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Steelers to open preseason on road vs. Super Bowl champion Eagles - Steelers/NFL - Wed, 04/11/2018 - 4:03pm

The Steelers will play their first preseason game at the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles, the NFL announced today.

Steelers preseason schedule announced News - Wed, 04/11/2018 - 4:00pm
The Steelers will close out the preseason with back-to-back home games.

Brett Keisel’s poignant remarks on Le’Veon Bell situation are very telling

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 04/11/2018 - 2:15pm

The Pittsburgh Steelers great opens up about what it means to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers, as well as Le’Veon Bell’s current contract situation.

Recently, Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell made a comment about being a “villain” with the team’s fan base on his social media account. There is a clear disconnect about what the fan base considers a good, and fair, deal, and what Bell is attempting to do by resetting the running back market with his next contract.

Steelers legend Mel Blount and fan favorite Brett Keisel recently spoke with the media, and Keisel painted the picture of what it is like playing football for the black-and-gold in the city of Pittsburgh.

“It’s not like the other 31 NFL teams,” Keisel told Tim Benz of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “There might be a few that are close. But it’s not like them.

“We’re all a family.”

This, as Keisel describes, is exactly what the fan base loves, and expects, to hear. The family which is the Pittsburgh Steelers. In this scenario, would one family member hold out on another to get more? In most cases, no, and this is where the rift begins building.

But while many fans might just stop reading there, Keisel’s next quote shows the player’s side of these type of negotiations.

“He [Le’Veon Bell] is maybe the greatest player at that position. And that’s what he wants,” said Keisel. “The business side of things can get ugly. But at the end of the day, you’ve got to go for what you can, when you can.”

Just read that last sentence again.

You have to get what you can, while you can.

The average Joe working a 9-5 job and living as a part of middle America will never understand turning down a $13.3 million dollar deal, and this is the main reason many fans have shown angst towards Bell in recent months. But is it really fair to compare your life to an NFL player’s? Absolutely not. Just like Bell can’t compare his life to that of a medical doctor. Nonetheless, Keisel is right. Players have to be able to get as much money as they can, before their brief careers come to a screeching halt.

As Keisel spoke for the fans, and the players, he brings it all together with talking about how the two sides can truly be one. Something which was a constant during the team’s run to two Super Bowl titles on three trips in the 2000s.

“One thing that I loved about playing here was that you’ve all got to work together to keep the team together. Luckily I was with a bunch of guys who did that, and we had the success that we did.”

The core which Keisel was a part of included James Harrison, Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward, Aaron Smith, Santonio Holmes and many more. You can imagine the current group of Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, T.J. Watt, Cameron Heyward and hopefully Le’Veon Bell could also continue to stay together to win more football games.

Keisel knows the fan base well, as well as truly understanding the dynamics for a player, and what he says is 100-percent truth on both sides. Whether his comments/advice fall on deaf ears has yet to be seen.

Mock Draft: Todd McShay’s 3-round mock leaves Steelers fans with questions

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 04/11/2018 - 12:15pm

The Pittsburgh Steelers have some serious needs, but the latest mock draft by ESPN’s Todd McShay leaves fans with more questions than answers.

The 2018 NFL Draft is just a few short weeks away, and the big boys of draft coverage are starting to up their game. None more so than the ESPN draft duo of Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay.

With pre-draft visits ongoing, and Pro Days becoming a thing of the past, they are both putting their own spin on what they think will happen. Mock drafts, just like any prediction can be outlandish without any repercussion.

For instance, McShay could suggest the Steelers draft Lamar Jackson, even if he doesn’t truly think it will happen, merely to get fans of the black-and-gold to react. After all, in this business reaction is what you strive for with every strike of the keyboard.

Nonetheless, in McShay’s most recent 3-round mock draft, his selections for the Steelers certainly have fans scratching their heads.

Take a look at McShay’s latest:

Pittsburgh Steelers

Round 1 (28): Mike Hughes, CB, UCF
Round 2 (60): Jerome Baker, LB, Ohio State
Round 3 (92): Dante Pettis, WR, Washington

Pittsburgh is coming off a playoff game in which Jacksonville’s offense hung 38 on them in Heinz Field, so defense will likely be a focus early. Hughes has very good ball skills and the speed to run with high-end vertical receivers. He’s also a difference-maker in the return game. Baker has great speed and athleticism, and can help replace the loss of Ryan Shazier. Pettis provides another WR who can stretch the field.

For whatever reason, I personally struggle with the thought of the Steelers drafting a cornerback with their first round pick. Unless they truly don’t believe in Artie Burns, I’m not sure why the pick would be considered necessary.

Yes, I understand the team drafts with Best Player Available (BPA) in mind, and there is a good chance a cornerbrack would be considered that best player. But at the same time, there are other needs which could be addressed. With Joe Haden, Artie Burns, Mike Hilton, Cameron Sutton, Brian Allen and Coty Sensabaugh all set to return in 2018, you have to wonder where the new draft pick would even fit.

Baker as the second round selection is the one which makes the most sense. The Steelers have a long history of drafting Ohio State players, and Baker, although undersized, is a versatile weapon the team can add to the defense. His 4.5 40-yard dash speed would certainly help the Steelers mask the loss of Ryan Shazier.

If the Steelers go with a wide receiver in the third round, I suspect it is a player they are really high on. The team has brought in a lot of mid-to-late round prospects, some receivers included in that mix, and Pettis brings with him the ability to be the punt returner the team has been looking for the past 3 years to get Antonio Brown off this duty. Pettis would also be able to fill the No. 4 receiver spot if Eli Rogers doesn’t return to full health after he tore his ACL in the Divisional round of the AFC Playoffs last year.

Again, mock drafts are nothing more than stabs in the dark, but it doesn’t mean there can’t be some validity to these predictions. I often focus on position more than player, and this is why McShay’s mock of a cornerback in Round 1 just seems off to me. What do you think about these picks? Let us know in the comment section below!

The Steelers are taking a look at LSU prospects, including WR Russell Gage - Steelers/NFL - Wed, 04/11/2018 - 11:07am

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert attended the LSU pro day last week, and for the second time in three days the Steelers are playing host to a former Tigers player on a top 30 visit.

Analyzing the Mack ILB Position, and available prospects in the 2018 NFL Draft

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 04/11/2018 - 10:46am

Forget the position names. What are the roles that need to be filled in the middle of the Steeler defense?

(Editor’s Note: All statements regarding football X’s and O’s were reviewed and corrected by Cliff Harris Is Still A Punk. He counts as co-author even if the system won’t include his name.)

There’s all but universal agreement that Mack ILB (the gap left by Ryan Shazier) is the Steelers’ biggest hole. Bostic is an adequate band aid but he’s not a star, he has a significant history of games missed to injury, and there is no depth behind him.

What is a Mack ILB?

Most of you know that I’m a lawyer in my real life. Here’s a lawyer’s truism for you. In the end, most disputes come down to defining the term that you’re arguing about. So what exactly do we mean by all these terms? What are the differences between a Buck ILB, a Mack ILB, or those various “hybrid” positions like Nickle- and Dime ILB, or Box- and Strong Safety?

In brief, the Buck ILB (Vince Williams, Tyler Matakevich, and late-career Lawrence Timmons) is an off-ball linebacker who focuses 70% of his attention on heading downhill in run support and/or an inside blitz. He’s the guy who mans up when Rosie Nix comes barrelling forward hellbent on justifying his existence, and some poor soul has to stop him cold at the line of scrimmage. In the absence of a careening fullback they routinely take on pulling guards, crash into gaps the offensive is trying to clear, make the tackle on inside runs, and blitz up the middle on pass plays. The other 30% of their job is coverage duty on backs and TE’s. Buck ILB’s tend to play in the 250+ range because they need that mass to survive the constant impacts. Bigger size tends to mean they are slightly mismatched in coverage; not completely lost like a lineman would be, but likely to have a real tough time. The moral of the story: “Don’t get fooled, but if you must get fooled do it stopping the run.”

Mack ILB’s have more and more varied duties based on a 50/50 split in attention. Here’s a quick summary:

  • Field general. Mack ILB’s are the defensive QB that makes all the calls. Leadership skills and football IQ are at a bigger premium here than anywhere else on the defense. The Buck ILB can handle this, but it works better if it’s the Mack because that’s the player who’ll have to adjust the most. They have to read more keys than Buck ILB’s and can’t afford to focus as heavily on downhill run support.
  • Run support. Mack ILB’s are the run-and-chase specialists who shoot through lateral gaps to catch RB’s heading toward the edge or screen plays. Burst speed and football IQ are the premium skills here, which is why Mack ILB’s typically play in the 230-240 range and are built a little lighter than Buck ILB’s. This is balanced by the need to defeat blockers and make the tackle when you get there. It’s a constant trade off that drives film watchers crazy. The trade of extra mass for extra speed tends to correlate with issues getting away from Guards and Centers that reach the second level, and obviously removes some oomph when the Mack ILB reaches the ball carrier. This is where Shazier got criticized.
  • Coverage duties. Mack ILB’s routinely cover all the escape hatch and check down throws, along with zone coverage duties in the middle of the field. And just to complicate things, modern offenses will challenge them by automatically converting those patterns into something like a TE seam route. These duties require almost Safety-like skills: excellent but not CB-level change of direction, top notch click-and-close burst to tackle the catch before a slot receiver can dart away, and enough foot speed to cover most TE’s.

Moral of the story: “Don’t get fooled, and if you get fooled react and adjust really, really fast.”

The next step on the continuum gets to the hybrid LB/Safety types. The biggest are the “Nickel LB’s”. These are true, if usually undersized Linebackers with serious coverage chops (for a Linebacker). Nickel LB’s replace the Buck ILB, an OLB, or a NT in likely pass situations (I can’t be more precise because there are many dozens of variations in these sub packages). A Nickel LB who’s exceptional at coverage may even act as a third Safety. Run stuffing 40%, Pass coverage 60%. This shades over into “Dime LB” which calls for even more focus on coverage skills and is more usually manned by an oversized Safety than an extra-quick Linebacker. Call it 30/70. Classic Strong Safeties come in at more like 20/80.

There was an era when hybrid types occupied a starting role on many defenses under the name “Box Safety.” Box Safeties were supposed to be masters of all trades, not a mere jacks. Take, e.g., the Steelers’ beloved Fire-X cross blitz where the Buck and Mack cross stunt with the NT. On those plays the hybrid LB/S is the primary run-fitter at the 2nd level, coming downhill at the snap and thinking run-first. He’d better be able to tackle here because if that stunt gets picked up the RB can hit a seam and be off to the races! In other scenarios – and you want to leave the QB wondering before the snap – the hybrid guy can become an alley player who guards against flat and seam routes by RB’s and TE’s. That’s typical on stunts from the OLB’s. Or he may be asked to drop back into cover-3 against heavy personnel groups, and/or to be the “force” player against runs toward the edge or passes into the flat because the Mack is likely to get swallowed by one of those extra offensive linemen.

Once upon a time Pittsburgh had a single player who could do all of these things at an expert level. He excelled at everything from taking on kickout blocks to tackling in space, tackling at the 2nd level like a linebacker, covering tight ends, and dropping back in Cover-2 like an extra Free Safety. His versatility, football IQ, and burst toward the play put the fear of God into opposing QB’s because he made it all but impossible to really know what the defensive scheme would look like after the snap. There is a reason Troy Polamalu is going into the HOF about three seconds after he’s eligible.

The “Box Safety” name has died out in favor of sub package roles because there aren’t that many Troys in the universe. Teams got better results by substituting multiple players (Strong Safeties, Dime LB’s and NIckel LB’) than hoping to find one miracle athlete who could do it all. Insiders realized that the writing was on the wall when the players themselves started to use lines like“too small to play linebacker and too slow to play safety.” So the title has been dropped but the varied roles still have to be filled; each and every one of those roles or the opponent will pick that little weakness apart.

The next steps on the gradient would be “Free Safety” and “Corner Who Can Tackle,” but we won’t go there. One hopes that the point has been made already. NFL starters – and especially stars – have the ability to fill several roles at once. Sub package players exist to cover the gaps in between what your starters can do, with the actual schemes emphasizing more of some things in exchange for less of others. Just to use two examples, Morgan Burnett is a Strong Safety whose skills let him play Box Safety too, while still having enough speed to play Cover 2. Think late-career Polamalu. Moving up toward the line we see that Ryan Shazier, all joking aside, lived at the Mack ILB position but had the versatility to play Nickel and Dime ILB with equal facility, and really might have served as an emergency-only Safety.

What Roles Do the Steelers Need to Fill?

In the ideal world, every role would be manned by a quality starter, a quality backup, and a young stud pushing for the role. In reality that is usually two players plus emergency depth. Here is a list of the roles we just defined and the current players who man them.

  • Buck ILB’s. Williams, Matakevich, and Moats. IMHO, they are all quite good at the 70% of the job that aims forward, but can be exposed in the 30% that requires coverage skills.
  • Mack ILB’s. Bostic and Ryan Shazier’s ghost. Bostic has injury issues and the ghost won’t help before 2019, if then. Major hole.
  • Nickel ILB’s. Bostic and L.J. Fort. Major hole.
  • Dime ILB’s. Burnett, but only if the team plays single high safety (Davis on his own) or brings in Dangerfield. Major hole. A superior prospect with Free Safety skills would provide much more flexibility for dropping Burnett into a Box Safety role, but he has a history of injury problems that makes one wince when you think about relying on that.
  • Strong Safety. Burnett, Davis, Dangerfield. Could be worse.
  • Free Safety. Davis. Maaaaybe Sutton or Allen. Significant hole because of the question marks.
  • Corner Who Tackles. Davis, Sutton, Hilton and hopefully Allen. Burns is working on it but hasn’t arrived, and Haden has the will but not the size.

I hope that explains why people are so focused on the Mack ILB and Safety positions even after the team has added two able free agents to stem the bleeding. The team needs a true 50/50 Mack ILB because Bostic has his limits and injury history, is already into his veteran years, and there is no depth behind him. The team could use a #3 Mack too because Macks (or monster Safeties) are the ones who do double duty in the Nickel ILB role.

Burnett does a great job as a combination Dime LB and Strong Safety, but he also has an injury history and isn’t a spring chicken in football years. We really need depth at Dime ILB. And there is really no good backup at Free Safety except our speculations about The Little Corner Who Could.

So the bad news is, there are lots of roles to be filled. The good news is that all of them are for young studs, depth, or improvement to players who are only ‘okay.’ The starting core is solid with only Davis’ move to Free Safety as a potential hiccup. Thus the trick will lie in covering all of those holes as well as possible, and with as few players as the team can get away with.

Draft targets.

This happens to be an exceptional class for Mack, Nickel, and Dime ILB prospects, both at the top end and in depth. Here are some names to consider:


BUCK/MACK/NICKEL ILB’s. These are freak athletes built like Buck ILB’s but possessing the movement skills and speed of a Nickel ILB. They should end up as better tacklers than Shazier and will end their careers by shifting over to the Buck position. If Shazier comes back, they will have zero problem shifting over to be a Williams/Matakevich player with all the plus athleticism that keeps those guys from being stars instead of starters. These young men may be a little vulnerable in pass situations compared to the Mack/Nickel types, but not by much because of their extraordinary gifts.

  • Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech. 6’5”, 253 lbs. The freak of freaks. You can even add Edge Rusher to his list of positions! We’re talking ‘Troy Polamalu at off-ball linebacker’ if he hits his potential. Holy four letter word Batman. And he really has just a single flaw: youth. Whoever drafts Tremaine Edmunds will have a lot of rapid fire teaching to do at a position where football IQ really matters. But very few people doubt he’ll get there, so don’t bother to dream. He’s going to be picked in the Top 10.
  • Leighton Vander Esch, Boise St. [COMBINE, DINNER, PRO DAY, VISIT]. 6’4”, 256 lbs. If Tremaine Edwards got a 100 on the Freak Athlete test, LVE scored a 98. The same analysis applies. His reasonably foreseeable floor is Superb Buck ILB. His ceiling is [dream not lest ye be disappointed]. LVE boosters have to believe in crystallizing what’s only been semi-realized potential so far, but the signs are clear enough for him to be a major fan favorite. He’s likely to be available at 1:28 because his tape shows a much better athlete than Linebacker. Jerry Olsavsky would have the job (and chance) of a lifetime coaching this one.

MACK/NICKEL ILB’s. These are the players raised in college to imitate Ryan Shazier. If Shazier comes back they will be competing with him directly. But how much would a defense suffer from having two Shaziers? They are fast, versatile enough for multiple uses, just about ideal for special teams, and don’t forget that you can have two on the field at the same time when you sub in the Nickel LB.

  • Roquan Smith, Georgia. 6’1”, 236 lbs. Best in the class and at least the equal of where Shazier was as a prospect. Or perhaps a bit more like C.J. Mosley... Whatever. Don’t dream. It would be amazing if he dropped as far as Pick 15.
  • Rashaan Evans, Alabama [COMBINE]. 6’3”, 234 lbs. If Shazier and Smith get a 100 on the Model Mack test, then Evans would get a 97. The regular comparison is to Lawrence Timmons and the couple-of-points disparity goes to football IQ more than physical ability. Give him a few years to study and he just might be every bit as good or better.

Almost all of these players are on our BTSC Big Board with late 2nd or early 3rd grades. I will make no attempt to subdivide them here because those grades are anything but set in stone. The order is alphabetical, not by quality.


  • Uchenna Nwosu, USC. 6’3”, 251 lbs. Maybe? Nwosu is a Buck ILB who straddles the line toward Edge more than the line toward Mack, but he is close enough for honorable mention. Doubly so because he has so much else to offer. Nwosu’s a very Steelerish football player who’d be a fringe-1st in our eyes if the team needed a true Buck as much as it needs a Mack.


  • Jerome Baker, Ohio State. 6’2”, 229 lbs. Very athletic but even lighter than most.
  • Oren Burks, Vanderbilt. 6’3”, 233 lbs. Fits the mold but a bit shy on oomph.
  • Shaun Dion-Hamilton, Alabama [COMBINE]. 6’0”, 230 lbs. Your author’s draft crush. The unquestioned leader of Alabama’s defense with startling ability as a cover-LB and field general. His 2016 season ended with an ACL, and his 2017 ended with broken knee cap. Was he injury-bit or injury-prone? The concern has him listed as a Round 4-5 talent on most other boards but they are wrong and I am right, so there.
  • Malik Jefferson, Texas [VISIT]. 6’3”, 236 lbs. Fringe-1st physical tools better than anyone else in this tier, but hounded by persistent rumors that even a college defense pushed the limits of his football IQ. It all comes down to the interviews. He’s either the primary Round 2 target or off the board completely.
  • Darius Leonard, S.C. State. 6’2”, 234 lbs. A very promising talent but he’s actually built a bit smaller than his weight. People question whether his frame will let him play strong enough to survive the NFL game as a starting Mack.
  • Fred Warner, BYU [SENIOR BOWL]. 6’3”, 227 lbs. Great coverage skills for a linebacker with superb click-and-close talents, but also on the smaller side. He’d be an ideal #2 Mack and #1 Nickel ILB, but can he survive as a #1 Mack?

The Steelers have picks at 5:11 and 5:28, but none in Round 4 without trading up.


  • Genard Avery, Memphis. 6’1”, 255 lbs. Probably more of an Edge Rusher than anything else, but if drafted he could learn to be an Arthur Moats or Matakevich as well.
  • Josey Jewell, Iowa. 6’1”, 235 lbs. He really belongs in a 4-3, probably as a Sam where he’d easily (imho) earn a starting job. Size issues limit his ability to excel as a 3-4 Buck, and limited athletic skills raise doubts about his fit as a potential Mack. Only included here because he’ll be a fan favorite wherever he goes. A fine football player whose profile doesn’t mesh as well with Pittsburgh’s approach as you’d like.
  • Chris Worley, Ohio State [VISIT]. 6’2”, 230 lbs. A player you’d love a few rounds earlier if he only had enough pure athletic talent to play Mack or enough size to play Buck. Alas, but he’s caught dead in between. Gritty, tough and determined but on the small side for a Buck.


Yes Virginia, there are a lot of Macks in this year’s draft. They all have flaws or they wouldn’t be available on Day 3, but they’d also serve as perfectly adequate depth with a chance to be more.

  • Joel “Iggy” Iyiegbuniwe, W. Kentucky [VISIT]. 6’1”, 229 lbs. A solid, not flashy, mid-round Mack ILB with sideline-to-sideline speed, adequate coverage ability, and surprising physicality for his size.
  • Dorian O’Daniel, Clemson [VISIT]. 6’1”, 215 lbs. A pure Nickel/Dime ILB who’d might play Mack in a pinch but probably wouldn’t excel over the course of a year. A legendary special teams demon in college.
  • Tegray Scales, Indiana. 6’0”, 230 lbs. The Matakevich of Macks. He has everything you want but the extra burst of foot speed. Many will object that he ought to be a fringe-3rd.
  • Shaquem Griffin, Central Florida. 6’1”, 227 lbs. Might be higher if there were no question marks about the level of competition and the missing hand. Straddles the line between Nickel- and Dime ILB with the potential to play Mack as well. One could argue that he deserves extra credit because that 4.38 speed might let him play a bit of Strong Safety. It isn’t just the storyline that has folks so intrigued.
  • Skai Moore, South Carolina. 6’2”, 226 lbs. A Day 2 Mack- and Nickel ILB talent who’s dropped to Day 3 grade because of residual worry about a serious 2016 fusion surgery on his neck. He’s also on the smaller side, which helps to explain his very superior coverage skills.
Oversized Safeties Who Can Play Dime ILB

Repeat after me: All those sub package roles overlap. The team has placed a lot of its sub package cards on Morgan Burnett, so it makes sense to get some depth and youth behind him. These are organized according to their rank on the BTSC Big Board.

  • Derwin James, Florida St. 6’3”, 215 lbs. Ain’t Gonna Happen. If he reaches 1:20 and the Steelers don’t trade up I will personally picket the South Side facility. He really would be the Troy Polamalu Box Safety of our dreams.
  • Ronnie Harrison, Alabama [COMBINE]. 6’3”, 214 lbs. This is why the young man causes so much buzz. He has the ‘stuff’ to excel at multiple roles (Free, Strong and Box Safety) and the size to potentially play desperation-Nickel ILB as well. May be available at 1:28, won’t be available at 2:28.
  • Justin Reid, Stanford [COMBINE & VISIT]. 6’1”, 204 lbs. A model of the modern mold in Steeler Safeties. He has the versatility to play both Free and Strong, an on-field attitude that suggests he could play Dime ILB, and enough speed to stretch toward Tackling Corner. Learning under Morgan Burnett would be just about perfect. A dream pick at 2:28 because of that versatility. A minor but eminently forgivable reach at 1:28.
  • Jessie Bates III, Wake Forest [COMBINE & PRO DAY]. 6’2”, 195. Mentioned only to make a point. He is your classic center field Free Safety who would let Sean Davis play the versatility role while Morgan Burnett drops down into the box. Not a Dime ILB in his own right.
  • Terrell Edmunds, Virginia Tech [TOMLIN & COLBERT BOTH AT PRO DAY]. 6’2”, 220 lbs. A SPARQ-score superstar who hasn’t put it all together. If he does, he’d be the perfect specimen covering all roles from Free Safety to Dime- and maybe even Nickel ILB. But it’s all projection because he hasn’t done it yet.
  • Kyzir White, W. Va. 6’2”, 216 lbs. A classic Box Safety who isn’t Troy. His home is at Dime ILB. But does he have the versatility to stretch out into a true Safety role, or the size to move in and play Nickel? Those questions are what make him a Round 3 target rather than Round 2.
  • Marcus Allen, Penn St. 6’2”, 202 lbs. Again, a classic Box Safety who doesn’t approach the athleticism required for all the required roles. Is he just a great Dime ILB, or can he stretch out to play Safety and Nickel roles too? He’s got the toughness and attitude, but size and speed really matter against NFL competition.
  • Quin Blanding, Virginia. 6’2”, 215 lbs. A Strong Safety with the size to play Dime ILB. His stock might be higher but for questions about football IQ.
  • Trey Flowers, Okla. St. [COMBINE]. 6’3”, 202 lbs. He’s said that he wants to be a Kam Chancellor type, which translates as “equally good at Strong Safety and Dime ILB with some ability to play Nickel in a pinch.” Intent is well and good but he hasn’t gotten there yet and needs some serious work to fill out that frame.

2018 Steelers Big Board (By Position, 2.0)

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 04/11/2018 - 8:20am

It is that time of the year again! Time to dust off the latest Big Board, although slightly abridged, as we lead up to the NFL Draft!

Limited to the Top 100 or so targets at the Steelers’ most likely areas of interest, plus players who catch our collective eye.

Organized by Highest Value (“HV#”) to the Steelers. Great players for other teams get downgraded here, as do positions where Pittsburgh has limited “want.” An HV of 1:25 means the player is a reach for the Steelers at any point before Pick # 25 overall but good value at any point from the end of the 1st on. Getting that player in the early 2nd would be fine, while getting him at 2:14 would almost be a steal. Yes, this system results in a certain amount of grade inflation for positions of need because we are talking about the “highest” grade, not the one where a player is expected to go; grades are never pushed up just because of need, however. Players with the same HV# are more-or-less equivalent so don’t sweat the order inside each grouping. I tried to group them by position: Defense, then Offense, inside to out.

Rounds are subdivided as follows:

  • 1st Round grades: 1:01, 1:05, 1:10, 1:15, 1:20, or 1:25.
  • 2nd & 3rd Round grades: Early (#:01), Mid (#:12), or Late (#:24).
  • 4th to 7th Round grades: Early (#:01) or Late (#:16).
Defensive Linemen

1:25 DL/NT Vita Vea, Washington. 6’4”, 347 lbs. Don’t compare him to Casey Hampton. That isn’t fair because Big Snack has become a figure of myth and legend in the minds of Steeler Nation. Dontari Poe or a pre-Browns Danny Shelton? Those are quite fair, and maybe even Haloti Ngata (known to Pittsburghers as “The Eater of Children” back in the day). If the Steelers needed a NT the way they need an ILB or a Safety, Vea would be good value in the low teens. But for this team…

2:01 DL Da’ron Payne, Alabama [COMBINE]. 6’2”, 311 lbs. Imagine a player you really, truly believe will be the next Cam Heyward. Do the Steelers have a hole at that spot? No, and that is why his grade is insultingly low. But would you want the F.O. to ignore the next Cam Heyward if he fell in their lap?

3:01 DL Harrison Phillips, Stanford [COMBINE]. 6’4”, 307 lbs. Let me be clear about something because anyone who’s studied Harrison Phillips will scream at the grade he’s getting on this Board: I think Phillips would make a fantastic Defensive End for the Steelers, and would not be surprised if he found a way to push Cam Heyward for snaps once he gets a feel for the pro game. We’re talking serious brains, serious grit, good length, and a champion wrestler’s knack for balance, leverage, angles, and phone-box lateral movement. But with Heyward, Tuitt, and Alualu on the team, and Walton as the #4…? There’s just no room. Here is the scouting profile.

5:01 DL/NT Kendrick Norton, Miami [COMBINE]. 6’3”, 314 lbs. Looking for a true, run stuffing, 0-tech Nose Tackle other than Vita Vea? Good luck in this draft. They are few and far between to say the least. Kendrick Norton may be the only real value pick before you get toward the rookie free agent pool. He has plenty of warts, as you can see from the scouting profile. He wouldn’t, e.g., provide a fraction of the pass rush that Pittsburgh gets from Javon Hargrave and thus would be limited to the 3-5 plays per game when pure ‘immovable force’ matters more. He may even be a bit miscast as a 3-4 NT according to this gif-supported scouting report (“He’s a “1-tech through and through”).

5:01 DL/NT B.J. Hill, N. Car. St. [VISIT]. 6’4”, 315 lbs. If you buy into the scouting profile and this Steelers-oriented, gif-supported scouting report, you’ll judge that B.J. Hill is a less promising version of Javon Hargrave from two years ago. A lot of BTSC remembers the old days and wants nothing more than a true, run stuffing, 0-tech Nose Tackle. They are few and far between in this draft, and the Steelers defense has changed. BJ Hill fits the new prototype better and would push Gravedigger. Whoever wins (i.e., learns to deal with double teams), the team would be better and depth assured. OTHO, this brief scouting profile, and also this similarly brief scouting profile, see the opposite type of player: a low burst athlete who’s hard to move. Go figure.

5:16 DL/NT Derrick Nnadi, Florida St. [COMBINE]. 6’1”, 317 lbs. The scouting profile is easy to sum up from a Steelers’ perspective: “A poor man’s Javon Hargrave.” He’d have a higher grade if Pittsburgh played a 4-3 and wasn’t looking for someone to handle double teams. Here is a scouting profile from our sister site for the Giants.

Edge Rushers (OLB’s)

1:15 EDGE Bradley Chubb, N.C. State. Ain’t Gonna Happen.

1:20 EDGE Harold Landry, Boston College. 6’3”, 252 lbs. Not so much a testing freak as a movement freak. He’s the sort of gumby pass rusher that gives OT’s fits, especially when combined with a relentless attitude. This would be the Steelers’ ideal target if they really are unhappy with Bud Dupree, but the odds of him falling into their hands are slim to none. Here is the scouting profile.

1:25 EDGE Marcus Davenport, UTSA. 6’6”, 264 lbs. Played as a 3-4 OLB in college but might be better suited for a hand-in-the-dirt role. Will require a solid year of coaching before making any mark in the NFL, but has the physical potential to make a very big mark thereafter. Here is the scouting profile.

2:12 EDGE Josh Sweat, Florida St. 6’4”, 251 lbs. A middle-class man’s Bud Dupree with exceptional length, the ability to play in space, and very good burst off the ball when he isn’t totally late. What he lacks is the same thing that hinders Dupree: the ability to rubber-man himself around and under NFL tackles. Of course, Dupree is going to get darned expensive pretty soon… His stock would be a little higher if there was no history of a serious knee issue (dislocation + ACL + complications). Start your research here, with our own Nick Martin’s gif-supported scouting report, which suggests that Sweat’s newly-healed knee injury might handle more bend than people think. Here is the scouting profile, and here are scouting profiles from our sister site for the Panthers, our sister site for the Giants, and a Patriots-oriented website. This goes to a gif-supported, very enthusiastic scouting report from our sister site for the Titans.

2:12 EDGE Kemoko Turay, Rutgers. 6’5”, 252 lbs. The scouting profile describes a poor man’s Bud Dupree, with great explosiveness and the ability to play in space counterbalanced by a lack of bend. My how the draft process can change people’s minds! More recent reviews like this gif-supported scouting report credit Turay with a gumby-like bend close to Harold Landry’s. This Cowboys-oriented scouting profile is similarly enthusiastic. I suspect he’d be a Round 1 pick in most people’s eyes if not for a nasty history of injuries, with yet another that limited his Combine performance. See this Giants-oriented scouting profile. This goes to a draft process blog he is writing, which may provide some insight into the young man through his own words.

2:24 EDGE Dorance Armstrong, Kansas. 6’4”, 257 lbs. with exceptionally long 34½” arms. The Combine testing showed excellent numbers in the C.O.D. drills, very good ones for strength, and lousy ones for speed and explosiveness. All those numbers support the idea that he could move to OLB for a 3-4 team like Pittsburgh, but only with the understanding that he’s always been in a 4-3 and will need at least a year to catch up. Studies like the scouting profile tend to support all of those conclusions. Our own KansasCitySteelers says: “On tape, he looks a lot speedier than his combine times, with the ability to easily track down RB’s behind the line of scrimmage in backside pursuit. He shows that hustle on every play, with a non-stop motor, and consistently jolts blockers backwards with his strength, doing a good job setting the edge.” This Bears-oriented, gif-supported scouting report compares him to Trent Murphy and believes he’d be a good 3-4 OLB after a redshirt learning year. This Chiefs-oriented scouting profile considers him a fringe-1st guy. Round 1-3 at this Colts-oriented page as well, with consistent observations.

2:24 EDGE Lorenzo Carter, Georgia. 6’6”, 250 lbs. Another prospect who could be described as a poor man’s Bud Dupree because his assets (explosiveness and length) are tied to a lack of bend. Here is the scouting profile.

2:24 EDGE Sam Hubbard, Ohio State. 6’5”, 265 lbs. A nonstop, technically sound piece for a 4-3 team looking to draft an overachiever who wins with guile, technique and motor rather than astonishing burst or bend. He plays surprisingly well in space because he used to play as a defensive back before adding on bulk. Here are the scouting profile and a scouting profile from our sister site for the Giants. This nice, gif-supported scouting report from our sister site for the Titans compares Hubbard to Mike Vrabel, which rings true to my ear. Don’t be at all surprised if he gets targeted by either Vrabel himself (Tennessee) or by the Patriots.

3:24 EDGE Arden Key, LSU. 6’6”, 238 lbs. This year’s Randy Gregory. Key is the most divisive prospect in the draft because he has extraordinary pass rushing ability paired with very serious off-field problems and questions about whether he has the discipline to survive any professional success he manages to achieve. Great mystery surrounds the “personal problems” that derailed his Top-5 hopes, but if the Steelers believe they are truly behind him there is no better pass rushing prospect in the draft. Here is the scouting profile.

4:01 EDGE Kylie Fitts, UCLA. 6’4”, 263 lbs. Long, bendy, nimble, explosive and strong: those are primary assets you look for in an Edge Rusher. Fitts has the first three down, but struggles with explosiveness and hasn’t shown the ability to convert his gym strength into setting the edge against the run. He’s also been handicapped by an ongoing series of medical problems. The potential is there, but getting him to unlock it could be frustrating for all involved. OTOH, he played for the Steelers new DB coach, Tom Bradley, so the team presumably has an inside track. Here is the scouting profile.

4:16 EDGE & BUCK ILB Genard Avery, Memphis. 6’1”, 255 lbs. The scouting profile describes a very strong, explosive and versatile player who is big enough to play Buck ILB, but reports say he prefers to play Edge. Sounds like Jack Of All Trades type similar to Arthur Moats, who has quietly solved a number of potentially vexing depth problems while excelling on special teams. Moats is already on the team but he did just turn 30, which is getting up there in LB-years. A younger and more athletic version might be helpful for long term planning. This goes to a fine and very complimentary gif-supported scouting report courtesy of 58Steel. A fine Combine performance sparked other reports too, including this scouting profile from our sister site for the Giants, and this briefer scouting profile.

4:16 EDGE Trevon Young, Louisville. 6’4”, 254 lbs. It’s all about the medicals. He suffered a nasty hip injury in 2016 (fractured and dislocated), and simply wasn’t the same player in 2017. The young man in early 2016 would be a few rounds higher. The one last year would be several rounds lower. This is an average, but it really depends on the medicals. Here is the scouting profile.

Off Ball Linebackers (Buck, Mack, and Nickel)

1:05 MACK/BUCK ILB & EDGE Tremaine Edmunds, Virginia Tech. 6’5”, 253 lbs. An athletic miracle who can play football at the most-needed position. He might even be too big! Mike Mayock and other Combine pundits speculated about whether he might grow into a superb Edge player rather than staying as an oversized Mack.

1:10 MACK/NICKEL ILB Roquan Smith, Georgia. 6’1”, 236 lbs. The dream ILB pick for much of Steeler Nation, Smith lacks the ultra-freakish athleticism to be the next Ryan Shazier but he’s probably as close as you’ll get to being the next C.J. Mosely. He’d be right up there toward the Top 10 if he was a little better at taking on blocks. Yes, he could learn to be better at that, but the fact that he needs to is a slight knock. Here is a good, thorough scouting profile from PFF.

1:15 MACK/BUCK ILB Leighton Vander Esch, Boise St. [COMBINE, DINNER, PRO DAY, VISIT] 6’4”, 256 lbs. See Tremaine Edmunds and then make him vaguely human and a 1-year starter with better tackling skills. Nobody this big should be able to move like he does. LVE and Rashaan Evans are neck-and-neck as the Steelers’ most likely 1st round pick. This excellent, gif-heavy scouting report from our sister site for the Titans is the first place to go for an introduction. He’s been linked to the Steelers by Mike Mayock and Mel Kiper, Dan Kadar, and many others. Heck, his family even owns a football bus. Here are some Steelers-oriented scouting profiles: Report #1, Report #2, Report #3, and Report #4. You can find many others with a more general focus.

1:20 MACK/NICKEL ILB Rashaan Evans, Alabama [COMBINE]. 6’3”, 234 lbs. The scouting profile compares him to a young Lawrence Timmons who played through a nasty groin injury for all of 2018. That will do nicely, TYVM. He and LVE are neck-and-neck as the Steelers’ most likely 1st round pick.

2:24 MACK/NICKEL ILB Jerome Baker, Ohio State. 6’2”, 229 lbs. When does “fast and rangy Mack ILB” tip over into “oversized hybrid Safety”? Jerome Baker is right at that tipping point. He has the speed, athleticism, and other factors you look for but the Combine profile isn’t alone when it questions his ability to handle NFL physicality, let alone to get free from NFL linemen.

2:24 MACK/NICKEL ILB Darius Leonard, S.C. State. 6’2”, 234 lbs. He’s got the speed and the range, but the Combine profile emphasizes that he put 50 pounds on his frame during college. Can he get big and strong enough to withstand the NFL game? He also comes from a smaller school (Javon Hargrave’s alma mater). Here is a scouting profile from our sister site for the Giants.

2:24 BUCK ILB Uchenna Nwosu, USC. 6’3”, 251 lbs. A heck of an athlete with surprising athleticism, many pundits view Nwosu as an Edge player more than an off-ball linebacker. Interesting fact: his stock has gone up on my personal board every time I’ve heard coaches or other players talk about playing either with him or against him. The last player who struck that chord so strongly was Markus Golden, and I can see a very similar career arc here. On the numbers, he compares to T.J. Watt with piss poor numbers in the explosiveness tests like the vertical and broad jumps. He didn’t do the 3-cone drill or shuttles that measure change of direction, but is expected to do better on those. The Steelers would see him as an ILB with pass rushing assets. But could he play Mack, or only Buck? Here are the scouting profile, a gif-supported scouting profile from a Bears perspective, and an interview posted at Draft Wire.

2:24 MACK/NICKEL ILB Fred Warner, BYU [SENIOR BOWL]. 6’3”, 227 lbs. Fast, fluid, and a willing hitter despite his lack of statute, Warner was actually used in college as an Edge Rusher for many of his snaps. That won’t happen against NFL Tackles, but it suggests very good things about his ability to get off blocks if a lineman reached him in space. These links go to the scouting profile and a typically good Draft Wire interview, which shows a pretty solid football IQ.

3:12 MACK/NICKEL ILB Shaun Dion-Hamilton, Alabama [COMBINE]. 6’0”, 230 lbs. High school valedictorian. Alabama team captain. Starting linebacker ahead of likely Round 1 pick Rashaan Evans until this year’s freak injury. Your humble author has admitted to a draft crush in this case and admits to believing SDH might have had higher stock in this class than Roquan Smith if he hadn’t been hurt. “Steal” doesn’t begin to cover it. If the team doctors clear his knee, this is an almost certain Round 1 talent who will most likely be available in Round 3. But will the doctors clear him? We don’t know, but my guess would be “yes.” The big 2016 injury was an ACL. He came back way ahead of schedule and was looking great until a freak hit fractured his kneecap in 2017. The second injury had nothing to do with the first, and just like a broken bone should heal completely.

So why am I so enthusiastic? Scouting reports like this one (“the best hips of all the inside linebackers in this class” and “one of the best coverage inside linebackers that I saw on tape”) will do that. So will scouting profiles that read, “quarterback of the Crimson Tide defensive, making pre-snap reads and rarely coming off the field... solid forum tackler who can make plays in the open field.” The scouting profile includes the key information with some probably healthy pessimism. (1) Hamilton has suffered season-ending injuries in each of the past two years, which raises medical red flags and limits the available film. Explain it away all you like, it’s an issue. (2) Hamilton has an outstanding, C.J. Mosley-or-better football IQ, and the charisma to really lead a defense. I place extreme value on that, but you don’t have to. (3) The pre-injury SDH had all the exceptional athletic talent you’d expect of an Alabama top-level prospect. Bottom line: It’s up to the doctors. He could get picked in Round 2 or he could have to wait until Round 6 depending on their verdict. FYI, note this February Draft Wire interview where the young man tells us, “My kneecap is fully healed at this point. I’ve started running and things of that nature. I’m ahead of schedule. I’m just taking it day by day. Every day seems to get better.” Here is a Rams-oriented scouting profile that basically echoes my opinion except for the player comp.

3:12 MACK/NICKEL ILB Malik Jefferson, Texas [VISIT]. 6’3”, 236 lbs. A young man with the athletic gifts to perform well as an NFL Mack, but question marks about his ability to learn an NFL defense, his leadership, his on-field demeanor, and his play strength. He’s either an early Round 2 pick or a boom-or-bust flier for Round 5. Determining which is beyond the ability of anyone who lacks the chance to really meet with and interview him. The scouting profile sounds the warning notes, as do this fairly detailed scouting profile and this scouting profile from our sister site for the Redskins. This shallow, Chargers-oriented scouting profile emphasizes the outstanding physical tools.

3.24 MACK/NICKEL ILB Oren Burks, Vanderbilt. 6’3”, 233 lbs. The scouting profile describes a classic hybrid LB/SS tweener who’s a step too slow to be a true safety and some oomph too slow to be a true linebacker. This scouting profile from our sister site for the Giants echoes that view in suspiciously similar language. OTOH, interviews show a smart young man who has a good grasp of fitting into a true team defense. It’s a case of projection. Personally, I see a lot of pre-injury Sean Spence if he can build up some ‘nasty’. His biggest concrete problem has lain in getting off blocks, but that is a learnable skill and one shared by most men faced with an athletic NFL lineman who outweighs you by 100 lbs.

4:16 MACK/NICKEL ILB Joel “Iggy” Iyiegbuniwe, W. Kentucky [VISIT]. 6’1”, 229 lbs. A solid, not flashy, mid-round Mack ILB who would add quality depth and special teams assistance. Here are the scouting profile and a Raiders-oriented scouting profile, both of which promote his sideline-to-sideline speed, adequate coverage ability, and surprising physicality for his size.

4:16 NICKEL/DIME ILB Dorian O’Daniel, Clemson [VISIT]. 6’1”, 215 lbs. Whoever invented the terms “Nickelbacker” and “Special Teams Demon” may have had this young man in mind. The scouting profile is typical of the breed: O’Daniel is a true missile in the open field with too little size to really succeed as a linebacker and too few “quicks” to be an oversized Safety. One notable thing: the testing showed great C.O.D. ability, which is one of the things he failed to show on film.

4:16 ILB Tegray Scales, Indiana. 6’0”, 230 lbs. The scouting profile describes a very smart ILB who lacks the foot speed to really excel at the Mack position, and the size to be an upgrade on Williams or Matakevich, but would almost certainly figure out a way to make the team. The pundits, like this brief Draft Wire scouting profile, emphasize how often his football IQ and disciplined skill set compensate for his relative lack of outstanding athleticism. He’s the sort of player you love to have on your team, but probably not the one Pittsburgh is looking for. This scouting profile from an avowed fan pegs him as a Round 3 player whose ideal feat would be as a 4-3 Sam. This Steelers oriented, gif-supported scouting profile makes similar observations and suggests Round 4. He gets a slight discount here for being a fine football player who doesn’t quite fit the specs that Pittsburgh is looking for this year.

5:01 MACK/NICKEL ILB Shaquem Griffin, Central Florida. 6’1”, 227 lbs. This is the young man who challenged the Combine’s all-time linebacker record for speed, and put up decent strength numbers too despite having no left hand due to a congenital birth defect. The best draft story of the year: period. There’s no getting around the fact that his handicap is, well, a handicap, but that only limits his value. The scouting profile seems pretty solid in this case, describing an excellent small-school prospect whose real limits may be more size- and linearity-related than having to do with his hand.

5:01 NICKEL/DIME ILB Skai Moore, South Carolina. 6’2”, 226 lbs. A two-year team captain and one of the best cover-LB’s in the class, Moore’s grade is limited by his lack of size and some residual worry about a serious 2016 fusion surgery on his neck. It’s a pretty tight grade because the floor and ceiling are close together: If he stays healthy he will be some variation on hybrid SS/Mack and special teams demon.” If the medicals are an issue he will be out of the league. The scouting profile adds those up into a late Day 3 grade, as does this scouting profile. This scouting profile from our sister site for the Giants, who also need a cover-capable linebacker or two, seems to place him in the early to mid Day 3 range. This gif-heavy, Panthers-oriented scouting report seems to agree: “immediate depth with enough upside to hope that they might be able to contribute in a more significant way down the road.” The CBS scouting profile more or less agrees. “… changes direction in a hurry. Almost built like rocked up safety. Great depth sinking in coverage and possesses keen route-recognition skills and quickly reacts to quarterbacks’ eyes. Doesn’t fly sideline-to-sideline but has range and is a decent blocker-shedder. A candidate to outperform his draft position.” [Infinite thanks to poster 58Steel for the find & research]

5:16 BUCK ILB Josey Jewell, Iowa. 6’1”, 235 lbs. The scouting profile calls him a poor man’s Sean Lee, but he honestly reminds me more of a slightly more athletic Tyler Matakevich, a player I love who is already on the team.

5:16 ILB Chris Worley, Ohio State [VISIT]. 6’2”, 230 lbs. Things you never thought you’d say about an Ohio State player: lacks size, speed and fluid movement skills, but makes up for it with gritty determination and toughness. Worley is a player you’d love if he only had enough pure athletic talent to play Mack or enough size to play Buck. Alas, but he’s caught dead in between. Here is the scouting profile. This scouting profile from our sister site for the Giants is a bit more positive: “Worley isn’t the star linebacker that [] fans crave. He is, instead, more of a ‘glue guy’… that does most everything well and holds a unit together.”

6:01 BUCK ILB Micah Kizer, Va. State. 6’2”, 240 lbs. A prototype Buck ILB who’d deserve a much deeper look if the Steelers had more need in that department. Here is the scouting profile.

6:01 BUCK ILB Christian Sam, Arizona State. 6’2”, 236 lbs. A prototype Buck ILB who’d deserve a much deeper look if the Steelers had more need in that department. Here is the scouting profile.

6:16 MACK/NICKEL ILB Jermaine Carter, Maryland [VISIT]. 6’0”, 228 lbs. A two-year captain who projects to be a special teams and sub package specialist. Here is the scouting profile. This brief scouting profile describes him as a “short, stocky, high motor… heart and soul of the defense” type.

6:16 BUCK ILB Andre Smith, North Carolina. 6’0”, 240 lbs. 100% thumper coming off a knee injury. He’d have no chance to be more than a 3rd string Buck ILB behind Williams and Matakevich, and would do better finding a team with more use for his skill set. Here is the scouting profile.

Safeties (Free, Strong, and Dime ILB)

1:01 FS/CB Minkah Fitzpatrick, Alabama [COMBINE]. The closest thing in the draft to Ed Reed, except he can probably play Corner too. The very prototype of a Free Safety. Don’t dream, it Ain’t Gonna Happen.

1:01 SS/FS Derwin James, Florida St. 6’3”, 215 lbs. The closest thing in the draft to Troy Polamalu coming out of USC. The very prototype of a Strong Safety. Don’t dream, it Ain’t Gonna Happen.

2:01 FS/SS Justin Reid, Stanford [COMBINE & VISIT]. 6’1”, 204 lbs. Stanford smart, 4.40 fast, and ready to rumble. Here is the scouting profile. A favorite of the BTSC draft community, he fits the recent Steeler profile of looking for smart, fast athletes who can play both Free and Strong Safety.

2:12 FS Jessie Bates III, Wake Forest [COMBINE & PRO DAY]. 6’2”, 195. A classic centerfield Free Safety with enough physical gifts to be a long time starter after a few years learning the NFL game and building up his body. Here is the scouting profile.

2:12 SS/FS/DIME ILB Ronnie Harrison, Alabama [COMBINE]. 6’3”, 214 lbs. Harrison is this year’s unfortunate beneficiary of my “Sold Too Hard And Too Early Award”, as typified by this Cowboys-oriented scouting profile and this Chiefs-oriented scouting profile. The scouting profile also lauds his physical talents, but notes the common rumors that he’s more a team player than an alpha dog. But the draft community has backlashed a bit, pointing out that he played across from the best Free Safety in the nation and behind the best front seven.

2:24 SS/DIME ILB Terrell Edmunds, Virginia Tech [TOMLIN & COLBERT BOTH AT PRO DAY]. 6’2”, 220 lbs. Portrait of a SPARQ-score superstar: the size of a huge, almost-linebackerish Strong Safety wedded with the exceptional speed and athleticism of a true Free Safety. Terrell Edmunds would be right up there with his brother Tremaine if he didn’t lack the same level of football skills seen in the other Safeties in the Round 2-3 discussion. Open field tackling and poor angles (related issues) seem to be the primary issues, but they aren’t the only ones. OTOH he only turned 21 in late January, he’s been widely praised for his leadership skills despite the lack of years, and his bloodline includes a pro bowl TE for a father, an NFL RB brother (Trey), and a surefire Round 1 pick at ILB (Tremaine). Bottom line: this is a player with a genuine chance to be an NFL star but it won’t happen unless he can get coached up on various parts of his game. He gets a full retail grade because he also has the physical tools to be an immediate help in run support as a Big Nickel Safety while he fills in the rest of his game. Tomlin and Colbert were both on hand for his pro day. Here are the Combine scouting profile and the regular scouting profile. This goes to a Steelers-oriented, gif-supported scouting report.

3:01 SS/DIME ILB Kyzir White, W. Va. 6’2”, 216 lbs. 100% football player but only an average athlete if your standard is “athletes capable of starting in the NFL.” He played the hybrid ILB/SS “Moneybacker” position at West Virginia, where he also earned plaudits for his leadership too. His Combine performance wasn’t bad but did confirm real limitations when it comes to speed. Very similar to Marcus Allen but a little bigger. Here is the scouting profile. This goes to a scouting profile from our sister site for the Giants.

3:12 SS Marcus Allen, Penn St. 6’2”, 202 lbs. Listen to the pundits and you hear a constant refrain: “He looks like a Steeler…” A heady, hard-hitting box safety who’d get much higher grades if he had the speed and fluidity to occasionally cover NFL-caliber athletes in Nickel. Well known for leadership qualities too. Very similar prospect to Kyzir White but a little smaller.

3:12 SS/FS Tarvarius Moore, SMU. 6’1”, 199 lbs. He was well down everyone’s list of Safeties until a pro day performance that made him a SPARQ-score superstar, with numbers like a 4.32 dash, 38-1/2” vertical, and equivalents in other areas. There is no scouting profile but after the pro day Zierlein looked at the film and gave him a Day 2 grade. This quick profile from a Browns POV would agree, as would this Draft Wire article calling him the most underrated Safety in the class.

3:12 FS/SS Armani Watts, Texas A&M. 5’11”, 205 lbs. A solid but unspectacular prospect who is good in almost all departments but special in basically none. The scouting profile makes him sound like a wonderful depth player and a questionable starter. The summary in this Bleacher Report list of Safeties (he’s #7) describes a classic Free Safety with some injury concerns.

3:24 FS/SS Dane Cruikshank, Arizona. 6’1”, 209 lbs. Here’s an easy comp for you: Sean Davis. Cruikshank has great size and very good speed, played good college ball as a Safety and failed as an occasional Corner. He’s got all the physical tools you look for held back by question marks about his football IQ. Sound familiar? Here is the scouting profile, which ends with a Round 6-7 grade. This gif-supported scouting report is much more optimistic, comparing him to Minkah Fitzpatrick with a Round 2 grade. Controversy! This reasoned scouting profile ends up in the middle, with a Round 3-4 grade. This Cincy Jungle article says that he looked great at his pro day, where he attracted a lot of NFL interest.

3:24 SS/FS Deshon Elliot, Texas. 6’2”, 210 lbs. A prospect safety with unusual size and some questions about his play speed: sounds like a Steelers-type prospect if they think he can develop a tackling attitude. Here are a damned-with-faint-praise scouting profile and a Draft Wire interview that shows a film buff who really believes in building his body to have the best tool, but winning with his head. His entry on this Bleacher Report list of Safeties (he’s #11) echoes the concern in other summaries: “The mental processing and competitive toughness skills are obvious, but those won’t mask athletic deficiencies against superior talent.”

3:24 SS Godwin Igwebuike (ig-weh-BYU-kay), Northwestern. 6’0”, 205 lbs. A young man who tests exceptionally well but has played only well. Pundits applaud the leadership, grit and football IQ but can’t seem to figure out why he’s struggled so much in coverage duties. Here is the scouting profile. His entry on this Bleacher Report list of Safeties (he’s #9) is a bit repetitive: plays slower than he tests, does better in the box.

4:01 SS/DIME ILB Quin Blanding, Virginia. 6’2”, 215 lbs. A size XL box safety with decent speed but nothing particularly special beyond that. Blanding is the sort of player who’s sure to be a fine special teams guy and has a chance to be much, much more than that if he can develop the football IQ and recognition to take a step up. Can he? No one coming out of UVA is dumb, but he’s got a long way to go.

4:01 FS/SS Damon Webb, Ohio State. 5’11”, 209 lbs. At Ohio State he was a step-too-slow Corner who successfully transitioned to Free Safety. That’s impressive. But he’s still built like a Corner. Can the transition hold up at the NFL level? Here is the Combine profile. This scouting profile lauds his football IQ but ends with a Day 3 grade due to an array of smallish issues across his fundamentals. Here is a Raiders-oriented scouting profile.

4:16 SS/FS Trey Flowers, Okla. St. [COMBINE]. 6’3”, 202 lbs. An exceptionally long, lean and somewhat gawky talent with excellent speed and an NFL pedigree (his Uncle Erik was a Round 1 Edge guy who had a moderate journeyman’s career). The scouting profile lauds his length, speed, and productivity but warns that he’s neither big and tough enough to intimidate as a box safety, nor flexible enough to excel as a coverage player. This nice interview/article adds that Flowers is a heady player, and quotes him as someone who looks to keep building strength so he can play in the box in a Kam Chancellor type of role. The Steelers could use that if he manages to succeed, but we can’t designate him as a pure Strong Safety because that kind of speed and length would make for a pretty good center fielder too.


1:15 CB Denzel Ward, Ohio St. 5’10”, 191 lbs. Ain’t Gonna Happen. The best pure Corner in the draft, with 4.32 speed combined with ridiculous balance and COD. If he was 2” taller he’d be a lock for the Top 10; 4” taller and he’d be Top 5. But if he’s there the Steelers will face some hard choices.

1:20 CB Jaire Alexander, Louisville [Tomlin & Colbert at Pro Day]. 5’10”, 196 lbs. Combine superstar and common target for Steeler fans who’d spend the 1:28 pick on a Corner (a category that could include our own Nick Martin), Alexander is extremely fast, wonderfully athletic, and especially loved for his willingness to tackle. Read between the lines in the scouting profile and you’ll see a solid Round 1 grade hedged by concerns over a 2017 season consumed by small[ish] injuries he played through. Here are links to an interview with Sports Illustrated and another interview with Draft Wire. This goes to a Steelers-oriented scouting profile. He and QB Lamar Jackson were apparently major draws for Tomlin & Colbert at the Louisville pro day (Tomlin is the one who put him through the drills and coached him up). Here is a nice gif-supported scouting report from a Raiders POV.

1:20 CB Carlton Davis, Auburn. 6’1”, 203 lbs. Ain’t Gonna Happen. A slightly bigger version of Josh Jackson, with slightly better coverage skills and a lot less ability to get after the ball. Very high floor for a college Corner. You’ve got to love this line from the scouting profile: “A nuisance that WR’s could do without.”

1:20 CB Josh Jackson, Iowa. 6’1”, 192 lbs. Ain’t Gonna Happen. Looks the part and plays the part. A solid, blue chip Corner prospect with good but not great athleticism that’s enhanced by extraordinary ball skills and an amazing ability to get his head around compared to most college CB’s. The scouting profile gives him an “instant starter” grade. This scouting profile from our sister site for the Raiders loves his coverage skills to death but joins the crowd arguing that “he really needs to improve his tackling and physicality.” The CBS scouting profile says his tape makes him the #1 CB in the class (most have him as #2 behind Denzel Ward).

2:01 CB Mike Hughes, Central Fla. 5’10”, 189 lbs. The scouting profile describes a fantastic return man with great athletic talent limited by a lack of polished skills that might let him play with NFL physicality despite his size. (Zierlein clearly wishes he’d gone back to college for another year). This gif-supported scouting report from our sister site for the Panthers calls him a Day 1 starter with great ability in zone, very good but very improvable skill in man coverage, and distinct flaws in run support. This gif-supported scouting report gives him an easy Round 1 grade and suggests he could go as soon as #15 overall. This thorough, gif-supported scouting report echoes a lot of the bottom line in others: struggles with physical receivers and deserves an easy Round 2 grade, but will go in Round 1 because CB’s are in such demand and he has a high ceiling. Same for this scouting profile from our sister site for the Giants. Here is the full length Walter Football scouting profile.

2:12 CB Isaiah Oliver, Colorado. 6’0”, 201 lbs. with long 33-1/2” arms. Would get a higher grade from a team with more need at the position. The scouting profile compares him to Artie Burns and it’s an easy analogy to make. He has lots of technical work to do but he is a high-floor prospect with the assets and attitude to develop into a true #1 Corner in the NFL. Here is a gif-supported scouting report from our sister site for the Panthers, and another scouting report our sister site for the Raiders. This scouting profile is equally enthusiastic.

3:01 CB Duke Dawson, Florida [VISIT]. 5’10-1/2”, 197 lbs. When it comes right down to it, Dawson is a football player who happens to play Corner. He’s an example of someone who’s very good but not great in virtually aspects of his game. The 4.45 speed is about equivalent to his physicality, nimbleness, ability to mirror, technical skills, etc. Short 31” arms are the only real knock. Here are the scouting profile, which basically says “a good football player who’s only lacking some length.” This good looking scouting profile from a Packers site calls him a “solid Day 2 pick,” while the brief Draft Wire scouting profile pegs him as a fine looking Nickel Corner with a Round 3-4 grade.

3:01 CB Donte Jackson, LSU. 5’10”, 178 lbs. Add 2” and 20 lbs. and you’d have an easy Round 1 pick, especially coming from Cornerback U. He has speed and athleticism to spare. All that’s missing is size and oomph. The scouting profile compares him to Leodis McKelvin, but I see a lot of analogies to Senquez Golson before the cascade of injuries lowered his stock from draft uber-steal down to a great “if only…”

3:01 CB M.J. Stewart, N. Carolina [VISIT]. 5’11”, 200 lbs. Another young man you can describe as a football player who happens to play Corner. Fans would start to speculate about his ability to play Free Safety within 12 seconds of hearing the draft pick announce. The reality? He could, but might have more value honing those coverage skills. The main knock is that he’s got nothing special to sell him beyond a high floor and football “bones” to spare. Here is the scouting profile. Here is a Rams-oriented scouting profile, and another from a Steelers POV that calls him “an ideal slot corner.

3:12 CB Avery Averett, Alabama. 5’11”, 183 lbs. In a less loaded class there would be people pumping his stock toward the late 1st but in this class he will go on Day 2, especially when you apply the Alabama discount and how rarely he faced a QB with no fear of getting sacked. Here is the scouting profile.

3:12 CB Greg Stroman, Va. Tech. 5’11”, 182 lbs. Many sources like CBS have him in this “easy Day 2” range because he’s shown the ability to be very sticky in coverage, but other respected sources like the scouting profile and the Walter Football scouting blurb end with Day 3 grade over fears that he will get “big-boyed” in the NFL. Plus skills as a punt return add some luster.

3:24 CB Parry Nickerson, Tulane. 5’10”, 182 lbs. Born and bred as a Nickel Corner with the potential, like Willie Gay, to grow into more than that if he masters his craft. Extremely fast and very quick, but he lacks the frame to bulk up beyond where he already is. The scouting profile uses words like “gritty,” “tough,” “competes hard,” and “ballhawk,” but also admits that the limitations are real. And the team has Mike Hilton already, plus Cam Sutton forcing his way onto the stage. Is there room for a third example?

4:01 CB Holton Hill, Texas. 6’3”, 200 lbs. It’s the same old story: maturity concerns drop a fringe-1st specimen down to boom-or-bust range. If he can grow up, become a working man, and learn to be a citizen you’ll have a major draft steal that fans will love for his length, physicality and the skillset he should be able to absorb. If not… well, not. Here is the scouting profile. How high is the potential? CBS has him ranked as the #42 player overall.

4:01 CB J.C. Jackson, Maryland. 5’10”, 201 lbs. Yet another tough guy Corner who could probably transition to Free Safety, Jackson’s main problem is grabbiness. He’s the sort of prospect that fans will love in many ways, but would not object to seeing with his hands in boxing gloves for half of every practice. There is also a serious off-field red flag: he was charged for – and then acquitted of – being involved with 2014/2015 armed robbery of someone’s home. His grade would be a solid round higher without that incident. Here is the scouting profile. This goes to a brief scouting profile that projects good upside, while this brief scouting profile questions his ceiling.

6:01 CB Nick Nelson, Wisconsin. 5’11”, 200 lbs. [Torn meniscus (3-4 month recovery) drops his grade 2 full rounds. Heal well young man.] A nice, solid, steady prospect to be an NFL Corner who’d get a round higher grade if he didn’t suffer from Hands of Stone Syndrome. Here is the scouting profile (note the author and the player comparison btw).

Offensive Linemen

1:15 OG Quentin Nelson, Notre Dame. 6’5”, 329 lbs. Do the Steelers need a Guard? No, of course not. Would they pick a bigger and more physical David DeCastro if he fell to #28? Heck yeah.


1:01 QB Sam Darnold, USC. Ain’t Gonna Happen.

1:01 QB Josh Rosen, UCLA. Ain’t Gonna Happen.

1:05 QB Josh Allen, Wyoming. Historic-level arm talent means it Ain’t Gonna Happen despite collegiate accuracy problems.

1:15 QB Lamar Jackson, Louisville [COMBINE]. 6’2”, 216 lbs. [Ducking]. I want no part of the QB fight! Just like Baker Mayfield, a discount has been applied and anyone who sees more value in a QB than I do should push the grade higher. My personal summary: “The same player as Joshua Dobbs but 3 rounds better, and could be special if you build the offense to suit his skills rather than asking him to fit your offense.” Will not be available after Round 1 and shouldn’t be. N.B. Michael Vick beat the Steelers single handed in one memorable game, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see Lamar Jackson do the same. But is that enough over the course of a season and career? It wasn’t for Vick, but Jackson may end up being even better. See the discussion in this extremely detailed QB study showing that Jackson’s accuracy is fine. He and CB Jaire Alexander were apparently major draws for Tomlin and Colbert at the Louisville pro day.

1:15 QB Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma. 6’1”, 215 lbs. [Ducking]. As with Lamar Jackson, I want absolutely no part of this fight. A discount has been applied to reflect the relative lack of need for a QB. If you see more value in a QB than I do, your grade should be higher. It Ain’t Gonna Happen anyway. See the discussion in this extremely detailed QB study.

2:12 QB Mason Rudolph, Oklahoma St. [COMBINE]. 6’5”, 235 lbs. He fits the physical profile to a “T” and has been a good, steadily improving pocket passer throughout his college career. Here is the scouting profile. Interviews I’ve seen confirm a solid football IQ as well. The question is really just a matter of priorities. Mason Rudolph could conceivably be available for the Steelers pick in Round 2, but will be long gone by Round 3. He’s a better prospect than Joshua Dobbs was last year, but is he better than Joshua Dobbs after a year in the system? We simply don’t know. This grade assumes that Dobbs has issues and the #3 spot is open.

3:24 QB Kyle Lauletta, Richmond. 6’3”, 215 lbs. Take your snapshot of an ideal QB from the leadership and impressions point of view – say a young Manning or Luck – and then give him nothing but small school experience and an only-adequate arm. That is Kyle Lauletta, the clear star of this year’s Senior Bowl. This grade is a bit elevated because your author has great faith in those non-physical assets (bias acknowledged). Here is the scouting profile, which gives him a solid Round 5 grade despite the flat statement that he “Can’t make all the NFL throws.” OTOH, See the discussion in this extremely detailed QB study which shows that Lauletta’s arm is better than Falk’s, at least by a little. The Saints, like the Steelers, have their QB but are hoping to luck into an heir with bargain picks. This mock draft/scouting profile and its companion on Mike White address that idea. Lauletta’s personal background and manner, combined with Jimmy G’s departure, have led to constant speculation about his fit with New England, as evidenced by this Patriots-oriented scouting profile and this similar, gif-supported review from our sister SB Nation site, which sees a weaker-armed Alex Smith. This scouting profile from our sister site for the Giants sees a likely prospect for a west coast system, which is also fair. Finally, here is a “Mr. Stats” scouting profile that compares Lauletta to Kirk Cousins more than Alex Smith.

4:01 QB Luke Falk, Wash. St. 6’4”, 225 lbs. Looked like a real winner in 2015 and 2016 but a substandard 2017 O-Line got him beat up pretty badly (10 games with a broken throwing wrist!) and made his stats look artificially bad. Accurate Passer with a quick tight release who reads defenses well and makes lots of adjustments at the line (though the scouting profile notes “Slow to see blitzers and misses hot routes” as a weakness). The major knock is barely adequate arm strength. See the discussion in this extremely detailed QB study (“Simply cannot make all the throws”). Here is a wildly, over the top enthusiastic scouting profile from September of 2016. It does, however, confirm his ability to “engineer nail-biting, come-from-behind victories.” This year-old scouting profile notes link is from a year ago and says this: “One area of concern is that Falk tends to hold the ball too long. Washington State’s offensive line [for 2016 was] pretty solid [but he] needs to get rid of the ball quicker.” Sure enough, he got crushed in 2017. This scouting profile probably sums it all up as well as possible: “Thrives in the Air Raid offense, but has shown [] poise, versatility, and decision making … for a precision and timing based NFL offense. Doesn’t possess a rocket arm or bonus mobility, but has shown he can make all of the throws and he goes through his progressions well… Played most of 2017 with a broken right [throwing] wrist, while setting Pac-12 records.”

4:01 QB Mike White, W. Kentucky. 6’4”, 225 lbs. Your classic QB developmental project: the kid with sterling size, fabulous arm talent, and good attitude buried in a small school program behind a nonexistent offensive line. He’s sort of a mirror image to Josh Dobbs, who’d proven all you could want but pure size, NFL accuracy, and experience in a pro system. White has every measurable tool to be an NFL quarterback except mobile feet, but he also has so little comparable experience that one can only guess about the all-important immeasurables. Here is the scouting profile. This scouting profile and its companion on Kyle Lauletta come from a Saints POV where, like the Steelers, the fans have their QB but are hoping to luck into a bargain priced heir. Here are a Dolphins-oriented scouting profile and a long local newspaper article on White’s draft prospects. This goes to a decent, if page-by page scouting profile. And finally, a scouting profile worth more from the humor standpoint than the substance, though it’s consistent with the more serious efforts by and large.

6:01 QB Kurt Benkert, Virginia. 6’3”, 218 lbs. Another boom-or-bust practice squad prospect with a huge arm that’s saddled down by major accuracy and decision making question marks. See the discussion in this extremely detailed QB study.

6:01 QB Chase Litton, Marshall. 6’6”, 232 lbs. Looking for a practice squad boom-or-bust prospect at the end of your mock? You could do much worse than Chase Litton, who looks the part, has the arm, and possess the required nerve and guts. The problem lies in the mental processing time and the difficulty reading defenses, which led to waaaaaay more interceptions than a team can survive. But those are above-the-neck issues that can be learned, and a certain someone from New England has shown that it sometimes works out in just that way. Here is the scouting profile. This long and excellent article focuses on the red[dish] flags raised by several events as a teenager. Definitely worth the read. This 6-minute video scouting report from Matt Waldman is also worth some attention for a technical, on-field POV, as is the discussion in this extremely detailed QB study.

7:01 QB (?) J.T. Barrett, Ohio State. 6’1”, 220 lbs. Let’s summarize. J.T. Barrett is that young man you want your daughter to bring home; the one who will obviously end up running some business, doing actual good in Congress, or excelling some other way. He’s a three-year captain for Ohio State. Three! It’s never happened before and may never happen again. But he played QB in college and he’s just not suited for the role at the next level. It’s sort of like scouting a smaller and less accomplished Tim Tebow, with all the leadership skill and without the divisive religious nuts dogging his shadow. My projection is this: offensive role player who ends up as your #2 RB, #4 WR and emergency QB all at the same time, while contributing on special teams and gluing your locker room together. That’s worth a Day 3 draft pick. Here is the scouting profile. There have been some three gazillion others about him over the years if you care to look.

Tight Ends

2:12 TE Mike Gesicki, Penn St. [COMBINE] 6’5”, 247 lbs. Check out this spider-graph at! Mike Gesicki is a SPARQ-score monster who makes Vance McDonald look slow and clumsy, and he will be high on the Board of any team focused on a receiving TE. But, as emphasized by the scouting profile, he isn’t a good blocker and he isn’t built in a way that makes it look like he’s going to get there. But if you let him hang out with JJSS and pick up some attitude… well, he might be one of the best blocking receivers you’d ever hope to see.

2:24 TE Dallas Goedert, S.D. State. 6’5”, 255 lbs. Wonderful hands with good speed, good size, and a history of dominating against small school competition. But that level of competition really matters when you’re being asked to oppose NFL pass linemen and edge players in the running game, and to outfight NFL safeties in the passing game. Think Jesse James with a lower floor and a higher ceiling. Here is the scouting profile.

3:12 TE Hayden Hurst, S. Car. 6’4”, 250 lbs. A fine receiving TE who’d get a much higher grade if he wasn’t 24 years old. The Steelers like them young and Hurst just doesn’t fit the mold. Here is the scouting profile.

3.12 TE Ian Thomas, Indiana [COMBINE]. 6’5”, 248 lbs. Raw but talented. He is already a decent blocker, and flashed enough at the Combine to earn the second highest SPARQ score in this year’s class after Gesicki, which ranks him in the top 20% of all NFL TE’s (Gesicki being in the top 1% with room to spare). Very much in the mold of Jesse James if you squint a little. Here is the scouting profile, along with a scouting profile from Baltimore Beatdown, a less than complimentary, gif-supported scouting report, and a nice newspaper article full of background.

3:24 TE Mark Andrews, Oklahoma. 6’5”, 256 lbs. A big, former WR target with good hands, who runs good routes, has a genuine knack for finding the soft spot in zone coverage, and possesses the size to be an effective blocker. Would be ranked higher if he had either a hint more speed or had shown the nastiness to be an asset in the run game. Here is the scouting profile. This goes to a brief scouting profile from our sister site for the Giants. The full-length Walter Football scouting profile thinks he could go as early as Round 2 (to Pittsburgh no less!) This decent looking scouting profile agrees on the Round 2 grade. Finally, this goes to a good article from (hard as it is to believe) Cincy Jungle (even a blind squirrel…)

4:16 TE Will Dissly, Washington [COMBINE]. 6’5”, 257 lbs. The Steelers met with him at the Combine and it’s easy to see the appeal if you view him as a Day 3 value pick. The scouting profile explains the contradictions even though it ends with a pessimistic grade. Dissly was an almost good enough Edge Rusher until 2 years ago, when the coaches moved him to TE. So he has almost no real experience, and it shows in his lack of technique. His SPARQ-score was lousy, but mostly due to really bad marks on the bench and in the leaps. Play strength is not a reported issue, Mike Mayock called him “the best blocking TE in the class”, he has a Steelerish tough-guy attitude, and he excelled in the C.O.D. drills where no one thought he would.

4:16 TE Troy Fumagalli, Wisconsin [COMBINE]. 6’6”, 248 lbs. A big, receiving-oriented Tight End with fabulous hands, good route running skills, and a knack for getting open despite average athleticism. His stock is all over the place in the draft community, as noted in this scouting profile from Baltimore Beatdown. The scouting profile may be counted among the doubters, while this scouting profile is more positive. Two notable things: Fumagalli is the kid with only nine fingers, and he has a reputation for toughness and grit despite his very limited blocking skills. By all accounts he’d be a good spiritual fit in black & gold.

5:01 TE Dalton Schultz, Stanford. 6’6”, 242 lbs. A fine blocker with a Stanford-level football IQ and a good ability to find open zones, but not a special athlete. It’s hard to see him growing into a lot more than that. Here is the scouting profile.

5:01 TE Durham Smythe, Notre Dame. 6’5”, 257 lbs. A Tight End who makes a serious difference in the run game, and will manage to produce in the passing game if teams fail to respect it. Wow, who’da thunk it? The scouting profile really does remind you of Matt Spaeth.

Running Backs

1:01 RB Saquon Barkley, Penn St. Spare us. It Ain’t Gonna Happen. I remember Bo Jackson. That comp would be perfect if you gave Barkley 4.2 speed and then cursed him with a career-destroying hip injury.

1:20 RB Derrius Guice, LSU [COMBINE, DINNER]. 5’10”, 212 lbs. It’s fair to assume that Lev Bell will either either depart or be seriously diminished in 2019. James Conner is a fine prospect, but can you rely on such a small sample set with such a large history of season ending medical issues? Now look at the two “needs” we all know: Mack ILB, where the team desperately needs depth and a future starter but Bostic can hold the fort, and Safety, where Burnett can hold the fort and the Wilcox/Dangerfield combination can offer at least a little depth. What makes those two defensive “wants” that much bigger than the all but guaranteed specter of a Bell-less 2019? Despite an injury plagued 2017, Derrius Guice is solid late-1st value. The scouting profile is just one of many sources that compare him to a young Marshawn Lynch.

2:01 RB Sony Michel, Georgia. 5’11”, 220 lbs. He does everything well, including blocking, and has become a BTSC fan favorite for very good reason. With the Morgan Burnett signing removing some of the urgency at Safety, and the ongoing drama with Lev Bell, Michel could be a serious target for Pittsburgh if he’s there in Round 2. Here is the scouting profile. This goes to part one of a promised two in a very thorough, gif-supported scouting report from our sister site for the Titans.

2:12 RB Kerryon Johnson, Auburn [COMBINE]. 6’0”, 212 lbs. Johnson has every asset you want in a running back except breakaway speed and bone-crushing power. He’s shifty, sudden, hard to tackle, plenty fast enough, a good blocker, a hard worker, etc. The big knock seems to be health concerns, though he’s carried a heavy workload so far without real harm. Here is the scouting profile. This scouting profile from Baltimore Beatdown finds “very few flaws” to limit his “physical presence.” This scouting profile suggests Matt Forte as the comp. This scouting profile comes from a fantasy-oriented site but seems pretty solid nevertheless.

2:12 RB Ronald Jones, USC. 5’11”, 200 lbs. A slashing back with good shiftiness, good hands, decent speed, and a knack for making that sudden cut into a hole that was barely there. The scouting profile compares him to Jamaal Charles, who Jones has consciously imitated from the stylistic POV.

2:24 RB Rashaad Penny, San Diego St. 5’11”, 220 lbs. A solid all around back with good size, speed and shiftiness but lacking anything extraordinary that makes you sit up and go “Wow.” Here is the scouting profile, along with a scouting profile from our sister site for the Giants and a decent-looking, asset-by-asset breakdown. This extensive Pro Football Focus scouting profile concludes that Penny is an underrated Round 1 talent.

3:01 RB Royce Freeman, Oregon. 5’11, 234 lbs. Sleeper alert. Have a look at the scouting profile, and then compare the critiques about average power and shiftiness to the test results (very nice size and best in show for all the C.O.D. drills). Freeman was admittedly handicapped in 2017 by nagging injuries and a questionable fit with the running scheme. If he followed the Lev Bell route, lost 10 pounds, and focused on quickness… Well, he could be a genuine steal. The question, “What would he be with an NFL training regime” looms big here, especially with the constant warnings about his heavy workload in college. This scouting profile from Pro Football Focus seems pretty on-point.

3:12 RB John Kelly, Tennessee. 5’9”, 205 lbs. Your classic NFL bowling ball and a surefire fan favorite for all who love angry runners that earn tough yards. Look at the gifs in this scouting report if you want to see what I mean. The scouting profile pegs him as a guaranteed role player with decent wiggle, but questions whether he has the burst and top speed to be a three down force. This scouting profile from our sister site for the Giants is more positive, calling him an “electric, fast and agile” back with serious upside. Here is a gif-supported scouting report from the SB Nation Tennessee Volunteers site, which is both biased and knowledgeable. This fairly careful scouting profile is worth a look for the final comparisons if nothing else: “Ceiling: MJD. Floor: Doug Martin.”

3:12 RB Mark Walton, San Diego St. 5’10”, 188 lbs. Think Gio Bernard and you’ll have a decent comp for Mark Walton. He will excel as a 3rd-down back with superior quickness, speed, hands, burst, and a willingness to mix it up in pass protection, but will face real durability questions if he’s asked to regularly run between the tackles. Combine him with a healthy James Conner and you’d have something very similar to Lev Bell. Here is the scouting profile, which drops his grade for health concerns (ankle injury). This brief scouting profile strikes a solid, general opinion. Here is a decent, if Patriot-oriented scouting profile.

3:24 RB Nick Chubb, Georgia. 5’11”, 228 lbs. This grade depends on an assumption that all the red flags about his knee and leg injuries have been fully cleared, and has been depressed a solid notch or two by the fact that Chubb, when healthy, looks a lot like James Conner when he is healthy. Both have moments that made them look really special as a big, bell cow, two-down, one-cut runners. But staying healthy hasn’t been easy or consistent for either one. Here is the scouting profile, along with a scouting profile from our sister site for the Broncos and one of those asset-by-asset scouting profiles.

RB Nyheim Hines, N.C. State. 5’8”, 197 lbs. Your classic ‘short but not small’ guy who isn’t afraid to stick his nose into either a pile or a blitzer, Hines is also a home run waiting to happen – or will be until he gets crushed enough by a few NFL linebackers to take the edge of that 4.3 speed. Shades of Fast Willie Parker! His lack of size limits his ability to be a bell cow back, but he could be electric if paired with a healthy James Conner. The scouting profile worries about his lack of make-‘em-miss vision and quickness if you read between the lines but, like this scouting profile, emphasizes that he provides extra value as a kick and punt returner. Here is a gif-supported, Cowboys-oriented scouting profile, and a similar gif-supported scouting profile from a Steelers site.

4:16 RB Akrum Wadley, Iowa. 5’10”, 191 lbs. The scouting profile describes a runner who can make anyone miss with brilliant lateral cuts and jukes, but who’ll drive you crazy because the moves go sideways instead of up the field. Another candidate for ‘running mate with Conner,’ his grade would be higher if he had the size and stuff to be a better pass protector when shuffled in as a 3rd-down back. This scouting profile from our sister site for the Giants says much the same thing. Walter Football’s scouting profile compares him to Duke Johnson, which might be a good observation if Wadley gets the knack of really trying to block even when he knows he’s overmatched. This Seahawks-oriented scouting profile (with accompanying video study) compares him to a smaller Shady McCoy, which is also fair considering what McCoy might look like if you stripped off that extra bit of solidity.

5:01 RB Jordan Wilkins, Mississippi. 6’1”, 217 lbs. The scouting profile describes a runner with every asset you want except attitude. A find Day 3 pick nevertheless because of the old NFL chestnut that’s lasted so long because it is true: young men with talent hits the NFL, gets punched in the nose by tough guys who are just as good, and then falls in with just the right coach, who shows him how to wear those big boy shoes. Jordan Wilkins with big boy shoes would be a Day 2 shoe-in (sorry for that).

5:16 RB Kalen Ballage, Arizona St. 6’1”, 227 lbs. A brilliant SPARQ kid who’s shown shortcomings when it comes to putting that native athletic talent into practice on a football field. The scouting profile is a study in how a scout tries to put words on someone who just doesn’t “get it.” Worth a Day 3 pick nevertheless on the chance that a good NFL coach and locker room might harness the scattered potential.

5:16 RB Dimitri Flowers, Oklahoma. 6’2”, 245 lbs. If the Steelers didn’t have Rosie Nix… Flowers is one of the best full-/H-back prospects we’ve seen in recent years. He blocks and catches like an undersized TE with great ability to latch onto both slippery defenders and footballs in the air. You’ve got to love football players, and he is a great example of the species. Alas, but the Pittsburgh Steelers have this role filled.

Wide Receivers

3:01 WR James Washington, Okla. St. [COMBINE & PRO DAY] 5’11”, 213 lbs. Any finalist for the Biletnikoff Award (best college WR) who gets two separate looks from the Steelers’ F.O. has to be on the Board, but he’s actually a tough player to place because his tremendous play speed and ability to get open do not match up to any of his Combine tests. In an odd way that’s good, because it might drop him out of the Round 2 grade assigned by the scouting profile. He also has a lot of room to improve his route running, which means the “something” he’s been winning with so much in college can definitely be improved. Bottom line: the guy is a football player who wins, and who can keep getting better. This goes to a gif-supported scouting report from our sister site for the Jaguars, and this to a scouting profile from our sister site for the Giants.

5:01 WR Justin Watson, Penn. [VISIT] 6’3”, 215 lbs. The scouting profile describes a receiver with great hands, character and size who utterly dominated the Ivy League for several years, but who probably lacks the sheer speed and explosiveness to compete against the big boys. ‘Ivy league? Come on…’ Enter his pro day, with 4.39 speed, a 40” vertical and assorted other SPARQ-score achievements. My how the evaluations change. Here is the BTSC article from when the Steelers brought him in for a visit.

5:16 WR Richie James, Middle Tenn. St. [COMBINE & VISIT] 5’9”, 178 lbs. Our own Nick Martin thought enough of this prospect to promote him up to Round 3 in a March mock draft, but most pundits think he will be available later. James is almost an archetype: the undersized, super agile, sneaky fast, punt returning Jack Russell Terrier of the football world. If drafted he’d be competition for Eli Rogers and a young man with dreams of growing into Antonio Brown or Steve Smith Sr. Here is the scouting profile. This goes to a nice Draft Wire interview, this to a newspaper article on his pro day, and this to a pair of interviews with both the WR coach at MTSU and one with the young man himself.

6:01 WR Dylan Cantrell, Texas Tech. 6’3”, 212 lbs. Martavis Bryant is nearing the end of his rookie deal and the Steelers like to pick a receiver every year regardless. Cantrell isn’t a burner, but he is a SPARQ score superstar in every other way with excellent height and remarkable hands. The scouting profile contains more doubts than compliments, as does this gif-supported scouting profile, which calls him more of a smart receiver than an athlete. But then came those test scores that put him at the very top of this year’s class, so…

6:16 WR Quadree Henderson, Pitt. [LOCAL]. 5’8”, 190 lbs. A punt/kick returner who doubles with less success as a Wide Receiver. Here is the scouting profile. This goes to a nice interview that gives surprising insight into what the young man is like. Here is a Lions-oriented scouting profile.

Asked and Answered LIVE: April 11 News - Wed, 04/11/2018 - 7:00am
A live Q&A with Bob Labriola.

Steelers host massive rugby player turned offensive tackle for Pre-Draft Visit

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 04/11/2018 - 6:46am

The Pittsburgh Steelers might be interested in a project player in the upcoming 2018 NFL Draft.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before...a player who isn’t known to be an offensive tackle is converted into such with the help of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Yes, that would be the story of Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva who played tight end in college, was converted to defensive tackle and eventually caught on with the Steelers as an offensive tackle — a position he know owns as a full-time starter.

While not quite the same story, the Steelers were on hand to check out Jordan Mailata’s pro day in Tampa, FL last month, and hosted the monster of a man for a pre-draft visit to the team’s headquarters on Tuesday.

Draft visitor for 4/10: OL Jordan Mailata from Australia

— Bob Labriola (@BobLabriola) April 10, 2018

Who is Jordan Mailata? A rugby player who is trying to get a spot on an offseason roster as an offensive tackle.

“Mailata, a 20-year-old of Samoan origin who played professional rugby for the South Sydney Rabbitohs, got the chance to show representatives from all 32 teams how he is faring in his conversion to offensive tackle for the NFL.” According to the NFL’s official website.

“Mailata measured just shy of 6-foot-8 and weighed 346 pounds. His arms measured a massive 35.5 inches. He was timed at 5.12 seconds in the 40-yard dash, which would have been good for seventh among tackle participants at the NFL Combine in February. He also excelled in the short shuttle with a time (4.67 seconds) that would have been among the top 10 at his position. Mailata put up 22 reps on the bench press.”

There is something to be said about athleticism and pure toughness, both prerequisites to play the sport of rugby at a high level. Mailata will have a lot to prove from a technical standpoint, but will likely get a chance to show what he can do this summer for an NFL team.

While there is no guarantee he gets a chance, I wouldn’t be stunned if the Steelers are a team interested in his services. Mike Munchak has worked wonders with projects like Mailata, and could likely do it again.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they prepare for the 2018 NFL Draft.

Zereoue: 'I was kind of upset' News - Wed, 04/11/2018 - 6:30am
Amos Zereoue talks about what his NFL Draft day was like.

South Fayette's Justin Watson making a name for himself in NFL draft circles - Steelers/NFL - Wed, 04/11/2018 - 6:00am

All-American Penn receiver Justin Watson set a record that will never be broken last season. He was the first and only receiver in the long and storied history of the Ivy League to catch a pass in every game of his college career, 40 of them altogether since arriving on campus after graduating from South Fayette High in 2014. While completing that feat he also became the only player in Ivy League history to catch a touchdown pass in every game of a single season, 14 combined in 10 games for the Quakers last fall. Overall, Watson set Penn records for receptions (286), receiving yards (3,777), receiving touchdowns (33) and all-purpose yards (4,116).

NFL reportedly getting rid of the ‘Color Rush’ uniforms in 2018

Behind the Steel Curtain - Wed, 04/11/2018 - 5:30am

Will you miss the special unis?

The NFL has a new broadcasting company taking over the Thursday Night Football games this upcoming season, and one of the first things FOX Sports is planning on doing is to get rid of the NFL ‘Color Rush’ uniforms for those special Thursday games.

Bill Wanger of FOX Sports says alternate uniforms on Thursday Night Football are going away. Hardcore fans don’t need gimmicks to watch. The game schedule will also be stronger. #NABShow

— Jason Barrett (@sportsradiopd) April 10, 2018

To be honest, many of the Color Rush uniforms were downright hideous (looking at you Jaguars), but some were pretty cool. Personally, the Steelers, Patriots and Packers alternate uniforms were pretty awesome.

With that said, other reports state the league might not be abandoning the ‘Color Rush’ uniforms altogether.

On color rush, the uniforms aren't going away completely. It's just that they might not be exclusive to Thursday nights anymore, sources say. Could be some other tweaks to the uniform policy as well. Also, this is subject to votes from ownership.

— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) April 10, 2018

So, ownership still has to vote on the change, but what do you think about the league possibly getting rid of these uniforms? Did you like the Steelers, and other teams’, ‘Color Rush’ uniforms?

Vote in the poll below to let us know, and feel free to explain your vote in the comment section below!

Dunbar jumped at chance to coach here Videos - Wed, 04/11/2018 - 5:00am
Karl Dunbar talks about his coaching philosophy, his new boss, and playing for the Steelers.

Mailbag: Talking the worst-case draft day scenario for the Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 04/10/2018 - 2:17pm

Time to open up another episode of the’s been a while.

The NFL offseason is about to get a jolt when the 2018 NFL Draft kicks off on Thursday April 26th in Dallas, but in the meantime fans have questions and they deserve answers. I recently put out a tweet on our official Twitter account, if you don’t follow should (@btsteelcurtain), asking for questions.

Received several, and chose the best of the best for this article. Time to dust off the old mailbag, this thing hasn’t been opened in a while!

Here goes nothin’...

From: Vino (@Nite_Mode)
Question: Worst-case scenario for the Steelers during draft day 1?

Answer: In my opinion, a lot would have to happen for the Steelers to reach this worst case scenario. There are so many options for the team after signing Jon Bostic and Morgan Burnett. If the safeties are gone, the team should have options at inside linebacker, and vice versa. Not to mention if they wanted to take a quarterback, there could be someone they like available there too. Since the team always goes Best Player Available (BPA), there are other positions, like defensive line, the team could target on Day 1 too.

With that said, in my opinion the worst-case scenario would be if the main prospects the team is targeting are gone, forcing them to have to take a player better suited for the second round, in the first.

Think about Rashaan Evans, Leighton Vander Esch, Jordan Reid and other first round prospects all off the board. What would they do then? Here lies the rub with this scenario.

Again, I doubt this actually happens, considering all of the options they will have, but this would certainly be the worst-case scenario.

From: Carlos (@ca_salsv)
Question: Will you go insane if after round 3 the Steelers have drafted OLB, WR and an ILB, in that order?

Answer: Would I go insane? No, insane is pretty intense, but I would be stunned. If the Steelers were to draft those positions in that order. Fans should realize they very well could go a completely different route in the first round, than what people expect them to do, but I’m not sure that route would lead them to a OLB. If I were to pick a stunner position the team could possibly target with their first pick, it would have to be wide receiver or running back. The team could certainly make this move, but will they? That is the question.

Other than that, if the Steelers can claim a safety and an inside linebacker in the first three rounds, the other pick could go wherever is necessary, but I’ve followed this team long enough to know they will take the BPA when it is their turn to pick at No. 28.

From: Isaac Aguilera (@agulera_isaac2)
Question: How likely is it that [Le’Veon] Bell will remain a Steeler next season (2019)?

Answer: If I were to put a percentage on it, I would say 40-percent. The team absolutely could go against the grain and sign Bell to a long-term deal, but the truth is that will be extremely difficult. If they don’t get a deal done, Bell will likely walk. After all this time, I still only put about a 40-percent chance the two parties ever agree to a new deal, and that number could be generous, but that was my thinking when it came to the likelihood of Bell being in the black-and-gold after the 2018 season.

One can hope the two sides come to a deal, but I just don’t see it happening.


I thank everyone for their questions, and hope you follow us on Twitter (@btsteelcurtain), for the best black-and-gold news around.

James still has a chip on his shoulder News - Tue, 04/10/2018 - 1:02pm
It's been three years since Jesse James was drafted, but something still bugs him.

ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler helps decipher fact vs. fiction in the Steelers and Le’Veon Bell saga

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 04/10/2018 - 12:15pm

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Le’Veon Bell have put contract negotiations on hold, and we are left wondering what is actually going on.

News of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Le’Veon Bell in contract talks, or whatever you call it, have been ongoing and, at times, downright arduous. Whether it is the Steelers stating they are putting a pause on contract negotiations, or Bell tweeting he is a “villain”, it is difficult to decipher what is exactly going on between the two parties.

While there is no real news to speak of on this front, it is worth acknowledging when someone with inside knowledge of the situation helps shine a light on what is, and what isn’t, in this strange saga between an All-Pro player and the team who drafted him.

ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, who has spoken to Bell several times throughout this process, recently outlined what is fact vs. what is fiction in this long and drawn out story.

Check out what Fowler had to say, and if you want to read more of his comments, you can check out the full article right HERE.

That Bell wants $17 million a year: Here’s what I know -- when I asked Bell what his per-year magic number was, he said he wouldn’t take anything less than $14.5 million annually (his franchise number) over the course of a long-term deal. That’s not a direct number but can be a guide here. He very well might want $17 million, but he probably wouldn’t have said that if $15 million wouldn’t get it done.

That Bell and the Steelers remain far apart: While they aren’t particularly close, they aren’t that far off, either. The Steelers have increased their offer from last year, which Bell said fell at an average of $13.3 million annually. But Bell asked for more before the March 6 deadline, forcing the Steelers to reassess.

The Steelers have to decide if they want to enter that $15 million stratosphere. But it’s not like the sides are operating with a $5 million gap. They are already fairly close to Bell’s sweet spot.

That there’s tension on both sides: Not sure if tension is the right word, but both parties would acknowledge this hasn’t gone as planned, which creates unrest. The Steelers would prefer players not divulge negotiations through the media. They also understand Bell can say what he wants; he’s not under contract. The fact they haven’t leaked any negative press about him over the past few months can be perceived as a good sign.

That Bell is a villain: Maybe he is a villain to a faction of the Steelers’ fan base. He shouldn’t be. It’s his right to maximize his earning power at a time when his skill set will never be more valuable.

That it’s all about the guarantees: Not exactly. Bell acknowledges the Steelers only do contracts a certain way, with the signing bonus the one true guarantee. In return, they typically don’t cut their good players, assuming the play stays respectable. So, the guarantees are crucial in that the signing bonus must be hefty, but Bell knows the chances of him playing three or more years under a deal are pretty good, so per-year average is just as crucial.

That the Steelers are looking for Bell’s replacement in the draft: This is more significant than some other speculation and is at least partly true.

The Steelers are prepared to protect themselves, since Bell negotiations have proved difficult. The team’s interest in LSU’s Derrius Guice, for example, is genuine. His interview with the team at the combine was described to me as all hands on deck.

If the team nabs a running back during the first two days of the draft, they are officially ready for anything.

Consider this your daily update on the Bell situation, but also realize the truth, and not speculation, Fowler speaks with. This should mean something after he has spoken with Bell and has a better understanding of what Bell is truly looking for, compared to others who are merely guessing.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest on this story, as well as others, surrounding the black-and-gold as they plow through the offseason.

Gargantuan 6-foot-8 Australian rugby player Jordan Mailata visits the Steelers - Steelers/NFL - Tue, 04/10/2018 - 11:27am

The Steelers converted a 6-foot-9 former Army Ranger into their starting left tackle. Next, they might try to convert a 6-8 rugby player from Australia into another offensive lineman.

Man or Zone? New Steelers secondary coach Tom Bradley is a ‘man guy’

Behind the Steel Curtain - Tue, 04/10/2018 - 9:55am

The new secondary coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers perfers man coverage over zone, but with a caveat in the details.

When the Pittsburgh Steelers hired new defensive backs coach Tom Bradley, it wasn’t normal protocol for the black-and-gold. Unlike when the team hired Karl Dunbar or Darryl Drake, there wasn’t an immediate post on the team’s official website. Sites like this, and every other major Pittsburgh media news outlet, broke the news, but the official announcement lacked the fanfare of the other additions.

Nonetheless, since being hired, no one has heard anything from Bradley — until now.

While sitting down with’s Missi Matthews, Bradley was asked several questions regarding his first tenure as a coach in the National Football League. He talked about how he got the job, the keys to success for the team’s defensive backs, but also answered the most important question on fans’ minds entering the 2018 season.

Does he prefer man or zone coverage?

Here is what he had to say when posed the question in the interview:

“There is no right way to answer that question.” Bradley told the Steelers official website. “I think over the years I was predominantly a big zone guy. Over the years I was what I was because of what I had. I didn’t have people who could play a lot of man. I couldn’t do it, so we played more zone and got creative on zone. At this level, you constantly have to be changing and have different variations, a lot of different things. Anything you do they are just going to pick it apart. So, we will do a lot of different things, but I guess the way it is kinda going now, as good as many of them are, I guess I’m a man guy.”

To some, this will be music to their ears. As most know, Mike Tomlin is a coach who was brought up in the coaching ranks teaching the ‘Tampa 2’ zone scheme in the secondary. It was this defense which got him a Super Bowl ring with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and what he has tried to implement since the departure of Dick LeBeau.

The one aspect of Bradley’s comment which should be highlighted is how he understands and expects the defense to do a lot of different things. In today’s NFL you can’t just play zone, or man. You have to be able to infuse concepts from both, at multiple aspects throughout the course of the game.

Can the Steelers do that? Absolutely, and for once they have some athletes to really sculpt a great secondary with. Joe Haden, Artie Burns, Mike Hilton, Cam Sutton and several others, including potential draft picks, will be looking to improve their craft under their new position coach this year.

For the full interview with Bradley, just click the play button below!

New DB Coach Tom Bradley discusses the transition from college to the NFL, getting up to speed with Coach Butler, what he will demand from the DB group and more.

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) April 9, 2018

'Seriously a dream come true': Big Ben responds to young fan's video with an invitation - Steelers/NFL - Tue, 04/10/2018 - 9:18am

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has made a young fan’s dream come true.


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