A lot of people at BTSC have become enamored with Su'a Cravens, a linebacker/safety hybrid out of USC. It's easy to see why. The heritage, school, and playing style bring back echoes of Troy Polamalu. But not quite.
Troy was a true Strong Safety. He had exceptional burst and football IQ that let him transcend the game, but he was a Safety first and foremost. That isn't so clear for Cravens.
In 2015 Su'a Cravens played linebacker instead of Safety and despite many fond hopes that he will drop 10-15 pounds to go back into the secondary, that seems unlikely. As a rule young men tend to grow a little bigger and a little slower as their career progresses, not vice-versa. (Le'Veon Bell being an arguable exception). The reality is that Su'a Cravens will probably fall in the draft because he is neither fish nor fowl, but rather a hybrid who spans the line between our traditional view of the two positions. It's not as unique as it might have seemed a few years back.
Ryan Shazier stood on that line until he brought himself up into the 240 range that made him a full time ILB. Deonne Bucannon played ILB for Arizona in the 220's this year after being drafted as a Safety. His coverage skills were a huge advantage. Last year Shaq Thompson was the one who spawned these discussions. He hasn't played much but has looked good while doing it.
And this year Su'a Cravens is not alone at the hybrid position. In fact, he's no better than third on the list. Cravens is a tremendous athlete with 1st-Round athletic ability for a team that can use his particular type of hybrid skill-set. But Myles Jack and Jaylon Smith are potentially game-changing talents. These guys are Colbert "specials" in the flesh.
The overwhelming consensus is that Myles Jack will go in the top 5 or maybe 10. He injured his knee back in September and lost most of his final season, but it was a meniscus that requires 4-6 months of rehab with a prognosis of 100% recovery. Jaylon Smith tore both his ACL and MCL in the bowl game. He won't even smell a football field in his rookie year, and will have to work like a demon to be back for Year 2. Given today's medicine, however, he may well be available at full strength for Year 3.
I've been doing some thinking about Kevin Colbert's theory that special talents are the ultimate goal of the 1st Round. It's an outlook that doesn't mesh well with how the talent in this year's class is arrayed. For example, the Steelers biggest wants are at Safety and Corner. That is where a special talent would do the most good, no question about it. Unfortunately the only secondary prospect who fits that description is:
- Jalen Ramsey
He will be long gone by 1:25. There are no true Safeties who even qualify as 1st-Round prospects after that. It's a bit different at Corner. By my count there are two clear 1st Round prospects (Vernon Hargreaves & Mackenzie Alexander), two later-1st Round prospects (Kendall Fuller and Eli Apple), and a few fringe-1st prospects who may rise (Artie Burns & William Jackson III), but none who seem to be "special."
On the other hand there are a number of truly special talents at other positions. The ILB/SS hybrids are one:
- Myles Jack
- Jaylon Smith
Su'a Cravens follows as a fringe-1st prospect.
The D-line has a few special talents:
- Joey Bosa
- DeForest Buckner
Several more may elevate themselves to that level:
- Andrew Billings
- A'Shawn Robinson
- Kenny Clark
- Jarran Reed
I personally believe that Billings is going to "Dontari" the Combine and move himself out of our reach. For those who doubt Robinson's potential, check this out (that's 315 lbs. doing a Polamalu leap). Robert Nkemdiche could be the best of them all if he didn't have a rattling-coins brain to go along with a megabucks talent.
After that there's one special talent on the O-line:
- Laremy Tunsil, OL
Ten in a draft class is about average. Ronnie Stanley is a close call on the O-line, Ziggy Elliot a close call at RB, maybe Shaq Lawson at the Edge. I invite conversation in the comments about anyone who should be dropped from or added to the list of "specials".
I believe this distribution of talent is what's driving the speculation (including mine) that the Steelers will opt for a defensive lineman in Round 1. Kevin Colbert has said he will take a "special talent" at a position of even remote want over a "mere" first rounder every time, and there is no reason to doubt him. Most of us would agree that he should. That's the only position where a "special" may be available. There - and at the ILB/SS hybrid.
What should the Steelers do if a special talent falls at a position of only bare minimum want. You know, a spot like ILB? Should the team pick a Myles Jack if some miracle made him fall that far? What about a Jaylon Smith? The loose quasi-medical speculation that's out there "diagnoses" a basic recovery to walking and maybe running Year 2, with a full recovery for Year 3. If we assume that's completely true then what should the Steelers do?
It's a question of philosophy as much as anything else, so you will have to decide for yourself. Share your thoughts below.