I'm bored so I thought I'd use your thread to write up some info about prospects from my own school (Virginia Tech) that the Steelers could look at too. These are all defensive prospects as we have fielded one of the top 5 defenses in college football this season statistically, but our offense sucks and there's noone worth mentioning coming out this year except Logan Thomas, who we won't draft since we snagged Landry Jones last year.
1. Kyle Fuller, CB, #17
Kyle Fuller is a player we could be looking at with our pick in the second round. He's currently projected by many to go in the early-to-mid second, but has had an ankle injury which has nagged him as the season went on and has caused him to miss the end of his senior season, so he could perhaps fall to the third. Kyle's been a starter at CB for three seasons now and would be a good fit for our defensive system. He has good coverage skills but is also fantastic against the run and is a spectacular open-field tackler. At VT he has often been used in a hybrid CB-LB role against run-heavy teams and has no problem being physical and taking on multiple defensive roles in a single game in a Troy Polamalu-esque way. He's been the biggest playmaker (something the Steelers sorely lack) on a VT defense which was top 5 in the nation this year when he was playing and I could see him having more of an immediate impact as a rookie in LeBeau's defense than your average Steelers defensive rookie, as he has his fundamentals down and is already a solid all-around defensive player out of the gate with no real holes in his game.
2. Derrick Hopkins, DT, #98
Derrick Hopkins is a poor man's Aaron Donald in the sense that he is a little undersized for the NFL but has played at a level that would have earned him a much higher draft grade if he was a few inches taller. He wasn't as dominant as Aaron Donald of course, but he anchored the best interior line VT has seen in years and showed tremendous power and pas-rushing skill with the ability to take over games at times. At 6'0, 310, he's not tremendously undersized, and could easily find success in the NFL as Casey Hampton was only an inch taller at 6'1, but for comparison's sake top NTs drafted in recent years have usually been around 6'3 or 6'4. While VT runs a 4-3, Hopkins has the size and build to be a NT option for us in round 3 or 4 should we miss out on Louis Nix in the first round.
3. Luther Maddy, DT, #92
Luther Maddy was Hopkins' counterpart on the interior DLine and was arguably an even more dominant force than Hopkins in 2013. Maddy is only a junior and many VT fans expect him to return for his senior season, but he has submitted his paperwork to draft advisory board and should he elect for the draft would probably go in rounds 2-4 much like Hopkins. Maddy is a little taller and leaner than Hopkins at 6'1 296, but still has the bulk and playing style of a 3-4 NT, so he could be another fallback option at NT later in the draft should we not pick Nix. Maddy could easily work his way into the first round should he spend another season in college to develop his game, so if he comes out early a team who drafts him in rounds 2-4 could be getting a steal.
4. Antone Exum, CB/S, #1
Exum to me is the most interesting prospect we have and a huge sleeper this year. Exum has spent time at both CB and S at Virginia Tech, playing S his first year as a starter in 2011 and shifting to CB in 2012 where he had a dominant season as a cover corner. Unfortunately, this past January he tore his ACL playing pick-up basketball after our bowl game, and this has caused him to miss nearly his entire senior season with the exception of a couple games late in the season where it was obvious that the injury was still bothering him. Prior to this injury, Exum was considered by many draft experts to be one of the top CB prospects in the 2014 draft, with many giving him a first round projection, but this injury will likely drop him all the way into the round 3-6 range. Exum has fantastic size for a corner at 6'1 224, but has never been a particularly fast corner, and the ACL injury has only increased concerns about his lack of speed at the position, hence why he will likely drop in the draft. For this reason I think it would make more sense for the Steelers to draft him as a S; Exum has great ball skills as a DB (he had 5 picks in his 2012 campaign), is a tough player and a hard hitter, and would have above-average cover skills at the position for those concerned with our lack of coverage ability at S. Not to mention he is a huge vocal leader, something our defense has lacked for several years, and is a class act. I think he and Shamarko would make a great future tandem at S to take over for Troy and Clark and Exum could be low cost, high potential option at S for us in the mid-late rounds.
5. James Gayle, OLB, #99
James Gayle has also been a huge part of VT's dominant defensive line this year. Gayle was our successor at DE to Jason Worilds, another VT DE/OLB you guys may be familiar with
While Gayle has had success as a starter at VT the past several years, he is not somebody who projects as a great NFL starter, but would be a solid backup option at OLB for depth and a great special teamer should we choose to draft him for depth in the later rounds if Woodley or Worilds leaves. I love Gayle but my one criticism of him is he has never totally lived up to expectations (another thing we are familiar with with Worilds, haha)...that's not to say he's a scrub or anything, and while he has been a great pass-rusher for the Hokies and will be missed, it's just that every offseason we kept expecting to make the jump up to a truly dominant DE and more of a first or second round prospect, and that just never happened. Again, that's not to say he was bad, he just never really improved over the years, staying a 5-6 sack guy consistently for three seasons as a starter, which is great considering he wasn't highly rated out of high school to begin with; it's just a lot of people thought when he had 7.5 sacks as a sophomore he'd make a huge leap the next year and he never did. He definitely has the upside to be a starting NFL OLB or DE, and has good size at 6'4 253, but I wouldn't expect it to happen until he's been coached at the professional level for several years. Gayle has 5.5 sacks this season and 21.5 in his four-year career at VT.
So yeah, we have a bunch of defensive players I could see the Steelers looking at in this draft. Unfortunately, Fuller and Exum will be missing our bowl game, but if you want to watch Hopkins, Maddy, and Gayle we play UCLA on Dec 31 at 2PM and I expect them to give Brett Hundley a hard time the whole game.