Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Just over three-weeks out Mock

With the draft about three weeks away, here's an updated look on how things could go May 8.

1.       Houston, Jadaveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina. A freakish athlete who is too good to pass up.

2.       St. Louis, Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn. Don’t be surprised to see the Rams also take a QB at some point high.

3.       Jacksonville, Blake Bortles, QB, USC. The Jaguars have tried to make do with patchwork QBs since Mark Brunell.

4.       Cleveland, Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson. The Browns get a stud receiver to pair with Josh Gordon.

5.       Oakland, Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M. The Raiders love big-name players and have had issues selling out their stadium. Manziel would create some excitement around the team.

6.       Atlanta, Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M. The Falcons need to protect Matt Ryan better.

7.       Tampa Bay, Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M. Three A&M players in a row.

8.       Minnesota, Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State. Carr has passed Teddy Bridgewater in the QB pecking order of this draft.

9.       Buffalo, Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo. The Bills get a home-grown talent.

10.   Detroit, Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State. The Lions would have liked Evans to fall and could trade up for him. But here they ‘settle’ for Gilbert.

11.   Tennessee, Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA. The Titans need playmakers all over the place. They get one on the defensive side of the ball who will fit into defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s 3-4 scheme.

12.   N.Y. Giants, Aaron Donald, DT, Pitt. The Giants need to start rebuilding their interior defensive line.

13.   St. Louis, Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama. The back end of the Rams’ secondary is a mess. Clinton-Dix will help that right away.

14.   Chicago, Timmy Jernigan, DR, Florida State. The Bears would have preferred Donald, but grab another difference maker at defensive tackle.

15.   Pittsburgh, Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech. It’s a tough call over some guys still on the board, but Fuller fits. Forget what the talking heads are saying. Fuller will end up higher in this draft than some of the other more-hyped corners. He’s a feisty zone corner who will tackle all day long.

16.   Dallas, Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan. The Cowboys need to improve their offensive front.

17.   Baltimore, Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville. The Ravens continue to rebuild their secondary, though they could go offensive tackle.

18.   N.Y. Jets, Odell Beckham, WR, LSU. The Jets have to have somebody to throw the ball to.

19.   Miami, Zach Martin, OL, Notre Dame. Head coach Joe Philbin was a longtime offensive line coach. And the Dolphins’ line was a mess last season thanks to the Incognito-Martin fallout.

20.   Arizona, Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State. The Cardinals grab a speedy defender for an already-improving defense.

21.   Green Bay, C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama. The Packers want an inside backer who is good in coverage.

22.   Philadelphia, Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State. Dennard’s fall ends.

23.   Kansas City, Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina. The Chiefs need an offensive playmaker to pair with Dwayne Bowe.

24.   Cincinnati, Jason Verrett, CB, TCU. Verrett could also be a consideration for the Steelers. He’s solid in coverage and feisty.

25.   San Diego, Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame. The Chargers need a big body in the middle of their defense.

26.   Cleveland, Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville. The Browns got their receiver early and get a QB later in the first round.

27.   New Orleans, Demarcus Lawrence, DE, Boise State. Lawrence is a guy who is starting to generate some first-round talk. The Saints add to an already-impressive pass rush.

28.   Carolina, Marquise Lee, WR, USC. Carolina needs somebody to add to their passing game.

29.   New England, Kyle Van Noy, LB, BYU. This is a typical Belichick pick. Van Noy could play inside or out and the Patriots need depth at both.

30.   San Francisco, Dee Ford, DE/LB, Auburn. The Aldon Smith situation forces the 49ers to look to the future.

31.   Denver, Xavier Su’a-Filo, G, UCLA. The Broncos are in a win-now mode and Su’a-Filo can be plugged in on their line.

32.   Seattle, Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State. The Seahawks don’t have any glaring needs and can take the best playmaker available. 

Friday, April 18, 2014

A look at the Steelers visitors thus far

Here's a look at the players the Steelers have hosted thus far for their pre-draft visits. Each team gets 30 players, though local players - in the Steelers' case, Aaron Donald, for example - don't count against that number.

These are the guys who have actually visited, not players who are rumored to be coming in.

Shaq Richardson, Arizona (6-0, 194) A late round sleeper prospect with good size.
Darqueze Dennard, Michigan State (5-11, 199) A physical corner who is better in press coverage than he is in zone. The Steelers have, however, played more press in the past couple of years.
Bradley Roby, Ohio State (5-11, 194) Speedy and athletic. His 2012 tape was better than his 2013 tape. He also had an arrest for a bar incident that drew a suspension. Talented but which tape do you trust?
Jason Verrett, TCU (5-10, 189) A feisty corner who plays bigger than his size. A 4.38 40 and 39-inch vertical make up for his lack of height. Sticky in coverage.
Phillips Gaines, Rice (6-0, 193) A 4.38 40 at the combine certainly was an eyebrow raiser for Gaines, who owns 45 career collegiate starts. Opponents completed just 32.5 percent of the passes they threw his way in 2013, though, like Roby, he was suspended for the opener due to an undisclosed violation of team rules.

Brock Vereen, Minnesota (6-0, 199) Saw time at corner, nickelback and free safety in his career. His size and cover skills, along with a 4.47 40 make him an interesting candidate.
Calvin Pryor, Louisville (5-11, 207) An impact free safety. It would be a shock if the Steelers selected him after signing Mike Mitchell.
Deone Bucannon, Washington (6-1, 211) Had 15 career interceptions, including six in 2013. Also forced three fumbles in 2013. The Steelers are looking for turnover-makers in the secondary. This guy can do it.

Lache Seastrunk, Baylor (5-10, 201) Solid runner, but he struggled some against the better defenses he faced. An unknown as a pass catcher.

Aaron Donald, Pitt (6-1, 285) Had all kinds of production at Pitt, but really doesn’t fit the Steelers’ scheme.
Stephon Tuitt, Notre Dame (6-6, 304) Had hernia surgery in the 2013 offseason. Then had foot issues this offseason that have kept him from working out. A dominant player in 2012. Fell off somewhat in 2013.
Scott Crichton, Oregon State (6-3, 273) Athletic enough that he could play linebacker. A disruptive player who had 10 career forced fumbles. Also played nose tackle at times in college.
Ra’Shede Hageman, Minnesota (6-6, 310) Built like an offensive tackle. At times he looked dominant. Other times, he looked disinterested. Could be because everyone ran away from him.

John Brown, Pittsburg State (5-10, 179) A 4.34 40 at the combine certainly put Brown on everyone’s radar. He’s not big, but the speedster did have five career touchdown returns (3 punts, 2 kickoffs). Late round steal?
Donte Moncrief, Ole Miss (6-2, 221) Love this kid. A freaky athlete who stood out on video I was watching of other SEC players.
Bruce Ellington, South Carolina (5-9, 197) Though he’s short, he’s built like a running back. Also started at point guard for two seasons for the Gamecocks, showing his complete athleticism.
Martavis Bryant, Clemson (6-4, 211) Another of the big receivers in this draft, though he hasn’t generated the heat of some of the others. Of course, playing opposite Sammy Watkins will have that effect.

Ryan Shazier, Ohio State (6-1, 237) The speedy Shazier is a Lawrence Timmons’ clone who could play inside or out for the Steelers. He’d probably have to be a first round pick.
Jordan Zumwalt, UCLA (6-4, 235) Like Shazier, Zumwalt could play inside or out, though he doesn’t have the speed of Shazier or Pierre-Louis. But he could be had in the middle rounds.
Kevin Pierre-Louis, Boston College (6-1, 232) Another speedy linebacker, Pierre-Louis is a bit on the small side. Would have to play inside for the Steelers, who are obviously looking for cover linebackers.
Carl Bradford, Arizona State (6-1, 250). Like the other linebackers listed here, he can play inside or out. Unlike the others, he has more classic Steelers size.

Rob Blanchflower, UMass (6-4, 256) Struggled through the 2013 season with a sports hernia, which could be why the Steelers brought the late round selection in to kick the tires.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Interesting mock draft

I readily admit that I look at other people's mock drafts. Of course, the first thing I do is glance at who the mocker has the Steelers selecting.

If it's an outlandish pick - this year that would be any mock that has the Steelers taking an offensive lineman first - I quit reading. Otherwise, I'll continue and take in the rest of the mock.

Of course, most mocks, after having the Steelers focusing on nose tackle Louis Nix early, have settled in on the Steelers taking a cornerback or wide receiver of late.

Those wouldn't be bad picks.

But lately, another name has started to surface that makes some sense, North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron.

In fact, Lance Zierlein, a Houston-based media member whose father also happens to be former Steelers offensive line coach Larry Zierlein, threw Ebron's name out last week on Twitter in connection with the Steelers.

I went back and forth with him a bit on it and it made sense.

Then, while perusing the internet, I found the Walter's Football site five-round mock and lo and behold, there was Ebron going to the Steelers again.

Looking at that draft, again, it made sense.

Here's what Walter's had for the Steelers through five rounds:

1. Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
2. Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
3. Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss
4. Brent Urban, DE, Virginia
5A. Anthony Steen, G, Alabama
5B. Ron Powell, OLB, Florida

I think the Steelers would be thrilled with that haul.

Ebron would be an immediate matchup problem for opponents when paired with Heath Miller. Do you stay in a base defense with both tight ends on the field or go to a sub-package?

Verrett, at 5-10, 189 pounds, is a little undersized, but he's fast (sub-4.4 40) and feisty enough to get the job done at the NFL level.

I've long been a fan of Moncreif and couldn't believe he'd last until the end of the third round, but looking at this mock, it made sense. This WR draft is just that deep.

Urban has also been on my radar as a 3-4 end. He's 6-7, 295 pounds and played out of position at DT the last two seasons after Virginia switched from a 3-4, where he was an end, to a 4-3.

He's not an outstanding athlete, but he's active and gets his hands in the passing lanes.

Steen, of course, was a three-year starter at RG for Alabama, which is no small feat.

Powell, meanwhile, has outstanding upside. He tore his ACL twice in 2012, but rebounded with a solid season in 2013. His arrow, as Mike Tomlin likes to say, is definitely pointed up.

Steelers sign Podlesh

The Steelers assured they will open the 2014 season with their sixth punter in the past four years when they signed veteran Adam Podlesh on Tuesday.

Podlesh, who was with Chicago in 2013, replaces Mat McBriar as the veteran punter on Pittsburgh's roster and will compete with Brad Wing, who has never punted in the NFL, for the job with the Steelers.

At first glance, Podlesh doesn't appear to be an upgrade. His gross average of 40.6 yards in 2013 ranked 33rd in the league.

But he placed 27 kicks inside the opposing 20 - McBriar and Zoltan Mesko had 16 combined for the Steelers in 2013 - and had just two touchbacks, which ranked third in the NFL among regular punters.

Ironically, Podlesh was selected 11 picks ahead of Daniel Sepulveda in the 2007 draft.

The Steelers traded fourth and sixth-round picks in 2007 to move up seven spots to select Sepulveda.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Three more prospects visit the South Side

The Steelers hosted three more potential draft picks on Monday as we close in - finally - on the NFL draft.

In on Monday were corner Shaq Richardson of Arizona, TCU cornerback Jason Verrett and defensive end Scott Crichton of Oregon State.

Richardson is a 6-0, 194-pound late-round prospect at corner, a big difference from Verrett.

At 5-10, 189, Verrett is widely viewed as the fourth best corner in this draft behind Darqueze Dennard, Justin Gilbert and Kyle Fuller.

The only way the Steelers would likely draft him is if they traded down or if he happened to be available in the second round.

Crichton is an interesting prospect at defensive end. He's listed at 6-3, 273, so he would have to put some weight on to play defensive end for the Steelers.

But he has a good motor and forced 10 fumbles in his career. He also recorded 19.5 sacks in his last two seasons.

Crichton is considered a second- or third-round prospect.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Steelers have three more visitors

The Steelers hosted three more potential draft picks on Thursday, as Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier, UCLA linebacker Jordan Zumwalt and Washington State strong safety Deon Buchanon were at the team's South Side practice facility.

Both Shazier and Zumwalt are considered inside linebacker prospects in the Steelers' 3-4.

Shazier (6-1, 238) ran a ridiculously fast 4.38 40 at the Ohio State workout. Even if you add, say a 10th of a second onto that time to adjust for the track, he's still the fastest linebacker in this draft.

But it is a concern that he had a hamstring issue at the combine and then tweaked the same injury during his Ohio State workout. Maybe guys that big aren't supposed to run that fast.

He also tested off the charts in pretty much every drill, including showing off a 42-inch vertical.

Zumwalt (6-4, 235) made 30 starts in college, mostly inside in UCLA's 3-4 defense.

While he doesn't possess Shazier's outright athleticism, he's a rangy player who is described as "violent," even among football players.

While Shazier is considered a first-round prospect, Zumwalt is more of a third- to fourth-round pick.

Buchanon, 6-1, 211, is a second- to third-round guy. He ran a 4.49 40 at the combine.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Steelers host Pryor

The Steelers hosted Louisville safety Calvin Pryor today and some were quick to dismiss the visit because the team had signed Mike Mitchell to play free safety this season.

As Lee Corso likes to say, "Not so fast my friend."

The Steelers did the right thing by bringing Pryor in.

After all, what if, for example, the top 10 players - I'm excluding quarterbacks - on their board are gone, including all of the receivers, corners, linebackers and defensive linemen?

What if the top player remaining on their board when it comes time to pick at 15 is Pryor by a lot and they then find themselves unable to trade back?

Even though strong safety Troy Polamalu just signed a three-year extension, I don't think anyone expects him to play out the end of it. I would expect Polamalu to play this season, see how he feels, and then play again in 2015 if he feels healthy enough.

Beyond that is anyone's guess.

And what happens if Mitchell falls flat on his face or they were to get Pryor into camp and he's simply better? The Steelers aren't into him for a lot of money, so releasing him would not be a huge cap hit.

I'm not saying it's a likely thing that the Steelers would take Pryor, but they do have to do their homework.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Month out mock draft

With the NFL draft now a month away - give or take a few days - here's how I see things breaking down at this point.

I'm sure things will change greatly over the next month, and I'm sure this mock won't make everyone happy. But it was something to do on a rainy night in the office.

I'll do at least one more mock as we slowly press towards the draft - which is ridiculously late this year.

1. Houston, Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida. Bill O’Brien got a first-hand look at Bortles last season when he went into State College and beat the Nittany Lions.

2. St. Louis (from Washington), Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn. The Rams need to see exactly what they have in QB Sam Bradford, but they can’t keep him healthy because the line is so bad.

3. Jacksonville, Jadaveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina. Jacksonville has been trying to find pass rushers for the better part of the last 10 years.

4.  Cleveland, Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M. The Browns didn’t go to Manziel’s pro day, then scheduled a private meeting with him. Sammy Watkins would make sense, too, but what good are wideouts if you don’t have someone to get them the ball?

5. Oakland, Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson. The Raiders just traded for Matt Schaub to take QB off the board. Now, they get Schaub a toy.

6. Atlanta, Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo. The Falcons would have liked to get Clowney to pump up their pass rush and could move up to get him. But they settle for Mack here, and that’s not a bad thing.

7.  Tampa Bay, Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M. The Bucs need help all the way across the line and get it here.

8. Minnesota, Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville. The Christian Ponder experiment is over.

9. Buffalo, Taylor, Lewan, OT, Michigan. The Bills need a right tackle and Lewan looks more like a RT in the NFL than a LT to me.

10. Detroit, Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State. The Lions need help in the secondary. It will be tough to pass on the home state kid in Darqueze Dennard of Michigan State, but Gilbert’s speed and return ability make the difference.

11. Tennessee, Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State. After losing Pro Bowl corner Alterraun Verner in free agency, the Titans could use a replacement.

12. N.Y. Giants, Aaron Donald, DT. Pitt. Donald is the perfect fit for New York’s attacking front four.

13. St. Louis, Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama. The Rams could go WR here but they can get one later. What they can't do is get the best safety available. And rumor has it they love Clinton-Dix.

14.   Chicago, Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State. Jernigan was dominating the national championship game until gassing out in the fourth quarter.

15.   Pittsburgh, Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M. With both top corners gone, the Steelers breath a sigh of relief that Evans isn't. If he and both top corners are gone, look for a trade back.

16.   Dallas, Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville. The Cowboys defense has been a mess on the back end for years.

17.   Baltimore, Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina. The Ravens could use defensive help, but Ebron is too good to pass up.

18.   N.Y. Jets, Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame. The Jets could use a playmaker on offense, but Martin’s a nice value pick for a team that needs guard help.

19.   Miami, Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama. The Dolphins would have preferred Martin, but settle for Kouandjio.

20.   Arizona, Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State. The Cardinals go for the value. And Carson Palmer is now 34 years old.

21.   Green Bay, Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA. The Packers could use help anywhere on their defensive front.

22.   Philadelphia, Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State. Shazier has outstanding speed, which will fit in well with what the Eagles are trying to build.

23.   Kansas City, Marquise Lee, WR, USC. The Chiefs struck out with Jonathan Baldwin a couple of years ago. But Lee is a more proven commodity.

24.   Cincinnati, Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri. Michael Sams got all the publicity, but Ealy’s the better pro prospect.

25.   San Diego, Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame. The Chargers need a run stuffer in the middle of their 3-4.

26.   Cleveland, Brandon Cooks, WR, Oregon State. The Browns got their QB early in the draft and now get the fastest player in this draft later.

27.   New Orleans, Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech. Here's a darkhorse pick for the Steelers if Gilbert and Dennard are gone.

28.   Carolina, Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State. The Panthers are basically starting over at wide receiver.

29.   New England, Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State. Crichton is the kind of disruptive athlete Belichick likes.

30.   San Francisco, Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, LSU. The 49ers don’t have enough playmakers on offense.

31.   Denver, Dee Ford, DE/LB Auburn. An additional pass rusher for the Broncos.

32.   Seattle, Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame. The Seahawks suffered some defensive line losses and get a good value pick in Tuitt.