PITTSBURGH -- Mel Kiper Jr. has the Steelers taking LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. with their first pick in his latest mock draft.
But a different player stands out to the ESPN analyst as the best fit for the Steelers at No. 15 overall.
“I think the ideal pick if you’re the Steelers is Darqueze Dennard,” Kiper said of the Michigan State cornerback during a conference call on Wednesday. “He’s a Steeler. Rough, tough, aggressive football player, plays with a chip on his shoulder, very good in coverage, plays faster than he timed. Just a whale of a football player.”
So why doesn’t Kiper have the Steelers taking Dennard in his most recent mock draft? Easy. He has the Rams taking Dennard, the winner of the Jim Thorpe Award in 2013, two picks ahead of the Steelers.
Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert and Dennard are Kiper’s top-rated cornerbacks in the draft and his 14th- and 15th-best players overall, respectively. Gilbert has tremendous speed and has added value as a kickoff returner.
One concern Kiper has with Gilbert is whether he is a physical enough player to provide solid run support as well as get opposing receivers on the ground. Both are critical for cornerbacks in the Steelers’ defense.
“You’ve got to be able to tackle after the catch,” Kiper said. “That’s an underrated part of playing corner.”
That is also why he said Dennard would be the best pick for the Steelers if the 5-foot-11, 199-pounder is available at No. 15 and they want to address one of their most pressing needs.
“You look at that Steelers mentality, a Steelers kind of player, and I think it would be Darqueze Dennard from Michigan State,” Kiper said. “Pure football players [in the draft], he’d be on your top-10 list.”