Pittsburgh Steelers' Scouting Guide to the 2014 Senior Bowl
The Senior Bowl is the king of college football all-star games. While all of them afford NFL draft prospects the opportunity to show their wares to the league, none pull the talent of the Senior Bowl.
For all-star games, the Senior Bowl is the largest gathering of NFL talent there is. Even some underclassmen who cannot participate still choose to come down and mill around among the NFL staffs.
This means that the media and the league descend on Mobile, Ala., every January and put these young men under the microscope.
From the Pittsburgh Steelers perspective, there is a litany of talent on the field this week who they must consider to fill their roster needs. Here's a rundown of eight prospects who the Steelers should be keeping a very close eye on this week.
You can find more information, including full rosters for both teams, here.
Jaylen Watkins, Cornerback, Florida
The season of the Florida Gators defined the term forgettable. However, for as weak as the offense was, there were some real stars on defense. Among the top players are the three Florida cornerbacks currently in the draft.
As the Senior Bowl nears, the representative of that group is Jaylen Watkins. And to be quite honest, he might be the most talented of the group as well. Watkins has excellent size and uses it well.
Watkins does a great job in press man coverage. He can come up and force wide receivers inside or outside. He keeps his center of gravity low and can turn and run with wide receivers. His anticipation allows him to hang with larger players, and he has the speed to track smaller, quicker players.
Watkins is a high-energy player and willing tackler who fits that role the Steelers ask for in run support. It's never enough to just play coverage with the Steelers, so Watkins' skill set fits well.
Florida DB Jaylen Watkins had a good day. INT on Fales pass after WR slipped. Broke up Derek Carr pass to Jordan Matthews over the middle.— Chris Trapasso (@ChrisTrapasso) January 21, 2014
Jack Mewhort, Offensive Tackle, Ohio State
The Steelers' need for an offensive tackle is a bit of a gray area. Down the stretch, starting tackles Kelvin Beachum and Marcus Gilbert played better, particularly in pass protection. Should the Steelers try to transition to a more run-heavy offensive scheme, they will need to consider a more physical tackle.
This is where Ohio State offensive tackle Jack Mewhort comes in. Mewhort is what some would call a mauler. He isn't the biggest tackle, but he plays going forward at all times. Once he gets his hands on you, he never lets up, especially in the run game.
Mewhort isn't the elite athlete or pass protector who some of the top tackle prospects are, so he could slide. In the third or fourth round, a prospect like Mewhort would be a steal. A lot can be coached, but it is hard to coach a player to do what Mewhort does well.
Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Cornerback, Nebraska
In the modern NFL, where everyone is bigger, faster and stronger, Nebraska cornerback Stanley Jean-Baptiste is the blueprint. To give some perspective, Jean-Baptiste plays at a height (6'2") and weight (215 lbs.) comparable to what Hall of Fame linebackers Jack Lambert and Jack Ham did early in their careers.
Jean-Baptiste is a physical player. The strength of Jean-Baptiste's game is press man coverage. He uses an excellent jam at the line of scrimmage to force the receiver off their route, and it allows him to set and mirror them in coverage.
Jean-Baptiste doesn't have elite speed, but he can run and trail with most wide receivers in coverage. This shows in how many passes he impacts. His instincts are sound, and he does a great job of picking up the football in the air.
For the Steelers, Jean-Baptiste would be the type of cornerback who they can line up on an opposing team's best wide out and let him beat them up all game.
Liked Stanley Jean-Baptiste's film quite a bit. Issue was how athletic/fluid he was. This week he's shown well. Rd 1 pick wouldn't surprise— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) January 22, 2014
Dee Ford, Defensive End, Auburn
The future of the outside linebacker position for the Steelers is up in the air. Jason Worilds is a free agent, and LaMarr Woodley is a shadow of his former self. Should the Steelers choose to move forward without either of them, should they consider a replacement via the draft?
Auburn defensive end Dee Ford is a real wow-type of player. His size is adequate for an outside linebacker, but he is probably too light to be a full-time 4-3 defensive end. This would be a real positive for the Steelers, who can snatch up Ford in the second round.
In terms of strengths, Ford's balance and first step are elite. He explodes off the snap, can get low, stay low and turn the corner. Ford is a little bit raw and doesn't excel in run support, but that can be forgiven. Even as a situational pass-rusher, Ford is an enticing prospect.
Unless someone can convince me otherwise, Aaron Donald and Dee Ford have been the best Senior Bowl practice days.— Dan Kadar (@MockingTheDraft) January 22, 2014
Michael Sam, Linebacker, Missouri
Comparable to Ford, Missouri linebacker Michael Sam would be the guy to fill a potential void among the outside linebackers for Pittsburgh. To contrast against Ford's and Sam's games is a question of preference. Where Ford is explosive off the edge and can turn the corner, Sam is stronger and can set the edge.
Sam's physical edge makes him an interesting choice since the role of a 3-4 rush linebacker is often to win as a run defender as well. Ford might be faster and able to turn the corner a little better, but Sam can bull rush a blocker. When he loses at the snap, Sam has the strength to disengage from a tackle and fight to get upfield.
Another edge Sam has over Ford is his football acumen. Sam is a student of the game, and you can see from how he plays. He is much more than just raw athleticism. He has a multitude of moves and can impact a defense as more than just simply a pass-rusher.
Michael Sam/Mizzou looks great in drills at DE but has done nothing to make anyone believe the transition to OLB will be quick or easy.— Tony Pauline (@TonyPauline) January 21, 2014
Deone Bucannon, Safety, Washington State
The Steelers have had it made with safety Troy Polamalu. Having Polamalu in the defensive secondary for as long as he's been there has made it easy. Moving forward, however, the Steelers need to take a look at who will replace him.
Safety Shamarko Thomas was drafted in 2013 and does look like he has a bright future at the safety spot. Nevertheless, with the potential retirement of Ryan Clark, safety remains a priority.
Clark's role for the Steelers is often as a deep coverage player and requires a player with range. Washington State safety Deone Bucannon has excellent size, but it's his range that is most interesting.
Bucannon does a nice job with his eyes and can recognize the play quickly. Once he does, he shows exceptional break on the football and closes like a jackhammer.
No wonder Deone Bucannon has so much range and hits hard. He said he looks up to Ed Reed (Range) and Sean Taylor (hard hitting)— TURRON DAVENPORT (@TDavenport_BSN) January 21, 2014
Robert Herron, Wide Receiver, Wyoming
As much as Steelers fans want to see Pittsburgh bring in a big, tall wide out, it just might not happen. This offense is predicated on players who can create separation and are lightning quick in and out of their cuts.
Wyoming wide receiver Robert Herron looks an awful lot like the type of wide receiver offensive coordinator Todd Haley would want. Herron is a little on the short side, but his speed and quickness are on par with nearly every other wide receiver in this draft.
Herron has nice, active hands. He isn't afraid to get messy to make a contested catch and will snatch the football out of the air. And once he has the football in his hands, he can make defenders miss and can pull away with his speed.
The Steelers like to find wide receivers who fit their offense best, and they like to do it in the middle rounds. Herron could be that player in the third or fourth round the Steelers sneak in and get and immediately plug him into those three-wide sets.
Daily summary of Robert Herron: wins at everything. That's it.— Jeff Risdon (@JeffRisdon) January 21, 2014
DaQuan Jones, Defensive Tackle, Penn State
The search for a better nose tackle continues for the Steelers. Potential losses on the defensive line could leave this group a little thin—as thin as a 3-4 defensive line can be. One spot in particular where more beef is advised is at the zero technique (NT).
Penn State nose tackle DaQuan Jones is an interesting prospect for the Steelers because he has the power off the snap to play the zero technique, but he also could trim back some and use his athleticism to be effective as a five-technique defensive end. Of all the defensive tackles in this group, Jones looks like he could have the most left in terms of growth once he's in the NFL.
Jones can quiet some criticisms about his game by showing more consistent effort, especially when he doesn't win at the snap. A hallmark of the Steelers' defensive line is effort, and Jones would need to display more of that at the next level.
Okay, Penn State DT DaQuan Jones has my attention. He moves every guard with his low center of gravity.— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) January 20, 2014
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