1. First round, 17th overall: Jarvis Jones, DE/OLB, Georgia
This is a typical Steelers pick. I know they didn’t make the playoffs last year, but they weren’t that far removed and they replaced their most high profile loss this offseason (James Harrison) with a much more talented player who was a top five pick all year before he ran a bad 40 yard dash. My guess is, Jones will become a consistent double-digit sack guy who will cause offensive coordinators to lose sleep during the weeks they play Pittsburgh. He can pair with Lamarr Woodley and give the Steelers a killer duo off the edges right away, and despite his lack of ideal straight line speed, Jones has instincts and knows how to get pressure on the quarterback and make plays in the backfield. I think he’s a steal at 17 overall, and the teams that took pass rushers ahead of the Steelers might regret not taking him. This is a great pick. “A” Plus.
2. Second round, 48th overall: Le’Veon Bell, RB, Michigan State
Bell is going to be a huge contributor to the Steelers’ offense this year. They let go of Rashard Mendenhall, not an overly surprising move, but they haven’t brought in any other backs worth mentioning to this point. There is still the chance they could sign a guy like Ahmad Bradshaw, but until further notice, Le’Veon Bell is this team’s featured back. This is a guy who can do it all, and he has extremely impressive size at the running back position. I think in the Steelers’ style of offense, he can really succeed especially early on in his career. He is a powerful guy who has great speed for his length and bulk, and I think he can do so many things to help an offense in terms of his elusiveness and agility. I think the Steelers got a really solid player here who can start for them right away.
3. Third round, 79th overall: Markus Wheaton, WR, Oregon State
Wheaton is one of the more well-rounded receivers in the draft fundamentally. He is a great route runner, knows how to get open, and can make big plays down the field. With Mike Wallace off to the Miami Dolphins, I can’t really think of a more perfect fit for Pittsburgh’s offense. Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders will be asked to play much bigger roles this year, but Wheaton could be called upon early to be a big contributor as well. This is an explosive athlete who is very fast, and can make people miss in the open field. This pick adds depth, but also gives the Steelers insurance if Emmanuel Sanders leaves in 2014.
4. Fourth round, 111th overall: Shamarko Thomas, S, Syracuse
When I watched Shamarko Thomas play, he reminded me so much of one of my favorite NFL and college players of all time: former Iowa and Indianapolis Colts safety Bob Sanders. Thomas is like a bullet out there on the football field, but he doesn’t play without control. I think the Steelers got a second or third round type player here in the fourth round, and even though they paid a big price (2014 third round pick) I think it was totally worth it. Will Allen and Ryan Mundy departed via free agency, and Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark are getting older. It was time for the Steelers to draft some new blood.
5. Fourth round, 115th overall: Landry Jones, QB, Oklahoma
This was one of my favorite picks in the draft. I think Landry Jones is vastly underrated, and I think he’s going to a great situation in Pittsburgh. I would be willing to bet (maybe) that Jones will get a chance to play in 2013 based on the way Ben Roethlisberger’s health seems to be getting worse and more unpredictable every year. We all know how tough Big Ben is, and I think those traits and habits will be valuable for Jones to pick up on. The fact remains, Roethlisberger is entering his 10th year in the NFL and he’s not able to put together a full season it seems. The Steelers have had to use their second and even third option at times. When you watch Jones as a sophomore, he’s a top ten pick. He has for some reason declined a bit since then, but there was immense pressure and despite Oklahoma’s lack of overall success based on what we’d projected them, I think Jones showed enough to prove to me he can start in the NFL. He can sling the ball all over the field, and I love this pickup for Pittsburgh. He can develop into a starter.
6. Fifth round, 150th overall: Terry Hawthorne, CB, Illinois
Bigger corner prospect at 6’0″ 195 pounds who has incredible 4.31 speed. I think in the fifth round, his injury history is worth the risk. At worst, this guy is a key special teams player for you, but the Steelers have bigger plans. They feel like he can not only contribute at corner, but safety as well. At this point in the draft, you are looking for value, calculated risks, and depth. I think this covers all three bases there.
7. Sixth round, 186th overall: Justin Brown, WR, Oklahoma
This was a very interesting player for me leading into the 2012 season. I have been following Brown’s career since he was recruited to Iowa back in 2009, when he chose the Penn State Nittany Lions as his college football team of choice. I have talked to Brown a couple of times online, just briefly but he’s a player I’ve taken an interest in. He is a bigger receiver at 6’3″ 207 pounds, and he has underwhelming athletic ability. He is a guy who can be a possession player for you, and also give you some special teams versatility. I was really intrigued about his 2012 campaign because he decided to forego his senior year at Penn State and catch passes from Landry Jones at Oklahoma. Of course, he had limited time to learn the offense and was playing with an immensely talented group at OU, but I think Brown actually has some potential, and he will be a good guy to have on the scout team to build chemistry with Landry Jones. Solid route runner who isn’t going to overwhelm in any one area, but on the field, he is a very good player and with his production, you’d never know he runs a 4.6. This guy is a very intriguing late-round selection to me.
8. Sixth round, 206th overall: Vince Williams, LB, Florida State
I think with the status of Sean Spence in the air, the Steelers had to bring in another talented young guy to add depth. They obviously aren’t as high on Williams as they were on Spence, but this is another guy who likely fell in the draft due to his injury history. I think he can give the Steelers depth in their rotation that desperately needs it, and he can provide them with another option on special teams. He’s a pretty good athlete for a 6’0″ 233 pound linebacker.
9. Seventh round, 223rd overall: Nicholas Williams, DT, Samford
The Steelers are going to have to bring this kid along slowly, but at 6’4″ 309 pounds he ran a 4.84 at the Scouting Combine, which is beyond ridiculous. He is a former basketball player with limited football experience, but you get him with great coaching like the Steelers have, and I think in a year or two he can really flourish. This is a nice value pick in the seventh round, getting a guy who many thought had too much athletic upside not to go in the first five rounds.
Considering value, addressing needs, and players I like, the Steelers probably had the best draft among all teams in the NFL, or at least in the AFC. This is a tough class of players to argue against. Another very well-executed draft by the Pittsburgh Steelers.