The 2013 NFL Draft may be the most important one in the past decade for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
For just the third time in nine years, Pittsburgh is coming off a season in which they missed the playoffs. The Steelers went .500 in 2012, finishing third in the AFC North.
The 2003 season was the last time Pittsburgh won less than eight games. In the following draft, they selected Ben Roethlisberger and ended up with one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL.
With several quality candidates available at No.17 in the first round, will Pittsburgh be able to find another star in the draft following a disappointing season?
Pittsburgh’s defensive numbers from a year ago indicate that defensive back is not an area of need for the club. They were first in the league, allowing 185 passing yards per game and surrendered just 19 touchdowns through the air.
However, Rhodes could very well be the Steelers first choice in the draft. Longtime Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor is set to enter his 11th career season in 2014, and he missed 12 games in 2013 due to injury. It may be time Pittsburgh starts to think about his eventual replacement.
Rhodes picked off three passes in his final season at Florida St. He’s widely considered to be the second-best player at his position, right behind Alabama’s Dee Milliner.
The Steelers lost one of the biggest free agents this offseason when Mike Wallace signed a long-term contract with the Miami Dolphins. With not many quality options left on the market, Pittsburgh’s best option may be to replace Roethlisberger’s top option with their first-round pick.
In 2012, Austin was one of the best wide receivers in college football. He led West Virginia with 114 receptions, 1,289 yards and 12 touchdowns. Austin is also a return specialist and returned two kicks for touchdowns last season.
At 5’8, the former Mountaineer may be, somewhat, undersized. However, his speed and ability to get past opposing defensive backs could make him worthy of a selection at No.17 overall.
Several mock drafts have Austin being selected in the top 15 and the top wide receiver in the 2013 class. If Austin isn’t available when Pittsburgh is ready to make their first pick, Patterson might be their guy.
Patterson didn’t put up numbers like Austin in 2013, but his potential in the NFL may be even greater. He’s listed at 6’3 and 205 pounds, and would give Roethlisberger a big target opposite Antonio Brown.
At Tennessee, Patterson caught 46 passes and five touchdowns in 2012. He made the most of each opportunity, though, averaging 16.9 yards per catch.