As a means to try and understand the prospects of this year's NFL Draft earlier than I did last year, and to try and get a feel for who the Steelers will take with the 25th selection on April 28, I recently researched various mock drafts.
In an NFL.com mock released on Tuesday, Mackensie Alexander, cornerback, Clemson, is the pick. In this CBSSports.com mock, both experts have Pittsburgh selecting Eli Apple, cornerback, Ohio State. While Tuesday's NFL.com mock draft written by Daniel Jeremiah had the Steelers selecting Alexander, two other site experts recently had them selecting Apple in their mock drafts, and a fourth, Lance Zierlein, predicted that Hunter Henry, tight end, Arkansas, would be the pick. A few mocks into my studies, and the idea of a tight end was kind of refreshing. (Just think, an athletic tight end who is a match-up problem for other defenses.)
Moving on to the Fuller-trending mocks, Walter Football has Pittsburgh taking Kendall Fuller, cornerback, Virginia Tech. The most current mock draft from the mothership (SBNation, not ESPN) also pegs Fuller as the pick. Speaking of ESPN, since I apparently do not have CIA and NSA clearance, I was unable to discover the identity of Pittsburgh's selection in Mel Kiper's first mock draft released to the unwashed masses on January 14. Thankfully, Jeff Hartman does have that kind of clout, which is why I know that Kiper also has Fuller going to the Steelers (at least for right now).
Pro Football Focus has Pittsburgh taking Su'a Cravens, linebacker/safety, USC. Is he a linebacker or a safety? (I'll bet you'd hate that pick.) In a Rotoworld mock released on January 21, Noah Spence, edge pass-rusher, Eastern Kentucky, was the pick. You sincerely would love this pick because Spence is a pass-rusher and, without even looking at his athletic attributes, probably a physical freak. However, before you fall in love too quickly, you should know that he was dismissed from Ohio State for off-the-field issues......OK, finally, SI.com released a mock draft on February 10 that had Darian Thompson, safety, Boise State, going to Pittsburgh at 25. Why? Like a lot of draft prospects this time of year, Thompson's stock is on the rise after "he excelled at the Senior Bowl."
So, after my research that mostly consisted of a few google pages, what is my conclusion (at least for right now) as to whom Pittsburgh will select in the first round? I still don't know. I mean, this stuff is all over the board. I researched at least 10 mock drafts and came away with seven different names and five different positions (counting Cravens twice, of course).
Don't get me wrong, the variation makes sense. Obviously, the Steelers could use either a cornerback or safety, and it wouldn't hurt to give Ben Roethlisberger another tantalizing target. Also, a team can never have enough pass-rushers.
Besides, when it comes to the 25th selection, anything can happen between now and the end of April.
The only thing I know for sure after reading so many mock drafts, is they seem to be endless this time of year and, much like those IQ tests you can take every single day of the week, don't seem to tell you much. (Am I a genius? Do I have college-level intelligence? Am I a buffoon?)
But that's mostly my fault, as I've never been much of a draft guru. However, what I can tell you is that Andrew Billings, NT, Baylor (a prospect I've seen at the top of some Steelers fans' wish lists), will not be arriving as a virtual gift under your virtual Draftmas Tree on April 28. How do I know this? I've seen it all before.
You can call it the Dontari Poe effect.
You take a big college defensive lineman or athletic pass-rusher, allow him to do physically freakish things at events like the Combine or his Pro Day, and just watch that stock rise. Poe, a nose tackle at Memphis, wasn't expected to be drafted very high early-on, but impressed scouts with his workouts enough that he became a first-round riser. Don't believe me? It says exactly that on his Wikipedia page: "Originally projected a second-round pick, Poe impressed NFL scouts with exceptionally strong workouts at the 2012 NFL Combine. He was eventually selected by the Chiefs in the first round, eleventh overall, in the 2012 NFL Draft."
And, unlike Poe, who Mike Mayock described as having "average college tape" on his NFL.com Draft Profile, Billings excelled at Baylor. He was named the Big 12 co-Defensive Player of the Year in 2015, his Junior season, after being named All-Big 12 in his sophomore year.
Just take a look at Billings' pre-Combine Draft Profile that mentions his "Elite power with a weightlifting background." Billings' profile also mentions that the Texas native set a state record for power-lifting while in high school. (Squats, dead lifts, bench press--he nailed them all.)
Speaking of the Combine and lifting weights, you just know Billings will be a star when the event kicks off in Indianapolis next week. Billings, 6'2", 310 lbs, is going to do some freakish things (mostly involving feats of strength) that will have scouts, coaches and draft experts drooling.
Sure Billings is young, perhaps a little unrefined and not that highly ranked right now in-terms of overall draft prospects, but he just screams enormous potential; he's the prototypical big man that always seems to catch fire this time of year, as position coaches all over the league fantasize about what they could do with him if he was under their tutelage.
While researching those aforementioned mock drafts, Billings was all over the charts. Some mocks have him going 18th, while others don't have him being drafted in the first round at all. That might be the case right now, but unless Billings fails a drug test at the Combine or turns in a horrible Wonderlic score, his stock will begin to rise and probably won't stop rising until he's projected to go in the top 10.
So, to summarize my initial findings after studying various mock drafts: I still have no idea who the Steelers will select, the experts don't either, and Andrew Billings' is a beast, so don't even dare to dream about him.