I'll try to stay focused on the picks in the first two rounds, as it's very difficult for a novice like me to be an expert after that.
There are two philosophies the Steelers never deviate from. They certainly will not this year:
- They will draft the best player available, not based on need.
- They only draft "special" secondary players in the first two rounds.
The following picks represent my best guess at where the Steelers will go. I'll also note other players I believe they will consider.
Nate Orchard - OLB from Utah
Leadership skills, strong and has decent size. A slight chip on his shoulder coming from a smaller school will prove to be a high motivating factor. Valued highly for his character and not just on-field skills. The Steelers certainly value the individual just as much as outright talent. The pick represents a lesson learned from the Jarvis Jones selection (speed back but seems to struggle to put on the weight needed to compete at the NFL).
Other picks I considered:
- Bud Dupree - OLB - Kentucky. Shares much of the same strengths as Orchard, but widely regarded as a high-end prospect. He will likely not be available at pick 22.
- Landon Collins - S - Alabama. There is a definite chance he will be available at pick 22. I gave a slight edge to Orchard since Pittsburgh does not value the secondary like their front 7. I do not believe the Steelers deem him as "special". Former Alabama secondary players have struggled to equate to high end NFL talent (see: Mark Barron, Javier Arenas, Dre Kirkpatrick, Dee Milliner). It's easier to evaluate a talent when they are not a part of every number one recruiting class.
Maxx Williams - TE - Minnesota
Arguably the best TE prospect in the draft, but in a year that the two TE system of 2014 was not as hyped by the media. The entire motivation of this pick is a first-round talent that slipped to round 2 and can replace the aging Heath Miller. He will not be expected to compete for a starting job this year, but should almost be considered a starter when Miller's contract runs out (I believe is next year). He has the offensive touch to make him a threat, but still needs to work on bulking up to block in the NFL.
Other picks I considered:
- Byron Jones - CB - UConn. Not getting the flash of Trae Waynes or Marcus Peters, but a first/second round talent that showed up at the NFL Combine. He has good instincts and size that will evolve into a solid member of the secondary after some grooming.
- Marcus Peters - CB - Washington. With character red flags, there is a chance he drops this far. I'm not sure the Steelers can turn away with such a glaring need if he drops to them in round 2.
- Shaq Thompson - LB - Washington. Seems to have fallen off of the media radar post-combine. He seems to be able to resemble a front-7 Troy Polamalu. Major position flexibility and seems to always be around the ball at all times. I highly doubt he will slip this far, but the Steelers would not turn away from the talent.
Later Rounds Watch
I think the following late-round players will be on the Steelers watch list. They will be on the look out for longer-term value and ability to groom.
- Ifo Ekpre-Olomu - CB - Oregon. Knee injury made his draft stock slide. But, an elite talent that should not be expected to contribute in year 1. The Steelers have enough secondary depth to hobble along this year.
- Danielle Hunter - DE - LSU. Defensive line depth will absolutely be a part of this draft. A little lean for a DE prospect, but a very physical player with the strength to push around offensive linemen. Reminds me of an inexperienced Jason Pierre Paul-type prospect and has the pedigree from one of the nation's top schools.
- Clayton Geathers - S - Central Florida. A raw talent with strength and exceptional hitter. He has no issue challenging the run, which would complement Mike Mitchell's style of play. His vertical jump rated as a top performer at the combine, giving him the ability to challenge passes. Many question marks at the safety position with the unproven, injury riddled Shamarko Thomas.