Oklahoma State defensive back Justin Gilbert makes a catch during a drill at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis on Feb. 25.
By Ed Bouchette / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Today, there are reputations on the line, jobs at risk, money and the future at stake.
Selecting players in the NFL draft? Nah, that is the easy part. Predicting who will draft whom is where it gets dicey.
This is a tough business, these mock drafts. For a shortstop, hitting .333 should be all-star quality, yet, in mock drafts, getting one out of three right only brings ridicule. Even if general manager Kevin Colbert cannot say with assurance whether the player the Steelers covet still will be available to them tonight at No. 15, the mock drafters are expected to know.
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That is, if the Steelers stay put at No. 15. What happens if they make a trade and move down to 19 or 20? That certainly blows a hole through the whole mock draft thing. In 1987, we suggested that the Steelers trade up from No. 10 in the draft, and our mock draft actually reflected that mock trade. We picked Rod Woodson for them.
The Steelers did not trade, stayed at No. 10 and still drafted Woodson. We were wrong, but we were right!
And what if Jay Glazier is wrong, and the Cleveland Browns select Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel at No. 3? Reshuffle the entire deck.
Let’s start with some logic, which can leave the building at any time in the NFL draft. We assume the Steelers will not select a quarterback, a halfback, a center or a guard tonight. What does that leave? Plenty.
Other teams, though, will help here. There are only three offensive tackles, for example, worthy of being selected in the first 20 picks, or so all those experts say. They will be long gone by 15. So scratch offensive tackle.
Then there are the defensive linemen, of which the Steelers could use one or two. Not many of those are projected for the top half of the first round, either, and those who are will be gone, including our pick at No. 1 overall, South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney.
The Steelers also could use linebackers for depth and maybe even to start inside, or, if Jason Worilds decides not to stay, on the outside one more year. Colbert said Monday that just because they drafted Jarvis Jones first a year ago does not preclude them from drafting an outside linebacker first this year.
But, again, it looks as if the two outside linebackers judged worthy of the top 15 — Khalil Mack of Buffalo and Anthony Barr of UCLA — will be long gone when it comes the Steelers’ turn. An intriguing prospect at inside linebacker, C.J. Mosley of Alabama, could be had, but we’re guessing the Steelers go elsewhere.
Safety? It looked like a crying need before they signed Mike Mitchell, who is young enough to stick around for a while to team with Shamarko Thomas as their safety duo of the future. And there’s no sense drafting a tight end in the first round with Heath Miller still viable. Plus, Eric Ebron just is not their type.
The math yields what is left: Wide receiver and cornerback, both needs.
The Steelers long for a tall receiver for Ben Roethlisberger and would love someone such as 6-foot-5 Mike Evans of Texas A&M. Sorry, if they really wanted him they should have lost a few more games because Evans will be snapped up long before their turn.
How about Florida State’s 6-5 Kelvin Benjamin? Maybe. Some mock drafts do have them grabbing him at No. 15. We think that’s too high. He still could be their pick, but only if they trade down in the first round.
Others give LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham to the Steelers. But he is 5-11, and Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks, a lightning-fast playmaker, is 5-10. Antonio Brown has shown you do not need to be tall to make plays (Lynn Swann did, too), but the Steelers would like contrast here.
Those receivers remain possibilities, but not ours. We favor a cornerback, one of two, either Darqueze Dennard of Michigan State or Justin Gilbert of Oklahoma State. They are similar in size, both around 200 pounds, with Dennard at 5-11 compared to Gilbert at 6-0. Another possible corner for them might be Kyle Fuller of Virginia Tech, especially if they drop down.
Many mocks have paired one of those three cornerbacks with the Steelers in the first round, and there seems to be little consensus on their 1-2-3 ranking.
We will go with Gilbert as the Steelers pick at No. 15. He has the size and is the fastest of the bunch. It’s not that the other two are slow, but Gilbert has speed the others do not have. There is an old theory that you should not pick a slow or small player in the first round. If you start making exceptions, you wind up with a team that is small and slow.
Gilbert is neither. He would be the first cornerback drafted in the first round by the Steelers in 17 years, since Chad Scott in 1997. By drafting him, they would hope he also would become their second Pro Bowl cornerback since the 1982 season.
The Steelers need to invest heavily in rebuilding their suddenly no-name defense. Drafting Gilbert in the first round would be a start.
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