As much of a shortage as the Pittsburgh Steelers have at defensive end, there probably isn’t a player at that position who is worthy of the 15th overall pick.
And the Steelers’ need at cornerback is just as acute, which is why they would be thrilled if they had a chance to take Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert.
ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has Gilbert going to the Steelers in his third mock draft, and the speedy Gilbert would contribute immediately while also shoring up the position from a long-term standpoint if he is as good as advertised. Official NFL futures odds are decent for the Steelers but the real odds are that Gilbert is selected a few picks before the Steelers are on the clock, but one can only hope for such a star player to fall to them.
He and Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard are considered the top two cornerbacks in the draft, and Kiper said on Thursday that both “could be in play” for the Steelers.
“Gilbert’s a guy to me that ability-wise deserves to be that high,” Kiper said Thursday during a conference call. “In run support [he’s] not going to be a big factor, but a lot of these corners aren’t. Darqueze Dennard, he’s great [in] run support. He’s as aggressive a tackler as you’ll ever find. I love the way he plays against the run, but this is a pass league.
“If you could take Dennard’s aggressiveness and put it with Gilbert you’d have a top-five pick. Both are real good players and both are going to go, I think, in the mid-first-round area. Some like Dennard, some like Gilbert. I give a slight edge to Gilbert, but like them both.”
The Steelers could still go in a number of different ways with their first-round pick, and free agency, which is still in its infancy, has already dropped a couple of pieces into the draft puzzle.
The signing of Mike Mitchell all but rules out the Steelers taking a safety with their first-round pick. Another signing outside of Pittsburgh could also impact the Steelers’ draft.
The Lions lured Golden Tate away from Seattle, signing the wide receiver to a five-year contract on Wednesday — and perhaps making it more likely that Detroit addresses its secondary with the 10th overall pick in the draft.
Kiper has the Lions taking Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans in his latest mock draft, but the Tate signing could allow Detroit to target a player such as Gilbert in the first round.
Kiper said he thinks Evans would still make a lot of sense for the Lions even with the signing of Tate. If not the Lions then maybe the Steelers would be a good landing spot for Evans.
“He’s solidly in the top-10 area,” Kiper said.