10 Safeties the Steelers Must Have Eyes On at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine
This just in: The Steelers are old at both safety positions.
With Troy Polamalu turning 32 in April and Ryan Clark hitting 34 in October, the Steelers are in desperate need of a youth movement at a woefully aged position.
Fortunately, the 2013 NFL draft class is deep at safety and should provide an ample amount of choices for the Steelers to select.
During this year's NFL Scouting Combine, the Steelers will have an opportunity to kick the tires on several prospects.
Here are 10 safeties that demand a closer look.
Kenny Vaccaro, Texas
Weight: 218 pounds
Strengths: Vaccaro is big and athletic, two qualities necessary to excel in Pittsburgh's scheme. He plays the run well and isn't afraid to make contact.
Vaccaro can play both safety positions, which would help give the Steelers depth and perhaps allow them to draft another safety in the later rounds.
Weaknesses: Vaccaro can be sloppy with his tackling, often times trying for the big hit rather than just making the tackle. He hasn't displayed a knack for interceptions, an area the Steelers desperately need to improve.
What to Watch at the Combine: Vaccaro needs to show fluid lateral movement during his time at the combine. If his times are a little slow, he may fall off the Steelers' radar.
Overall: If the Steelers plan on continuing with the zone blitz scheme after defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau retires, then Vaccaro would be a good fit. His athleticism and versatility would be perfect for the multiple packages the zone blitz utilizes.
However, if LeBeau's heir apparent, Keith Butler, and head coach Mike Tomlin decide to move toward a cover-2 scheme, Vaccaro may not be a good fit.
Matt Elam, Florida
Weight: 202 pounds
Strengths: Elam is an extremely physical safety who plays the run exceptionally well. He does a good job manhandling slot receivers at the line of scrimmage.
Weaknesses: Elam is a bit undersized according to scouts and may be overwhelmed by taller receivers.
What to Watch at the Combine: As bizarre as it may seem, Elam needs to display exceptional jumping ability to allay the anxiety scouts have over his height.
Overall: Elam's aggressive nature and hard-hitting capabilities ostensibly make him an ideal Steeler. However, he may have some character issues, as he has had two separate instances of possessing alcohol as a minor.
Eric Reid, LSU
Weight: 212 pounds
Strengths: A First Team All-SEC member in 2012, Reid is a big, athletic safety who can physically rough up the Aaron Hernandez-type tight ends. He has the height to go against the bigger receivers and tight ends in the league.
Weaknesses: Reid's aggressiveness makes him overplay at times and bite quickly on play-action passes. He could have trouble covering the quick slot receivers found in the NFL.
What to Watch at the Combine: Reid needs to show that he has the lateral movement to be a top-tier NFL safety and not an over-sized oaf.
Overall: Reid could be a good fit for the Steelers because of his size and aggression. Nonetheless, his weaknesses could be a liability since he will be more on an island in Pittsburgh's defense and won't have the luxury of someone covering up his mistakes.
Jonathan Cyprien, Florida International
Weight: 209 pounds
Strengths: Cyprien has the vertical jumping ability to play against the taller receivers in the NFL. He plays the run well and seems to be a natural at safety.
Weaknesses: Cyprien may be a system player, excelling in Florida International's two-deep coverage, but unable to adapt to other systems.
What to Watch at the Combine: If Cyprien has a strong performance, it may counter the concerns some have about the level of competition he faced.
Overall: Cyprien might not be a good match for the Steelers, at least initially, as he played mostly two-deep coverage in college. He appears to have a good football acumen, though, and may be coached up to the next level.
Phillip Thomas, Fresno State
Weight: 210 pounds
Strengths: Thomas is great at anticipating the play and finding the ball. He had eight interceptions in 2012, returning three for touchdowns. He is an anomaly in today's social media world—an excellent tackler who wraps up the ball carrier rather than just a player going for the crowd-pleasing big hit.
Weaknesses: Thomas doesn't have great speed and sometimes overcompensates which leads to him being out of position.
What to Watch at the Combine: Thomas needs to show that he has the speed to play safety in the NFL.
Overall: If Thomas can show that he has the speed, he can be a cheaper, less risky pick for the Steelers who can use him to bump up their anemic interception numbers.
Shawn Williams, Georgia
Weight: 211 pounds
Strengths: Williams brings a linebacker's mentality to his game. He is intensely physical, using his stout frame to stuff the run.
Weaknesses: A two-deep coverage guy, Williams may be limited to where he can play. He has the tendency to fall for play-action.
What to Watch at the Combine: Williams needs to prove that he has the speed and fluidity to play at the next level.
Overall: Size wise, Williams would be perfect as a Steeler. However, he played a lot of two-deep coverage at Georgia and may not fit well with the Steelers. He over-reacts at times, which makes him more likely to give up the big play, something that isn't tolerated in Pittsburgh's scheme.
Bacarri Rambo, Georgia
Weight: 215 pounds
Strengths: Rambo is an exceptional ball hawk, recording 16 interceptions in his college career. He isn't afraid to hit a receiver crossing the middle.
Weaknesses: Rambo may not have the speed and quickness to be an NFL-caliber starting safety.
What to Watch at the Combine: Rambo needs to show that he possesses the physical skills to play at the NFL level. Some scouts think he is a bit overrated, with his value over-inflated by the amount of interceptions he had in college.
Overall: Rambo is an immense talent. However, his propensity to take risks on the field as well as two failed drug tests, which caused a four-game suspension in 2012, might make him too much of a gamble for a Pittsburgh organization trying to improve its public image.
Tony Jefferson, Oklahoma
Weight: 212 pounds
Strengths: Jefferson is versatile, able to play in different schemes and positions, although he will be less likely to accomplish this at the NFL level. He has good size and is athletic.
Weaknesses: The knock on Jefferson is his tackling technique, which is a bit sloppy and raw. He may lack the strength to play at an elite level.
What to Watch at the Combine: Jefferson will be out to prove that he has the strength to make the next step. His bench press performance will be key. A good combine from him will raise his stock.
Overall: Jefferson blitzes extremely well and can handle different assignments, which makes him ideal for the Steelers. His strength is a question, but that could easily disappear with the right program. He could be a good fit for Pittsburgh in the middle rounds.
D. J. Swearinger, South Carolina
Weight: 210 pounds
Strengths: Swearington is physical and will knock receivers around. He plays at the line of scrimmage well and can shed blocks.
Weaknesses: Swearington may be overwhelmed by slot receivers in the NFL. He also has a tendency to hit high, which is a no-no in today's safety-conscious NFL.
What to Watch at the Combine: Swearington needs to show fluidity. His scores on the shuttle run and cone drill could make or break his stock.
Overall: While a physical player, Swearington may be too much of a project for the Steelers. Unless he can become more disciplined and refine his technique, the Steelers may be best served to pass on him.
T. J. McDonald, USC
Weight: 211 pounds
Strengths: McDonald has good size and is physical. He plays the run well and can stand toe-to-toe with the bigger receivers and hybrid tight ends in the NFL. He also moves well for his size.
Weaknesses: While a good college player, McDonald needs to prove that he can stay with the elite receivers in the NFL. He showed some cracks against the better passing teams in the Pac-12. He may struggle with complex defensive schemes.
What to Watch at the Combine: McDonald's shuttle and cone-drill performances will be key. He had ankle surgery in 2010 and needs to prove that there are no lingering effects from it.
Overall: The Steelers ask their safeties to support the run, which McDonald does well. However, McDonald will never be mistaken for fellow USC alum Troy Polamalu. If the Steelers draft him, he will need to be coached up and given time to develop in their complicated system.