This has been a tough year to gauge the draft players are still rising and falling and the draft begins tomorrow night. With the Steelers almost always drafting in the second half of the first round it is often hard to mock their first round pick. There are players you want them to draft, but the question remains: will he last 23 picks? The Steelers hold the #24 pick and there should be plenty of talented players left on the board when they make their first selection, but there is no consensus on what name will be on that draft card. The Steelers enter the draft with many needs; the most glaring need being on the offensive line. Ben Roethlisberger is entering his ninth NFL season and needs to get better protection if he plans to play another 6-8 seasons. Roethlisberger has missed too many games in his career due to injury and failing to upgrade the offensive line would be a grave mistake.
The release of James Farrior has caused an uproar by fans and analysts that the Steelers must take an inside linebacker. However, I am not sold on Alabama inside linebacker Dont’a Hightower in the first round of the NFL Draft. Hightower is a great guy on and off the field, I would never argue that, but he has had issues with his knees and his main weakness is in coverage. With the rise of quick and athletic tight ends the Steelers need an inside linebacker that has good coverage skills and can shut down players such as Rob Gronkowski. With that said you also have to factor in that the Steelers will not be reaching to draft a certain need. Some fans are campaigning for Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler in the first round, however Zeitler projects as an early second round pick. The Steelers will not use the #24 pick on a player they could get 10-15 picks later. If the want Zeitler they will trade back, acquire a pick and draft him.
Over the past few weeks I have spent a lot of time researching players and watching tape on different players who will likely be there at #24. Below is my final mock draft in preparation for the 2012 NFL Draft. There are no trades in my mock draft as these are even harder to predict. This mock will likely surprise you, but make sure you pay attention to my reasoning before bashing my picks.
Round 1 – Pick #24: Courtney Upshaw, OLB, Alabama
I know what you’re thinking; I’ve completely lost my mind. Why would the Steelers draft an outside linebacker when they need an inside linebacker and already have Harrison and Woodley? Well, Harrison is about to turn 34 and is on a very large contract; the type of contract the Steelers could look to move or cut next offseason to make room for signing some of their young players such as Antonio Brown. That can’t do so, however, unless they have a capable player in the wings to take over. Jason Worilds won’t be taking over anytime soon. Last year when Harrison missed games due to injury and suspension the Steelers moved Lawrence Timmons to outside linebacker showing their confidence in Worilds. Our Steelers friends at SteelersDepot believe have heard that Worilds could be moved inside further increasing the need for an outside linebacker. Upshaw has been falling in many mock drafts due to the rise of multiple DE/OLB prospects if he is around at #24 there is very little chance the Steelers would pass on him.
Round 2 – Pick #56: Mychal Kendricks, ILB, Cal
Some of you probably just left my site with the belief that I am completely insane, but this pick does make sense. Kendricks would be a sure-fire first round pick if he was 3-4 inches taller. He was the defensive player of the year in the Pac-12 and could potentially start at inside linebacker as a rookie. The Steelers had Kendricks in for a visit and he is a huge steal in the second round. Two linebackers in a row with the other needs on this team may not be what the fans want to see, but Kendricks and Upshaw paired with Timmons and Woodley is a fearsome line-backing core for many years to come.
Round 3 – Pick #86: Jeff Allen, OT, Illinois
Allen is one of Mike Mayock’s top five tackles in the 2012 Draft. He is not a great run blocker, but is fluid in pass protection. He could use some grooming, but if the Steelers are lucky he could start right away or at least compete with Willie Colon. He would also be good insurance in case Colon goes down with another injury in 2012.
Round 4 – Pick #119: Josh Chapman, NT, Alabama
Chapman is my favorite nose tackle in the 2012 Draft and injury concerns lingering from a knee injury suffered in 2011 are causing him to drop in the draft. He has experience in the 3-4 defense and should have a year or two to develop into a full-time player with the Steelers.
Round 5 – Pick #159: Keith Tandy, CB, West Virginia
Tandy has the tape, but not the numbers. When you see him he doesn’t blow you away with a fast 40 time or great size, but his tape is as good as some of the top corners in the draft. He will add great depth at corner and be a project for a year or two and contribute on special teams.
Round 6 – Pick #193: Ryan Miller, OG, Colorado
Miller has the potential to be a late round steal in the 2012 NFL Draft. He played well on a bad team and was the only Colorado Buff invited to the NFL Combine. He played tackle and guard in college and would provide more depth on the offensive line.
Round 7 – Pick #231 : Toney Clemmons, WR, Colorado
Clemmons doesn’t have a ton of tape, but he was a big time producer in his two years at Colorado. He caught 8 touchdown passes on a bad offense in 2011 and could help ease the potential lose of Mike Wallace.
Round 7 – Pick #240 : Ronnie Cameron, DT, Old Dominion
Small school kid that would have a shot to move to defensive end and provide depth behind Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood, and Cameron Heyward.
Round 7 – Pick #246: Josh Bush, S, Wake Forest
The Steelers need to start looking at safety as Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark won’t play forever. They will likely target a safety within the next few years. Bush is a low risk high reward guy that could at least provide depth.
Round 7 – Pick #248: Randy Bullock, K, Texas A&M
Bullock was on of the top kickers in 2011 and would compete with Shaun Suisham for the job in 2012. Lets be honest Suisham is another in the long line of recently unreliable Steelers kickers dating back to Jeff Reed and Kris Brown.