5 Defenders the Pittsburgh Steelers Should Target in the 2014 NFL Draft
There have been some miserable performances like the 27 second-quarter points against the Detroit Lions and the 55 points, 610 yards allowed to the New England Patriots. There have also been flashes of dominance like the second-half shutout in that same Detroit game.
But an inconsistent defense isn’t what they’ve come to expect in the Steel City.
Quite frankly it’s no surprise the Steelers’ defense has had some struggles in 2013. Its best players have gotten old (Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, Brett Keisel and Larry Foote) and the replacements haven’t shown they are up for the task quite yet.
There’s good news, though. The 2014 draft is loaded with talent and Pittsburgh will likely get to pick earlier than it’s used to.
The Steelers think they got a steal in 2013’s first-rounder, linebacker Jarvis Jones, and only time will tell if Jones develops into the next great Pittsburgh linebacker. But who is the next future star to join Jones?
Here are the top five college players the Steelers should target in the NFL draft.
DT Louis Nix III, Notre Dame
The Steelers tried to get their nose tackle of the future when they drafted Alameda Ta’amu out of Washington in 2012. That experiment could not have worked out any worse.
Steve McLendon has filled in for longtime Steeler Casey Hampton in 2013 and done a reasonably good job. But if the Steelers want to turn defensive tackle into a strength like it was in Hampton’s prime, Louis Nix is their man.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly almost rode Nix out of South Bend before last season, but Nix has done more than prove himself over the last season and a half. Nix held his own against an excellent Alabama offensive line.
WalterFootball.com’s Charlie Campbell believes Nix’s combination of size, power, quickness and athletic ability makes him a perfect fit for a 3-4 defense.
For the pros, Nix would be a phenomenal fit as a nose tackle in a 3-4 defense. Good ones are tough to find, but Nix's explosive burst off the snap with his girth make him a perfect fit as a zero-technique lined up over the center.
As much as Pittsburgh’s run defense has struggled this year, Louis Nix has to be an attractive prospect for the Steelers.
DE/LB Vic Beasley, Clemson
Defensive end could become a position of need after 2013 as Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood are both free agents at season’s end. If Keisel plays anywhere in 2014 it will be in Pittsburgh, but Hood is likely on his way out of town.
No matter what happens with Keisel, the Steelers need to find someone who can put some pressure on the quarterback. The Steelers are 28th in the league in the sack department.
As one of the top pass-rushers in college football the last two years, Vic Beasley could help with the Steelers’ sack woes. Bleacher Report’s Scott Carasik lists Beasley as one of the 10 best pure pass-rushers in the 2014 draft.
In the video above, Beasley gets to Georgia's Aaron Murray with no problem.
Carasik notes that Beasley can line up at multiple positions in the defensive front seven and uses his speed and violent moves to pursue the quarterback.
If the Steelers can get Jarvis Jones going, a Jones-Beasley duo would create one of the best young pass-rushing units in the NFL.
CB Jason Verrett, TCU
The Steelers rarely use their first-round pick on a defensive back, but that’s what it would take to get TCU’s Verrett.
Verrett has come a long way since 2011 when he told his dad he wanted to quit football after a tough loss at Baylor. It was Verrett’s first game as a Frog and he was burned for three touchdowns by Robert Griffin III, Kendall Wright and Terrence Williams. Stefan Stevenson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram has that story here.
The competition in the Big 12 hasn’t gotten any weaker, but Verrett has adjusted and made a name for himself as the best cover corner in the conference.
He started the season off with an impressive performance against Zach Mettenberger and the high-powered LSU offense, recording seven tackles and a sack. He’s built off that performance and been one of the few bright spots for Gary Patterson’s disappointing Horned Frogs.
Pittsburgh could also use Verrett’s ball-hawking ability and the nine interceptions he’s grabbed in two-and-a-half years in Fort Worth. Take a look at Verrett's interception in 2012 against West Virginia's Geno Smith, shown above.
S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alabama
Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark have been mainstays in the Steelers secondary for the better part of a decade, but their time is running out together.
Rookie Shamarko Thomas hasn’t taken many snaps away from Polamalu or Clark, but he has played well in the nickel position and shown he is a viable option to start at safety in the near future.
Pittsburgh could sew up the safety position for another decade if it takes another safety early in the 2014 draft. And right now, there’s no better safety prospect than Alabama’s HaHa Clinton-Dix.
NFLDraftScout.com calls Clinton-Dix a “rangy, athletic centerfielder with excellent vision and ball skills.” He also has good coverage skills for a safety and is a hard hitter.
Clinton-Dix showed off some of those ball skills in the 2013 BCS National Championship against Notre Dame.
A year or two playing behind Polamalu would do wonders for Clinton-Dix and have him ready to take the reins at free safety.
CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State
Gilbert has the looks of a wild-card-type draft pick. He’s projected to go as early as the first round by Erik Lambert of NFL Mocks, but other projections have him as late as a Day-3 pick.
Peter Smith of WithTheFirstPick.com is one of those who isn’t sold on Gilbert as a top pick. There’s no question he has areas of his game to improve upon, such as zone coverage, tackling and run support.
On the other hand, Gilbert is an elite cornerback in man coverage and has proven himself on either side of the ball on special teams. He's taken five kicks to the house in his career, including the one shown above against Kansas.
Gilbert had a rough 2012 season but has shown more consistency and picked off six passes this season. I wouldn’t expect the Steelers to take him in the first or second round. If Gilbert is around after that, Pittsburgh should take a chance on a guy who has the potential to be a playmaker early in his NFL career.