The Steelers have finished the process of interviewing 30 non-local draft prospects. The last group visited the team's training facility on Friday, giving the Steelers a week to put the finishing touches on their draft board. I have to give credit to the guys at the Steeler Fury blog for researching and tracking the prospects and confirming their visits to Pittsburgh. I'll post the full list below, ranking the players within their position group according to the comprehensive list from nfldraftscout.com, which can be found at http://www.cbssports.com/nfl/draft/prospectrankings .
How meaningful is the list? Just because a player is not on the list (such as Louisville center Eric Wood) does not mean the Steelers are less interested in him than the players that did come in (such as fellow centers Alex Mack and Max Unger). They may feel they already know enough about Wood after seeing him at the Senior Bowl, the Combine and his Pro Day. Some players may have come in for a private interview in order to allay concerns about character, intelligence or off-field issues. However, it is safe to say the Steelers would not be bringing in a player if they weren't already interested in him to some extent. The list also excludes most of the top 25 prospects. Vontae Davis is the top-ranked player who visited the Steelers and character issues in his case might result in him dropping to the end of the first round or early second round. The other top prospects are fringe first-rounders Mack, Unger, Alphonso Smith and Jarron Gilbert (still ranked by nfldraftscout as a late second-rounder). It's quite possible the Steelers will not draft ANY of the 30 players they brought in, though that would be rare. You could argue that if these visits serve to eliminate 30 candidates, then it's still a useful exercise. Nonetheless, I think the list in general provides a window into the thoughts of the front office and coaching staff.
In addition to the 30 out of town visits the Steelers also had interviews with three local players: LB Scott McKillop and G/C C.J. Davis of Pitt, and center A.Q. Shipley of Penn State. Here's the list and I'll post some observations below.
DRAFT VISITS (complete list after the jump)
C Alex Mack (California) 6-4, 307 (Rnd 1-2)
C Max Unger (Oregon) 6-5, 309 (Rnd 2)
OT Phil Loadholt (Oklahoma) 6-8, 332 (Rnd 2)
G Herman Johnson (LSU) 6-7, 356 (Rnd 2-3)
G/T Andy Levitre (Oregon State) 6-3, 305 (Rnd 3)
G Louis Vasquez (Texas Tech) 6-5, 333 (Rnd 5)
WR/KR Mike Thomas (Arizona) 5-8, 195 (Rnd 2-3)
WR Louis Murphy (Florida) 6-3, 205 (Rnd 3)
WR/KR Jason Cherry (La-Lafayette) 5-11, 190 (UFA)
WR/KR Travis Shelton (Temple) 5-9, 185 (UFA)
TE Richard Quinn (N. Carolina) 6-4, 264 (Rnd 4-5)
QB Nate Davis (Ball State) 6-2, 225 (Rnd 5)
RB Frank Summers (UNLV) 5-9, 241 (Rnd 7)
DE Jarron Gilbert (San Jose St) 6-5, 288 (Rnd 2)
DE Fili Moala (USC) 6-4, 305 (Rnd 2-3)
DL Dorell Scott (Clemson) 6-3, 312 (Rnd 3-4)
DL Sammie Lee Hill (Stillman) 6-4, 329 (Rnd 5
DE Rashon Harris (Oregon) 6-4, 298 (Rnd 7)
OLB Lawrence Sidbury (Richmond) 6-3, 266 (Rnd 3)
LB Spencer Adkins (Miami) 5-11, 230 (Rnd 7-UFA)
LB Brandon Long (Michigan St) 6-3, 254 (Rnd 7-UFA)
CB Vontae Davis (Illinois) 5-11, 203 (Rnd 1)
CB Alphonso Smith (Wake Forest) 5-9, 193(Rnd 1-2)
S Louis Delmas (Western Michigan) 6-0, 202 (Rnd 2)
CB Mike Mickens (Cincinnati) 6-0, 186 (Rnd 2-3)
CB/S Sherrod Martin (Troy) 6-1, 198 (Rnd 2-3)
CB Donald Washington (Ohio St) 6-0, 197 (Rnd 5)
CB/KR Joe Burnett (Central Florida) 5-10, 192 (Rnd 5-6)
CB Don Carey (Norfolk St) 5-11, 192 (Rnd 7)
CB Ellis Lankster (West Virginia), 5-9, 191 (UFA)
This breaks down to 17 players on defense, 13 on offense. The largest group is defensive backs, with seven cornerbacks, one projected combo CB-S, and one free safety. Only one OT was brought in (Loadholt) among the six offensive linemen.
The first thing that jumps out is the sheer number of defensive backs, from projected first-rounders to undrafted players. You have to think the Steelers want to address the secondary and would be prepared to do it at any point in the draft. They're looking at top end talent and they're looking at projects. The two most interesting names to me are CB/S Sherrod Martin and FS Louis Delmas. Both seem to be perfect Steeler candidates, with Martin having the size, quickness and versatility to play nickel back, cornerback and free safety, and Delmas possessing toughness, on-field smarts and leadership qualities. At the Senior Bowl, surrounded by a bevy of high-profile DBs from bigger schools, he was a take-charge guy directing players through their assignments and acting almost like a coach on the field. If they want Delmas, they will have to pick him in the first round or move around in the second round, he won't be available at pick No. 64, although Martin could be. As for pure cornerbacks, Alphonso Smith has outstanding skills but lacks height. I think the Steelers want to develop a guy and I look at super athletic Donald Washington and super smart (and athletic enough) small schooler Donald Carey as two guys that have the tools to blossom under the teaching triumvirate of Tomlin, Lebeau and Ray Horton.
The second thing I take from this list is an emphasis on improving the running game, particularly power running. Loadholt, the only OT, is a massive RT candidate whose strength is run blocking. Johnson is the biggest guard prospect in the draft and Vasquez is not far behind. The only TE brought in, Richard Quinn, is a superior blocker with limited receiving ability. The only RB, Frank Summers, is a miniature tank who Steelers RB coach Kirby Wilson described as one of the toughest guys to tackle he has seen.
Third, there is a clear indication the Steelers want to address defensive line depth and would be prepared to do so in Round 1 or Round 2. The fast-rising, athletic Gilbert is probably not going to be available at the end of Round 2, he might even get picked before No. 32. Moala is a Round 2 candidate, iffy to be available at No. 64. Dorell Scott is versatile and perhaps even worth reaching for in Round 2 as Hampton's eventual replacement. Sammie Lee Hill would probably have to sit on the practice roster for a year or even two. He's a long way from being NFL ready but perhaps there is no hurry with Hampton having another year and then being a franchise tag candidate.
The final observation is about special teams. Three of the four WRs brought in were outstanding college returners, as was CB Joe Burnett. I'm not sure where converted DE Lawrence Sidbury fits into the picture now with Harrison under contract, but he is a much better athlete than Bruce Davis and a perfect guy to be developed behind Harrison and Woodley as an insurance policy. He's the kind of player the Steelers could take at No. 64 as the best player available, leaving all of us scratching our heads about another pass-rushing OLB coming aboard. He is a beast and obviously would contribute to special teams, as would speedy tackling demon Spencer Adkins.