Steelers Will Declare a 'No-Fly Zone' With First Round Pick

Save yourself from countless nonsensical mock drafts. The Steelers are locked in on one player.




Photo by Dave DiCello
 

 

Technically, we’re still a month away from the 2014 NFL Draft, but it’s not too early to get acquainted with the newest future member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

He was voted the best defensive back in college football last season. He’s a physical, punishing cornerback who loves to dive head-first into the backfield in run support. As Steelers scouts once said of a young Jack Lambert, he has "a lust for contact." Best of all, he excels at playing press-man coverage — a glaring weakness for a Steelers team that has to deal with monster receivers A.J. Green and Josh Gordon twice per season.
 

 

Meet Darqueze Dennard, the Jim Thorpe Award-winning cornerback from Michigan State. Despite the endless cycle of second-guessing and anonymous sourcing that powers ESPN’s TV Chucklehead Echo Chamber, the Steelers essentially are locked in to Dennard in the first round. So save yourself from Mock Draft click bait. Here’s why the man nicknamed “No-Fly Zone” is the only choice.

No, they’re not mulling taking a wide receiver early.
The Steelers just signed a reliable slot guy in Lance Moore (who had a robust 65 receptions just two years ago in New Orleans) and a roll-of-the-dice deep threat in Darrius Heyward-Bey. Plus, the ghost of Limas Sweed still roams the halls of Heinz Field. And that ghost is falling down and clutching its ethereal hamstring.

If you’re still dubious about the Steelers lining up with Antonio Brown + Lance Moore + Markus Wheaton + Darrius Heyward-Bey in the prime of (a now startlingly 32-year-old) Ben Roethlisberger’s career, well, you should be dubious. It’s a potentially thin corps. But you have to make choices in the salary-cap era, and the Seattle Seahawks proved that you don’t need a superstar reciever to win a Super Bowl, even in the NFL’s Nerf Ball Era.

They’re not going to take a defensive lineman in round one.
This certainly could have been a possibility. The Steelers desperately need to improve a pass rush that was uncharacteristically abysmal in 2013, when the team was tied for 25th in the NFL in sacks. The dearly departed Ziggy Hood was so poor that the Steelers were essentially running a 2-4 defense for most of the season. Unfortunately, the only 3-4 fit within the Steelers’ reach is Notre Dame’s Louis Nix III, a gargantuan nose tackle who helped lead the Irish to the national championship in 2012. The problem is that Nix flopped in 2013, dropping his tackle totals from 50 to 27. The Steelers can afford to wait until the second or third for a backup for the recently signed Cam Thomas. What they can’t afford is another first-round bust like Hood.

Footnote: If you want to truly comprehend how bad the Ziggy Hood era went, check out Hood's hilariously spartan Wikipedia page.

They’re not going to (have the chance) to take Justin Gilbert at No. 15
Here’s how bad the average Mock Draft is: Even ESPN’s golden child Todd McShay still has the Steelers taking safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix with the No. 15 pick in his latest edition. That became a preposterous proposition after the Steelers committed five years and $25 million to safety Mike Mitchell in early March.

Equally ridiculous: Both McShay and the evangelically coiffed Mel Kiper have the Detroit Lions taking a WR at No. 10, even after they signed Golden Tate last month. The Lions would be stupid — the caveat here being that they often are guilty of this trait — to invest such a high pick in a player that would get, at most, three balls per game thrown in his direction playing behind Calvin Johnson and Tate.

The Lions are going to take the other elite cornerback in the draft, Oklahoma State’s speedy Justin Gilbert, to bolster a pass defense ranked No. 23 in the NFL last season. Some like Gilbert’s speed. Others like Dennard’s physicality. They’re different players. But Steelers fans can save themselves a lot of pointless comment section treatises, because Gilbert will be off the board.

So, what do you need to know about Dennard?
First and foremost, scouts seem to agree that Dennard is more pro-ready out of the box than Gilbert. Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen and William Gay are a below-average trio, and the Steelers need someone to step in this year and play downs. Dennard was a press specialist at Michigan State, where he had four interceptions and broke up a team-high 10 passes in 2013 while playing mostly on an island.

Dennard is what you might call “chippy.” He's a jam specialist who constantly uses his hands at the line and steps directly into the path of receivers to cut off their route. This could draw more interference calls in the NFL. But as the Seahawks proved in 2013, referees can’t throw flags on every play. It pays to be aggressive in the long-run.

So what’s the downside? Dennard isn’t huge for a press corner. At 5’11”, 200 pounds, he could find life on an island with 6’4” A.J. Green to be not so copasetic. He also lacks the top speed to be able to cover elite receivers without safety help over the top.

If you’re thinking the Steelers are getting the next Richard Sherman or Brandon Flowers, you should curb your enthusiasm. But by drafting Dennard, the Steelers finally will have a physical corner who can make the first 5 yards a slog for big receivers. Too often, the Steelers’ undersized secondary was on the back foot last season — reacting instead of attacking.

Calvin Johnson torched the Steelers for 179 yards. Rob Gronkowski went for 143. Even Jerome Simpson ripped off 124.

Dick LeBeau’s trademark scheming with the front-seven is irrelevant if quarterbacks can hit their primary read with ease. Go back and watch tape of the 2013 Steelers and you don’t just see a front-seven that wasn’t getting pressure on the quarterback — you see a front-seven that wasn’t even getting close. That's because all it took was a three-step drop for opposing receivers to get off the line.

Signing Dennard is essential to making the Steelers a hard team to play against. Remember those days?


Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

Top 10 Things to Do in Pittsburgh in April

This month's best bets in the ’Burgh.
8 Places You'll Want to Discover Not Far From Pittsburgh

8 Places You'll Want to Discover Not Far From Pittsburgh

Point a compass north, south, east, west and everywhere in between. We chose eight destinations, each within a few hours' drive of Pittsburgh, with lots to explore at every step.
From PIT: 5 Easy Destinations for International Travelers

From PIT: 5 Easy Destinations for International Travelers

This year, the city’s vacation horizons are wider than ever, thanks to an array of easy new flights from Pittsburgh International Airport.
Restaurant Review: Acorn is Ready to Grow

Restaurant Review: Acorn is Ready to Grow

Scott Walton's restaurant plants a much-needed seed on Walnut Street in Shadyside.
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags


PIT Turns to CMU to Make Airport Smartest in the World

PIT Turns to CMU to Make Airport Smartest in the World

The airport authority will use minds at CMU to discover ways to make it easier for passengers to get from the terminal’s parking lots to their seat on the plane.

Comments

Celebrate August Wilson's Birthday With a King and a Block Party

Celebrate August Wilson's Birthday With a King and a Block Party

The ninth play in the 10-part Pittsburgh Cycle will open outside at the August Wilson House.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
First Look: Soju in Garfield

First Look: Soju in Garfield

Simon Chough’s Korean restaurant is six years in the making.

Comments

New Chefs Coming to Smallman Galley

New Chefs Coming to Smallman Galley

Smallman Galley will rotate its third class of chef/owners this June … but this time there’s a twist.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The 2018 Return of the Burgh-y Mother's Day Gift Guide

The 2018 Return of the Burgh-y Mother's Day Gift Guide

It's back! From the dog mom to the working mom, we've got you covered with these locally made must-haves.

Comments

The 5 Best Places to People Watch in Pittsburgh

The 5 Best Places to People Watch in Pittsburgh

A coffee shop, an iconic landmark, an airport and beyond — these are the best places to practice the art of people watching.

Comments


Coughlin's Law Wants To Be Your Mount Washington Destination

Coughlin's Law Wants To Be Your Mount Washington Destination

Notes on the busy new bar and restaurant near Grandview Avenue.

Comments

Smallman Galley Goes 3D With Its New Cocktail Menu

Smallman Galley Goes 3D With Its New Cocktail Menu

The bar team at the Strip District restaurant incubator continues its flights of fancy with Flashback Flavors.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Patriot Games Can’t Diminish Harrison’s Place in Steelers History

Patriot Games Can’t Diminish Harrison’s Place in Steelers History

James Harrison intimidated opposing players in a way not seen since the days of Jack Lambert and Mean Joe Greene.

Comments

Penguins Seeking 3-Peat With The Swagger of a Champion

Penguins Seeking 3-Peat With The Swagger of a Champion

The power play, star power and goaltending are among the primary weapons the Penguins have at their disposal in their quest for another championship. But so, too, is an unshakable belief they can hoist Lord Stanley's Cup three times in a row.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
I Feel Pretty Isn't What You're Expecting (And That's Okay)

I Feel Pretty Isn't What You're Expecting (And That's Okay)

Reviews of "I Feel Pretty" and "Super Troopers 2," plus a rundown of events at the Pittsburgh Underground Film Festival.

Comments

Despite The Rock, Rampage Is a Wild Misfire

Despite The Rock, Rampage Is a Wild Misfire

A review of "Rampage," plus an update on the former Friends of the Hollywood Theater and other local movie news.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
The Best Ways to Reuse and Repurpose Wedding Decor

The Best Ways to Reuse and Repurpose Wedding Decor

From new decor in the home to donations to charity, check out these ways to repurpose leftover wedding decor.

Comments

How Lucky Socks Played a Key Role in Couple’s Wedding

How Lucky Socks Played a Key Role in Couple’s Wedding

A pair of puffin socks played a big role in this Pittsburgh couple’s relationship — and, in a surprise move by their pastor, their wedding.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Toll Gate Revival Gearing Up for New Location, New Experience

Toll Gate Revival Gearing Up for New Location, New Experience

The vintage décor and reclaimed materials business owned by Seth Hunter will open in a larger Lawrenceville warehouse next month.

Comments

Take a Sneak Peek at Our 2018 Ultimate House

Take a Sneak Peek at Our 2018 Ultimate House

Tours of Empire on Liberty, a one-time furniture and carpet warehouse in Bloomfield turned into a mixed-use structure, take place this month. The tour includes a look at the penthouse and two condos.

Comments

Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags