Pittsburgh Steelers: Khalil Mack

PITTSBURGH – The NFL draft is finally here. And just as the NFL did with its annual selection process I will drag out my final pre-draft coverage.

I will start with the 14 players I think will be drafted before the Pittsburgh Steelers pick. I will follow that with a compilation of mock drafts. Next will be my five most realistic targets for the Steelers followed by the player I think they will pick in the first round.

Here are the 14 players I don't think will be available when the Steelers are on the clock for the 15th overall pick tonight.

DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina: Somebody is taking him No. 1. It's just a matter of whether the Texans do or trade out of this pick.

WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson: The best wide receiver in the draft could slip a little if he doesn't go No. 2 to the Rams or No. 4 to the Browns. But he will still be an early pick.

QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M: The ultimate wild-card could go as high as No. 3 to the Jaguars. He is a big risk but some team is going to gamble on Manziel early in the draft.

OT Greg Robinson, Auburn: The comparisons to Pro Football Hall of Famers are premature but he will be a top-five pick. The only question with Robinson is whether he is the first offensive tackle taken.

OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M: Don't be surprised if the Rams take him at No. 2 over players such as Watkins and Robinson. Rams coach Jeff Fisher knows all about his bloodlines.

OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan: The Falcons at No. 6 are probably the earliest he goes off the board. Lewan is a candidate to slip but hard to imagine him lasting until the 15th pick.

WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M: The Steelers never had a chance at the tall wideout their fans wanted. Look for the Raiders to grab him with the fifth overall pick.

LB Khalil Mack, Buffalo: Don't be surprised if the Bills pick Mack if he gets past the Jaguars. He is a safer pick than Clowney but doesn't have as much upside.

DT Aaron Donald, Pitt: The best defensive player in college football last season goes in the top 10. And I see the Vikings bypassing quarterback Blake Bortles to take Donald.

OT Zack Martin, Notre Dame: Everyone seems high on the most versatile offensive lineman in the draft. It's hard to see Martin making it to No. 15.

WR Odell Beckham Jr., LSU: A player who has been linked extensively to the Steelers in mock drafts won't be there at No. 15. A team could try to trade up for one of the most explosive players in the draft.

OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA: I picked Barr after he fell to the Steelers in an ESPN NFL Nation mock draft. It won't happen in the real thing as he is too much of a playmaker and has too much upside not to go before the 15th overall pick.

S Calvin Pryor, Louisville: Big hitter could go in top 10 if Lions draft a safety at No. 10. The Bears could take Pryor at No. 14, one spot ahead of the Steelers.

QB Blake Bortles, UCF: The Steelers would love it if two quarterbacks are taken before the 15th pick. Some team is going to take the quarterback that Ben Roethlisberger predicted will be the best one in this class.
Here is the latest Steelers mailbag. The next one will run the Monday after the draft as I'm sure there will be plenty of questions to answer following the Steelers' 2014 haul. Send questions to ScottBrown_ESPN with #steelersmail.

And away we go...

 
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert has said this is the deepest draft he has seen in 30 years of scouting.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper won't go that far in proclaiming the 2014 draft a potentially special one.

"I don't see it," Kiper said Thursday during a conference call with ESPN NFL Nation reporters. "Now I think there's some positions yeah where you're going to see steals and you're going to see great bargains that you do every year."

What is noteworthy about this difference of opinion: Colbert and Kiper are viewing the draft through different prisms.

The Steelers aren't scouting any of the top quarterback prospects with Ben Roethlisberger in the prime of his career. And that is one position where Kiper said there is quantity but questions about quality particularly when it comes to the quarterbacks who are projected as the top picks.

Kiper also said there is a dearth of true pass-rushing defensive ends after Jadaveon Clowney, whom he thinks the Texans will take No. 1 overall. But the Steelers play a 3-4 defense and they would scout defensive ends who project as outside linebackers at the next level.

That is not to say Colbert or Kiper are off as far as their assessment of the overall draft; just that the two are looking at it from different angles.

Kiper has identified seven players whom he believes are elite ones in the draft and Clowney is among a group that doesn't include any quarterbacks. Rounding out what Kiper called the "Sensational Seven" are: Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson, Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews, Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan and Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans.

The Steelers are unlikely to get a crack at drafting Evans with the 15th overall pick.

If they go cornerback with their first pick Kiper has Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert rated slightly higher than Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard, who visited the Steelers on Wednesday.

But he said the two are so close that Gilbert is 1 and Dennard is 1A as far as cornerbacks in the draft.

"This is the year to get one," Kiper said of the Steelers taking a cornerback in the first round though he added that there is a bit of a drop-off at the position after Gilbert and Dennard. "A corner, wide receiver, d-line and o-line would be the positions of need, I think for the Steelers."

Steelers' position outlook: ILB

February, 3, 2014
Feb 3
4:10
PM ET
PITTSBURGH -- This is the 1tth in a series in which I will examine every position relative to the 2013 season – and take a look ahead.

Inside linebackers

2014 free agents: Stevenson Sylvester

The good: Lawrence Timmons, the Steelers' best defensive player, turned in another Pro Bowl-caliber season. The seventh-year veteran led the Steelers with 155 tackles, and he had eight games in which he had at least 10 stops. Timmons is highly productive, durable – he has started 53 consecutive regular-season games – and he is the Steelers’ best linebacker in pass coverage. Timmons tied for the team lead in interceptions (two) and also had three sacks. Vince Williams showed promise as a run-stopper after a season-ending biceps injury sustained by Larry Foote forced the rookie to start 11 games.

The bad: The Steelers gave up 30 more rushing yard game than they did in 2012, and Williams’ on-the-job training certainly contributed to the precipitous drop in their run defense. Is he the long-term answer alongside Timmons? It’s too early to tell, and he projects as the third inside linebacker if Foote returns in 2014. As well as Timmons played, there were some games in which he did not show up as much, and the Steelers have to utilize his pass-rushing skills more.

The money (2014 salary-cap numbers): Timmons’ cap hit is significant (a little over $11.8 million), and the Steelers may try to restructure his contract as he is due a base salary of $6.75 million in 2014. The Steelers could save $1.5 million by releasing Foote so there is no guarantee he returns for a 13th NFL season.

Draft priority: High. Inside linebacker could be in play with the Steelers’ 15th overall pick, especially if either Buffalo’s Khalil Mack or Alabama’s C.J. Mosley is still available or if both are still on board. The Steelers have more immediate needs on defense but it would be tempting for them to a take a linebacker to pair with Timmons, especially one who can make an impact if not start right away.

Pittsburgh Steelers' mailbag

January, 25, 2014
Jan 25
3:00
PM ET
Here is the latest Pittsburgh Steelers mailbag and thank you for all of the great questions. Those who sent questions that weren't answered they are at the top of the list for next week's mailbag. Please keep the questions coming and send them via Twitter to @ScottBrown_ESPN with the #steelersmail.

And away we go:

 

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