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2014 NFL Draft primer: Pittsburgh Steelers

Former Michigan State defensive back Darqueze Dennard runs

Former Michigan State defensive back Darqueze Dennard runs a drill during the 2014 NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 25, 2014 in Indianapolis. Credit: Getty Images / Joe Robbins

The 2014 NFL Draft starts on Thursday, May 8, and every team will look to infuse youth and talent into their rosters. This is the latest primer in our NFL Draft two-a-days that looks at each team and which potential first-round picks would be a good fit.


2013 record: 8-8

Key offseason acquisitions: FS Mike Mitchell, WR Lance Moore, DE Cam Thomas.

Key offseason departures: LB LaMarr Woodley, WR Emmanuel Sanders, DE Ziggy Hood, FS Ryan Clark, WR Jerricho Cotchery, LB Larry Foote, DE Brett Kiesel.

Biggest holes: Cornerback, nose tackle, wide receiver, safety.

The Steelers are finally starting to get younger on defense, but will the trend continue come May 8?

The Steelers let go of a few key veterans in free agency, most notably 34-year-old safety Ryan Clark, 33-year-old linebacker Larry Foote and 35-year-old Brett Kiesel. They still could stand to get younger, particularly in the secondary with 34-year-old safety Troy Polamalu and soon-to-be 34-year-old cornerback Ike Taylor.

Personnel-wise, it appears Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard would be the best fit if he's still on the board. He's not the most athletic corner in the draft, but he plays press coverage very well and gets physical with his receiver at the line of scrimmage. That last part could become a concern with more receiver-friendly rules in the NFL, but Dennard does know when to lay off. He'd fit right into the Steelers' physical defense.

There's also Justin Gilbert, who in a way is the opposite of Dennard. The Oklahoma State product has good size at 6-foot and 202 pounds, is very athletic (4.37 in the 40 at the Combine) and has fluid hips. He also had six career kickoff returns for touchdowns. However, his technique is a little inconsistent, and he can get too aggressive at times.

Kyle Fuller, who has risen up draft boards in recent weeks, also could be an option. The Virginia Tech cornerback is very balanced in man-to-man, zone coverage and run support. He's a little on the lankier side at 6-foot and 190 pounds, and hernia surgery in November ended his senior season prematurely, but Fuller otherwise is a very solid all-around player.

They could also beef up their front seven, particularly the defensive line. The Steelers signed former Chargers nose tackle Cam Thomas but plan to use him at five-technique end (lined up heads-up with the offensive tackle), so they could still use a big guy to anchor the middle of the line.

Notre Dame defensive tackle Louis Nix is a big space-eater who would thrive as a nose tackle in the Steelers' 3-4 scheme. He can shed blocks and move well for a 331-pound person and has the strength to drive blockers back.

The Steelers also could look to replace Emmanuel Sanders (Broncos) and Jerricho Cotchery (Panthers) on offense. LSU wideout Odell Beckham Jr. could be the choice if so. He's very similar to current Steelers wideout Antonio Brown in that both are explosive and shifty with the ball in their hands and are also threats in the return game. Beckham Jr.'s catch radius is surprisingly good for a 5-11, 198-pound receiver, meaning he can snare tougher passes with ease. He's a true home-run threat.

Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin is more of a late first-round/early second-round pick, but he would be an intriguing pick for the Steelers. Benjamin is 6-5 and 240 pounds, and would give Steelers the big target that they've missed since Plaxico Burress. However, he often comes down with a case of the dropsies and still needs to refine his route running in order to become a true threat.

Other possible mid- to late-round picks include Lindenwood CB Pierre Desir, Virginia Tech CB/S Antone Exum, Tennessee DT Daniel McCullers, Delaware DT Zach Kerr, Rutgers WR Brandon Coleman and Pitt WR Devin Street.

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