I've discussed the Steelers FO methodology and Tomlin's tendencies before, so I'll try to keep this brief. Not particularly thrilled with what I'm seeing at the bottom of R1 in most mocks, this one included, so it would not surprise me if the Steelers move up a few spots to get a player they like. Adam Schefter says it isn't their way, but, contra Adam, the Steelers do move up when there's someone they really like (Polamalu and Santonio Holmes are the two Colbert has targeted). But, staying at 1.31, we can play the elimination game.
The Steelers R1 picks are always solid, can't-miss kinds of prospects. Even if they have a glaring positional need, they'll stick to their BPA philosophy... within reason. With two of the game's best OLBs (Harrison and Woodley) and a R2 OLB draft pick from 2010 (Jason Worilds), I find it highly unlikely that Ayers, Reed, or Sheard are going to offer more realistic positional value than CB, OL, DL, or even ILB. They want their first rounder to be able to contribute within a year or two. They also do not take older prospects. Tomlin has skewed even younger than Cowher, but I think the oldest guy over the past 10 years was 23 when drafted; a lot of 20 and 21 year olds in the mix of late. The idea is to mold players who can contribute for a long time. That tells me that Watkins may rate highly on tape, but he probably still has a R2 value. They're not giving up a R1 pick for the age-equivalent of a free agent OG (who has no NFL playing experience). Paea is an interesting guy, but I cannot for the life of me see a position in the Steelers 3-4 due to his frame. I'd like to, but I can't. Just doesn't have the size, so that spells 4-3 DL only to me.
That whittles us down to Cannon, Harris, Ijalana, Dowling, and Williams.
All five would provide immediate positional support. I think Cannon and Dowling are more R2 values per most draftniks, but Dowling could be a R1 value were it not for injuries, and the Steelers spent a late R1 on a player from Virginia with a medical ding who turned out to be a pretty solid player (Heath Miller). I'll trust their med eval to cull the truth. And the scouts might have a higher grade on Cannon than the draftniks do, and simply follow their own muse. So I think those players could potentially be in the mix. I'm going to nix Ijalana because over the past decade, all Steelers R1 picks have been from bigger programs. They aren't afraid to roll the dice on a guy from Tusculum or Tiffin, but I just don't see them taking the Nova guy, not just because of LOC but also because he missed the Senior Bowl eval. My personal opinion is that Ijalana is not a plug-in ready guy like Watkins, and will take a few years to get up to speed. That eliminates him from R1 for the Steelers.
It's hard to trend their CB criteria because, like OL, the Steelers have invested woefully little in high-level CBs. But they do like big, physical guys who can fit the LeBeau defense, which means tough tackling guys. What they've lacked is elite speed and skills. Harris, at 5'9", strikes me as a guy the scouts would relegate to nickel. A very good nickel, but not a R1 grade. Tomlin attended the Texas pro day, but that's not a sure tell. In fact, the years when the Steelers' pick is telegraphed (like Pouncey last year) are the exception, so when I see all these mocks with the Steelers taking Williams, I go contrararian. If the scouts agree that Williams isn't the speed lockdown corner, but more a FS convo project, they will probably pass. And I think they pass on Dowling based on the med concerns, but would take him R2. In fact, I think the Steelers might see late R2 as a real value cluster for CB (Curtis Brown, Brandon Burton, Curtis Marsh, fallers like Dowling). They may want more of a speed/upside guy that they can train up.
So by process of elimination, I'm going with a dark horse here: Marcus Cannon. The Steelers have no one of value at RG (Trai Essex, Ramon Foster), so Cannon could conceivably be called into action very early on. Plus he has the positional flex on the OL that they crave, and with RT up in the air (Flozell Adams is 35, and in his last contract year; Willie Colon is a FA and coming off an Achilles injury), Cannon could eventually kick out to RT. And compared to the guys they've had at LT (Max Starks, IR; Jon Scott), Cannon actually ran a better 40 and could probably fill in there in a pinch. OL coach Sean Kugler kept that line together with duct tape and Silly Putty last year, and based on his (relative) success I think the FO would love to see what he can do with better talent. Cannon has the flexibility to cover several OL positions and become a solid contributor.