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 Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

19 Pittsburgh-Area Burgers That We Love

19 Pittsburgh-Area Burgers That We Love

PM dining critic Hal B. Klein spent months eating scores of hamburgers in and around Pittsburgh. Find out how he narrowed his list down to 19 — and see which ones made the cut.
Meet 3 Butchers of the 'Burgh and Pittsburgh's ‘Brisket Boss’

Meet 3 Butchers of the 'Burgh and Pittsburgh's ‘Brisket Boss’

We visit Salem's halal butcher shop, the butchery program at Whitfield restaurant and the Butcher on Butler. Plus, smoking tips from the Brisket Boss.
The Region's Top Dentists 2017

The Region's Top Dentists 2017

Our annual list, which contains 369 dentists in the region, as determined by topDENTISTS.
Showtime Brothers: A Tale of Two Hollanders

Showtime Brothers: A Tale of Two Hollanders

In the 13 years since CBS’ ‘The Guardian’ went off the air, the Mt. Lebanon-raised siblings who inspired and wrote the series, Scott and David Hollander, have continued to export Pittsburgh nationally.
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Rightsizing PIT - Will Landside Terminal, Tram Be Needed?

Rightsizing PIT - Will Landside Terminal, Tram Be Needed?

Big changes are expected as the Allegheny Airport Authority draws up a new master plan for the 25-year-old midfield terminal.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Feast Series Returns to Carnegie Museum of Art in Oakland This September

Feast Series Returns to Carnegie Museum of Art in Oakland This September

The third iteration of the series will feature chef J.J. Johnson, formerly of The Cecil and Minton's Supper Club in Harlem.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
Best Places for Kids on Rainy Days in Pittsburgh

Best Places for Kids on Rainy Days in Pittsburgh

Read on for some under-the-radar ideas on how you and the kids can survive a rainy day this summer.

Comments


Tres Rios Has Potential, But Hasn't Distinguished Itself Just Yet

Tres Rios Has Potential, But Hasn't Distinguished Itself Just Yet

The tacos-and-tequila bar and restaurant on the South Side doesn't do anything wrong, exactly, but has room to grow.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Who Belongs on a Pittsburgh Steelers Mount Rushmore?

Who Belongs on a Pittsburgh Steelers Mount Rushmore?

As the team prepares the inaugural class of its Hall of Honor, Mike Prisuta selects the four members of the Steelers family most deserving of inclusion.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Make a Trendy Transition into Fall Style

Make a Trendy Transition into Fall Style

No. 14 Boutique in Lawrenceville put together this chic outfit for the tricky period when summer cools into autumn.

Comments


The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
A Hitman and His Bodyguard Get Into Trouble (No Need to Overcomplicate Things)

A Hitman and His Bodyguard Get Into Trouble (No Need to Overcomplicate Things)

Reviews of "The Hitman's Bodyguard" and "Wind River," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Popping the Question Far Away from Home

Popping the Question Far Away from Home

Three grooms share how they carried their rings long distances to keep their brides-to-be in the dark until the moment they got on one knee.

Comments


Weekly inspiration for your home from the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine
Bombs Away: Arsenal 201 Apartments Open After Cannonball Removal

Bombs Away: Arsenal 201 Apartments Open After Cannonball Removal

Months after the Civil War-era cannonballs were discovered at the former arsenal and munitions factory in Lawrenceville, residents are given the green light to move into the 243-unit apartment complex.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Tuition Increases at the University of Pittsburgh

Tuition Increases at the University of Pittsburgh

School trustees voted this week to increase tuition for in-state and out-of-state students.

Comments

Edit ModuleEdit ModuleShow Tags