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A BTSC Pittsburgh Steelers Big Board Excerpt - Team Meetings to Date

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Entries for only those players that have met with the team.

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Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh has met with eleven (11) Cornerbacks so far.

The list includes all three of the prospects we rank as viable candidates for the pick at 1:25:

  • Mackensie Alexander
  • William Jackson III, and
  • Eli Apple

The team has also met with four (4) prospects we rank as fringe-2nd values:

  • Xavien Howard
  • Kalan Reed
  • Harlan Miller, and
  • D.J. White

The next band would be two (2) potential 4th-rounders:

  • Jonathan Jones
  • Tavon Young

And then there are two (2) prospects valued as late-round picks:

  • DeAndre Elliott
  • Ryan Smith

The conclusion? The Steelers are determined to add another Corner from this year's class, and would have no objection to doing so in an early round. But the front office is keeping it's options open. Colbert is not looking at every genius athlete, nor every CB who fits a particular height/weight/speed profile. He seems to be more focused on looking for Corners who would fit the Steeler defensive backfield philosophy. In the 3rd that includes several taller players, but the 4th (by our grades) has mighty mites. The only common thread seems to be a certain level of technical skill versus sheer athletic promise.

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1.

1:15

Mackensie Alexander, CB, Clemson [Meeting at the Combine and Pro Day] - 5'10-3/8", 190 lbs. with 31-3/8" arms and 9-1/8" hands. Built more like a running back than a defensive back, he's been quite solid in 2015. A somewhat controversial candidate because he has some technique issues that make him less effective in zone coverage, a problem usually associated with overall football IQ. He may need a teacher as much as a coach. There's also a weird statistical anomaly that he has zero (0) interceptions in his entire college career. This goes to Fear94's BTSC scouting report, which puts Alexander only a hair behind Hargreaves in the competition for #1 Corner. This goes to a marvelous Sports Illustrated article that reads like you're a fly on the wall in a really good team interview. The author started off to get the life story of this son of Haitian immigrants from the Florida tomato farms, and ended up with a 30-minute dissertation from Alexander on five plays he thought were worth the time. Film study is not going to be a problem for this kid! If you want a taste of the young man's background and personality, see this profile of Eli Apple and Mackenzie Alexander by Rebecca Rollett. No one does personality better than Mama Rollett.

If you want to be an Alexander fan you should also bookmark this detailed Bleacher Report scouting report that describes him has the clear best-in-class. This able scouting report from our sister site for the Jets is almost as positive, concluding "he's one of the finest defensive backs I've ever evaluated." This November scouting report hints at issues with his willingness to tackle. This glowing December scouting report sounds eerily like a description of Ike Taylor, albeit shorter and thicker. This summary scouting profile from December adds a few more details, repeating the observation that Alexander has yet to master zone coverage and needs to work on his tackling. This scouting profile considers Alexander's fit with the Steelers in particular. This tweet-heavy scouting profile from HogsHaven, our sister site for the Redskins, concludes with the statement that Mackensie Alexander is the "clear #3 Corner in the draft." There is a nice, if small, profile in this this DraftWire review of the CB class. Here is a "floor and ceiling" video scouting report discussion between former scouts Daniel Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks.

CB

2.

1:20

William Jackson III, CB, Houston [Meeting and Dinner at Pro Day] - 6'0-3/8", 189 lbs. with 31-3/8" arms and 9-1/8" hands and an amazing 4.37 dash at the Combine. Here is the gif-supported BTSC scouting report from our own Fear 94. CB's are terribly hard to project because the college game tends to be talent-oriented while the NFL game relies utterly on impeccable training and study skills. All the talent in the world will make you a stud CB in college, but that won't translate to the NFL if you have technical holes in your game that professional receivers can turn against you. Just ask Justin Gilbert. And then you have to add in the internals, study habits and other mental parts of the game that have brought down even the most promising combinations of talent and native skill. Just ask Curtis Brown. Thus all a scout can really do is go over the film again and again, looking for signs that a jewel exists beneath all the obscuring rock and grit. William Jackson III has a somewhat atypical array of physical talents and flaws that display the issues right away. More careful study shows a lot of nice crystal hiding beneath, of the very sort that made guys like Richard Sherman so extraordinary. It's led to more recent grades such as this enthusiastic gif-supported DraftWire scouting report that anoints Jackson as "the top Corner in the draft," a position they stick to in this nice DraftWire review of the CB class. This more focused scouting report from SteelersWire points out the ways in which he'd be a perfect fit for Pittsburgh. Older reviews like this unusually detailed NFL.com scouting profile saw him more as a prospect with long-time starter potential after a year or two of good coaching, and this Internet scouting report that concludes: "Jackson is worth grabbing and will have a lengthy career as a solid #2 corner." It seems to me that all of them are right. The floor has stayed the same (a fine #2) but evaluations of the ceiling have steadily gone up. This particularly detailed scouting profile is highly recommended for a deeper view, especially if you like the idea that a 1st-Round grade might be appropriate.

Interestingly, the biggest knock on Jackson at the beginning of the process were questions about his long speed, which many projected around 4.55-4.60 but has now been established as a stunning 4.37. Other assets were already acknowledged, such as tremendous length (and a talent for using it well), top notch reaction time (he closes on plays very fast), and excellent ball skills with both his hands (he can catch) and his eyes (he has the knack of getting his head around on deep throws, finding the ball, and responding appropriately). His actual skills remain a work in progress, which is what accounts for the varied reviews, but include what looks like a solid understanding of man-coverage basics, zone concepts, and how to use the boundary to his advantage. Perhaps most encouraging, Mike Mayock went out of his way at the Combine to observe that WJ-III has improved during the offseason just from the more intense training he's begun to receive. Oh yes - he's also known a willing tackler if not a great one. The bottom line is that William Jackson III has a good chance of being the answer to our boundary Corner dreams, but has shot up draft Boards so far that there's now a question about whether he will even be available to Pittsburgh in the 1st.

This scouting report seems more than usually competent, and is a great place to start. The verdict? Fast enough, long enough, skilled enough, willing enough, and a good team player, but probably a Day 2 pick nonetheless because he's vulnerable to double moves, he needs to add a good bit of strength, and he isn't the startling athletic genius you want to see in a 1st rounder. This November article is more positive and predicts a rise in stock well into the 1st as teams begin to realize that Jackson checks off pretty much every box that teams look for in a Corner. Prophetic. Comparisons are drawn to Kevin Johnson, who was something of a 2015 darling for BTSC and was also the comparison for DraftWire's rave review. This scouting report from our sister site for the Redskins gives him a Round 2-3 grade, depending on how he runs at the Combine. This is another hard to read but perceptive scouting report from someone who refuses to use paragraph breaks. This scouting report is a little odd, because it cites "lack of size" as the main issue even though Jackson is relatively big for his position. It's probably a reflection of the need to build strength that other reports have noted. This PatsPulpit scouting profile has New England targeting Jackson in Round 2. Here is a brief scouting profile from a Raiders site. Here is a scouting profile from a Saints perspective. This dual scouting profile (DJ White & WJ-III) from retired NFL executive Greg Gabriel pegs Jackson as a #3 or #4 Corner in Year 1, with a lot of potential moving forward. This goes to a scouting profile from our sister site for the 49ers.

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3.

1:25

Eli Apple, CB, Ohio State [Meeting at the Combine] - 6'0-1/2", 199 lbs. with 33-3/8" arms and 9-3/8" hands. Ran well at the Combine (4.40) and according to Daniel Jeremiah was equally good in the field drills. An aggressive, physical Corner with good size, good speed, nice balance and fluidity, excellent skills in run support, and who comes from the Steelers' favorite hunting ground. He is also very young - he won't turn 21 until next August. There's a lot that's good about Eli Apple from Pittsburgh's point of view. The not so goods? They're solvable. For one, he's young - a redshirt sophomore. But the Steelers haven't hesitated about youth in the past. At this point he's also much better in man coverage than off- or zone, indicating a lack of football IQ that's probably tied to his youth. If he has the native candle power that will also be easy to fix. People have also mentioned a persistent problem staying with receivers when they make their cut at the top of a route, which has led to grabbiness of the sort that produces NFL holding penalties. If you want a taste of the young man's background and personality, see this profile of Eli Apple and Mackenzie Alexander by Rebecca Rollett. No one does personality better than Mama Rollett.

This goes to a pre-Combine BTSC article comparing Kendall Fuller and Eli Apple, with notes from the NFL.com scouting report. Here is an early but still useful scouting report. This combination scouting report from retired NFL exec Greg Gabriel summarizes things nicely: He is so young that he'll probably start off as a #3 Corner at best, but he's a willing player in run support and has the physical tools to eventually be a #1. This goes to a scouting profile from early February. This January article from scout Dave Te Thomas includes profiles on a great many of the best Corner prospects, but what he has to say about Eli Apple may open a few of the more skeptical eyes. Thomas expects Apple to blow up the Combine and become a much more prized Corner than Mackenzie Alexander. This article considers Eli Apple as a fit for the Steelers in particular. Apple is profiled as a 1st Round option for the Steelers in this article. This goes to a long, gif-supported scouting profile from our sister site for the Jaguars that considers Apple something of a boom-or-bust project, with every tool you could ask for but also a significant chance to be a bust if thrown to the wolves too early in his career. This DraftWire scouting profile ends with an early-3rd grade for very similar reasons. This nice DraftWire review of the CB class considers Apple the most physically talented prospect of all the Corners, but with so much to learn that he falls to an early Day 2 grade. This scouting profile from our sister site for the Giants uses Janoris Jenkins or even Patrick Peterson as the comparable pro. Here's a video scouting profile from one of our fellow draft nerds. This goes to a particularly thorough scouting report from our sister site for his very own Ohio State Buckeyes, which ends with a fringe-1st grade. This pro football focus scouting profile makes for an interesting read, particularly if you scan the comments. The upside? "Sticks to his receiver like glue." The biggest issue? "An almost pathological aversion to the football." ROFL. Here is a fairly summary scouting profile from Sports Illustrated. This dead middle-of-the-road scouting profile ends with a mid- to late-1st grade and summarizes the consensus view of Eli Apple as well as anything else I've seen. This scouting profile considers Eli Apple as a fit for the Jets at #20 overall.

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4.

2:24

Xavien Howard, CB, Baylor [Meeting with parents at pro day] - 6'0-1/8", 201 lbs. with 31-1/4" arms and 9-1/8" hands. Mayock and crew consistently used one word to described Xavien Howard during the Combine coverage: "Inconsistent." His film shows a good tackler with good hands who will probably thrive best in a press man technique that would let him use his size to good advantage, while minimizing his somewhat questionable long speed. OTOH he moved that number up to an eye-opening 4.37-4.41 at the Baylor pro day, with equally startling results in the other tests. Turns out, Xavien Howard is a SPARQ-score star with technique that needs to improve, not a decent technician with a glass ceiling. It would actually be no shock at all to see him gone well before the Steelers pick at 2:27. This gif-supported DraftWire scouting report is a fine place to start, especially if you pair it with this nice DraftWire review of the CB class. That site's conclusion is that Howard projects as a fine press-man CB who is strong in all of the secondary parts of the game such as run support, but has real questions about his ability to backpedal, turn, and then run with a fast receiver; primary duties here in Pittsburgh with our heavy use of zone concepts. This recent scouting profile from pro football focus concludes with a pretty good summary of the pluses and minuses:

When Howard gets it right on tape, he looks like the next Richard Sherman—a player with the length to all but eliminate deep passes to his side, and the skills to play the short stuff, too. [B]ut there are still a lot of concerning moments on his tape, and so many plays where he is killed by receivers. It is a lot to clean up at this point.

This gif-supported, Steeler-oriented scouting report considers Xavien Howard a potential 3rd-Round steal. This discussion thread at Steel City Insider mentions that the Steeler brass spent a lot of time speaking with Howard's family at the Baylor pro day. The plot thickens... Here is a good scouting report from a Patriots site, which is where you may want to start. This goes to a better-than-nothing scouting profile that also emphasizes Howard's willingness to stick his nose in on tackles. This video at the Sports Illustrated site announces Howard's decision to go pro and includes some basic statistics. This goes to a Bleacher Report "hidden gems" profile on Xavien Howard. This goes to a video scouting report from a draft-geek who considers him one of the top 5 CB's in the entire draft. This scouting profile ends with a 4th-Round grade base in large part about athleticism questions that were subsequently answered in emphatic fashion at the pro day. This scouting profile from our sister site for the Chiefs joins in the Fringe-1st speculation. This goes to a pre-pro day but gif-supported scouting report from our sister site for the Titans. This link goes to a SteelersWire scouting profile that ends with a Round 2 grade.

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5.

3:01

Kalan Reed, CB, Southern Miss [Meeting at pro day] - 5'11-1/2", 199 lbs.. Major, major buzz with lots of teams there to watch his spectacular pro day that featured a 40-time between 4.38_and 4.47 seconds depending on who held the stopwatch (in the rain no less), a fantastic 41-1/2" vertical that would have tied for best-in-show at the Combine, and excellent scores in the other tests such as the short shuttle, 3-cone, and the broad jump. His film looks very impressive too, with a decent game against Amari Cooper in 2014 (8 catches and several defenses, which was better than most). Cooper went pro after that, and Reed went back to school where he has clearly gotten better in 2015. Reed also played in a zone heavy scheme and prides himself on film study and route recognition skills. This goes to a gif-supported BTSC scouting report from Fear94.

This excellent scouting profile from Draft Breakdown is definitely the place to start, and concludes with a Round 2-3 grade. According to this scouting profile from our sister site for the Redskins, he's also a willing tackler for a smaller guy. The only knocks are level of competition (Conference USA) and being "only" 5-11. The school website shows that he's started since being a true freshman. This goes to a pretty good interview that includes self-assessed best and worst games, which should be useful if you want to do your own film work. This website is kind of fun if your heavy into metrics. Reed's teammate WR Mike Thomas also had a fine pro day (see this article on their pro day too) a fact that's noteworthy for those of us who believe in the ‘iron sharpens iron' philosophy that two outstanding small school prospects on the same team would tend to provide competition for each other to replace the lack of NFL talent on some of the teams they played. This diary of a visit to Cleveland includes information on his meetings with the Pittsburgh coaches.

CB

6.

3:12

Harlan Miller, CB/KR, S.E. Louisiana [Meeting at the Combine] - 5'11-7/8", 182 lbs. with 31-3/8" arms and 9" hands. A talented small-school Corner who needs to be tested against better competition. He also has experience as a punt returner. Miller really shined at the Senior Bowl and was voted the top defensive back there by observers. That bodes well, as does the very high rating in the NFL.com scouting report - ahead of both Eli Apple and Kendall Fuller, who are usually considered fringe-1st talents. OTOH, he tested very poorly at the Combine, particularly in the important agility drills. Cold water indeed. The bottom line is that he's a developmental prospect with good but not special size, and who flashed at one really important and public event (the Senior Bowl).

This goes to an excellent, gif-heavy scouting report from the DraftWire concludes with a late-2nd grade. This goes to a Falcons-oriented scouting profile written after that leap onto the national stage. This goes to a scouting profile from our sister site for the Redskins. This goes to a scouting profile from a Saints perspective. This Steeler-oriented scouting profile from February ends with a fringe-2nd to early-3rd grade. This recent scouting profile ends with a 4th-Round grade as the spot for someone who has great instincts and toughness but lacks elite athletic skills. Here is a fun end-of-March scouting profile that lauds Miller's "scrappy" play.

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7.

3:12

D.J. White, CB, Georgia Tech [Meeting in Pittsburgh] - 5'10-7/8", 193 lbs. with 31-1/2" arms and 9-1/4" hands. Described by the CBS scouting profile as a Corner whose only real weaknesses are average height and possibly a lack of long speed, and by Mike Mayock as "a very solid football player." Often hit with the "more quick than fast" label, he ran a 4.50 at the Combine which shows that the speed he'll need is there. My impression is that he's a fine prospect to be a slot corner with the potential to grow into something more. High effort guy, team captain, tenacious tackler, very fluid... There are a lot of reasons why the Steelers might be very interested in White for a mid-round pick. Quite frankly, he sounds a lot like a younger Willie Gay except with a bit more of a resume coming out of college. If the measurements given in this article are correct, expect Mr. White to be making quite a jump after the Combine. This dual scouting profile (DJ White & WJ-III) from retired NFL executive Greg Gabriel pegs White as a Day 3 pick, who could have been a 1st rounder if his 2015 season hadn't been so disappointing compared to 2014.

CB

8.

4:01

Jonathan Jones, CB, Auburn [Meeting in Pittsburgh] - 5'9-1/8", 186 lbs. with 30-1/4" arms and 8-3/4" hands. Ran a lightning fast 4.33 dash at the Combine, while also being a best-of-show guy for the bench press. Let's summarize it in a word: "Senquez Golson Lite." As described by the NFL.com scouting report Jonathan Jones is a single-purpose player but it's a legitimate and necessary purpose: He's the mighty mite who can stick with even the nastiest and most mobile of water-bug receivers in one-on-one man coverage. That's why CBS gives him a Round 5 grade. Here is Christopher Carter's gif-supported BTSC scouting report, which concludes with a solid 4th-Round grade. The idea of another Corner on the Steeler roster who would fit in the glove compartment of an average SUV may give me the heebie jeebies, but fair is fair. If we didn't have a couple of Jones-like players on the roster already, I would really want this one. This includes a Bleacher Report profile on Jones as a player who helped his stock with a strong Combine. There is a brief profile in this SteelersWire article on CB options under 6' tall.

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9.

4:16

Tavon Young, CB, Temple [Meeting at Pro Day and in Pittsburgh] - 5'9-1/8", 183 lbs. with 30-5/8" arms and 9-1/8" hands. As this adoring Bleacher Report scouting profile discusses, Tavon Young is a flat-out baller. Fear94's gif-supported BTSC scouting report agrees with that positive outlook. His long speed is good (4.47 at the Combine) and his change of direction skills are second to none and he's known as an excellent tackler. He's the sort of kid who could easily have a long journeyman career excelling in zone coverage.f But darn it, he's another mighty mite and is there any room at all on the Steelers squad for someone with that profile? The CBS scouting report has him going as a UDFA, but if you read the text you'll see a ton of things there that the reviewers really like. It really is a question of whether he can test well enough as a pure athlete to survive in the NFL. I suspect that he is and would deserve a Round 3-4 grade... if he wasn't so darned small. Can't someone buy these guys some platform sneakers or the like? This goes to another complimentary Bleacher Report profile. This scouting profile from retired NFL executive Greg Gabriel calls Young "an ideal slot corner" who lacks nothing but size.

CB

10.

6:16

DeAndre Elliott, CB, Colorado State [Meeting at Pro Day] - 6'1", 188 lbs. with 32" arms and 9-5/8" hands. Another potential late round sleeper, except this one met with the Steelers after setting some exceptional marks at the Combine, including a 41" vertical, 10'5" broad jump, amazing shuttle times, and an unofficial dash in the mid-4.4's. What you've got here ladies and gents, is a SPARQ-score superstar. The NFL.com scouting profile makes a lot of hay about his supposed lack of recovery speed, but that doesn't square at all with the test results. It makes you think there's some fundamental technique issues that Pittsburgh's coaches think they can fix... Here is a brief SteelersWire article about the pro day meeting with Pittsburgh.

CB

11.

7:01

Ryan Smith, CB/KR, North Carolina Central [Meeting in Pittsburgh] - 5'10", 189 lbs. with 30-1/2" arms and 8-7/8" hands. Another potential late round sleeper. First, Smith is an able kick returner (no record of handling punts). Second, the NFL.com scouting profile describes someone with decent technical skills, footwork, and football IQ, albeit at a smaller school and with some limitations on his closing burst and overall level of strength. But what struck me is an odd stat they quoted: though he was called an ‘ankle biter' elsewhere, "Smith also accomplished something you don't hear very often; he set the team career record for solo tackles with 168 as a cornerback." You could do worse for a late round flier. Here is a BTSC article published when the team brought Smith in for a meeting.

CB

Pittsburgh has met with six (6) Defensive Linemen so far.

We have three (3) of those ranked as 1st-round talents. Note that all three are NT-capable players (0-tech) with the ability to contribute in sub packages as well:

  • Andrew Billings
  • A'Shawn Robinson
  • Vernon Butler

We've ranked two (2) prospects a small notch down, early-2nd vaules. One is a 3-down NT like the ones listed above, and would be considered a 1st-rounder if he wasn't from a small school. The other is more of an Edge/DE hybrid.

  • Javon Hargrave
  • Carl Nassib

The final prospect would be a late round prospect. The team may have met with him because he comes from a Canadian school so obscure that it's possible the Steelers have no reliable scouting reports.

  • David Onyemata

The conclusion? The Steelers are determined to dip into this year's well of special defensive line talent to get a 3-down DT/NT prospect, which probably means a pick in either Round 1 or Round 2. Ignoring the problematic Robert Nkemdiche, there are four more prospects in this range who would fit the description of a 3-down NT but who have not yet met with the team to our knowledge: Jarran Reed from Alabama, Chris Jones from Mississippi State, Kenny Clark from UCLA, and Austin Johnson from Penn State. TWO NOTES: There are some arcane rules about NFL teams' ability to meet with players in their local sphere of influence. If Penn State falls in that category for the Steelers, it is possible that the team has already "met" with Austin Johnson enough to have a good sense of the young man without the need for a formal interview. There is also a sideways connection to Kenny Clark at UCLA through his defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, a longtime intimate of the Pittsburgh coaching staff.

Hassan Ridgeway and Jihad Ward would be a 3rd-round prospects with similar potential but an even longer way to go. The team has not met (yet) with any pure, two-down, run-stuffing NT prospects that might be available in Rounds 4-7.

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1:10

Andrew Billings, NT, Baylor [Meeting at Pro Day] - 6'0-1/2", 311 lbs. with 33" arms and 10" hands. An overpowering fireplug who reminds this writer a lot of the mountain formerly known as Big Snack, right down to his origins in the heart of Texas. NOTE: The Steelers attended his pro day in force, with no less a presence than Colbert, Tomlin, Butler, Haley, and the one and only Mean Joe Greene, who took Billings out to dinner and had nice things to say. You think the team might be interested...?

One thing emphasized in the NFL.com scouting profile is youth: Billings won't turn 21 until March of 2016, which may be seen as a red flag on other teams but tends to be a bonus feature from the Pittsburgh point of view. Here is a scouting report from our own Fear94 ("Andrew Billings is an immovable monster"). This goes to a second BTSC scouting report, this time by Andrew Kipp. Andrew sees Billings as a pure 0-technique Nose Tackle in the Casey Hampton mold. This goes to a scouting report from DraftWire, which ends with a "mid to late 1st" grade and the suggestion that he would thrive best as a single-gap 1-technique rather than a true two-gapping, 0-tech Nose Tackle. This long news/interest article provides a ton of background and is worth a read. This early-process scouting report will get you started, even though it projects Billings more as a penetrating 3-technique than a true O-technique Nose Tackle. This is a great gif-supported scouting report from a reliable source in Dallas. I wish I'd thought of these quips on my own. "He is simply so gifted that you can see the dread of the opposing interior linemen that must deal with him all afternoon... There isn't much not to like, other than the fact that football does allow an offense to game-plan to avoid destroyers at DT to a certain extent." Want another fun quote? Here's one from Todd McShay: "If you're drafting a guy off of one game, Baylor DT Andrew Billings is a top-10 pick vs WVU. This tape is a crime scene!" This goes to a Steelers-oriented interview at SteelersWire.

For those who want to really dig in, try this hour-long video scouting report by Matt Waldman, who considers Billings to be a truly dominant 1-tech with tremendous athleticism and some decent versatility. This scouting profile from our sister site for the Giants has no doubt that Billings can be a pass rusher, projects him as a potential 3-tech, and concludes that he'd be fair value at #10 overall. There is a nice profile on Billings in this set of scouting profiles/grades from our sister site for the Rams ("He's like a younger Vince Wilfork").

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1:20

Vernon Butler, NT, Louisiana Tech [Meeting at the Combine] - 6'3-1/2", 323 lbs. with long 35-1/8" arms and big 10-3/4" hands. A consistent riser throughout the draft process, Butler has the size, strength, energy, length, and surprising quickness you look for in a 3-down NT, but also enough technical flaws to require expert coaching. The particular problem appears to be a tendency to play a bit high, which is common in men his size and also something Coach Mitchell is good at fixing. The most reasonable expectation would be a rookie year with occasional time on the field for "seasoning," followed by starter status sometime in Year 2. Note that Butler looked great at the Senior Bowl, which solidified his high grade on this Board. It might have been enough to push him even higher in a class that was less stacked at the position. He had an only-okay Combine but corrected that impression with a super-impressive pro day. His 40 time increased from a pedestrian 5.33 to a 5.05 that would have tied Billings for best-in-Combine among the NT's; his vertical went from a weak 29.5" to an excellent 33.5" that would have been second only to Javon Hargrave at the Combine; and his broad jump from 8'8" to 9'3", which would be second only to Andrew Billings among the NT's. Athleticism: check.

Here is an optimistic scouting report to get you started. BTSC's own big_jay71 had Vernon Butler going to Detroit at #16 overall in this pre-Combine mock (perhaps not a stretch in light of this NFL draft rumor). This December scouting profile from retired NFL executive Greg Gabriel can be translated as "a strong pick for Round 2," but that was before Butler blew up his Senior Bowl competition. This concise scouting profile hits a similar note: "Vernon Butler is a raw but physically gifted defensive line prospect. He features excellent size, long arms, lateral quickness and a good closing burst. There's a lot of potential here but there is also room for improvement." It ends with a late Round 3 grade. This apparently thorough scouting report is very similar too: exceptionally gifted (with a basketball and track background), very raw, grades out in the Round 2-3 range. This long Saints-oriented scouting profile is more upbeat but refrains from assigning an actual grade (sounds like 1-2 though). This scouting profile from our sister site for the Giants sees Butler as a perfect pick for New York at #40 overall. The NFL.com scouting profile compares Butler to a poor man's Mo Wilkerson. This thoughtful, gif-supported scouting report from our sister site for the Cowboys ends with a fringe-1st grade. This summary scouting profile uses Dontari Poe as the comparable, but still ends with a Round 2-4 grade. This is a very good local article on Butler's rising draft stock. This sports illustrated article on Senior Bowl prospects counted Butler as the #1 DT in that group (with Jarran Reed and Sheldon Rankins DE's somehow). This more recent and complete Sports Illustrated scouting profile has Butler as the #18 prospect in the entire draft. This goes to the DraftWire gif-supported scouting report. There is a nice piece on Butler in this Bleacher Report article on 5 standout defensive linemen. This scouting profile from pro football focus projects Butler as a 3-4 DE, but doubts whether he has the strength to play NT. This goes to a scouting profile from our sister site for the Broncos and concludes with the author "pounding the table" in favor of Butler's value if he falls to Denver at 1:31. Our favorite Dallas writer offers this gif-supported scouting report, which focuses on Butler's games against Grade One competition and comes away raving about his promise as a potentially special pass rusher from the inside. This gif-supported, Redskins-oriented scouting report has Butler as a 1st-Round talent who could conceivably fall into Round 2 because this class is so remarkable. It also emphasizes that he is a very raw prospect who is potential-heavy but will need some time to develop. This gif-supported scouting profile from our sister site for the Lions considers Butler as a potential 1st-Rounder for Detroit. This briefer Yahoo scouting profile also thinks that Butler might fall into Round 2 due to the strength of the class, adding "It's disconcerting that Butler doesn't always appear to be playing full tilt, and he won't be instant oatmeal in the NFL, so some patience will be required." This goes to a longer article/scouting profile using Butler's excellent pro day as the point of entry.

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3.

1:20

A'Shawn Robinson, NT, Alabama [Meeting in Pittsburgh] - 6'3-1/2", 307 lbs. with 34-1/2" arms and big 10-1/2" hands. NOTE: Reportedly played at 320 pounds. Mike Mayock describes him as a natural 5-tech who has the ability to one-gap too - which fits the exact model Pittsburgh has enjoyed so much with Heyward and Tuitt. This combination scouting report (Sheldon Day, Sheldon Rankins, A'Shawn Robinson) summarizes things in a way that I think will match the common wisdom come draft day:

"His athleticism is hard to figure out because most plays he doesn't look like an elite athlete of any sort, but one or two plays a game he will make a play that shows unreal athleticism... that is very unique... Will always be a plus player in run game."

For an example of that unreal athleticism check this out - that is a 315 lb. man doing a Polamalu leap. OTOH, he didn't test out as particular unusual in any of the Combine tests. Not bad, mind you: just not up to the standard that people expected. The special flashes on film are nevertheless real and lead to rosy scouting report like this on, which argues that any grade out of the top 15 would be a shock. And this gif-supported scouting report from retired NFL player Stephen White, who does the best work on the Web bar none, and who agrees that the floor is "excellent run stuffer" with the potential boom being nuclear.

But Robinson also has his detractors, such as this able critique in the Draft Wire scouting report. That author concludes with a 4th-Round grade based on his belief that Robinson has a slew of flaws that were hidden by having so many great talents around him on the Alabama line (which in 2015 was among the best ever in college football). This scouting report presents a fairly balanced viewpoint. This scouting report from Bob Sturm in Dallas sums it up as follows: if you think you can unlock his potential in for Year 3, he's an early Round 1 pick. If you doubt that, then Robinson becomes an early Round 2 value as an already-accomplished run stuffer. The profile on Robinson in this set of scouting profiles/grades from our sister site for the Rams disagrees, and considers him the "alpha male" of this year's class.

DL

4.

2:01

Javon Hargrave, NT, S.C. State [Meeting at Pro Day] - 6'1-3/8", 309 lbs. with 32" arms and 9-5/8" hands. Javon Hargrave has been an underground favorite on this Board for some time. Originally described as a 3-tech or a poor man's Steve McLendon, the more people have looked at him the more there's been to like. He's got decent size, nice quickness, good power, and showed some real dominance at the Shrine game. Mike Mayock loves him, and anointed a Round 3 grade. This scouting profile from a Panthers point of view appeared soon afterwards. This Steelers-oriented scouting profile from Steel City Insider is even more positive, viewing Hargrave as a Round 2 pick due to size and level of competition, but a potential Round 1 talent. That will get you on the radar! Sports Illustrated has put him at #45 overall, albeit with a cautionary note for Steeler fans: "He'll need to be in a 4-3 base front to find success..." I guess they view him as a pure 1-tech... The title of this long Bleacher Report profile says it all: FCS Standout pass rusher Javon Hargrave deserves first-round hype.

DL

5.

2:12

Carl Nassib, DE/EDGE, Penn State [Meeting at the Combine] - 6'6-7/8", 277 lbs. with long 34-1/2" arms and big 10-3/8" hands. This is the sort of kid you root for. He graduated from a Philly-area High School as a 215 beanpole, walked on at Penn State, and by dint of sheer, hard work has turned himself into a full sized, NFL caliber player who led the nation in sacks. Even his coach didn't believe it was possible - at first. But he did - as nicely discussed in this article. Now he faces questions about whether he can make the next step. This scouting report focuses on the key question: what is his upside? This scouting report agrees that the main limitations come down to pure physical talent. Nassib is something of a straight-line, non-explosive athlete whose SPARQ scores aren't going to wow you. I tend to be an upside-oriented reviewer who values athleticism a bit more than he should, but in this case I'm setting that aside. Carl Nassib is a kid you've got to root for. BTW, Nassib looked athletically solid at the Combine, which didn't kick his grade up any but can make us feel comfortable that he deserves it. Mike Mayock compared him to Jared Allen!

Besides, there's something to be said for having an extraordinary floor even if your ceiling could be debated. As discussed in the CBS scouting report, this is a kid who's all effort, all the time, and leaves absolutely nothing on the field by the end of the day. There's more in the way of sheer, tenacious "Wanna" inside that former beanpole than you're likely to see from anyone else in the draft. To my mind that equates to someone who won't end up worse that a solid journeyman for a good many years.

Finally, there are legitimate questions about what position he could play in the Pittsburgh scheme. Would he be an oversized, edge-setting OLB? Or will he pack on another 20 pounds of muscle and turn into a particularly nimble Defensive End? This scouting report from retired NFL exec Greg Gabriel favors the 3-4 DE position, and suggests starter potential from Year 2 on. This fine scouting report from a reliable Cowboys writer examines both the detailed upside and the question marks, before avoiding an actual conclusion by noting that Nassib is "creeping up" toward the top-50 lists - meaning late 2nd round in my book.

DL

6.

6:16

David Onyemata, DL, Manitoba [Meeting at Pro Day] - 6'3-1/4", 304 lbs. with 33-1/2" arms and big 10-3/8" hands. His standout performance at the Shrine Game practices led to this summary: "Manitoba defensive lineman Ebuka Onyemata is one of the most raw players at the Shrine Game. That being said, teams are falling in love with him after a solid week of practices." Onyemata is known in Canadian college circles as a potential #1 CFL draft pick. This goes to a video interview after Onyemata won a major college award. This fun little article on sleepers from a Jacksonville perspective has Onyemata with a late 5th-round grade. Here is a 5-minute video on Onyemata from a local news source.

DL

Pittsburgh has met with one (1) coverage Safety and seven (7) in-the-box Strong Safeties or Safety/ILB hybrids.

We have four (4) of these prospects ranked with 2nd-round values:

  • Vonn Bell (the only pure Safety)
  • Darian Thompson (closer to the Safety side)
  • Keanu Neal (a true mix)
  • Su'a Cravens (closer to the LB side)

There are two fringe-3rd prospects we consider to be okay but not great value at 3:26:

  • Javon Kearse (a true mix)
  • Jeremy Cash (a true mix)

The final two have 5th-round grades on our Board, meaning they'd be exceptional value if they somehow fell to the team's 6th-round compensatory pick:

  • Deon Bush (closer to the Safety side)
  • Jatavis Brown (closer to the LB side)

Conclusion? The Steelers really want a Safety and are focused on either the Round 2-3 area of the draft, or a potential bargain late. At this point the team also appears to be focused on the big-hitting box-safety type of player, presumably for some sub package trickiness that Coach Butler has planned. How innntersting... NOTE: The team has announced no formal interview with either of the West Virginia Safeties (Karl Joseph and KJ Dillon). As noted above, there may be no need to do so if West Virginia qualifies as a "local school" that would have allowed the Steelers to get to know him through informal channels. The Tom Bradley connection exists here too. Bradley served as the West Virginia defensive coordinator in 2014 before moving to UCLA in 2015.

If the Steelers really are focused on the hybrid type of player it would be no surprise to hear of an interview with ultra-fast but too-light ILB Deion Jones, or with big, fast, thump-heavy Strong Safeties such as Miles Killebrew, Kevin Byard, Derrick Kindred, and Tevin Carter.

HV

DESCRIPTION

ILB

1.

2:12

Vonn Bell, S, Ohio State [Meeting at the Combine] - 5'10-3/4", 199 lbs. with 32-3/8" arms and 9-1/2" hands. This BTSC scouting report describes a solid Round 2 Free Safety prospect with good hands, good speed, tough physicality, high football IQ, and a nice amount of overall athleticism. The issue is size - he's not all that big, doesn't have a frame that would allow him to pack on a lot of extra, and it shows in his fairly average tackling skills. This goes to an article on "Players Who Should Have Stayed In School," and provides great insight into both the potential and the warning signs surrounding Vonn Bell. It describes Bell as a tremendous athlete, but still far from being a great football player, let alone a great Safety. Big_Jay71 sent him to Pittsburgh in Round 2 in this November mock draft. Dani Bostick did this brief BTSC scouting profile way back in October. Here is the DraftWire scouting profile, which ends with a lukewarm 2nd-Round grade. This December scouting profile is useful to keep filling in the picture. It describes Bell as a "Jack of all trades but Master of none." This set of ten summary scouting profiles on the Safety class includes a nice one on Bell.

S

2.

2:01

Darian Thompson, S, Boise State [Meeting at Pro Day] - 6'1-7/8", 208 lbs. with 30-3/8" arms and 9-1/8" hands. Here is the BTSC scouting report. According to SteelersWire, the Steelers are exceptionally interested in Thompson. A well rounded player who plays with decent speed even if he ran a poor 4.69 at the Combine, good coverage skills (used to be a Corner), and the ability to play both Free and Strong Safety. With Jalen Ramsey out of reach, Darian Thompson will most likely be the Steelers' primary target for a Safety in the upcoming draft. Early speculation had him falling into Round 2, but as illustrated by this DraftWire scouting report Thompson's "most outstanding player" performance at the Senior Bowl has moved him into the very top of that round (well before Pittsburgh's pick) and possibly toward our pick at 1:25 if he can blow up the Combine. Thompson's only real flaws are more "limitations" than anything else: as in, he possesses impressive but not awesome athletic talents, his tackling is okay for college but not for the NFL, and he generally needs the normal amount of work to raise a good college game up to professional standards. This December scouting report is a good place to start. This early December scouting report is a bit more gushing, but still useful if you can swallow phrases like "interception machine" and "uncanny instincts." This Bleacher Report article on the biggest Senior Bowl risers has a nice section on Darian Thompson. This goes to a scouting report from our sister site for the Cardinals. This goes to a scouting report from our sister site for the Titans. Add in for good measure this "Could He Be The Answer?" article from a writer following the Giants. Our sister site for the Jaguars offers this thorough, gif-supported scouting report that concludes as follows: "Thompson could offer a solution to the insanity of the [Jacksonville] secondary. He is assignment sound. He is physical. He is a playmaker. To ignore this type of player would be insanity to the fullest." Don't you wish authors would conclude with an actual opinion sometimes? BTW, for those who might worry about Thompson's "merely good" Combine, he was apparently so sick all weekend that he lost 7 pounds. This goes to a Pittsburgh oriented scouting profile from Still Curtain. This scouting profile from our sister site for the Giants gives a 2nd-Round grade on the assumption that Thompson's Combine numbers were unfairly low. This set of ten summary scouting profiles on the Safety class includes a nice one on Thompson.

S/LB

3.

2:12

Keanu Neal, S, Florida [Meeting at the Combine, Pro Day & in Pittsburgh] - 6'0-1/2", 211 lbs. with 32-3/4" arms and big 10-5/8" hands. A solid and instinctive player who would probably fit best at Strong Safety due to relatively average coverage skills, but seems to have the overall speed to learn either position. At the Combine he recorded best in class marks for both the vertical and broad jumps, but then proceeded to run a very slow 4.62 dash that paired with distinctly average numbers in the agility drills and a "meh" performance in the field drills. His pro day could make a real difference if he can manage to bring those measurables up. This goes to a fascinating article from 2013, when Neal was recruited by Florida. Expect to hear a lot more about Mr. Neal as the process moves forward. This goes to a very complimentary NFL.com scouting profile, where the only real criticism is that his "Hulk Smash" playing style can lead to missed tackles. Excluding Jalen Ramsey Neal is the #1 Safety at NFL.com (and at Walter Football), so you might want to see this CBS scouting profile for a more sober Round 4-ish grade. Or you can see this outright negative scouting profile that ends with a 7th-Round grade. This article came out after a mock sent Neal to Pittsburgh. This will take you to an interview with Keanu Neal. This goes to a detailed if kind of amateurish scouting profile. This scouting profile from a Falcons site ends with a great quote: "There is no sugarcoating when it comes to Neal and his skill set. He is a heat seeking missile with cruel intentions on the field but a quiet, humble individual off it." This DraftWire scouting report can be summed up by this particularly charming line: "Teammates and coaches say that he is the nicest player off the field, but he plays like he is in The Hunger Games on the football field. Take this with a grain of salt, but if Keanu Neal were in The Hunger Games, there wouldn't be a Katniss Everdeen or Peeta Mellark." This set of ten summary scouting profiles on the Safety class includes a nice one on Neal. This SteelersWire scouting report looks at Neal from a Pittsburgh perspective and ends with a thumbs-down due to being so raw.

S/LB

4.

2:24

Su'a Cravens, ILB/S, USC [Meeting at the Combine] - 6'1", 226 lbs. with 32-1/8" arms and 9-1/2" hands. 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). Coming to the Combine at 226 lbs. seemed to confirm that (as did refusing to run the 40). 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, but it still takes a creative coach who can figure out ways to use it. This goes to a top notch, gif-supported scouting report Fanpost by our own Fear94, who believes Cravens has the ability to drop 15 pounds and go back to being an exceptional Strong Safety. Don't miss that one! This gif-supported scouting report from our sister site for the Chargers also sees Cravens as an oversized SS more than an undersized linebacker, though the author prefers to call him "a chess piece." Regardless, it ends with a 1st-Round grade.

This excellent scouting report from Baltimore Beatdown is another good place to start your research. This detailed scouting report from DraftBreakdown may be even better ("Su'a Cravens is a hybrid SS/OLB that projects best at the Will linebacker spot in a 4-3 defense at the next level"). This scouting report from DraftWire questions whether he is anything like the athlete so many others have described, and is confident that he will be a 4-3 OLB. This goes to an audio interview from last summer. This goes to another decent scouting report. This scouting report describes Cravens as a superb coverage-linebacker. Cravens is mentioned, naturally enough, in this Bleacher Report article on undersized prospects. This scouting profile begins with "Not many safeties playing Linebacker..." and concludes with a late-2nd grade. This goes to an excellent scouting profile by our sister site for the Bears that covers three games in good detail. Highly recommended.

S/LB

5.

3:24

Jeremy Cash, SS, Duke [Meeting at the Combine] - 6'0-3/8", 212 lbs. with 32-3/8" arms and 10" hands. A smart, tough, in-the-box Strong Safety who's willing to hit, excels at blitzing and run support, but is much, much more questionable in coverage. Excellent but not awesome athletic talents. Very high football IQ. The full DraftWire scouting report is definitely a good place to start. Perhaps the most telling part is the suggestion that Cash plays like a very undersized hybrid linebacker, and might want to consider adding 15 pounds of muscle and going that route. This scouting profile reaches a similar conclusion: that Cash is a somewhat slow-footed, in-the-box Strong Safety who ought to consider adding some weight to become a hybrid linebacker and nickel-package specialist. Of course, Pittsburgh has been interviewing exactly that type of prospect throughout the draft process.

There's an injury concern based on a broken wrist that ended his season in December and required surgery. The early-process DraftWire scouting report is also worth a read. This thorough, gif-supported scouting report from our sister site for the Jaguars agrees: the pro comparison has to be Bucannon, but Cash is even more of an in-the-box player even though he's smaller. This set of ten summary scouting profiles on the Safety class includes a nice one on Cash.

S/LB

6.

4:01

Jayron Kearse, S, Clemson [Meeting at Pro Day and in Pittsburgh] - 6'4", 216 lbs. with very long 34-1/4" arms and 9-5/8" hands. Look at the size of him! And there's room to grow, though hopefully not to the size of his Uncle - the original "freak" Jevon Kearse. Maybe more like his cousin Philip Buchanan. Ahem. Jayron Kearse has not been a popular option in the discussions at BTSC because to two or three question marks. (1) Does he have the football IQ to learn the pro game? We've seen how important read-and-react skills are for a Safety. (2) Does he have the maneuverability to cover shifty NFL running backs? And (3) Can he develop more of that nasty, tone-setting, enforcer mentality that sends opponents backward instead of just tangling them down to the ground. We do have to keep in mind that the Steelers are carefully examining this entire class of Safety/LB hybrids, and Kearse fits that description perfectly. Kearse wrote this 'Combine Diary' article, and thus it gives a little direct insight that can be useful.

This November scouting report notes a lack of consistency that appears to come from slow play recognition. This December scouting report notes a tendency to take bad angles, which also hints at recognition questions. This January scouting profile from our sister site for the Jets ends with a Day 2-3 grade, noting that Kearse showed some ball hawking ability in 2014 that was less present last year. This competent-looking scouting profile lauds the "amazing set of physical tools" but worries about above-the-neck read and react questions. The NFL.com scouting profile would agree with that assessment. This Vikings-oriented scouting report covers a broad swath of questions and comes back to the same bottom line: a physical marvel with a few change-of-direction questions, and many more significant questions about his football IQ and ability to learn the pro game. The comparison to George Iloka is echoed in this gif-supported, Bills-oriented scouting report that sees Kearse as an effective but limited player who'd need to be used in the right ways. This somewhat contrarian scouting profile is worth a read too because the author actually likes Kearse's ability to diagnose plays, but thinks his thin frame looks more like a Free Safety than an in-the-box guy..

S/LB

7.

5:01

Deon Bush, S, Miami [Meeting in Pittsburgh] - 6'0-3/8", 199 lbs. with 30-7/8" arms and 9-1/4" hands. Deon Bush is an enigma with excellent upside but also some real questions about his ability to reach it. The NFL.com scouting profile is unusually blunt and specific. It describes Bush as an athlete with tremendous straight line speed but a bit iffy on the change of direction, great leaping ability, sound tackling skills, fine character, and a very significant asset on special teams. That is a lot of positives. The negatives? Play recognition and football IQ in general. In other words, the exact kind of things that we fans can't really gauge. Grrr. Essentially, it sounds like we are looking at a bigger and stronger version of Shamarko Thomas. If he can ever "get it," he will be a very good starter for many years. Until he does, however, he's a special teams demon and nothing more. And it's possible that he never will. Film watchers should take note of a "horrific" Florida State game, which is an outlier, but also of the fact that his production went down from 2014 to 2015.

This particularly good scouting profile from our sister site for the Jaguars focuses on the fact that Bush can erratically shift from super to awful in an instant. The NFL.com comment about football IQ ties in well. Here is a scouting profile from our sister site for the Giants. This goes to a scouting profile from our sister site for the Redskins, which emphasizes Bush's physicality. This goes to a two-minute video interview. Here is a video interview from the Shrine game, where he demonstrated some ability to cover TE's. For a view about Bush as a quality young man, see this 7-minute video on helping his father fight liver cancer. (Note he also donated his bowl game per diem to buy Christmas presents for kids in need - a really fine young man).

S/LB

8.

5:16

Jatavis Brown, ILB, Akron [Meeting at Pro Day] - 5'11", 217 lbs. A college linebacker who is well and truly stuck in that hybrid LB/S sub package role. As a linebacker he is severely undersized and lacks the frame to add the bulk he'd need to survive, while also lacking the coverage ability he'd need to succeed as a Safety (despite a blazing 4.47 dash at the regional combine). Thus by all reports there is little to no chance he could develop into a full time player. Viewed as a sub package hybrid and special teams demon, however... That's a whole other story. Reports such as the NFL.com scouting profile and the CBS scouting profile emphasize that he has a tremendous football IQ and more than enough explosiveness to excel in those roles. Yes, he is overaggressive; yes, he bites on fakes and can be played for a sucker by skillful QB's; yes, his tackling needs a lot of work; but those are all fixable problems. The only serious red flag is an unverified accusation of sexual assault that let to a 2-game suspension but no formal charges. That's something for the scouts, but is no more than smoke so far as we are concerned. The bottom line? Jatavis Brown will not be a replacement for Sean Spence but he just might be a good replacement for Terence Garvin. Here is a really good 2-game scouting report with links to many gifs if you want more depth.

S/LB

Pittsburgh has met with three (3) Edge rushers so far.

Four if you want to move Carl Nassib here. Three of the four are fringe-1st talents according to our rankings:

  • Carl Nassib (Listed above with the Defensive Linemen, would be an "elephant")
  • Shaq Lawson (Would be an "elephant")
  • Kamalei Correa (An explosive 243-pounder)

The final player is a boom-or-bust late rounder:

  • Derrick Alexander (Would be an "elephant")

Conclusion? The Steelers are not slacking off in their eternal search for more players who can pressure the quarterback. Lawson and Correa are probably prospects the front office particularly likes compared to the rest of this generally-weak class. They were likely interviewed as insurance against a particularly weird and awful set of picks by the teams ahead of Pittsburgh and/or to judge just how "irresistible" a temptation each would present if he fell to a round below where the pundits have them projected. Players with similar high-upside profiles would include Alex McCalister, Yannick Ngakoue, Dadi Nicolas, Victor Ochi, and Matt Judon.

HV

DESCRIPTION

ILB

1.

2:12

Shaq Lawson, EDGE, Clemson [Meeting at the Combine] - 6'3", 275 lbs. with 32-3/4" arms and 10" hands. A 4-3 defensive end with legitimate 1st round aspirations. Mike Mayock is one of those who believe he'd be a good 3-4 OLB too, but it's hard to see how he'd be a significant upgrade over Jarvis Jones, and there are others who don't believe he has that kind of versatility at all. Here are the NFL.com scouting profile, which suggests that he'd be an ideal "contain" player on the strong side, and the CBS scouting profile, which compares him to Pernell McPhee. Should be long gone before he'd be good value for the Steelers, but they did meet with him at the Combine, where he recorded best-of-show results in both the 40 yard dash and the 20 yard shuttle.

EDGE

2.

2:24

Kamalei Correa, EDGE, Boise State [Meeting at Pro Day] - 6'2-1/2", 243 lbs. with 31-5/8" arms and 9-3/8" hands. Correa is another of those guys who most people had languishing in the middle rounds until Daniel Jeremiah brought them into the public eye as a sleeper (this time at #29 on Jeremiah's initial Top 50 list). It didn't hurt when he went out and crushed the Combine too, where Mike Mayock compared him to 2015 2nd-Round pick Demarcus Lawrence. As discussed in this scouting report Correa is flat-out fast and explosive. If the Steelers were in serious need of a pass rusher instead of bargain shopping, he might even be a fringe-2nd prospect. This scouting profile from retired NFL executive Greg Gabriel (Correa, Cowser and Simmons) suggests a player with lots of upside who will probably require a redshirt year before making any measurable impact on the field. This gif-supported DraftWire scouting report ends with a late 3rd Round grade and the conclusion that Correa looks like a smaller and less athletic Bud Dupree.

EDGE

3.

8:01

Derrick Alexander, EDGE, Tulsa [Meeting at Pro Day] - 6'2", 270 lbs. The Steelers are looking at a number of "elephant" types, including this little-known player from Tulsa. This article says that Alexander has bulked up toward 300 lbs. and hopes to move inside for the NFL. Don't know how he'd fit with Pittsburgh if that is the case.

EDGE

Pittsburgh has met with four Quarterbacks so far:

Interestingly, we have all four listed as 5th-round values. Either the team places less of a discount on the QB position that we at BTSC do, or the front office believes that a QB slide could occur that would make one of the four available as a bargain in the final rounds:

  • Dak Prescott
  • Brandon Allen
  • Vernon Adams
  • Cody Kessler

Conclusion? We all know the Steelers like to have three Quarterbacks on the roster. Landry Jones has probably cemented himself as the #2, and to give the man a little credit he has gotten better each year and would be a legitimate backup in 2016 if he continues that growth. It now looks like the Steelers are going to look for a similar high-upside prospect who may drop because he'll require a few years of work to "get it." The Steelers have that time to spare and intend to use it. Look for a QB in either Round 4 or Round 6.

HV

DESCRIPTION

ILB

1.

4:16

Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State [meeting at the Combine and Pro Day] - 6'2", 226 lbs. with big 10-7/8" hands. People make a lot of excuses for Penn State QB Christian Hackenberg, and they pretty much all follow a pattern: "He's got the tools and he showed an ability to succeed in earlier years. You can't blame him for more recent results because the offensive line was so utterly horrid that every game he played was like Peyton Manning's Super Bowl against the Seahawks, or Cam Newton's against the Broncos. That kind of pressure makes every QB look like cr@p, even ones who are clear HOF'ers." Fair enough. In which case you should be ready to give Dak Prescott just as big a pass, because he too was getting creamed from start to finish in every game despite having an NFL-caliber arm, solid size, a Tebow-esque ability to run from the pocket, wonderful overall athleticism, and some very promising results in prior years. A superb Senior Bowl raised his profile to the point where most expect him to be picked in the Round 3-4 range, but since the Steelers met with him he is on the Board. Here are the NFL.com scouting profile and the CBS scouting profile. Here are a scouting profile from our sister site for the Redskins, along with one of retired NFL executive Greg Gabriel's dual scouting profiles (Dak Prescott and Jacoby Brissett). For naysayers, here is a long and extremely critical scouting report. And then the best for last - this is such a long, thorough, and impressive article on Dak Prescott that there's no need to go any further. It would be a real surprise if Prescott is available to Pittsburgh in Round 4, and an even bigger surprise if Pittsburgh spent it's 4th-Round pick on a QB. A DUI arrest during the draft process may lower Prescott's stock enough to bring him within reach in Round 4 if the Steelers are really interested.

QB

2.

5:01

Brandon Allen, QB, Arkansas [meeting at Pro Day] - 6'1", 217 lbs. with little 8-7/8" hands (this is the kid who went to a massage therapist to increase his hand size from the itsy-bitsy 8-1/2" measured at the Senior Bowl). Here is the BTSC scouting report by Jack Heathcote. As summarized by the NFL.com scouting profile:

On one hand, he is smaller than teams usually like and operated out of a play-­action offense that didn't ask him to get through many progressions. On the other hand, Allen has a quick release, an NFL arm, solid accuracy and good mobility.

This scouting profile and this scouting profile both agree with that assessment.

QB

3.

5:16

Vernon Adams, QB, Oregon [meeting at the Combine] - 5'10-7/8", 200 lbs. with 9-1/8" hands (NOTE: Many teams will not consider a QB with hands under 9" across, so he meets that threshold according to the Combine measurements. He'd somehow been measured with 8-3/4" hands at the Shrine game). Quarterback is acknowledged as the single hardest position to project accurately and Vernon Adams has to be one of the hardest QB's to guess about. The downsides are so obvious that many pundits think he won't be drafted. If you follow these things you hear the occasional debate about which physical deficit is easier to overcome: being unusually short (6'1" and under), or having unusually small hands (under 9"). Vernon Adams fails the height test by a lot and comes close on the hand size. The thing is, he wins everywhere else. Mobility? Check. He's downright Wilson-esque. Football IQ? Check. Way ahead of his peers. Leadership? Absolutely. Ability to make all the NFL throws? No problem. The "It Factor"? Spectacularly. Anyone who saw the 2016 Shrine game witnessed the typical not-quite-in-sync fumbling around of an all star game, interrupted by sudden machine-like efficiency when Adams took the field, and then returning to ineptness when he left. It was startling that one player could make so big a difference. Ability to simply win? Oregon did a lot of that under his leadership.

Thus it comes down to whether you believe that a certain minimum of height, weight and hand size are needed to succeed in the NFL. If so, then Vernon Adams should be completely off your Board. If not, he's a mid-round pick. The Steelers will be looking for boom or bust upside in anyone they pick. Adams' offers a strange version of both, but both are definitely there. The NFL.com scouting profile falls in the "just too small for the NFL" camp. Matt Waldman's article and 45-minute video scouting report provide the upside view with about as much artistry and clarity as possible. This scouting profile from our sister site for the 49ers capably presents both sides of the debate, concluding that Adams' ceiling may be "potentially great backup quarterback -- not rugged enough to risk for 16 games a year, but plenty smart and focused enough to be ready to come in on short notice, and talented enough to win a tough playoff game against a strong opponent." Ding ding! That's pretty much where I would end up after hearing all sides of the argument. This goes to a 5-minute video scouting report (skip the initial 1 minute of commercials) that's pretty thorough and concludes with a 3rd Round grade, though it doesn't address the durability question. This January article updates his draft stock after the amazing Shrine game performance. This article on how he "opened eyes" at the Shrine game does the same. This goes to a Sports Illustrated article on the eve of the Combine. Here is an article from SteelersWire on Adams meeting with Pittsburgh at the Combine. This goes to a DraftWire scouting profile that concludes with a 5th-Round grade.

QB

4.

5:16

Cody Kessler, QB, USC [meeting at Senior Bowl] - 6'1-1/4", 224 lbs. Cody Kessler is a successful Quarterback with a good but not exceptional arm, and the real advantage of playing in a pro-style college system. What's not to like? It basically comes to two things. First, he lacks the ideal size and arm talent that Pittsburgh seems to value. That limits his upside. And second, he has a reputation for getting the yips if opposing defenses put serious pressure on the pocket. This scouting profile gives a fair description of the polarized opinions on Kessler, concluding with a fairly optimistic grade in the Round 3-4 range. This goes to a really long, detailed, and high quality, gif-supported scouting report that would be my first recommendation for anyone who really cares to get a full analysis of Kessler's game. This 4-minute video scouting report from Matt Waldman is interesting to. This goes to a scouting report from our sister site for the Jets. This DraftWire scouting report gives a 6th Round grade, complaining about "significant" arm strength issues. This scouting profile gives a Round 5-6 grade. This is a good, gif-supported scouting report that points out how Kessler's film from 2014 was Day 2 worthy, while that from 2015 was UDFA territory. It splits the difference and also ends up with a mid- to late-Day 3 grade. This is a typically high quality scouting profile from Draft Breakdown. This more optimistic scouting profile ends with a Day 2 grade, mostly because the author thinks Kessler has a strong enough arm to make all the throws. If you want to meet Cody Kessler more directly, try this 11-minute interview at the Senior Bowl.

QB

Pittsburgh has met with five (5) offensive linemen so far:

The rankings here will require a bit of explanation. Our Board imposes a fairly hefty discount on early-round offensive linemen because the team is set with quality starters. Thus a more accurate way to describe them would be:

  • Taylor Decker - A 1st-round talent the Steelers might find irresistible at 2:27
  • Joshua Garnett - A fringe-1st talent the Steelers interviewed before coming to terms on an extension with Ramon Foster. At this point he probably won't be a target unless he somehow falls to 3:26
  • Jerald Hawkins - A late-2nd talent but with a 'boom-or-bust' label. If Coach Munchak has seen a few technical flaws he is confident could be fixed, Hawkins could be a 3rd-round target.
  • Rees Odhiambo - A fringe-3rd talent for a team that wants a truly versatile across-the-line backup.
  • Caleb Benenoch - A late-round Tackle with a build and physical skill set similar to Decker and Hawkins.

Conclusion? Hard to say because Garnett's interview might have been part of the negotiations process to get some leverage on Ramon Foster and his agent. Beyond that the Steelers might be willing to ease up on the defense-focused draft if a superb bargain appears at Offensive Tackle, and in the 4th may be looking at developmental players with exceptional versatility. If the team is really looking at potential 2nd- and 3rd steals at Tackle a players like Jason Spriggs might pop up on the interview list. Like Benenoch, Tyler Johnstone has a model build and should be available on Day 3 (largely due to an injury).

If the team is looking more for versatility, keep an eye out for T/G Willie Beavers and G/C athletes like Max Tuerk and Isaac Seumalo.

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ILB

1.

2:12

Taylor Decker, OT, Ohio State [meeting at the Combine and Pro Day] - 6'7", 310 lbs. with average 33-3/4" arms and 10" hands. One of several top Tackles in this year's class who deserve to go early in Round 1 and are dropped on this Board to the middle of Round 2 because the Steelers have less need at the position than most other teams. It's not a knock on Decker, who is a fantastic prospect with idea length and very good skills - very likely a pro-bowler in the hands of Coach Munchak. Not that our grade matters - Decker really ought to be on the Ain't Gonna Happen list because he'll be gone long before #25 in the absence of something freaky. The DraftWire scouting report could scarcely be more positive ("the tools, power, and tenacity that is likely to result in a top 15 pick"). This gif-supported scouting report from our sister site for the Lions is just as positive and ranks him as the #2 prospect in the class. It's interesting and telling that both of those scouting reports emphasize Decker's enormous improvement since his Junior year, as well as harping on the word "tenacious." It forms a pattern, and one that's quite positive. This brief scouting report concurs with the 1st-Round grade. Same with this gif-supported scouting report (a "first round talent and sure-fire starter right away"). This goes to a kind of neat two-perspective scouting report from our sister site for the Bills.

OL

2.

2:24

Joshua Garnett, G/C, Stanford [meeting at the Combine] - 6'5", 317 lbs. with 33-3/8" arms. I'm a believer in the Stanford football program and one of my favorite prospects it's produced this year is Joshua Garnett. Think David DeCastro with a bit more size but without that touch of athletic genius that sets him apart. Garnett is just really, really good at everything. Can he grow to be great? Well, the big issues are strength (NFL training works wonders) and a need to polish up various technical areas (Coach Munchak can work wonders). Here is a BTSC scouting report by Andrew Kipp. NOTE: Garnett did not drop as significantly as others with the signing of Ramon Foster because (a) he is said to be Center-capable, and (b) he is a potentially special talent.

This goes to the NFL.com scouting report, which mentions that Garnett comes from NFL stock (his father Scott was a Nose Tackle), and does a good job of describing the things Garnett will need to work on. This joint scouting report on DE Jonathan Bullard and OL Joshua Garnett seems to be dead in the middle of the pack: "Very consistent performer... A solid player but not a great player... [and] good in all phases of the game but not great in any." Gabriel also suggests that Garnett could flex over to Center, which would be another selling point from Pittsburgh's point of view. This DraftWire scouting report adores Garnett but it isn't completely out of whack. Garnett would be a huge value pick when the Steelers are up in Round 2, and might be the best Guard in the class for our particular system. As you can see from this scouting report from our sister site for the Bears, other people have the exact same plan. This is a solid scouting report, albeit hard to read because the author doesn't understand how to hit the return key. This Bleacher Report article considers Garnett a potential 1st Rounder, while this short Bleacher Report profile emphasizes his extremely high floor.

OL

3.

3:12

Jerald Hawkins, OT, LSU [meeting in Pittsburgh] - 6'6", 305 lbs. with 34-1/4" arms and big 9-5/8" hands. He's got the prototypical length for a tackle and excellent quick feet, but doesn't always use those feet and will need to add some sand in the pants to hold up at the NFL level and a good bit of strength if he's to be an asset in the run game. Hawkins is a fairly good Left Tackle prospect, but he has very little in the way of flexibility if that doesn't work out. NOTE: If you believe the report in this pre-Combine article/interview, Hawkins played all of 2015 on a gimpy leg, hobbled by a high ankle sprain severe enough to keep him out of several practices. If you are a Jerald Hawkins fan like our own Big_Jay71, that could be the key fact that makes you look like a prophet in a couple of years. This goes to a particularly interesting scouting profile at NFL.com. Film watchers take note of the warning: "You have to watch him in a few games because he's not asked to do as much in some games as others." This brief scouting profile from our sister site for the Patriots projects Hawkins as a mid- to late- Round 2 pick. The CBS scouting profile emphasizes that Hawkins is a marvelous, multi-sport athlete. This brief but gif-supported scouting report agrees with the late Round 2 grade, but has a very different take because it sees Hawkins as too much of a waist bender to succeed at Tackle, but believes he can move inside to Guard. This goes to a short but apparently competent scouting profile.

OL

4.

4:16

Rees Odhiambo, G/T, Boise State [meeting at Pro Day] - 6'4", 314 lbs. with 33-1/4" arms. This is a tough one. He played Tackle in college but will move inside for the NFL with perhaps some added value as an emergency fill-in on the right side. And by all accounts he's a tough, physical, athletic, technically accomplished, and nasty blocker who have an excellent chance to succeed. That would normally be a Day 2 grade. Unfortunately, Odhiambo has a long history of injuries that cost him five games in 2013, four games in 2014, and everything in 2015 that came after he broke an ankle. The NFL.com scouting profile is a good place to start because it lists a number of specific features that make him more desirable. Odhiambo would be a very intriguing pick for the Steelers because he sounds like the kind of player who could vastly outplay his draft position under the tutelage of Coach Munchak - assuming he can stay healthy. This goes to a combination scouting profile (Glasgow and Odhiambo) from retired NFL exec Greg Gabriel, who echoes the "excellent potential if he can stay healthy" theme.

OL

5.

7:01

Caleb Benenoch, T/G, UCLA [Meeting in Pittsburgh] - 6'5-1/2", 311 lbs. with 34-1/8" arms. The Combine's top performer for OL's in both the 40 and the 10-yard split, but well below average in the 3-cone drill. Did not participate in the bench. Why all the numbers? Because they fit the scouting report. Benenoch is known as an athletic but underpowered prospect who will require a full year of professional work in the weight room before his true potential can be judged. At that point... there might be something there that could make a team happy. Perhaps. He has played and been moderately good in college at both Guard and Tackle, which is a bonus. This goes to the NFL.com scouting profile, and this to the CBS scouting profile, both of which agree with that summary.

OL

The remaining five are a mixed bag.

There are two Tight Ends who were met before the Ladarius Green signing went through, one pure Buck Linebacker and one Wide Receiver the team must really like as late-round fliers, and a multipurpose Offensive Weapon/Returner:

  • TE Austin Hooper (probably off the table with the Green signing)
  • TE Ryan Malleck (a late rounder who might still be in play)
  • ILB Elandon Roberts (probably caught someone's eye at the WJ-III pro day)
  • WR Jay Lee (probably caught someone's eye at the Andrew Billings pro day)
  • OW/KR Tyler Ervin

Conclusion? Hooper seems to be an outlier who the team was exploring just in case the Ladarius Green deal didn't come through. He is less desirable now. Malleck and Ervin are SPARQ-score stars at their positions. The Steelers like to take chances on special athletes in the later rounds and those fit that pattern. Roberts and Lee both stood out at pro days where the coaches had gathered en masse to look at a potential 1st-rounder. Making a direct, personal impression on the visiting coaches is about as good a networking success as one can imagine.

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DESCRIPTION

ILB

1.

6:01

Elandon Roberts, ILB, Houston [meeting at Pro Day] - 5'11-3/8", 234 lbs. A Buck ILP prospect in the Vince Williams mold; i.e., the words "football player" are inscribed in every molecule of his bone marrow. He may lack the athletic genius to be a true great but he's got everything else. The Steelers, who were in full force at the Houston pro day to see WJ-III, also saw this ILB's superb workout (at point 2 of the article) and decided to interview Roberts as well. So who is he? The NFL.com scouting profile calls Elandon Roberts "a coach's dream [and] a tremendous leader on the field and off... with heart for days" before warning that he "struggles badly with change of direction,... lacks athletic talent to cover in space, [and has] poor ball skills." This article from the Houston Chronicle gives you the local-coverage viewpoint, which is uniformly good. This Bleacher Report scouting profile/article describes him as "a tackling machine" and then goes on to compare his game, leadership skills, and football IQ to Steeler nemesis Ray Lewis - except of course for the pure athletic talent. The phrasing is so pretty it's worth quoting in full:

It may not match up on the scale or the measuring tape, but if you were able to peer into the heart that makes Houston linebacker Elandon Roberts tick, you might find it draped in a black-and-purple jersey with a "52" on either side.

[Well done Luke Easterling, whoever you are!]. This scouting profile from our sister site for the Redskins makes the comparison to Denzel Perryman, but basically agrees with the verdict: all-pro heart, all-pro mind, but fringe athletic talent. This scouting profile holds out more hope on pass coverage than most, but by now you get the point. This article has a snippet on how Elandon Roberts was key to Houston's bowl game victory over Florida State. This goes to a draft-nerd commentary thread on Roberts (stone courtesy of the yard in my clear glass house). Roberts certainly has no lack of vocal confidence in himself.

ILB

2.

4:01

Tyler Ervin, KR/RB, San Jose State [meeting at the Combine and Pro Day] - 5'9-7/8", 192 lbs. An athlete looking for a spot. Ervin has played running back, wide receiver, and even some cornerback in college but no one is sure where he'll end up in the NFL. The odds-on favorite would be as a 3rd-down back on the depth chart and "offensive weapon of opportunity" in actual use. He's sort of like what Dri Archer was supposed to be with a tiny bit more size, a bit more shiftiness, and perhaps a bit less speed. From the Steelers point of view he would be the presumptive punt and kick returner with a chance to contribute in whatever way the coaches see fit. Archer would have had much better results if he'd had a bit more in the way of elusiveness instead of pure speed. That description fits Ervin very well. During the Combine coverage Mike Mayock emphasized that Ervin is also a tough kid who can run with power, and had several college games with will over 30 touches. He is anything but a fainting flower who goes down on first contact.

This goes to a good scouting report t, which includes a direct comparison to Dri Archer. This goes to a brief Bleacher Report profile from before the Senior Bowl. This article includes some background. This gif-supported scouting report is useful but limited because it focuses on Ervin's potential as a running back only, which he really isn't. Ervin is one of the players listed in this Bears-oriented review of the 2015 CFB punt returners, and also in this Bleacher Report profile on return specialists.

KR

3.

5:16

Austin Hooper, TE, Stanford [meeting at the Combine] - 6'3-3/4", 249 lbs. with 33-3/4" arms and 10-5/8" hands. Hooper is a sophomore who came out very early, perhaps because this class is so shallow. It shows in the fact that he requires more projection than most of his peers. Athletically he is near the top of the class and could top the chart when it comes to SPARQ scores. Coming from Stanford he would probably top the chart in the brains department too. But as a complete Tight End, Austin Hooper lags behind. He's willing enough when it comes to the dirty work, but lacks the strength and technique to succeed as often as a guy with his natural ability deserves to. Whoever picks Hooper will do so with the phrase "redshirt year" firmly in mind. This goes to a gif-supported scouting report that's a decent place to start. This scouting profile from retired NFL executive Greg Gabriel sums things up nicely - a plus athlete with very good upside but without the more finished technique he would have obtained with another year or two of college seasoning. Hooper is discussed kindly in this discussion of three 2016 Tight Ends at a Packers site. This gif-supported DraftWire scouting report praises Hooper's hands and ability to make contested catches, details his many problems with route running, and rates his run blocking as average; all of which adds up to a Round 3 grade. At the Combine Mike Mayock called him a willing but average blocker with a "rare feel for route running."

TE

4.

7:16

Ryan Malleck, TE, Virginia Tech [meeting at Pro Day] - 6'4-1/2", 247 lbs. with 32-1/2" arms and 9-3/8" hands. A solid, smart, all-around Tight End who is damned with the "not explosive enough" label... Or was until the Combine, where he was near the top for TE's in both the vertical jump and the broad jump, and at his pro day where he put up a very respectable 4.78 time in the 40. Guess he has some explosiveness after all! Or at least enough to earn a team meeting. These go to the NFL.com scouting profile and the CBS scouting profile. This apparently adequate scouting profile from a Vikings POV describes Malleck as a good blocker but a barely adequate receiver. Interestingly, both this profile and the one from CBS mention difficulty adjusting to balls in the air. This scouting profile more or less agrees, seeing Malleck as a solid 7th Round pick with the potential to make himself a career. A search in this Dave-Te Thomas article on TE's will provide some extra details on Malleck if you're interested. Note that Malleck's receiving skills may have been hidden this year because he was buried on the receiving chart beneath fellow TE Bucky Hodges, who may be the top TE in the entire 2017 draft class.

TE

5.

5:16

Jay Lee, WR, Baylor [meeting at Pro Day] - 6'1-5/8", 214 lbs. with solid 4.50 speed, 32-7/8" arms and 9-5/8" hands. We made much ado when the Steelers showed up at the Baylor pro day with the entire front office to see Andrew Billings. Todd Haley was there too, but probably not to look at Billings. Nor to look at 1st-Round receiver prospect Corey Coleman. No, Haley was most likely there to look at the guy who's been living in Coleman's shadow: a height/weight/speed specimen named Jay Lee who stood out at the Senior Bowl practices for his "tight, sudden cuts and sure hands on a choppy field with a wet football". Rob Rang at CBS has also drawn a tentative line between Jay Lee and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The NFL.com scouting profile lists two real weaknesses: the inevitable lack of a route tree since he comes from a spread offense, and an "unorthodox hand position" for snatching balls, that can sometimes lead to drops (but can be cured with proper coaching). He's also known as an excellent run blocker. For a personal look, see this Draft Diary post written by Lee himself back in February. This goes to a nice interview/article at the Baylor pro day. This is an article from Dallas (the Cowboys site), where Lee grew up.

WR