I know I write this at the beginning of every one of my posts that relate to the draft, but the draft is slowly sneaking up on us. With only 23 days to go until the big day at Radio City Music Hall, it seems as if we have less clarity this year than in recent memory. Usually with around 3 weeks to go in the draft process we have a somewhat clear picture of who the first overall pick will be. This year we have no such clear picture. Open possibilities with the first overall pick means open possibilities with the fifteenth overall pick. Here is what I think the Steelers top 15 big board should look like come May 8th.
1. Jadeveon Clowney-DE-South Carolina
He doesn’t work hard enough, he isn’t committed, he takes plays off. Blah, blah, blah. I don’t care what the mainstream opinions of him are. Clowney is without doubt the top player in this draft class, and it isn’t even that close. He has all of the physical tools and is more polished than popular opinion would suggest. Yes, he does still have a long way to go, but within his first few seasons he could be though of as the best pass rusher in the NFL. In Pittsburgh he would likely start out as a 5-tech because of need, but if the Steelers can’t work out a long term extension with Jason Worilds he would likely move to outside linebacker.
2. Sammy Watkins-WR-Clemson
Watkins comes as a close second to Clowney because of need. Watkins isn’t a slouch of a player himself, either. Many draftniks, myself included, consider Watkins to be the best receiver to come out of college since AJ Green and Julio Jones. He’s that kind of talent. Watkins has good hands and route running abilities but his greatest asset is his speed. He can easily split defenders or take the top off of a defense, which would be a huge asset in Pittsburgh for Ben Roethlisberger. Watkins and Antonio Brown would immediately form one of the best receiving duo’s in the league.
3. Jake Matthews-OT-Texas A&M
Matthews isn’t listed here because he would fill an immediate need. He wouldn’t. The Steelers offensive line is much more solid than many make it out to be, but it could be shaken in the next few years. Marcus Gilbert and Maurkice Pouncey are both set to become free agents after next year, and while Mike Adams and Cody Wallace could be stop gap solutions neither should be seen as long term starters. Matthews can play any position on the line and be one of the best in the league while doing it. He would be a huge asset for any offense in the league.
4. Khalil Mack-OLB-Buffalo
Mack may not have a home as an immediate starter in Pittsburgh, unless he would be able to beat out Jarvis Jones for the starting right outside linebacker job. He would, however, represent a huge BPA selection and give Dick LeBeau many creative formations to employ. Mack would also provide insurance in case Jason Worilds wants too much money for a long term deal in Pittsburgh. Although it isn’t likely Mack falls to pick 15, it would be great if he did.
5. Aaron Donald-DT-Pittsburgh
To everyone who will complain about this pick because Donald doesn’t fit as a 5-tech, let me explain for a moment. He doesn’t have to. The NFL quickly became a passing league over the past few seasons, and with it sub packages became more commonly used than base sets. That is where Donald would find a home. He may not be perfect for a 5-tech defensive end, but he doesn’t have to be because he will only be playing about 30% of his snaps there. He will, however, be able to penetrate and cause disruption. A quality the Steelers are desperate for.
6. Odell Beckham-WR-LSU
Yes, Mike Evans is more popular. Yes, Mike Evans is taller. Yes, Mike Evans is who many fans want to see in Black and Gold. No, I don’t think Mike Evans is better than Odell Beckham. Evans is a great player in his own right, but Beckham is better at many parts of the game. Beckham is a much better route runner and is also much better when he gets the ball in his hands. He has better hands and a better catch radius for his size. I always like to say that you shouldn’t sacrifice skill for size, and that’s exactly what the FO would be doing if they took Evans here.
7. Greg Robinson-OT-Auburn
The Steelers don’t really need an offensive lineman now, but like I said earlier, they could very well need one in the future. At some point you have to look at Robinson’s shear athleticism and power and see that it would go perfect with the le’backfield that the Steelers have created. He would be fearsome, whether lined up at right or left tackle. He would immediately solve any issues that were existing on the line and protect Big Ben for the rest of his career.
8. Jason Verrett-CB-TCU
Verrett is another player that I am very high on. Just like I said in my explanation for Odell Beckham, if you pass on Verrett for another corner you are sacrificing skill for size. Verrett is the best at pretty much everything you could want out of a cornerback, especially challenging the catch point, despite his less than imposing stature. He takes on blocks well and can defend the run. He is also a perfect fit in an off man scheme. A match made in Heaven.
9. Eric Ebron-TE-North Carolina
A month ago or even a week ago Ebron would have been much higher on this list. I did find some concern in his pro day with all of his dropped passes. Still not enough for me to keep him out of my top 10 on this list, though. He has athleticism that few other tight ends can throw at you. He is also not all that bad of a blocker, either. He would find a home in the slot with Pittsburgh until he moves into the role of full time starting tight end after Heath retires. He would be Big Ben’s best friend in the red zone for a long time.
10. Kyle Fuller-CB-Virginia Tech
Fuller can do pretty much everything Verrett can do, he just isn’t quite as good at it. He would be a perfect fit in Dick LeBeau’s scheme and, like Verrett, would be an immediate starter. He has as much upside as any corner in the draft and could easily turn out to be one of the best shutdown corners in the league. He is already showing abilities that few others have.
11. Mike Evans-WR-Texas A&M
See: Odell Beckham-WR-LSU
12. Trade Back
In a draft that is so deep and where the Steelers have so many holes, a trade back would be a perfect scenario. Picking up extra picks and also adding solid talent in the first round is a win-win. Not much could go wrong if the FO does decide to trade back because of such a deep talent pool.
13. CJ Mosley-ILB-Alabama
While I am of the camp that thinks Vince Williams could develop into a starter in the NFL, it would be hard to pass up a talent like Mosley if he falls to the fifteenth pick. He may be sliding in mock drafts right now because of a perceived knee issue, but his talent could take precedence over that on draft day. Sometimes you just have to take a very good player and hope for the best, that’s what the Steelers did with Jarvis Jones last year.
14. Kony Ealy-DE-Missouri
Ealy isn’t a perfect fit as a 5-tech by any means, but he could play the position well enough to justify a pick at fifteen. If he could bulk up 10 pounds he would man the position better than many options on the roster currently. His real value would come after Dick LeBeau retires. It is inevitably going to happen soon, and when it does, a switch to a 4-3 defense may not be far behind. He would be an ideal left DE in a 4-3 scheme. No matter where he plays, he would be an impact player in Pittsburgh.
15. Teddy Bridgewater-QB-Louisville
When a future pro-bowl quarterback falls into your lap at 15, you don’t pass him up. Ben Roethlisberger still has around five good years left, but if for whatever he reason he isn’t around that long, Teddy can step up. If Roethlisberger stays around for as long as intended, Teddy can work out whatever flaws he does have until he gets a chance to start.