With way too much time on my hands these days I have been watching hours of video of draft prospects and combine workouts. Having read page after page of online draft commentary my head is now full of pointless facts and I feel the need to unburden myself of this knowledge on a poor and unsuspecting audience.
The downside to all this fact gathering is I have decided who the Steelers should draft this year, like I know better than them. Any deviation from this list will be met by angry moans and complaints to anyone who is unfortunate to listen that they should have taken "My Guy" in years to come. I will maintain this stance regardless of any practical evidence that I was in fact completely wrong in the first place. I am English, it is how we are.
Until that day comes however here is my take on the players that would look best in Black & Gold. Mr Colbert and Mr Tomlin can sit back and relax .... I have done all the hard work for you.
Round 1: Xavier Rhodes CB Florida State
Having considered a number of prospects, most of who I would feel uncomfortable taking in the first round, I settled on Xavier Rhodes. While corner is not as much a position of need as others the group is not as strong as it should be with the decision to let Kennan Lewis leave. An aging Ike Taylor at one spot looking at the final year or two of an expensive contract and William Gay set to man the nickel slot, depth is definitely required. In the LeBeau defense cornerbacks seem to need a year or two in the system before they can think of taking on a starting role so it makes sense to find Taylors replacement this year.
Rhodes has many of the attributes the Steelers seem to look for in a cornerback. He is a strong physical player that looks to take control of the receiver coming off the line. He excels in man press coverage something the Steelers often ask their corners to do and while some will say he doesn't have elite speed or agility, which is true, they are not traditionally attributes the Steelers look for in their corners. His tackling technique and zone coverage skills need some work but Carnell Lake has done great things with the projects given to him so far and most of Rhodes faults are correctable with coaching. Rhodes can lay a good hit and is good in run support. He is a true outside corner and has reliable hands recording 8 interceptions while a three year starter at college.
In many ways Rhodes plays corner the way the Steelers seem to like their corners to play and could provide a strong presence in the secondary for years to come. Having been scheduled for a visit to Pittsburgh already it is safe to say he is on the teams radar too.
Round 2: Jamie Collins OLB Southern Miss
Like Rhodes, Jamie Collins is another prospect that has been to Pittsburgh for a pre draft visit. He excelled at the combine elevating his draft stock meaning the Steelers may have to take him in the second round if they want him.
He has good size and agility for the position and shows quickness coming off the edge to the get to the Quarterback. He recorded a number of tackles for a loss displaying his ability to get off blocks and lateral speed to take down backs trying to avoid him. Collins entered college as a safety playing in 13 games and was moved to linebacker in his sophomore year and figures to have skills in pass coverage covering tight ends and running backs out of the backfield. He should develop into a three down linebacker capable of helping in every aspect of the defense. Collins registered 21 sacks and 45.5 tackles for a loss while at Southern Miss.
Collins is by no means a finished product. He doesn't play with enough aggression at times and needs to work on beating a double team. He will need to add more strength and muscle to his somewhat lean frame to be successful against NFL caliber linemen.
Round 3: Phillip Thomas S Fresno State
Of all the safeties I have looked at Phillip Thomas is my favorite. A playmaker and ballhawk who led the nation with 8 picks last year, 3 of which he returned for TD's. He produced 20 turnovers during his college career, a trait the Steelers could really use.
Thomas has terrific closing speed. He recognizes where the play is going and arrives in time to make a play, whether it be against the run or the pass. When you watch him on film you see a physical hitter who likes to make contact. Thomas has very good open-field running ability and is a threat with the ball in his hands. He missed his junior year in 2011 after breaking his leg and dislocating his ankle in practice prior to the start of the season but came back much bigger and stronger in 2012 to have his best year at Fresno State when he was also a Jim Thorpe Award finalist.
Interestingly his coach at college Tim DeRuyter installed a 3-4 defense before the start of the season based on the Steelers defense so maybe the learning curve for him would not be so steep. In an interview with Head Coach Tim DeRuyter with Sports Illustrated:
"This 3-4 defense that we run, we learned it from Dick LeBeau and the Steelers, and Phillip’s our Troy Polamalu, Where you’ve gotta have a guy who’s gonna be a difference-maker, you can blitz him, you can have him in pass coverage, you can have him as a run-force player, he can play man coverage and he can disguise everything? That guy, for us, is Phillip."
Reportedly a good student of the game and a very coachable talent Thomas drew a lot of praise from his position coach, former NFL Safety and six time Pro Bowler Tim McDonald.
Round 4: Stedman Bailey WR West Virginia
If the Steelers are looking for a complete all around receiver then Stedman Bailey could be their man. Bailey was West Virginia's most reliable and productive receiver the past two years. He is a natural pass catcher with outstanding body control and timing on deep passes. He set a school record with five consecutive 100-yard receiving games and left West Virginia as the school's career leader with 39 touchdown receptions.
As the Steelers often like to see in their draft picks, he has what they call a "good body of work" on his college resume, having started 35 career games over the last three years. He has good moves in the open field running with a powerful frame, strong enough to break tackles and gain extra yards.
Against him Bailey lacks the ideal height, leaping ability and catching radius of the other higher rated receivers in the draft but he is a very productive receiver with few flaws in his game outside of these physical constraints. By all accounts he battled a bad left ankle throughout the 2012 season and has some minor durability concerns.
Round 5: Marcus Lattimore RB South Carolina
Without the injury history he has Marcus Lattimore would probably have been a first round pick given the skills he showed at college. However there is no getting away from the fact that his last two season were brought to an end with significant knee injuries.
When healthy though he shows all the skills to be a feature back in the NFL. He has great vision and reads his blocks very well suggesting he could be a good fit for the zone blocking scheme favored by the Steelers new offensive line coach. Lattimore hits the hole with a great burst of acceleration, although he does not have true break away speed. He has good hands out of the backfield and does a good job in pass protection.
Lattimore comes across very well in interviews appearing to be a well adjusted, humble young man and given the injury history is clearly a hard worker in the weight room. He has the sort of personality you would like to see on your team and could be a positive influence in a locker room reportedly fractured last year.
Round 6A: Kenjon Barner RB Oregan
The Steelers needs bodies at running back and while back to back picks at the same position may seem odd both Dwyer and Redman are set to be free agents next year and there is a good chance at least one and possibly both may not be back in 2014. Barner is a very different sort of back to any the Steelers have on their roster. His game is all about speed and quickness.
Barner put up amazing numbers in Oregans high octane offense and he could contribute in a number of positions for the Steelers, filling the role Chris Rainey was originally drafted for, kick returner and change of pace back. Barner is an outside runner with breakaway speed but lacks the size, power and strength to be an inside runner or every down back in the NFL. His pass protection is somewhat lacking and he has had his issues with fumbles but the level of production he had at college is too much to ignore.
Round 6B: Jasper Collins WR Mount Union
If he had attended a bigger institution Jasper Collins would be significantly higher up the draft board but the level of competition he faced has raised questions about how he will do against NFL grade opposition. He has great hands and is a polished route runner with good quickness. As with Bailey his "body of work" at college is very impressive having played in 52 career games, gaining 3,527 yards on 232 receptions with 37 touchdowns.
He is not especially sizable at 5'10 and 180 but would figure to be a good slot receiver and is also a capable return man. Collins has begun to draw a lot of attention as a sleeper candidate in the upcoming draft and the secret is very much out on this prospect.
Round 7: Lawrence Okoye DE (No College)
A shout out to one of three English born players available in the draft this year (Menelik Watson and Tom Wort the other two). Although he has no real football experience Okoye reportedly was very impressive at the regional combine he attended. Despite his size, 6'6 and 308, he ran a 4.78 40 along with a 35 inch vertical jump and 10'5 broad jump which are incredible numbers for his size
A former British Olympic discus thrower and rugby player he is an intelligent young man who has more than enough potential to warrant a late round selection.
In an ideal world the Steelers would trade down from pick 17 and pick up additional selections in the second and third rounds. In the last thirteen drafts however since 2000 the Steelers have only traded back once with the Cowboys and up twice with the Jets and Giants so staying where they are seems the most likely scenario.
I am aware this leaves the Steelers with a few holes to fill notably for depth on the offensive line and at inside linebacker but you can't get everything in one draft after all.
Feel free to abuse me for this mock !