5 2014 NFL Draft Prospects Guaranteed to Interest the Pittsburgh Steelers

Chris Gazze@ChrisG_PITCorrespondent IJanuary 12, 2014

5 2014 NFL Draft Prospects Guaranteed to Interest the Pittsburgh Steelers

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    The 2014 NFL draft may be months away, but the Pittsburgh Steelers were able to get a jump start on their preparations following a second straight missed playoff appearance.

    Despite a strong finish to their season, the Steelers will draft in the top 20 again this year meaning that they should have the opportunity to select a very talented player.

    There are plenty of directions that the Steelers front office could go, as they need upgrades in talent across the board. However, if you listen to team president Art Rooney II, the defensive side of the ball must improve.

    Whether it is on the offensive or defensive side of the ball, the Steelers need to find players who can help upgrade the roster for the 2014 season and beyond.

    Here is an examination of five prospects from the 2014 NFL draft who fit into Pittsburgh’s system and will certainly be on their draft board.

Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State

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    Cornerback was a strength for the Steelers in 2012, but turned into a weakness in 2013.

    The loss of Keenan Lewis to free agency, combined with the regression of Ike Taylor, left Pittsburgh’s defensive backfield in trouble—let alone the slow development of Cortez Allen.

    Even if the Steelers keep Taylor for another season, there is a need to find a young cornerback with starting potential. Darqueze Dennard is arguably the best cornerback in the draft and can certainly fill that role.

    Dennard led Michigan State with four interceptions and 10 pass break-ups. He was recognized nationally as the top defensive back in the country with the Jim Thorpe Award and was named first-team All-American.

    Stats and awards aside, Dennard’s physical style of play is what makes him a fit for the Steelers.

    Dennard is very willing to step up in run support and is not afraid to put a hit on receivers. His physical nature allows him to match up well against receivers with size, including in press coverage.

    Sports Illustrated’s Chris Burke had high praise for Dennard, saying he is like “Troy Polamalu as a cornerback.”

    Dick LeBeau would have no problem working with another player like that. Dennard, combined with Allen, would provide the Steelers with two young, talented cornerbacks for years to come.

Christian Jones, ILB, Florida State

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    Nothing against Larry Foote and Vince Williams, but the Steelers need to find an upgrade at inside linebacker.

    Foote has been a dependable veteran and Williams showed some promise as a rookie, however they are limited as two-down run stoppers. An every-down linebacker to pair next to Lawrence Timmons should be the goal.

    Christian Jones is yet another Florida State linebacker who fits the bill. CBSSports.com projects him to be drafted in the second or third round.

    Jones’ versatility will make him a valuable commodity. While playing multiple positions while at Florida State, he demonstrated that not only could he defend the run, he could drop into coverage as well.

    At 6’4”, he can match up well when dropping into coverage against tight ends. However, to improve his ability to defend the run, he will likely have to add to his 235 pounds.

    According to Peter Smith from WiththeFirstPick.com, Jones “has the athletic ability to play at a number of positions.”

    One of those positions should be inside linebacker. He has the ability to defend the run, rush the passer and drop into coverage which makes this do-it-all linebacker an ideal fit as an every-down player to play next to Timmons.

Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State

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    Another Florida State prospect that should have the Steelers salivating is Kelvin Benjamin.

    As a potential first- or second-round draft pick, the 6’5”, 234-pound Benjamin has the size that Ben Roethlisberger has been requesting for years.

    ESPN.com’s Scott Brown recently stated that Benjamin should be on the Steelers’ radar.

    Benjamin is still developing as a receiver, but his upside is incredible. This season he put up incredible numbers with 1,011 yards on 54 receptions and 15 touchdowns. He would add physical presence to the wide receiver corps that the Steelers currently lack with Antonio Brown and Markus Wheaton.

    The offense appears as though it is on the verge of exploding, and Benjamin would add a missing element. They already have a speedy receiver and savvy veteran in Jerricho Cotchery. Heath Miller remains a threat at tight end and Le’Veon Bell is an emerging star at running back.

    A big, physical threat at receiver remains the missing component of the offense. Benjamin may not start this year, but within a season he would be an ideal fit to fill that role as a starter opposite Brown.

Marcus Smith, OLB, Louisville

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    After spending a first-round draft pick on an outside linebacker last season, the Steelers should look to add another middle-round prospect at the position again this year.

    The odds of the Steelers keeping LaMarr Woodley and Jason Worilds on the roster do not appear to be very high, meaning they will be lacking depth. Besides this, teams can never have enough good pass rushers.

    Marcus Smith would provide the Steelers with another outside linebacker who can get to the quarterback. He finished second in the nation with 14.5 sacks this season. He was also credited with 18.5 tackles for a loss, 12 quarterback hurries, three passes broken up and four forced fumbles.

    Simply put, Smith is a playmaker who likes to play behind the line of scrimmage. These are the types of players that the Steelers need on their defense.

    Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller recently recognized Smith as a player on the rise as he came away impressed after studying him.

    Smith would not provide an instant impact, but instead would be allowed to develop for a year or two before he really needed to contribute.

Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville

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    With Ryan Clark likely on his way out of Pittsburgh and the need to add depth at safety, do not be surprised to see the Steelers select a safety for the second straight season.

    When it comes to filling this need, you’d figure that a safety that is strong in coverage, can play center field and is a ball hawk would be the way to go. But you know that isn’t the type of safety that the Steelers like.

    They want a player who can play deep or in the box. One that can step up against the run and lay some hard hits. That is why they will be interested in Calvin Pryor as a potential second-round selection.

    After watching tape of Pryor, he appears to be the type of safety that the Steelers love. He is a hard hitter who likes to play near the line of scrimmage. From what I saw, he will have no problems stopping the run at the next level, but will need to develop in coverage.

    Pryor has excellent size at 6’2” 208 pounds and was very productive last season with 75 tackles, three interceptions, four pass breakups and two forced fumbles.

    In his recent Scouting Notebook, Matt Miller wrote that “Pryor has the ability to start from his first day as a pro safety.”

    If Pryor is available the second round, the Steelers will have a hard time passing him up. He would be an excellent candidate to replace Clark.