While the NFL Scouting Combine is all about the players, there are definite winners and losers among the teams as well.
Some teams, like the Oakland Raiders, have historically drafted players based on their measurables that they display during the bench press, 40-yard dash, and other drills that the combine features.
Other teams, like the Pittsburgh Steelers, traditionally rely more on the interview process in selecting prospects. These teams typically place a higher value on game film when it comes to determining which players that they will target in April.
There are a few things that can go really well for the Steelers at the combine. Some of them will be readily apparent, and some of them won’t become obvious until after the draft. Let’s dive inside the minds of Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and company and discuss what they might be hoping to see at the 2013 NFL Scouting Combine.
The Steelers will want to see high-upside pass-rushers test really well at the combine. If prospects like Barkevious Mingo, Ezekiel Ansah and Dion Jordan run the 40 in the 4.6-4.7 range and impress in positional drills, they will likely cement their status as top-15 picks.
The added effect is that some teams that want a 3-4 outside linebacker and are picking ahead of the Steelers (the Jets, the Browns and the Lions, to name a few) will not feel as much pressure to select Georgia phenom Jarvis Jones. Jones, while talented, is a medical risk because of his spinal stenosis. If teams feel comfortable with the other pass-rushers in the draft, the ultra-productive Jones might slide.
When talented prospects slip during the draft, the teams that value college production usually land stud players at a discount. Jarvis Jones meets a need for the Steelers, and he’s also likely to be the highest-rated player on their board. I’ve said continuously, and will continue to do so, that any mock draft is moot without the caveat that the Steelers will take Jones if he’s available for any reason.
A strong performance by some other pass-rushers will aid the Steelers in this endeavor, especially since Jones won't be working out at the combine himself.
I believe that the Steelers don’t want Manti Te’o in the first round. In the second round though? The Steelers would have to think long and hard about it, especially if he convinces the team that his issues away from the playing field are in the past.
Te’o isn’t the most athletic middle linebacker in this year’s draft class, but that’s not a disaster in Pittsburgh. He would likely man the “Buck” position in the Steelers’ 3-4 defense, meaning that he will be responsible for handling lead blockers and diagnosing the play. Te’o struggled with the former against Alabama in the National Championship Game, but the latter has always been a strength in his game. He could be a good fit—for the right price.
There are several excellent inside linebackers in this year’s draft, but many of them seem best-suited for the “Mack” role, which is the more athletic, playmaking half of the inside linebacker duo. Teams could look for sideline-to-sideline players in the middle, and Te’o might not fit the mold.
Prospects like Alec Ogletree, Arthur Brown, Kevin Minter and Kevin Reddick are some examples of the linebackers that I expect to run well at the combine and improve their draft stock. It wouldn’t shock me if Te’o joins that group, but I have a gut feeling that he will be a half-step behind these players.
As with Jones in the first round, I think that the Steelers will strongly consider the Notre Dame product if he impresses in his interview and is available for their selection in the second round. Te’o definitely meets a need, provided that he can ease their fears during his time with the front office.
If the Steelers have a rookie quarterback on their roster by next training camp, I believe that it will be because they found an undrafted free agent that they liked.
In my view, the Steelers should (and will) wait for next year’s draft to find Ben Roethlisberger’s successor. The class is much stronger in 2014 than this year’s group, and quarterback is too important a position to gamble on. Smart teams like Pittsburgh will wait for the right guy.
With that established, the Steelers want other teams to draft quarterbacks early and often. Every pick spent on a quarterback like Ryan Nassib, Landry Jones and Zac Dysert sends quality players at other positions further down the draft line towards the Steelers. Strong performances at the combine could go a long way towards launching this run.
The deepest position in this draft, in my opinion, is defensive tackle. Georgia’s John Jenkins, or any of the Williams trio—Alabama’s Jesse, UNC’s Sylvester or Missouri Southern’s Brandon, could fall to the Steelers in rounds three to five if quarterbacks start to be over-drafted.
Obviously Steelers fans would love to land the top prospect at every position of need. It’s a bit unrealistic, but that doesn’t mean that the Steelers won’t land great fits for the team in these positions. I’ve suggested that the team might like to land Eddie Lacy, Giovani Bernard or Joseph Randle in the early rounds, but if they go in another direction, Le’Veon Bell is the key.
When we last saw Bell on the field, he was too big and plodding to be considered a serious candidate to be a starting NFL running back. At 6’2” and nearly 245 pounds, Bell will struggle to break away from defenders using speed alone.
However, if he shows up and weighs in around 230 pounds without losing running power, he could be a late-round gem for the Steelers. I’ll be watching him closely in the agility drills to see what kind of feet he has for such a hulking back. If he does well, he could be just the trick to fix Pittsburgh’s running game.
The NFL is a league where recent events shape opinions regarding players. Often, due to injury or level of comfort, some prospects elect not to go through physical drills at the combine. This pushes some prospects to the back burner, at least until their school’s Pro Day.
Two highly regarded prospects, running back Eddie Lacy and wide receiver Keenan Allen, have suffered injuries that will keep them out of the combine workouts. As fate would have it, the Steelers find themselves in need of both a wide receiver and a tailback.
I’m not painting a picture where they land both of these prospects by any stretch, but the door opens for the Steelers to land at least one of them at a discount.
In particular, snagging Allen in the third round would be a total coup, but that’s contingent on how other receivers work out at the combine. Terrance Williams, Tavon Austin and DeAndre Hopkins are among some wideouts who will likely impress at the combine, and teams might select them based on recent buzz.
Even if Allen is out of reach, this receiver class has to have the Steelers excited—any one of a dozen prospects could step in and make an impact.
The Steelers need to land at least one impact safety in this year’s class, and it’s a great year to have that need. I could see the Steelers addressing it as early as the second round.
This year’s safety class has several stud prospects, and there are several that may have caught the Steelers’ eye on game film. The combine is an excellent opportunity for the Steelers to determine which safeties will be the next tandem in Pittsburgh.
I think that some combination of Eric Reid, Jonathan Cyprien, Phillip Thomas and Matt Elam would be outstanding, but that could change based on the interviews and workouts. Plus, there are other safety-needy teams that will not be thrilled with letting the Steelers snatch up the premier safety prospects.
Earl Thomas and Eric Berry really set themselves apart at the 2010 NFL Scouting Combine in a talented safety class, and I’m curious to see who will stand out this year's edition.