Pittsburgh Steelers: Louis Nix III

PITTSBURGH -- There are still a lot of intriguing players available after the first round of the NFL draft -- and more than a few that analysts had projected as first-round picks.

The second round of the draft sets up nicely for the Steelers for several reasons.

First and foremost, only 13 teams pick ahead of them. With the Texans likely to take a quarterback with the first pick in the second round and a run expected on offensive linemen at least one of the following 10 players who are really good prospects and would fill a need should be on the board when the Steelers make their second pick.

WR Marqise Lee, Southern Cal: Had once been considered one of the best wide receivers in the draft and may have been a top 10-15 pick had he entered the draft last year. The Steelers don’t have much chance of landing Lee as his free fall figures to end early in the second round.

CB Stanley-Jean Baptiste, Nebraska: Tall, rangy cornerback had been projected as a possible late first-round pick, and he would address the Steelers’ most glaring need. Steelers may get a crack at him depending on how many quarterbacks and offensive linemen are picked ahead of them in second round.

DE Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame: Another projected first-round pick who has to wait an extra night to hear his name called. The Steelers could address defensive end by selecting Tuitt, whose pass-rushing skills could make him an eventual three-down player in Pittsburgh’s defense.

NT Louis Nix, Notre Dame: Prototypical nose tackle who would be able to contribute immediately as a run stopper. The Steelers may be happy with Steve McLendon at nose tackle but Nix more fits the mold of Casey Hampton, and he would tempt them if he is still available.

WR Cody Latimer, Indiana: One of the fastest risers in the draft did not crack the first round, but he would be a great pick for the Steelers if he falls to them. Latimer has good size, speed and toughness, and he was incredibly productive despite facing constant double teams at Indiana.

DE Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota: Another player who had been widely projected as a first-round pick. Has tremendous size and physical ability but inconsistent play in college pushed him into the second round. Like Tuitt, projects as a defensive end who can provide an inside pass rush when the Steelers go to a nickel defense.

OLB Demarcus Lawrence, Boise State: The Steelers still need to bolster their pass rush and add depth at outside linebacker. Joyner would have to make the transition from defensive end to outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme but he has the athleticism to do it, and he showed in college that he can get after the quarterback.

WR Jordan Matthews, Vanderbilt: Matthews would give the Steelers a taller wide receiver and could still be available in the middle of the second round. There are questions about how well he will be able to separate at the next level but it’s hard to overlook that he is the SEC’s all-time leading receiver.

OLB Kyle Van Noy, BYU: ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. had Van Noy going in the first round of his final mock draft. Productive and versatile at BYU, Van Noy could provide quality depth at outside linebacker and also contribute on special teams early in his career.

WR Allen Robinson, Penn State: Re-wrote the Nittany Lions’ record books despite playing just two seasons. He has good size, exceptional hands and catches the ball well in traffic. The biggest question with Robinson is whether he is fast enough to thrive at the next level.
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have nine picks in the 2014 NFL draft and this is the seventh in a series that looks at the nine positions they could address in just over a week. Keep in mind the Steelers are likely to draft two cornerbacks so they may not take a player at every position covered in this series.

Our seventh look is at the defensive line:

Added: Cam Thomas

Lost: Ziggy Hood, Al Woods and Brett Keisel (unsigned free agent)

Skinny: The Steelers need a starter opposite Cameron Heyward at defensive end and they also need depth up front. I could see them drafting two defensive linemen and wouldn’t be surprised if they take a pair of ends. Minnesota’s Ra'Shede Hageman and Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt both project as defensive ends in a 3-4 scheme and they are candidates for the Steelers if they trade down in the first round. The Steelers hosted both for pre-draft visits, and Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix III is an option if he falls to them in the second round. Virginia’s Brent Urban looks like a classic 3-4 defensive end and he is a player to watch late in the draft's second day or early in the third day for the Steelers.

Draft likelihood: High

Extra points

Last DL drafted by the Steelers: Nick Williams, seventh round in 2013

Last DL drafted by the Steelers in the first round: Heyward, 2011

Last DL taken 15th overall in the draft: Albert Haynesworth, Titans, 2002

DL drafted under Kevin Colbert/Mike Tomlin: Seven

DL drafted under Colbert/Tomlin still with the Steelers: Two
PITTSBURGH -- Mock drafts have, predictably, been all over the place as far as the Pittsburgh Steelers' first-round pick. Most, however, have them taking a wide receiver or a cornerback No. 15 overall, assuming they don’t try to trade down.

I think those two positions are most likely the ones the Steelers will target with their first pick, though North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron could also be in play if he slides a little in the draft.

Ebron
Ebron is the No. 1 player at one of the few positions that is not particularly deep, and he would give the Steelers a tall receiver while also filling a long-term need. I think Heath Miller has at least three good seasons left in him, but the Steelers have to plan for the post-Miller years at some point.

If Ebron is still available when they make the first pick, I think they give him serious consideration, especially if a couple of cornerbacks are already off the board, as well as Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans.

The Steelers have eight other picks in the draft, three of which are compensatory selections, including one at the end of the third round. They have a lot of needs -- or as general manager Kevin Colbert would frame it "wants" -- particularly on defense.

Here is my projection of the positions they will address with their nine picks, which is contingent on the Steelers not adding extra ones through a trade.

Cornerback (2): The Steelers could use immediate help here, and they don't have a long-term starter at cornerback after third-year man Cortez Allen. I would be surprised if they don't draft two cornerbacks, with one of them coming in the first three rounds. They drafted two cornerbacks in 2011, including Allen in the fourth round.

Defensive line (2): The Steelers will draft a defensive lineman as early as the second round -- ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has them taking Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix III with their second pick in his latest mock draft -- and they need to take at least one end. The signing of Cam Thomas gives them a player with position flexibility, but the Steelers' need at defensive end is every bit as glaring as it is at cornerback.

Wide receiver (1): No position is deeper in the draft, and even if the Steelers don't address it in the first round, they can still get a good prospect later. The Steelers probably won't get a chance to draft Evans unless they trade up in the first round and Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin may be too much of a risk to take at No. 15. LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. has been linked to the Steelers in various mock drafts, and they could pull the trigger on him if they have him high on their board.

Linebacker (1): The Steelers have to take a player who projects as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme given how thin they are at the position. It will be interesting to see what they will do if Alabama’s C.J. Mosley is still on the board at No. 15. Mosley, who projects as an inside linebacker, may be one of the most NFL-ready players in the draft. “He and (Lawrence) Timmons could be your (NaVorro) Bowman and (Patrick) Willis,” ESPN analyst and former NFL scout Matt Williamson said. If the Steelers take Mosley, they will also draft an outside linebacker later in the draft.

Safety (1): The Steelers have hosted at least three safeties for pre-draft visits, including Louisville’s Calvin Pryor, a projected first-round pick. The signing of Mike Mitchell makes it unlikely the Steelers take a safety in the first round but it wouldn't hurt to add another younger player here. The question is whether it makes sense for them to draft a safety -- or instead sign a couple of undrafted free agents -- if they don’t take one in the second or third round.

Offensive line (1): I don't see this as the need that others do. The Steelers got their upgrade up front when they hired Mike Munchak to coach the offensive line and he has plenty of material with which to work. All five starters return, including Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, who tore his ACL eight snaps into last season. And the Steelers have depth up front after re-signing Cody Wallace and Guy Whimper. The Steelers will probably take a lineman they can develop later in the draft, but I could also see them not drafting one for the second year in a row if they take two linebackers or a tight end.

Running back (1): The Steelers need depth and they could use a speedster to complement Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount. The de-valuing of running backs allows the Steelers to wait until later in the draft to address the position and still get a good prospect. I don't see them taking a running back before the fifth round.

Analyzing Kiper Mock 4.0: Steelers 

April, 17, 2014
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The Pittsburgh Steelers usually draft so logically and sensibly that predicting the position and player they take is not that huge of a challenge.

This draft is no different. Pittsburgh, coming off consecutive 8-8 seasons, could use a receiver, a defensive lineman or a cornerback. Any would make sense.

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.


To continue reading this article you must be an Insider

CB Chris Owens visited Steelers

March, 20, 2014
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PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers hosted veteran cornerback Chris Owens for a visit this week, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Caplan.

Owens played 13 games last season, recording 58 tackles and 2 sacks. The 5-foot-9, 180-pounder also broke up three passes.

Owens played 12 games for the Browns before hurting his knee. The Dolphins signed the fifth-year veteran in December after the Browns released Owens following an injury settlement, and he played one game for Miami.

Owens has played for three NFL teams, including the Falcons, who took him in the third round of the 2009 draft, six picks ahead of former Steelers cornerback Keenan Lewis.

The Steelers need to add depth at cornerback and Owens, 27, would fit the profile of the kind of player they are looking to sign.

In other Steelers’ news:
  • ESPN.com Panthers writer David Newton reported that wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery's two-year deal with Carolina could be worth as much as $5 million. Good for Cotchery, but that price proved to be too far out of the Steelers’ range. Team president Art Rooney II told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that despite the loss of Cotchery and other free agents he is “happy with the progress” the Steelers have made. “I’m satisfied with the progress we've made in general to this date, the signings we've made,” Rooney said. "We have more work to do. It's early in the game as far as preseason preparations. I'm happy with the progress we've made so far.”
  • The Steelers were well represented at Notre Dame Pro Day on Thursday. Both general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin attended the workout for Irish draft prospects, according to Yahoo Sports’ Eric Edholm. Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix III and defensive end Stephon Truitt could be targets for the Steelers early in the draft.

Kiper's Mock 3.0: Steelers

March, 13, 2014
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PITTSBURGH -- Cornerback may be the Pittsburgh Steelers' biggest need in this year’s draft, and ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has the Steelers landing the top one on his board.

Kiper has the Steelers taking Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert with the 15th overall pick, changing his selection from Notre Dame defensive tackle Louis Nix III.

Kiper had the Steelers picking Nix in his first two mock drafts.

Kiper has Gilbert rated the 14th best player in the draft and the top one at what is considered a deep position this year.

The 6-foot, 202-pound Gilbert has good size and excellent speed. He ran the 40-yard dash in a blazing 4.38 seconds at the NFL scouting combine last month.

Gilbert’s showing in Indianapolis bolstered his stock following a season in which he intercepted seven passes, recorded 42 tackles and was a finalist for the Jim Thorpe Award, which is given annually to the top defensive back in college football.

Here is what Kiper wrote about Gilbert, who could also be a return man in the NFL:

His athlete credentials are strong. On the field, he combines short-area quickness to adjust to routes and open-field speed to run with (or past) any receiver. He has enough size and strength to redirect routes at the line and can then flip his hips and run with anybody; he rarely allows much separation. Good ball skills and hands are evident both in coverage and the return game. Given the need at the position, it's not out of the question that he lands in the top 10.

The Steelers have not used a first-round pick on a cornerback since 1997 when they selected Chad Scott 24th overall but they need to draft at least two players at the position this year.

Ike Taylor agreed to a restructured deal earlier this week but he is not expected to play for the Steelers beyond 2014. William Gay and Cortez Allen are the only other experienced cornerbacks on the roster, and the former turned 29 in January.

Gilbert or Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard would make a lot of sense for the Steelers with their first pick in the draft.

McShay Mock 3.0 reax: Steelers

March, 6, 2014
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The re-signings of Troy Polamalu and Will Allen have not made safety any less of a priority in the 2014 NFL draft. The Pittsburgh Steelers, who are not expected to re-sign starting free safety Ryan Clark, have to draft at least one safety in May in preparation for the post-Polamalu years.

The consensus is that Alabama’s Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Louisville’s Calvin Pryor are the top two safety prospects in the draft, and ESPN’s Todd McShay has the Steelers taking Clinton-Dix Insider in his third mock draft, which was unveiled Thursday.

McShay had the Steelers taking Notre Dame defensive tackle Louis Nix III in his two previous mock drafts, including one right after the NFL scouting combine. He now has the Steelers addressing their secondary with the 15th overall pick, and here is what he wrote:
"I think Pittsburgh’s priorities should be to get younger on defense and upgrade the offensive line, but in this scenario there isn’t a tackle who really justifies a top-15 pick (although Zack Martin at least merits consideration). If they trade back, nose tackle Louis Nix III could be an option, but I have enough concerns about his 2013 performance that I don’t think he’d go off the board this early. So I think this pick comes down to the best available secondary player, and Clinton-Dix is a playmaker at the safety position, with really good range."


What is interesting in regard to Nix is the one time the Steelers have traded down in the first round since Kevin Colbert joined the organization in 2000 happened in 2001. The Steelers moved from No. 16 to No. 19, swapping places with the Jets while also receiving fourth- and sixth-round picks from New York.

They used that pick on nose tackle and hit big, literally and figuratively, on Casey Hampton. Nix has been linked to the Steelers because of the perceived need for a successor to Hampton, who was not re-signed after the 2012 season.

Also noteworthy from McShay’s latest mock draft is he has the Lions taking Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans 10th overall and Pryor going to the Rams with the 13th pick in the draft.

McShay has the Bears, who pick one spot ahead of the Steelers taking Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald. He also has five cornerbacks going in the first round with Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert coming off the board at No. 8 to the Vikings.

McShay has a run on cornerback starting with the Cardinals taking Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard at No. 20. The other cornerbacks going in the first round of McShay’s mock draft are Ohio State’s Bradley Roby (Eagles), Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller (Bengals) and TCU’s Jason Verrett (Chargers).

Louis Nix shows off lighter sides

February, 24, 2014
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PITTSBURGH -- If the Steelers are looking for a worthy successor to Casey Hampton, who was not re-signed after the 2012 season, Louis Nix III measures up to the five-time Pro Bowler in one sense.

The man knows how to fill reporters’ note pads.

[+] EnlargeLouis Nix III
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsCould the Steelers look to light-hearted Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix in the draft?
Hampton was a media favorite in Pittsburgh because of his candid and colorful answers -- not to mention his tendency to generate a laugh that emanated from his ample belly -- and Nix provided one of the more entertaining interviews at the NFL scouting combine.

Here are a few gems from the former Notre Dame standout whose Twitter handle is @1IrishChocolate:

  • On feeling lighter after shedding more than 20 pounds: “Yeah man, my stomach doesn’t stick out as much. That’s kind of nice. I like that part. My thighs got a little smaller. I just feel sexier, man.”
  • On embracing salads and eschewing Five Guys Burgers and Fries: “No dressing. I eat it like chips. I just pick it up and yeah.”
  • On whether he is the best nose tackle prospect in the draft: “What do you think?” When told yes, Nix said, “Thank you.”

The question for the Steelers isn’t so much whether Nix is the best nose tackle in the draft but whether that position is worthy of the 15th overall pick.

The Steelers only played their base defense about 40 percent of the time last season, Kevin Colbert said, but the general manager also pointed out that everything in a 3-4 defense starts with the nose tackle -- and shutting down the run.

The Steelers have to be encouraged by the commitment Nix has shown since undergoing knee surgery last November to repair meniscus damage.

Nix said he has shed 23 pounds since January -- he has been training at Athletic Performance Inc in Arizona -- and that he weighed in at 331 pounds at the combine while measuring 6-2.

“I hope (the lost weight) helps my knee and I plan on staying low,” Nix said. “Hopefully my knee stays good like it is now and I’ll be good. My knee is well. I can run on it.”

Nix ran an unofficial time of 5.25 seconds in the 40-yard dash on Monday. More relevant or significant is that his knee is strong enough for him to take part in running drills in Indianapolis.

“I’m back and myself again," Nix said. "Less weight though.”

Whether he brings both of his lighter sides to Pittsburgh remains to be seen.

But if the Steelers are satisfied with what they saw from Nix in Indianapolis he figures to remain at the forefront of discussion when it comes to the team's first-round pick.
PITTSBURGH -- Louis Nix III, the top nose tackle prospect in the draft, has been linked to the Steelers as much as any player in the mock drafts that have already proliferated.

ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay have done two mock drafts apiece and each time they have had the Steelers taking Nix with the 15th overall pick.

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert rarely talks about individual players before the draft. And true to form he didn't tip his hand when discussing how the role of nose tackles has changed as the NFL has become more of a passing league.

[+] EnlargeLouis Nix III
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsNotre Dame's Louis Nix III has the prototypical size to be a space-eating nose tackle.
Colbert acknowledged that the Steelers only played their base defense about 40 percent of the time last season, and the nose tackle is the first player to come off the field when the Steelers use one of their sub-packages.

But he dismissed the notion that such math devalues nose tackles, especially on a Steelers' defense that is predicated on stopping the run.

"In a 3-4 defense you're still going to start with a nose tackle," Colbert told Pittsburgh reporters at the NFL scouting combine in Indianapolis. "You have to get into third-down situations, and those second-and-longs, too. If you don't have that player help you get to those extended downs then you're going to have problems.

The Steelers had their share of problems stopping the run last season.

They yielded 125 rushing yards per game, an increase of 30 yards from 2012, and that spike coincided with Steve McLendon taking over at nose tackle for five-time Pro Bowler Casey Hampton.

It would be unfair and inaccurate to pin the Steelers' struggles in stopping the run solely on McLendon.

It certainly didn't help that the Steelers had a rookie inside linebacker Vince Williams learning on the job in 2013. Or that the Steelers were not nearly as sound from an assignment standpoint as they have been in past seasons.

Whether they think they need an upgrade at nose tackle is another question.

When asked last week to assess McLendon's performance in 2013, Colbert said, "He did OK. He fought through some injuries and gave us some good work. But to say anybody was good enough, including myself, when you're 8-8 that's a disservice to the organization."

That qualifies as neither an endorsement nor an indictment of McLendon, which is why the Steelers are presumably open to taking a player who will be on the field less than half the time with their first-round pick.

If they use their first selection on a nose tackle, Nix appears to be the only one worthy of such a high pick.

The former Notre Dame standout fits the prototype for a space-eating nose tackle, one who can anchor the middle of the defensive line and free the inside linebackers to flow to the ball.

Nix has to check out medically at the combine after undergoing surgery last November to repair torn meniscus in his knee. It will also be interesting to see what he weighs -- the 6-2 Nix is generally listed at 345 pounds -- and what kind of shape he is in three months after his surgery.

If Nix is in good shape that would shine a positive light on his work ethic and answer questions the Steelers may have about his knee.
PITTSBURGH -- ESPN NFL draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay have the Pittsburgh Steelers taking Notre Dame defensive tackle Louis Nix III in the two mock drafts each has done to this point.

McLendon
Cian Fahey of Football Outsiders provided insight into why the Steelers need to address the middle of their defensive line. Fahey wrote that nose tackle is the Steelers’ biggest need because Steve McLendon did not prove to be a good enough replacement for five-time Pro Bowler Casey Hampton.

McLendon, according to Football Outsiders, made his average tackle following a gain of 3.0 yards, the worst of any starting nose tackle in a 3-4 defense last season.

The Steelers slipped to 20th in the NFL in defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA), according to Football Outsiders. Last season marked the first time in five years that the Steelers did not finish in the top 10 in either rushing or passing DVOA. And the Steelers allowed 125 rushing yards per game last season after surrendering just 95 rushing yards per game in 2012.

Here is an excerpt from what Fahey wrote regarding the Steelers’ need at nose tackle:

    Everything the Steelers do on defense is predicated on their ability to stop the run. The most important run defender in Dick LeBeau's scheme is the nose tackle. Casey Hampton excelled in that role for years before Steve McLendon took over last season. McLendon had thrived in a pass-rushing role, but he struggled to sustain quality play as a full-time starter at the nose.
ESPN NFL draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay each have the Pittsburgh Steelers picking Notre Dame defensive tackle Louis Nix III in their second mock drafts, which were released earlier today. Here is what each wrote about Nix, who is the top nose tackle prospect in the 2013 NFL draft.

Kiper: Insider While I project Nix here because he's an obvious system fit working directly over the center or shading a little -- eating gaps and making everyone around him (particularly behind him) more effective -- he actually has decent quickness for such a mammoth human and could also work in a 4-3. To say Nix moves like a 300-pounder is a compliment, and Pittsburgh could use some help on the defensive line, particularly up the middle.

McShay: Insider Nix performed better in 2012 than he did in 2013, and he'll be coming off a knee injury, but you simply don't find many players with his enormous size who can move like he does. Nix has the potential to develop into the Steelers' next Casey Hampton and serve as the centerpiece of their 3-4 defensive scheme. He wouldn't be Pittsburgh's only option in this scenario, however; Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Oklahoma State CB Justin Gilbert, Notre Dame OT Zack Martin and Alabama OT Cyrus Kouandjio would all be good fits. The Steelers might be able to get a bigger WR like Fresno State's Davante Adams or Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin on Day 2.

Kiper has Nix No. 22 on his Big Board of draft prospects, right behind Kouandijo and one spot ahead of Clinton-Dix.

Here is his analysis: A rare commodity, Nix has the size and strength to handle a 0-technique role when he maintains proper leverage, keeping multiple blockers occupied and eating up two gaps while making life easy for linebackers cleaning up against the run. But he's not limited to that because he can really move, at least a lot better than you would expect from a player his size. Nix is occasionally moved too easily and loses gap control.

McShay has Nix No.17 among his top 32 prospects, right behind Clinton-Dix and one spot ahead of Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard.

Here is his analysis: Nix struggled some in 2013 after a dominant 2012 campaign, and his stock could suffer as a result. But it's hard to see him falling out of the first round, given his physical abilities. He is a disruptive, space-eating, two-gap nose tackle with ideal size and above-average lateral agility and quickness for the position, and his snap anticipation and first-step quickness are excellent.
The Pittsburgh Steelers' needs, especially on defense, are such that they could go in a number of different directions with their first-round draft pick.

ESPN draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. Insider and Todd McShay Insider each have the Steelers taking Notre Dame defensive tackle Louis Nix III with the 15th overall pick, and that hasn’t changed from their initial mock drafts.

What is incumbent upon general manager Kevin Colbert and coach Mike Tomlin is addressing pressing needs later in the draft, something that the Steelers have done with mixed results in recent years.

Two positions that stand out as ones where the Steelers should be able to find good players later are cornerback and wide receiver.

"Cornerback has turned out to be a pretty decent position overall," Kiper said Thursday during a conference call. "There’s probably only going to be two to three first-round corners, a lot of second- and third-round corners so you can wait a little bit on that spot maybe."

That is what the Steelers have historically done. They haven’t drafted a cornerback in the first round of the draft since they took Chad Scott in 1997, but maybe this is the year to end that streak.

Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen and William Gay are the only experienced cornerbacks on the roster and with Allen the only one of the three who possesses any kind of upside.

Kiper said the Steelers should have their choice between the top two cornerbacks in the draft, Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard and Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert. He projects Gilbert going to the Detroit Lions at No. 10 with the Bengals taking Dennard No. 24 overall.

Wide receiver, unlike cornerback, is top-heavy in talent. But it is also deep in large part because of the nearly 100 underclassmen who have declared for the draft. Almost a fifth of those players are wide receivers.

"There’s going to be an opportunity I think at wide receiver to see guys in the third, fourth and fifth round get done," Kiper said. "That’s going to be a very deep position."

Steelers' position outlook: NT

January, 30, 2014
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This is the ninth in a series in which I will examine every position relative to the 2013 season – and look take a look ahead.

Nose tackles

2014 free agents: None.

The good: Steve McLendon made some plays in his first season as a starter, most notably in the Pittsburgh Steelers' 37-27 win over the Detroit Lions. McLendon and defensive end Cameron Heyward snuffed out a fake field-goal attempt in the fourth quarter, and the Steelers scored 14 unanswered points on the way to one of their biggest wins of the season. McLendon, who made 33 tackles in 14 games, again showed that he can help the Steelers. The question is whether he is a nose tackle in a 3-4 defense or is a better fit as a situational tackle who can also play end.

The bad: The Steelers plummeted from second in the NFL in rushing defense in 2012 to No. 21, and they gave up 25 more yards per game in 2013. That is not all on McLendon but it hardly seems a coincidence that the precipitous drop came the season after the Steelers’ parted ways with Casey Hampton. The five-time Pro Bowler proved to be an immovable force in the middle of the Steelers defense during a borderline Hall of Fame career. Any questions about how valuable Hampton was to the defense were answered the season after the organization opted not to re-sign him. Hebron Fangupo, McLendon’s backup, has more of the squat build associated with nose tackle, but he played just 13 snaps last season. And Fangupo, who turns 29 just before the start of training camp, can hardly be considered a developmental player.

The money (2014 salary-cap numbers): McLendon’s cap hit will be $2.98 million and that number is reasonable enough for the Steelers to keep him even if they take a nose tackle early in the 2014 NFL draft. McLendon can play both tackle and end and provide depth at each position if he loses his starting job at nose tackle.

Draft priority: High. The Steelers have to shore up their run defense as longtime coordinator Dick LeBeau is at his best when opposing offenses are consistently forced into second- and third-and-long. ESPN NFL draft analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay each have the Steelers taking Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix III in their initial mock drafts (first round only). A case can be making both for and against using the No. 15 overall pick on a nose tackle. For: the Pittsburgh defense is predicated on stopping the run. Against: the NFL has become such a passing league that teams play nickel as much as their base defense, marginalizing the nose tackle position.

Pittsburgh Steelers' mailbag

January, 25, 2014
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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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