The NFL Combine is an event where prospects get to show off their athletic ability, skills and meet General Managers and Scouts. I wanted to share a quick overview of a few players from each day that I believe the Steelers should watch for. These players need to prove their versatility, athleticism and that they are clean off the field. Lets get to it.
Day One: PK, ST, OL, RB
The Steelers won’t be bringing in a kicker at all with Chris Boswell being the Pro Bowler he is. A punter is unlikely to be brought in with the Steelers signing Matt Wile this offseason, but fierce competition needs to be in camp with Jordan Berry having another inconsistent year.
An offensive lineman could be drafted, but it will be late Day Three, or they could look for a priority free agent. I would imagine it would be in an interior guy. The starting five and backups look to be set right now. In the long run, the Steelers will replace Ramon Foster with BJ Finney, and rightly so, but will then need to fill Maurkice Pouncey’s shoes too. A backup center is needed in the shortcoming.
Running back could be drafted and there are a few reasons why. Le’Veon Bell’s uncertain future in Pittsburgh can be worrisome. Another is a returner, but not just strictly so, he should also contribute as a weapon. PTSD of Chris Rainey or Dri Archer? No, this player shouldn’t be a straight-line speed guy, he must offer a skill-set that can be utilized in the backfield. This running back class is stacked, they should take advantage.
1. Kalen Ballage – Ballage can be used as a running back, slot receiver or a return specialist. Although he has cooled in most ‘Draft Circles’, his is upside is tremendous. Has experience as a kick returner only.
2. Nyheim Hines – A bit on the shorter side, but Hines is a Darren Sproles type. Can be an effective runner, pass catcher and returner. Has experience as a kicker returner and one year also returning punts. Get this guy on the field.
3. Wyatt Teller – An interior offensive lineman who has a ton of tools but his play declined from 2016 to 2017. Mike Munchak can do wonders with this kid if his head is in the right place.
4. Will Clapp – A center. I’ve heard nothing but good things about Clapp’s intangibles, but has his limitations. I haven’t gotten to his film but from what I’ve been told, his limitations are fixable and who other to fix them than Munchak?
5. Nick Chubb – If Le’Veon Bell gets to test free agency, you can kiss him goodbye. The Steelers will likely use a high draft pick on a running back. Chubb is slighted to be a second rounder. Wasn’t used as a pass catcher at Georgia and must put them on display in Indy.
Day Two: QB, WR, TE
The Steelers should stay away from quarterbacks if you ask me. They already have a Hall of Fame quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger, a decent backup in Landry Jones and drafted Joshua Dobbs in the 2017 NFL Draft. They are set at the position.
Selecting wide receivers is something the Steelers tend to do yearly. With Martavis Bryant’s imminent departure after the 2018 season, the Steelers need to replace him. It is unclear where the Steelers plan on playing JuJu Smith-Schuster going forward, but I think the Steelers need both a return guy and a big, height/weight/speed receiver to play outside. I predict a round 3 or 5 selection of a wideout.
Tight End is tough to project since the Steelers seem to want to keep Vance McDonald. A new number three is needed since injuries tend to happen and the Steelers like to use the extra blocker. Xavier Grimble was hyped up, but has disappointed and isn’t a good blocker.
1. Dante Pettis – Not the most productive wide out, but offers a ton as a return specialist and after the catch. I believe Pettis’ best play is ahead of him and can play either wide receiver spot. Minor leadership concerns. A nuanced route runner who reminds me of Kenny Stills. Questions about his long speed and athleticism can be answered in Indy.
2. Durham Smythe – Notre Dame sucked at using Smythe but he is a top five tight end in this class. Can be the number three but can develop nicely into a strong number two or even a one. An underrated tight end who can come in and be a solid contributor.
3. DJ Moore – A guy who can play anywhere needed and is also a return specialist. He is compared to Stefon Diggs. Has experience in both kick and punter returns. Has good size and speed.
4. Keke Coutee -Coutee reminds me of Tyreek Hill. Doesn’t have the size to play outside but has the blazing speed to take the top off the defense and stretch the field. Specialized returner.
5. Javon Wims – A big guy who can go up and get 50/50 balls. A red-zone threat who has just scratched the surface in potential. A touchdown threat who just needs to put some of his tools together and develop. Having a year to do that would help me immensely.
Day Three: DL, LB
Is defensive line a need? I would say yes. I think a true clogging nose tackle is needed in Pittsburgh. The run defense down the stretch in 2017 was really disappointing. This nose tackle needs to be aggressive, basically just be the anti-Daniel McCullers.
Edge rushers will be in this group, some will be designated as a LB and some as a DL. Be careful here. The Steelers are in need of edge rushers since the depth at the position are filled with question marks and Bud Dupree is on his last year of his contract.
Linebacker is the position that will be under the microscope the most on Day Three. An athletic, smart linebacker is needed. Don’t let anyone tell you differently than this class is stacked at the position. The Steelers’ depth at the linebacker position is very thin and frail if you ask me. Two linebackers need added this offseason.
1. Darius Leonard – A lengthy, athletic linebacker who is a sure tackler. This guy screams Steelers. Small school, but thrived.
2. Fred Warner – Warner was used in man coverage a ton as well as an off ball linebacker. This may intrigue the Steelers a ton.
3. Leighton Vander Esch – The hot commodity name right now in Steelers’ circles. If LVE can have an eyebrow raising Combine, the Steelers will surely be interested in the Boise State product who has athleticism doubts. You can view his Draft Profile here.
4. Hercules Mata’afa – This is one of my guys. His athleticism is key to put on display since he played out of position in college. He needs a big Combine to put some doubters to rest on his transition into the NFL where he will have to take on a new position. You can view his Draft Profile here.
5. Foley Fatukasi– A nose tackle prospect who could use a lot of coaching and a little more strength at the point of attack. He’s a Day Three guy but may go earlier than the Steelers would like if he has an impressive Combine.
Day Four: Defensive Backs
The Steelers are heavily in the market for a safety, but cornerback? I think they may look at corners who can play either cornerback or safety but I don’t believe this is a year the Steelers take a cornerback unless Brian Allen or Cameron Sutton moves to safety.
1. Derwin James – Trade up for him, please. I will give you some of my organs. He MUST be considered as a trade-up option. A masterful Combine could nudge the Steelers in this direction. A Polamalu-like trade.
2. DeShon Elliot – His long speed and athleticism are huge concerns that need to be put under a microscope. Grades and evaluations on this guy are ALL over the place. He is a reason why the Combine is such a great event.
3. Kyzir White – In the same boat as Elliot, White’s long speed and range will be put to the test. These events will help place him into a strong safety role, or a versatile role in the back end of the defense.
4. Tavarus McFadden – A guy who I think can play cornerback or safety. Has size and needs to show some versatility.
5. Marcus Allen – A guy who Steelers fans will want badly since he went to Penn State. I think he is purely a box safety who needs to show his speed and athleticism at the combine to prove he can be versatile in the back end.