Due to the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers have been so quiet since the opening of the free agent signing period that began on Tuesday at 4 p.m., potential draft prospects are looking highly important to filling the defense that has been poached. With only four starters on the Steelers defense remaining, Pittsburgh has remained with their trend to not be especially excited about free agent additions – possibly to the franchise’s detriment.
The positions that now appear to be moving to the top of the draft board due to recent player losses are outside linebacker, cornerback and safety. Even a defensive lineman isn’t out of the question.
My mock draft board – Number 22 (Pick First Round)
I anticipate that the Steelers will toss the coin on cornerback and outside linebacker. I am strongly leaning towards outside linebacker now that Jason Worilds has retired. With the Steelers insisting they will stay at the 3-4 defense, the choices become a bit trickier.
Looking at the outside linebacker prospects (see top ten results below), I am watching for the Steelers to make a visit to see Eli Harold (Virginia) and possibly Danielle Hunter (LSU) and Nate Orchard (Utah).
Harold finished his college football career with 36.5 tackles for a loss and 17.5 sacks. Named the Touchdown Club of Richmond’s Defensive Lineman of the Year (because he played defensive end in college), All-ACC second-team and CFPA Defensive End of the Year Watch List, Harold’s numbers would put him around a 22nd pick. Harold was twice named College Football Performance Awards Defensive Lineman of the Week honorable mention (Sept. 8, Oct. 27) and was ranked third in the ACC with 14.5 tackles for a loss; sixth in the ACC with 7.0 sacks in 2014. What makes Harold interesting is an interception of Florida State’s Jameis Winston added to two passes broken up.
Hunter was a two-year starter at defensive end for the Tigers, but is also expected to transition to outside linebacker in the NFL. He finished his career at LSU with 142 tackles, 21.0 tackles for a loss of 7 yards and 4.5 sacks (27 yards). Hunter added eight passes broken up, seven quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and picked up a 25-yard fumble for a touchdown. Hunter became the first LSU defensive lineman with double-digit tackles. His size is prototypical of an NFL outside linebacker and reportedly has quick feet, good awareness and the ability to push the edge of the line while utilizing good hands.
Orchard was named All-American at Utah and was a Ted Hendricks Award and Morris Award winner. In 50 games, Orchard did not miss a single game and has proven durable despite his stock not being higher. Orchard finished his career tied in school history with 25 sacks and 38.5 tackles for a loss. Orchard also forced eight fumbles and recovered five of them. He knocked down ten passes. In 2014, Orchard was name to ten All-America teams (first team All-American by Walter Camp, FWAA, ESPN.com, Phil Steele, Scout.com and SB Nation; second team by AP, Sporting News, USA Today and FOXSports.com.
All three prospects are expected to do well in a 3-4 defense as opposed to a 4-3.
Top Seven OLB Prospects (According to WalterFootball.com)
The biggest problem with those seven guys is that they are all expected to go early – the first round. According to drafttek.com, Fowler has slipped to second place while Gregory has moved up. Beasley’s stock is also on the rise. Here is how drafttek sees the remaining players available in the first to second rounds:
Alvin Dupree – Kentucky; Eli Harold – Virginia; Danielle Hunter – LSU; Lorenzo Mauldin – Louisville; Hau’oli Kikaha – Washington; Nate Orchard – Utah
Next time I will take a look at the cornerbacks that would be available in the first and second rounds. I fully expect the Steelers to go for two corners in the draft unless they get a steal on a free agent – but that is looking less likely.