Steelers should spice up ‘D’

The Steelers won their last seven games of the regular season in 2016 to finish 11-5 and win the AFC North Division. They then went on to post two playoff victories.

Most people would consider that a successful season.

Yet, the lingering images that remain from the 2016 season are Tom Brady throwing to wide-open receivers in the New England Patriots’ 36-17 rout of the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game.

It’s hard to get past the idea that the Steelers were not competitive with the Patriots and that no matter how strong their offense was — with or without Le’Veon Bell — they aren’t going to be a Super Bowl participant anytime soon unless they continue to improve their defense.

With that in mind, the Steelers should be focusing on defensive picks — again — when the NFL draft begins tonight with the first round. The Steelers have selected a defensive player first in each of the last four drafts, and the trend should continue this year.

Several mock drafts have the Steelers selecting a tight end or quarterback in the first round, but that would be somewhat surprising — unless Miami tight end David Njoku lasts until the Steelers pick at No. 30.

The Steelers’ biggest needs are at outside linebacker, inside linebacker and the secondary, maybe in that order. The Steelers have four picks in the first three rounds, so they should be able to at least get one with potential at each of those positions.

In the first round, Michigan do-it-all safety Jabrill Peppers could be the Steelers’ best option. The team needs a dynamic play-maker in the secondary, and although Peppers hasn’t played much safety in his career, he would at least be someone opposing teams would have to think about when game-planning or calling audibles at the line of scrimmage.

Peppers, a kick returner, too, could possibly turn out to be a Troy Polamalu-type player and help solidify a youthful secondary — and eventually push out veteran Mike Mitchell. A recently reported diluted urine sample by Peppers might raise a red flag with the Steelers, but it might also scare off enough teams to make him available at No. 30.

If Peppers isn’t available at No. 30, Connecticut’s Obi Melifonwu could still be on the board and also has the potential to be a dynamic safety in the NFL. Getting a play-maker in the secondary should be a focus of the Steelers tonight.

Several possible outside linebackers and inside linebackers could be taken in the ensuing rounds, as those positions, especially outside linebackers, are deeper than usual this year.

It’s hard to gauge how the first 29 picks will go, but if a player with Peppers’ potential is sitting there at No. 30, it would be hard for the Steelers to look elsewhere.

The following is a stab at a possible Steelers draft scenario:

1. (30): Jabrill Peppers, SS, Michigan

2. (62): Raekwon McMillan, ILB, Ohio State

3. (94): Derek Rivers, OLB, Youngstown State

3. (105): Gerald Everett, TE, South Alabama

4. (135): Kenny Golladay, WR, Northern Illinois

5. (173): James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh

6. (213): Nate Hairston, CB, Temple

7. (248): Treyvon Hester, DL, Toledo

Buck Frank can be reached at 946-7461 or bfrank@altoonamirror.com.

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