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Thursday, April 3, 2014
Analyzing Kiper Grade A draft: Steelers

By Scott Brown

The Pittsburgh Steelers have the 15th overall pick in the NFL draft after finishing 8-8 last season. A cornerback, wide receiver or defensive lineman would make sense for the Steelers.

Mel Kiper Jr.’s Grade A 2014 mock draftInsider is out on ESPN NFL Insider today, and his choice is a position that has been linked to the Steelers, though not necessarily a player they have been presumed to be targeting.

Kiper has the Steelers taking LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., with cornerbacks Justin Gilbert and Darqueze Dennard already gone by the time they make their first selection.

Beckham is explosive and versatile, has great bloodlines and played at a high level in college football’s most rugged conference. The one thing the 5-foot-11, 198-pounder isn’t blessed with is great size, which is why black-and-gold fans might not get overly excited about this pick if the Steelers make it their first one of the draft.

Kiper has Texas A&M’s Mike Evans going off the board with the seventh pick, and he has another tall wide receiver, Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin, going to the Chiefs at No. 23. The Steelers like Benjamin, but Kiper has them taking a wide receiver who is higher on his board.

Beckham, if his play at LSU in an indication, would give quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers’ offense another big-play threat to pair with Pro Bowler Antonio Brown. Beckham caught 59 passes for 1,152 and eight touchdowns last season and averaged a whopping 19.5 yards per reception.

Beckham would give the Steelers added value as a kickoff returner, and he set LSU’s record for all-purpose yards in a season (2,315) in 2013, while also winning the Paul Hornung Award, given to the most versatile player in the county.

Beckham tested well at the NFL combine, running a 4.43 in the 40-yard dash and turning in the best overall time (3.94 seconds) in the 20-yard shuttle run. His father and namesake is a former LSU running back, while his mother ran track for the Tigers.

Kiper has the Steelers taking Louis Nix III with their second pick, and it would be a coup for Pittsburgh if the mammoth Notre Dame defensive tackle lasts until the middle of the second round. The Steelers could plug in Nix at nose tackle and consider moving Steve McLendon to defensive end.

Kiper’s third pick for the Steelers addresses the secondary, as he has them selecting Virginia Tech’s Antone Exum, who can play cornerback or safety.

Exum would be a bit of a gamble, as he missed the first seven games in 2013 while recovering from a torn ACL he sustained in an offseason basketball game and didn’t play in the Hokies’ final three games because of an ankle injury.

The 6-foot, 213-pounder excelled as both a cornerback and free safety before his hard-luck senior season. His ability to play both would add to his value with teams playing sub-packages more than their base defenses to counter passing attacks.

The Steelers’ third-round pick is a compensatory one that they were awarded last week at the NFL owners meetings. They traded their third-round pick last year for the Browns’ fourth-round pick in 2013, a selection they used on safety Shamarko Thomas.