17. Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame (6-6, 251)
Pittsburgh could throw a dart at just about any position here and hit a need. On defense, the secondary, linebackers and defensive line all need attention on a unit that made up one of the oldest rosters in the NFL.
What is needed throughout the ranks is an infusion of young talent, but the Steelers must be careful to not force a player into the 17th spot based solely on need. The way our mock draft has evolved, they should concentrate on offense in the first round.
While the defense is being replenished, the Steelers may need even bigger performances from Ben Roethlisberger, who missed three games because of injuries in 2012. North Carolina guard Jonathan Cooper would have been a candidate to strengthen the offensive line, but he went off the board one slot earlier. Elsewhere on offense, the skill positions took a hit with the departures of WR Mike Wallace (Dolphins) and RB Rashard Mendenhall (Cardinals).
In addition, Heath Miller, the Steelers’ 2012 MVP, underwent surgery on multiple torn knee ligaments in late December. Even though the Steelers brought back Matt Spaeth in March for a second stint, his strength is as a blocker. So as it stands right now, the position is a huge question. Drafting Tyler Eifert would give the offense a potential star in the passing game.
Eifert has the makings of an impact pro. He is big, fast, smart and plays hard. His approach to the game lived up to his designation last year as one of Notre Dame’s team captains. The junior led the Fighting Irish with 50 receptions for 685 yards and four touchdowns, and won the Mackey Award as the nation’s top tight end.
Eifert’s speed (4.68 forty at the NFL Combine) will make him a matchup challenge for pro linebackers, and his height will play in his favor against safeties. He works hard to get open and is a ball magnet. If it’s in Eifert’s area, he’ll give his all to bring it in. His size puts him in play for jump balls and makes him a potential weapon in the red zone.
A savvy quarterback like Roethlisberger should only bring out the best in Eifert, who has the athleticism to be an effective yards-after-catch contributor. He moves fluidly off the line and throughout his routes -- traits that should help him when Big Ben improvises. He also is a willing and capable blocker, which bodes well for both the passing and rushing games.
The Steelers finished 8-8 last season, behind the Super Bowl champion Ravens and the Bengals (both 10-6) in the AFC North. Getting younger has to be a priority. Generally, a tight end does not turn around an offense, but Eifert has shown abilities that suggest he can be a valuable addition to a team that may need him to perform like a veteran right away.