Until the “Draft Weekend” is upon us in late April, Fansided.com’s writers will be unveiling new and updated versions of their own 2013 N.F.L. Mock Drafts. During this period, I will be writing up weekly break-downs and providing analysis on each of Pittsburgh’s projected selections from Fansided’s weekly installments (last week’s is here). But enough of me babbling, let’s get to my take on who Josh Hill believes will be selected by the Steelers (pick #17 of 32 in the 1st Round) in his latest Mock Draft:
Johnathan Hankins, Nose Tackle, Ohio State
The Steelers have so many needs that aren’t yet dire needs. They have an aging defense that is slowly withering away, but the unit still has a few years left in it, which affords the front office to pile up replacements in the meantime. Hankins falls to the Steelers by way of some interesting moves before their pick, but you won’t hear them complaining about drafting him. Casey Hampton is 35 and by bringing in Hankins Pittsburgh won’t have to worry about a nose tackle again for another 10 years.
For those of you readers who have followed these “Fansided Draft Analysis” posts over the last few weeks, you are probably sick of my continuous argument against the possibility/likelihood of Pittsburgh selecting a Nose Tackle in Round 1 this April.
My stance on the issue however has nothing to do with my belief that Hankins will not develop into a solid N.F.L. player. The former Buckeye had an outstanding Junior season on top of an already stellar collegiate career, and he is arguably the 2nd best Defensive Tackle in this year’s draft class behind Star Lotulelei. In terms of what Hankins is able to do best, the 6’3″ 320 lb. Tackle is a “gap-clogger” and “space-eater” who can wreak havoc in the trenches. In addition to his ability to man the middle, Hankins does possess some quickness to his game which could come in handy if any 3-4 team needs him to provide a bit of pocket collapse/draw double-teams. But as solid of a prospect as Hankins is, I am still befuddled as to why the Steelers would select a Nose Tackle early, if at all, come April.
Why a Nose Tackle Early Makes Little Sense
First of all, while Hill is correct in his assumption that veteran Casey Hampton is on his way out in Pittsburgh, he would be wise to consult a recent depth chart, or at least know the name “Steve McLendon.” If did, he would know that McLendon is all but scheduled to be Pittsburgh’s next Starting Nose Tackle, and the starting gig should be his to lose this year. Behind McLendon, the Steelers already have two young and space-eating backups, Alameda Ta’amu and Hebron Fangupo, who could blossom under the tutelage of Defensive Line Coach John Mitchell.
Had Ta’amu never been allowed back after his little “joy-ride,” and Fangupo not been signed late last year, then I could completely understand a move to add another Nose Tackle to the roster early on through the Draft. But I will say it for the final time right now: If all three Nose Tackles are kept on the roster through March, then there is almost zero chance of the Steelers selecting a Nose Tackle in Round 1 with other play-makers at other positions the Steelers need possibly left on the board (i.e. Alec Ogletree, Johnthan Banks, Kenny Vaccaro, Alex Okafor, Keenan Allen).
Would Hankins Even Last to #17?:
Although Hill believes that Hankins could slide all the way down to the 17th overall selection, I am a tad more skeptical of that event actually taking place. While Star Lotulelei of Utah is more than likely to be the first Defensive Tackle off of the board within the Top 9 selections, five teams in front of Pittsburgh (#10-#16 range) could stand to use a new starter or a significant upgrade in terms of depth at the Defensive Tackle position.
The Titans, who ranked 24th in Total Rush Yards Allowed in 2012, could be in the market for a Defensive Tackle this offseason, and I explained my thoughts in my first installment of a 2013 Mock Draft:
Sen’Derrick Marks is an impending UFA and Tennessee could stand to use another stout Defensive Tackle to add to the mix with Jurrell Casey and Mike Martin if Marks leaves. A wide-bodied, yet athletic gap-clogger, Hankins (6’3″ 320 lbs.) shined during his Junior season with the Buckeyes as he logged 55 Tackles, 4.0 TFL’s, 1.0 Sack, and earned All-Big-10 honors. Hankins’ presence could also allow the Titans’ Defensive Ends Derrick Morgan and Kamerion Wimbley to have some favorable matchups on the outside, especially during pass-rush situations.
The Dolphins will be “hell-bent” on gathering as many Offensive play-makers as they can this offseason to help Ryan Tannehill’s development. Do not however count out Miami from taking a Defensive Tackle in Round 1 this year. Randy Starks will be a UFA this offseason, and fellow starter Paul Soliai will reach UFA status in 2014 if he is not extended this offseason. With little experienced depth behind Starks and Soliai, the Dolphins might wait until Round 2 to take a play-making Wide Receiver, and instead take Hankins or another Defensive Tackle prospect.
13. Tampa Bay
Although the Buccaneers have Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy as their 3-Technique, Tampa Bay’s Defensive Line would benefit greatly from the addition of a player like Hankins. The Buccaneers would be able to improve their already stout Run Defense (Ranked #1 in Total Yards Allowed in 2012) with a player like Hankins manning the 1-Technique and drawing double-teams on the interior. Hankins’ presence turn would allow McCoy to gap-shoot and use his athleticism to his advantage to make plays, and create favorable matchups for young pass-rushers like Adrian Clayborn and Da’Quan Bowers to excel off the edge.
If there is any team between Tennessee and Pittsburgh in need of the most help at Defensive Tackle, it would have to be the Panthers. Carolina will head into the 2013 season with Dwan Edwards and 34 year-old Ron Edwards playing in the final years of their contracts with the team, and Sione Fua and Frank Kearse as the backups. The Panthers’ 14th ranked Run Defense (1,761 Yards), would likely vault into a Top 10 unit with the addition of a player like Hankins. I am also sure that edge rushers Charles Johnson (12.5 Sacks last season) and Greg Hardy (11.0) would appreciate the extra attention paid by the opposition on the interior.
15. New Orleans
If the Saints’ Front Office elects not to give soon to be UFA Sedrick Ellis a new contract this offseason, New Orleans could stand to acquire a 1-Technique and run-clogging Defensive Tackle with the 15th overall selection. New Orleans’ Run Defense was utterly atrocious in 2012 as they ranked dead last in Yards per Carry Allowed (5.2), Total Rushing Yards Allowed (2,361 Yards), and Total Rushing Yards per Game Allowed (147.6 Yards). To stop from being run roughshod over on a weekly basis, the Saints would be wise to target a Defensive Tackle and even a Defensive End on Days 1 & 2 of the Draft.
With so many holes at numbers of starting positions and the lack of depth apparent on both sides of the ball, I would not be surprised to see Colbert & Co. employ a complete and total “B.P.A.” strategy with every selection. So yes, the chance always exists that Pittsburgh could take a Nose Tackle on Day 1 or Day 2 of Draft Weekend.
Logic however tells me that the Steelers would not have trumpeted and developed McLendon as the “starter in waiting” at Nose Tackle over the last two years if they were not intent on giving him the opportunity to win the job once “Big Snack” is gone. Then when you throw in the fierce competition likely to take place between Ta’amu and Fangupo for backup reps, one would have to think that Colbert & Co. would target other areas of “dire need” on the Defensive side of the ball.
As I discussed above, the only scenario in which I see the Steelers taking a Nose Tackle early, if at all, would be if Pittsburgh cut ties with Ta’amu and/or Fangupo after they allowed Casey Hampton’s current contract to expire.
Hill was right on the money when he said that the Steelers have an “aging” Defense. But I have to wonder exactly why the team would be hell-bent on adding a 3rd or even a 4th Nose Tackle when they have significant holes at Inside Linebacker and Outside Linebacker, and lack any sort of capable/proven depth at Free Safety, Strong Safety, and Cornerback.
Readers: Should the Steelers take a Nose Tackle in Round 1? Why or Why Not?
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