Don't be surprised if the Steelers spend some time with Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert at the NFL Combine.
It's not common for the Steelers to draft a back-up to their team MVP from the previous season in the first round, but it isn't any more common to find a tight end with Eifert's speed (4.68 40) and size (6-foot-5, 250 pounds, 9 1/8 inch hands).
In what could be a classic example of drafting the best player available, Eifert could be on the board at 17, and it seems likely at least one scout would be clamoring for one of the surest prospects in the draft.
What would that say about tight end Heath Miller, the man who earned a Pro Bowl berth and led the team in receiving this past season? Absolutely nothing. Stepping past for a second the likelihood of Miller starting the year on the physically unable to perform list due to a knee injury he suffered in Week 17, having two players as big and as athletic as Miller and Eifert would fit wonderfully in the Steelers' offense.
Eifert, like any rookie, would need some seasoning, but the Steelers currently only have second-year David Paulson healthy and under contract for 2013. While it's not a guarantee Miller won't play this year, judging by the 2012 season of running back Rashard Mendenhall - who suffered the same ACL tear as Miller did late in the 2011 season - it's hard to say Miller will be the same player from the start.
But looking ahead to 2014, with Miller at 100 percent, and Eifert having a year to develop even more, they could rival anyone in terms of talent at the increasingly important tight end position. It would also be a cheaper alternative to their current lack of wide receivers, giving veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger two large targets in which to throw quick-release passes to all over the field.
Eifert's outstanding Combine performance solidifies him as one of the best all-around tight end prospects seen in the draft in recent memory.
A fast riser now, based on the eye-popping athleticism he displayed at the Combine is offensive linemen Terron Armstrong. He ran an official 4.71 in the 40 - believed to be the fastest time ever for an offensive lineman at the Combine - and was impressive in agility drills as well.
Movement like that screams left tackle, and the guy barely anyone knew before Day 3 of the NFL Combine could find himself in the first round.
Oklahoma's Lane Johnson, who missed out on the adoration Armstead is receiving because he ran a tenth of a second slower (an insane 4.72, the second-fastest in Combine history), but his technique is outstanding, and his big school notoriety could push him into the top 15.
A player who stood out perhaps only to me was San Diego State tight end Gavin Escobar. Watching his gauntlet run - where receivers run in a straight line and catch passes from either side while on the move - it's impossible not to notice how incredibly soft his hands were. it appeared as if the ball was magnetized, as he caught it lightly in the center of the triangle on each throw.
He has incredibly long strides, which will help him eat up space against off-coverage, and while his 4.84 40 time will likely drop him from top two round consideration (not to mention below standard blocking ability at this point in his career), his hands and athleticism shouldn't be ignored.
Teams look for reasons to not draft a player as much as for reasons to draft one, especially in the first two rounds. While Escobar started the day in third place, behind Eifert and Stanford's Zach Ertz, he certainly didn't move up into the top two, which was expected. But the fact he has Carly Rae Jepsen playing in the background of his highlight video absolutely should drop his stock.
(Thank you, 34D, for pointing that out, and getting this song stuck in my head. You can all blame him for me passing it on to you.)