Kiper mock 1.0 reaction: Steelers

Space-eating defensive tackle Louis Nix III -- a potential heir to Casey Hampton -- has again been linked to the Steelers.

ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has the Steelers taking NixInsider with the 15th overall pick in the 2014 draft even though they also have a number of other needs on defense.

Nix went to the Steelers in Kiper’s mock draft over players such as Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard and Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who would give quarterback Ben Roethlisberger the big target he has long coveted.

Kiper joins ESPN NFL draft analyst Todd McShay in sending Nix to the Steelers in his first mock draft.

Drafting a nose tackle for a defense that slipped dramatically against the run a year after the Steelers did not re-sign Hampton certainly won’t get any arguments from me.

But the draft is still more than three months away, and who knows how much Nix’s stock may rise or fall during the gauntlet that lies ahead for him and other top prospects?

Pittsburgh general manager Kevin Colbert has often said that a prospect’s final grade is based mostly on what he put on tape in college. That is what may give the Steelers pause when it comes to Nix.

He did not consistently dominate at Notre Dame, and when trying to assess whether Nix can be the long-term successor to Hampton, I can’t help but recall what former Texas coach Mack Brown once told me about the latter.

Hampton, he said, was so disruptive as a defensive tackle that the Longhorns sometimes could not even scrimmage with him on the field. Did Nix come close to having that kind of impact at Notre Dame?

That is one of the questions the Steelers will try to answer as they scrutinize Nix.