Pittsburgh Steelers: Taylor Lewan

PITTSBURGH – It's hard to imagine a scenario in which the Pittsburgh Steelers don't use their first-round pick on a cornerback.

But it's not impossible.

One of the left tackles could slip to No. 15 and tempt the Steelers. Anthony Barr fell to the Steelers in the ESPN NFL Nation mock draft held earlier this week, and I grabbed the UCLA outside linebacker after also considering Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller and LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

Barr had 23 sacks in two season while learning to play outside linebacker on the fly. He is a playmaker who has a tremendous upside, and the Steelers need to bolster their pass rush.

The problem is I don't think Barr will be available at No. 15. I think Beckham is gone before then too with a team likely trading up to draft him.

That leads me back to cornerback and I think the Steelers will be thrilled if they have their choice of Fuller and Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard.

Both are good fits for the Steelers and I think they would be happy with either one. If they have a choice I think the Steelers take Fuller. He is a little bigger and probably has better ball skills than Dennard.

But really it could be a coin flip between the two and the Steelers would love nothing more than if they have to choose between Dennard and Fuller.

I say they do and that they opt for Fuller.
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.
PITTSBURGH -- Given a chance to lobby for a tall wide receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger took a pass.

Roethlisberger
"Anything to help this team," Roethlisberger said on 93.7 The Fan when asked who he thinks the Steelers should draft in the first round. "That’s the mindset we all need to be in because 8-8 is not good enough and we need to get back to the playoffs and the Super Bowl. Whatever the higher powers decide can help this team that’s what I’m going for."

General manager Kevin Colbert has said the Steelers plan to maximize Roethlisberger’s remaining years with the team -- Big Ben said earlier this week that he feels like he can play five to seven more seasons -- by surrounding him with talent.

One former Steelers great said the best way to do that is to bolster the unit that protects the Steelers’ franchise quarterback.

"I think in order for Ben to be successful we have to solidify the offensive line," said Pro Football Hall of Famer Dermontti Dawson. "We have to get a big-threat receiver and we have to get a running game back."

The Steelers won’t take a running back until the third day of the draft since Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount are poised to get the bulk of the carries in 2014. They could take a wide receiver in the first round, though the position is so deep I think the Steelers wait a little later in the draft before addressing it.

Would the Steelers take an offensive tackle with their first-round pick?

The top three tackles in the class -- Auburn’s Greg Robinson, Texas A&M’s Jake Matthews and Michigan’s Taylor Lewan -- are unlikely to slip to No. 15 in the draft. But Notre Dame’s Zack Martin could be available there, and he may be one of the safer picks in the draft as teams love his temperament and versatility.

ESPN analyst Todd McShay ranks Martin as the ninth-best player in the draft. He also has five tackles among his 16 highest-rated players in the draft (Virginia’s Morgan Moses is the other one).

It’s hard to see the Steelers using the first-round pick on a tackle given how many other needs they have.

But players they weren’t expecting to be available in past drafts have slipped to them so nothing can be ruled out here.
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...

 
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have nine picks in the 2014 NFL draft and this is the fifth in a series that looks at the nine positions they could address in just over a week. Keep in mind that the Steelers are likely to draft two cornerbacks so they may not take a player at every position covered in this series.

Our fifth look is at offensive tackle.

Added: None

Lost: Levi Brown (unsigned free agent)

Skinny: Draft analysts generally consider tackle a need for the Steelers, and ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has them taking Notre Dame's Zack Martin at No. 15 overall in his latest mock draft. I'd be surprised if the Steelers use their first-round pick on a tackle unless one of the top three -- Auburn's Greg Robinson, Texas A&M's Jake Matthews or Michigan's Taylor Lewan -- falls to them, and that is highly unlikely. The Steelers are more likely to entrust left tackle to Kelvin Beachum, who proved to be revelation there last season, and let Mike Adams compete with Marcus Gilbert for the starting job at right tackle. The Steelers could take a tackle later in the draft but with as many other needs that they have it's hard to imagine them using their first pick on one -- especially since they have invested a pair of first-round picks and two second-round selections on the offensive line since 2010.

Draft likelihood: Medium

Extra points

Last OT drafted by the Steelers: Adams, second round in 2012

Last OT drafted by the Steelers in the first round: Jamain Stephens, 1996

Last OT taken 15th overall in the draft: Branden Albert, Chiefs, 2008

OTs drafted under Kevin Colbert/Mike Tomlin: Four

OTs drafted under Colbert/Tomlin still with the Steelers: Two
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."

How much of a draft priority is OT?

January, 20, 2014
Jan 20
4:15
PM ET
PITTSBURGH -- The practices leading up to the Senior Bowl will give the Steelers an extended look at a handful of offensive tackles they could target if they don’t take one in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft.

Yet one of the biggest questions that will shape the Steelers' draft is how much of a priority they place on offensive tackle.

Scouts, Inc.’s Kevin Weidl lists offensive tackle as the Steelers’ biggest need Insider in this year’s draft because of questions surrounding former second-round picks Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams.

I think the emergence of Kelvin Beachum makes drafting a tackle less of a priority, but Weidl makes a good case for taking a left tackle, such as Michigan’s Taylor Lewan, with the 15th overall pick.

Ben Roethlisberger turns 32 in March and the Steelers will make another hefty investment in their franchise quarterback at some point. Prolonging his career gives the Steelers the best chance of achieving their goal of competing for the Super Bowl every season.

Weidl also makes his case by pointing out that as promising a running back as they Steelers have in Le'Veon Bell they still finished 27th in the NFL in rushing this season.

Lewan is not playing in the Senior Bowl Saturday in Mobile, Ala., and there are a number of underclassmen at tackle who are likely first-round picks but are not eligible for the game.

Ohio State’s Jack Mewhort, Notre Dame’s Zack Martin, Tennessee’s Ja'Wuan James and Clemson’s Brandon Thomas are among the tackles the Steelers could target who are playing in the Senior Bowl.

But all of those tackles are likely ones the Steelers would consider after the first round.

Weidl lists cornerback and safety as the Steelers’ biggest needs after offensive tackle.

He also writes that the Steelers could seriously consider taking a rangy wide receiver with their first pick to take pressure off Antonio Brown and complement the Pro Bowler.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have used two first-round picks and a pair of second-round selections on their offensive line since 2010.

If they are not convinced their left tackle of the future is currently with the organization, the next NFL draft is shaping up as the one for the Steelers to use another first-round pick on the offensive line.

ESPN NFL draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. said during a conference call on Tuesday that the 2014 draft should be flush with premium left tackle prospects.

Kiper has Texas A&M left tackle Jake Matthews rated as his third overall prospect among those players expected to be in the draft.

But he is also high on a number of other tackles, including Iowa’s Brandon Scherff and Auburn’s Greg Robinson.

Scherff is a redshirt junior and Robinson is a redshirt sophomore so each could return to school. But if each enters the 2014 draft they would be first-round picks, Kiper said.

Scherff actually played quarterback his sophomore year of high school before outgrowing the position. He is a good all-around athlete and Kiper couldn’t say enough about the 6-foot-5, 315-pounder.

“He’s just dominating as a run-blocker, light on his feet,” Kiper said. “He’s had a couple of mistakes in protection but other than that he’s been outstanding.”

Kiper has also been impressed with Robinson, who is listed at 6-foot-6 and 327 pounds, and plays with a maturity that belies his status as an underclassman.

“Professional already in terms of his approach and demeanor,” Kiper said. “Has everything you want.”

Kiper hasn’t soured on Michigan left tackle Taylor Lewan even though he may have hurt his draft stock by returning to school for his senior season. Kiper still has Lewan as a sold first-round pick.

“He’s gotten unfairly criticized,” Kiper said. “The bookends (of Michigan’s offensive line) haven’t been the problem.”

Kiper said as many as seven potential left tackles could go in the first round of the draft depending on how many underclassmen come out early.

Other potential first-rounder offensive tackles he mentioned specifically included Tennessee’s Antonio Richardson, Alabama’s Cyrus Kouandjio, Florida State’s Cameron Irving and North Carolina’s James Hurst.

Kiper still has South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney rated as the top overall player in the draft even though Clowney has had a disappointing junior season.

“Unless you need a quarterback or a great left tackle you take Clowney,” Kiper said of the top overall pick. “It’s hard to go through a brick wall and that’s what teams are doing, they are walling things off.”

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