press for a team in rural need of those skills. Can also play zone. Aggressive tackler and good at making plays on the ball with eight interceptions in two seasons as a starter. Fast, (4.40 40) but not as “quick-hipped” and can get “grabby” in coverage – that will need to be worked on. Not too dissimilar to Artie Burns who the Steelers drafted last season and to Dre Kirkpatrick, a player the team pursued in free agency.
3a. ILB Blair Brown, Ohio
5’11”, 238 pounds
Instinctive, physical inside linebacker to challenge Vince Williams at the spot. Can drop into coverage well and just has a great awareness of play development and how to diagnosis a play. The knock(s) on Brown are his short arms and small school experience. With no passes defended on college he’ll have to further develop his coverage skills at the NFL level.
3b. WR Isaiah Ford, Virginia Tech
6’1”, 194 pounds
Finally, an offensive player. The Steelers want taller receivers who can make plays downfield, and Ford can do that. He can beat press coverage and catches the deep ball well. He needs rot get stronger – a bit thin which may give him problems at the NFL level with physical DBs. But compares a lot to a guy the Steelers just signed – Justin Hunter. He has 79 catches for 1,094 yards (13,8 average) and 7 TDs in 2016.
4. RB James Connor, Pittsburgh
6’1”, 233 pounds
Everyone knows James Connors amazing story of beating cancer. He’s an inspiration in that regard alone. But the Steelers like physical backs to compliment Bell, and Connor fits that bill perfectly. He’s an extremely physical back who is also a decent receiver out of the backfield – underrated in this area. Wont outrun guys but a very good punishing runner and grit leader.
5. TE Jeremy Sprinkle, Arkansas
6’5”, 252 pounds
An adequate receiver, he’s also a very good in-;line blocker, something the team needs at the position. Think Matt Spaeth. Had 33 catches for 380 yards and 7 TDs in 2016. But he’s going to make the team by supplanting a guy like David Johnson as a blocker.
6. CB Treston DeCoud, Oregon State
6’2”, 206 pounds
Another big CB, he had 10 passes defensed and 2 interceptions in 2016. Average speed (4.57 40). Very good versus the run and has good instincts – and has played in a variety of cover schemes. His issue is speed/quickness.
7. S Tony Conner, Mississippi
6’0”, 214 pounds
Conner will provide some depth at safety as the Steelers are thin at the position. A very interesting prospect in that he played a S/LB hybrid for Mississippi. Can be effective in the slot though doesn’t have great speed (4.75 40) or play recognition to likely be an effective starting safety at the NFL level. He’s an average tackler and had 5 passes defensed last season.