Oct 19, 2013; South Bend, IN, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt (7) during the game against the Southern California Trojans at Notre Dame Stadium. Notre Dame defeated USC 14-10. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

2014 NFL Draft: Pittsburgh Steelers Could Have Their Eyes On Defensive Linemen

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Earlier today, I looked at the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers could trade down in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft, set to begin Thursday night.

If they do, they could have a specific defensive lineman in mind.

While all of the talk surrounding the Steelers centering around a wide receiver or cornerback, defensive end could still be the biggest need on this team.

Veteran Brett Keisel is in limbo as he could still come back to the team, but even if he does, he is getting up there in age. And there is the fact that there is no depth whatsoever on the defensive line.

Cameron Heyward and Steve McLendon return, but the team lost the likes of Keisel (still unsigned), Ziggy Hood (signed with Jaguars) and Al Woods (signed with Titans) this offseason.

They did bring in big Cam Thomas in the offseason and he could play both inside and outside if needed, but at the end of the day the Steelers need a starter opposite Heyward and need depth at every position up front.

With that being said, I can see them drafting at least two defensive linemen when the draft is all said and done.

How early will the Steelers pull the trigger though?

The last time the team used a first-round pick on a defense end was when they selected Heyward in 2011. All in all, seven defensive linemen have been drafted under the Kevin Colbert/Mike Tomlin regime, but only two of those remain with the Steelers.

The last time the Steelers used a draft pick on a defensive lineman was last season when they selected BYU’s Nick Williams in the seventh round. As for the No. 15 pick, the last time a defensive lineman went in that spot was when the Tennessee Titans selected Albert Haynesworth in 2002.

It’s highly doubtful the Steelers would select a defensive lineman at No. 15, but trading to the end of the first round could leave them with a couple of intriguing possibilities.

Both Minnesota’s Ra’Shede Hageman and Notre Dame’s Stephon Tuitt project as defensive ends in a 3-4 scheme and they are candidates for the Steelers if they trade down in the first round.

Hageman has a chance to be elite as he has a solid combination of height, weight and athleticism. He is a project, but the Steelers don’t really have time to groom him.

Tuitt I am a little more intrigued by. He brings both size and quickness and can be both an effective run-stopper and a disruptive power pass-rusher and should fit in rather nicely on the Pittsburgh defense.

It is worth noting that I have Hageman going No. 29 to the New England Patriots and Tuitt going No. 32 to the Seattle Seahawks in my latest mock draft.

If the Steelers elect to wait and target another position, keep your eye on a guy like  Virginia’s Brent Urban, who looks like a prototypical 3-4 defensive end that the Steelers could target late in the second day or early in the third day of the draft.

As for a nose tackle, even though the Steelers have been linked to Notre Dame’s Louis Nix III almost the entire offseason, I can’t see them using a first-round pick this year on a guy who likely will be on the field just 33 percent of the time, given the amount of sub-packages the Steelers have had to turn to recently.

However a guy like Nix is also an option if the Steelers trade down to the bottom of the first round.

It goes without saying that the Steelers will target a defensive end and a nose tackle at some point during the draft. How early they decide to do so is the only question.

One thing is for sure, though: the Steelers have plenty of options when the first round begins on Thursday night.

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Tags: 2014 NFL Draft Pittsburgh Steelers Ra'Shede Hageman Stephon Tuitt

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