Full Steelers Scouting Guide for the 2013 Senior Bowl
On Saturday January 26th at 4 p.m. EST, one of the biggest events of the NFL Scouting season will take place at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Alabama. That's right folks, it's that time again for the annual collegiate Senior Bowl where the nations top seniors will put their best foot forward in order to try and improve their draft stock.
Every NFL team will have some kind of scouting representatives in Mobile all week long checking out some of the league's future leaders and stars and the Steelers will be no different.
As far as drafts go, 2013 could be very important for Pittsburgh. As the Steelers put on display in 2012, they've got some serious gaps on both sides of the ball and lack any kind of playmaking ability.
Pittsburgh's going to be in the market for some key positions this year and the scouting starts at the Senior Bowl.
Let's check out 10 guys the Steelers should have their eye on during Saturday's contest.
Zac Dysert / QB / Miami (OH)
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One thing the 2012 season showed us is that the Steelers back-up quarterback situation isn't as great as we once thought it to be. Byron Leftwich has struggled to grasp the offense and Charlie Batch's career has pretty much ended.
Back-up quarterback is a very important position considering Ben Roethlisberger hasn't played an entire 16-game season since 2008. Pittsburgh could look at a product out of Big Ben's alma matter to play behind him.
Dysert was a four-year starter at Miami (OH) and improved upon his numbers every year since he was a freshman in 2009. But it was his last two seasons that pushed the Redhawks QB into the national spotlight.
In his last two campaigns, Dysert threw 48 touchdowns passes to just 23 interceptions. Maybe more importantly, his completion percentage was amongst the best in the country, hitting well over 60% of his throws all four years he played at Miami.
Dysert grades out as most likely a mid-to-late third round pick, but his fit in Todd Haley's offense makes him a great pick for the Steelers. He's got great accuracy and a quick release, perfect for throwing the short, crossing routes and receiver screens the Steelers like to run.
The third round may be a bit early for the Steelers to take a quarterback, but if they like Dysert, they may pull the trigger.
Kenjon Barner / RB / Oregon
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Pittsburgh has generally been known for their ground attack since, well, always. But last season, the running game fell apart and the Steelers were left with an offense that was unbalanced and lacked talent.
One of the biggest reasons the Steelers couldn't contend on the ground was because of the major lack of explosion. Explosion, however, is something Oregon running back Kenjon Barner does not lack.
Barner has been a big part of the Oregon offense since coming to Eugene in 2009, but this past season was by far his breakout campaign. In 2012, Barner carried for over 1,767 yards and scored 21 times on the ground. He also caught 20 passes for over 250 yards.
But, maybe the biggest piece to Barner's game is what he does when the ball is in his hands. All four years at Oregon, Barner averaged over six yards per carry. He also picked up nearly 13 yards per catch last season.
Barner brings explosion to an offense that desperately lacks that quality. He grades out around the late third, early fourth round, but with former head coach Chip Kelly now scouring the NFL ranks, he could go a lot higher in the draft.
Eric Fisher / OT / Central Michigan
Last season, the Steelers spent their first two draft picks to shore up an offensive line that ranked among the bottom of the league. The Steelers struggled with injuries across the front and we still haven't got a good look at the rookies.
But if the Steelers lose Max Starks to free agency, they could be in the market for left tackle.
Right now, Central Michigan's Eric Fisher is the No. 2 ranked offensive tackle behind only Luke Joeckel. Fisher has a big frame (6'7", 305 lbs.) and has a knack for pass blocking, something Pittsburgh could use.
It'd be a stretch to think the Steelers would spend another high pick on an offensive lineman after last year's draft, but, hey, you never really know. We'll have to wait and see how free agency plays out.
Kawann Short / DE / Purdue
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Speaking of spending high picks on one position, under Mike Tomlin, the Steelers have spent two first round picks on 3-4 defensive ends. Both Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward were picked at the end of the first round to help bring some youth and talent to the Steelers front.
So far, it hasn't turned out so well.
Hood has struggled to ever become the starter the team had hoped and Heyward has yet to see relevant time on the field. In other words, Pittsburgh could stand to add some help up front.
For a player his size (6'3", 315 lbs) Short can move up front. He's got a strong lower half and recorded a very impressive seven sacks this season on a Purdue team that didn't surround him with much talent. Short was the leader of the Boilermaker defense and is a big body up front with some pass rush potential.
The Steelers didn't get much penetration from their defensive front last year and you have to wonder how long the team will keep both Hood and Heyward around. Short will be off the board by the end of the second round so if Pittsburgh wants him, they'll have to get him early.
Alex Okafor / OLB / Texas
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Just like the running game, the Steelers have really always been known for their pass rush. But the last two seasons, those numbers have taken a huge slide.
That could be due to injuries suffered by both James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, but for two seasons in a row, they've dealt with these issues.
Texas' Alex Okafor has as much ability as any pass rusher in the draft, something he put on display in the Alamo Bowl when the racked up 4.5 sacks on Oregon State. Okafor finished the season with 12.5 sacks all while missing two games.
The Steelers are going to have a choice to make with James Harrison this offseason and, regardless, the team will be in the market for a pass rusher. If Okafor is available in the first round when the team picks, Pittsburgh will give him a look.
Ryan Swope / WR / Texas A&M
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With the Mike Wallace situation still up in the air, there's no doubt Pittsburgh will be investing a lot of time in wide receivers this offseason.
But one name that might be flying a bit under the radar is Texas A&M receiver Ryan Swope. The former quarterback turned wide-out is the definition of a blue collar athlete. He's a hard worker who does most of his work across the middle of the field, making the tough catches.
Swope fits in really well to Todd Haley's offense and, although he saw a drop in his production when Ryan Tannehill left for the NFL, he's still caught at least 70 passes in each of the last three seasons.
Swope fills a need for the Steelers and their receiving game between the hash-marks and, although he's no deep threat, he's got great ability to add another dimension to this offense.
Ezekiel Ansah / OLB / BYU
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One of the hottest names in the NFL draft right now is BYU pass rusher Ezekiel Ansah. His sheer size (6'7", 270 lbs) makes him intriguing alone, but he's exceptionally athletic for a player with his frame.
Ansah is still a pretty raw player and he only had 4.5 sacks in 2012, but his raw athleticism makes him a very intriguing prospect for teams to look at. With a big Senior Bowl, Ansah could push himself up draft boards and potentially into the top 10.
John Jenkins / NT / Georgia
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There was once a time when Casey Hampton was the most feared nose tackle in the game. Pittsburgh was the top rated run defense and Hampton was the big reason for that.
But the Big Snack's career is just about at its' end and the Steelers struggled to get any kind of push inside from their nose tackles.
Enter big John Jenkins.
The Georgia middle-man, weighing in at a whopping 358 pounds, is a force to be reckoned with and the next big thing for nose tackles. The Steelers will have to keep an eye on Jenkins this offseason and, if they feel it's right, they'll make their move.
Nico Johnson / ILB / Alabama
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One guy who can benefit big-time from a huge Senior Bowl weekend is Alabama inside linebacker Nico Johnson. And the Steelers could be in the market for an inside linebacker.
What makes Johnson so intriguing is his familiarity with the 3-4 system that both Pittsburgh and Alabama employ. Couple that with his leadership qualities and the fact that he can play some football and you've got yourself a nice mid-round pick.
Johnson does bring some liabilities in pass coverage, but with coaching, he could develop nicely. With Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote already in place, Johnson will have time to develop into the system.
Bacarri Rambo / S / Georgia
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Another positional group that suffered a rash of injuries for the Steelers last season was in the secondary. Troy Polamalu missed nine games with a calf injury and Pittsburgh could not find a way to replace him.
If this were last season's draft, Georgia safety Bacarri Rambo would be talked about as one of the top rated secondary players. But after a few run-ins with team violations, Rambo's character has come into question.
Besides having a great last name, Rambo is one heck of a football player. He came back following the four game suspension and played at the top of his game.
Pittsburgh will have to take a character risk on a guy like Rambo but for a fourth round guy, it might be a risk they have to take.