With April's 2012 NFL Draft soon upon us, it's time to kick it into high gear with our own mock draft info, leading us into the AFC North's Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers had a strong 2011 season. 12-4 isn't anything to sneeze at. But because they are constantly competing with the Ravens, the AFC North slipped past their grasps. Hell even the Bengals squeaked into the playoffs with a 9-7 record, which made the AFC North division the only division to have three playoff teams. The Steelers entered the playoffs on a low note after it was announced that starting running back Rashard Mendenhall would miss the rest of the year after tearing his ACL in Week 17 against the Browns. Despite a playoff appearance and a winning record, the Steelers will mostly be remembered for allowing Tim Tebow to throw an 80-yard touchdown pass to Demaryius Thomas on the first play of overtime, thus ending the Steelers season. With that memory slowly fading, lets see how the team will better themselves come draft time.
(The Steelers were given three compensatory picks: 7.33, 7.39, 7.41. These were not included in the mock.)
1st Round (1.24): Mychal Kendricks (LB), California
With James Farrior gone and Larry Foote set to turn 32 in June, look for the Steelers to inject more youth into their linebacking unit. Kendricks was named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year in 2011 after racking up 106 tackles, three sacks and two interceptions. In his college career, Kendricks has totaled 259 tackles, 13.5 sacks, four interceptions and a defensive touchdown.
2nd Round (2.24): Amini Silatolu (OG), Midwestern State
It's no surprise that the Steelers will continue to shore up an offensive line that has been inconsistent the past couple years. Silatolu isn't a name everyone is talking about, but the former Division II player's draft stock is climbing. With most of the premiere offensive tackles gone by the second round, shoring up the guard spot is key.
3rd Round (3.23): Trenton Robinson (FS), Michigan State
Ryan Clark is set to turn 33 next season and the Steelers have done a great job building for the future through the draft, so I expect 2012 to be the year they find Clark's heir apparent to the free safety spot. As a Spartan, Robinson started 32 of 46 games and recorded 229 tackles and nine interceptions (tied for 12th in MSU history). He also recorded 27 tackles in four bowl games.
4th Round (4.24): Josh Chapman (NT), Alabama
The Steelers are going to need some beef up front to replace Casey Hampton, who could be a candidate for the PUP list after undergoing ACL surgery. Both Ziggy Hood and Scott McLendon are two favorites to land the starting role, but throwing in a rookie to compete wouldn't hurt. Chapman helped the Crimson Tide lead the nation in rushing yards allowed with just 74.9 yards per game in 2011.
5th Round (5.24): T.Y. Hilton (WR), Florida International
Receiver isn't a huge area of need at the moment with restricted free agent Mike Wallace still on the team. But the team will need depth after Hines Ward announced his retirement. And if a team makes a surprise move and offers up a first rounder to the Steelers for Wallace, wide receiver could be an even higher priority. Hilton lacks size at 5'10/183, but he is an extremely solid route runner and is a reliable pass catcher. Hilton will challenge for return duties after returning six touchdowns between punt and kickoff returns in four years at the college level.
6th Round (6.24): Andrew Datko (OT), Florida State
The team will eventually address their tackle problems after they failed to land Demetress Bell in free agency. Datko's draft stock went from a possible third rounder in December to a late rounder because of injury concerns.
7th Round (7.24): Levy Adcock (OT), Oklahoma
With the left side addressed with the Datko pick, the Steelers also need help on the right side of the line. Right tackle Willie Colon simply can't stay healthy, so having insurance will help. I was going to go with tight end here, but I believe the Steelers could use one of the compensatory picks on a blocking tight end instead. It's a simple fact that the team clearly needs to give Ben Roethlisberger more protection.