The Steelers are permitted to host 30 prospects for pre-draft visits. With less than a month until the draft, visits have begun and are in full swing. Pre-Draft Visits are a good indicator of the Steelers draft priorities as they have selected 33 players in the last 8 years that came on a pre-draft visit (and signed a handful more as undrafted free agents). While the Steelers have a history of using about half of their picks each year on prospects who have visited, the Steelers have also used these visits to bring in players that might have some question marks on their resume including medical evaluations and off-field questions. The Steelers will also use pre-draft visits to do some extra scouting on players that will likely be undrafted free agents that they may have on their radar. Earlier this week, the Steelers hosted Florida CB Duke Dawson, Western Kentucky LB Joel Iyiegbuniwe, and Eastern Michigan QB Brogan Roback. After taking a day off yesterday to attend LSU’s Pro Day and scout RB Derrius Guice (Read: Why the Steelers Could Draft Guice), four more prospects came to Pittsburgh today.
For each prospect, I added Rankings from some of the more reliable draft analysts around – Lance Zerlein of NFL.com, Rob Rang of CBS Sports, Dane Brugler of NFL Draft Scout, and Matt Miller of Bleacher Report. Additionally, I listed three athleticism metrics: SPARQ, RAS, and Mock Draftable “webs.” SPARQ rankings are from 3 Sigma Athlete and measure of explosiveness and athleticism with a score of 100 for an “average” NFL athlete. Over the past few seasons, the Steelers have targeted players in the draft with high SPARQ rankings. RAS (or “Relative Athletic Score“) was developed by Kent Lee Platte of The Pride of Detroit. While SPARQ uses 100 as the average score, RAS is on a relatively simple 0-10 scale with 5 as the “average” player at the position. Mock Draftable is a great site that compiles testing data from draft prospects and keeps historical records to provide comparables for each player.
LB – Texas
6’2″ 236 lbs
SPARQ: insufficient data
CBS Sports: #5 OLB (#59 overall)
NFL.com: #5 OLB
NFL Draft Scout: #2 ILB (#62 overall)
Bleacher Report: #5 ILB
Analysis: Jefferson is nearly unanimously considered one of the top 5 inside linebacker prospects in the draft. He has the speed and range to cover sideline to sideline and put up big numbers last year at Texas (110 tackles, 10 TFLs, 4 sacks) while garnering second-team AP All-American honors. The knock on Jefferson is that while he has the speed and range to play in pass defense, he shies away from contact against the run – particularly against offensive linemen and fullbacks. He is entering the NFL after his junior season and still has some work to do on the mental aspects of the game. Similar to how a young Ryan Shazier would run himself out of plays by being overly aggressive, Jefferson needs to see the game better before charging in (which can often cause him to over-run plays and get burned by cutback runs). That said, he has a rare combination of speed and athleticism that will enable him to play as a coverage linebacker at the next level. He may be best suited as a 4-3 weakside linebacker but could also play the role of a 3-4 Mack Linebacker. Jefferson could go as high as the late first round, but is most likely a Day 2 pick.
LB – Maryland
6’0″ 228 lbs
SPARQ: insufficient data
CBS Sports: unranked
NFL.com: #20 ILB
NFL Draft Scout: #41 ILB
Bleacher Report: unranked
Analysis: Carter’s scouting reports read like the second coming of Tyler Matakevich. He was a fierce special teams player in his first few years at Maryland before becoming a team captain in the middle of the defense. He is a bit undersized for an inside linebacker but has decent speed and makes up for his lack of size with a high football IQ. He has the ability to roam in space and handle man coverage in the passing game, but his lack of size hurts him in getting off blocks in the running game and in the tackling department where he either missed or had his tackles broken. He is not a player that jumps off the screen on tape but was a consistent contributor in the middle of Maryland’s defense. He has the look of a late-round pick or Undrafted Free Agent that will have to shine on special teams in order to earn his spot on an NFL roster.
DL – NC State
6’3″ 311 lbs
CBS Sports: #9 DT (#88 overall)
NFL.com: #11 DT
NFL Draft Scout: #7 DT (#63 overall)
Bleacher Report: #7 DT (#68 overall)
Analysis: Hill played running back and defensive end in high school then added weight in college and transitioned to the inside of the defensive line. He still has the same foot quickness and short-area burst that you would expect out of a running back and can be surprisingly nimble for a 310-pound interior lineman. He has started since the middle of his freshman year for the Wolfpack and recorded 57 tackles, 5.5 TFLs, 3 sacks and 3 passes defended during his senior season. He is an athletic lineman capable of shooting gaps and getting into the backfield, but he needs to continue to develop his play strength and ability to fight off offensive linemen. While his side-to-side agility is very good for a lineman of his size, he can get driven off the ball in straight up run defense. Hill is likely a Day 2 pick after performing well during the Senior Bowl week.
CB – North Carolina
5’11” 200 lbs
CBS Sports: #8 CB (#69 overall)
NFL.com: #10 CB
NFL Draft Scout: #15 CB (#120 overall)
Bleacher Report: #8 CB (#63 overall)
Analysis: Stewart is a physical cornerback who turned some heads at the Senior Bowl in January with his strong practices and play. He started for the Tar Heels each of the last two seasons and has experience both inside and outside. He does not shy away from contact and attacks downhill against the run. He is active with his hands with 23 pass deflections over the last two seasons, but did not record an interception in either of those years. There has been some discussion about whether or not he is better suited to a safety role or a cornerback role in the NFL. Stewart is one of the better tackling defensive backs in the draft and is strong on wrapping up once he gets to the ball. He is lacking a bit in his long speed which could cause a problem on keeping up with fast receivers on deep routes. This can cause him to reach and grab with his hands, which could make him a magnet for penalties. Stewart is likely a Day 2 pick (probably in the late 2nd to mid 3rd round range) and would certainly fit what the Steelers are looking for in terms of defensive backs who are not afraid to tackle.
Photos courtesy: Inside Texas, WBOC Sports, Pack Insider, 247Sports