The 2014 NFL Scouting Combine provided the Pittsburgh Steelers an opportunity to examine the physical attributes of the best college football players in the country.
Ranked as one of the top eight drafting teams in the league by NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal, the Steelers have proven to have a top-notch staff when it comes to evaluating prospects. Part of this process has been evaluating players at the combine.
While testing the athletic abilities of the prospects has value, much of the preparation for the draft has already been done by examining game film. Instead, a strong 40-yard-dash time could result in a team taking a look back at the film to see if it missed something the first time.
Besides the workouts, the Steelers were also able to gain valuable information on any medical issues as well as meet with 60 prospects. With this information in hand, they are able to re-evaluate and modify their draft board as they move into the next part of the process.
The Steelers have a need at virtually every position on the field and could go a number of different directions. For that reason, they will be truly looking for the best player available. Anything can happen in the draft, so no players should be excluded—even the ones who are expected to be drafted in the top 10.
With that said, here are the top 25 prospects on Pittsburgh’s draft board.
1. Jadeveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina
Jadeveon Clowney is the top-rated player in the draft and should sit at the top of the Steelers’ draft board even if they have no opportunity to select him.
The 6’5” and 266-pound defensive end showcased his physical abilities at the combine, particularly when he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.53 seconds.
He is a special talent who would be able to come in and rejuvenate a pass rush that only produced 34 sacks in 2014.
2. Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn
The offensive line has long been a problem for the Steelers, particularly at tackle. New offensive line coach Mike Munchak may want his own tackle to work with, and Greg Robinson would be an ideal fit.
Already a devastating run-blocker, Robinson has 35-inch arms that would aid him in pass protection. With only 25 games of starting experience at Auburn, the sky is the limit for him to develop as a left tackle.
3. Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M
Quite possibly the most NFL-ready prospect in the draft, Jake Matthews projects as a franchise left tackle.
He has a massive frame at 6’5” and 308 pounds but still has room to grow. Already polished, he would be a starter from day one and would be the best left tackle the Steelers have had since Ben Roethlisberger was drafted.
Matthews continued to display why he is one of the best prospects in the draft, as he ranked as one of the top performers among linemen in the vertical jump (30.5 inches) and three-cone drill (7.34 seconds).
4. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson
Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (subscription required) recently reported that the Steelers told Roethlisberger they’d select a tall wide receiver early in the draft.
The 6’1” Sammy Watkins isn’t exactly “tall,” but he is electric. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds, which is reflected in his game speed. Watkins is excellent after the catch and would be an ideal fit in the Steelers offense.
Greg Peshek of Rotoworld reported that Watkins caught 57 percent of his receptions on screen passes and averaged 8.48 yards after the catch. However, as with the other top prospects, Watkins’ performance at the combine solidified him as a top selection and likely out of Pittsburgh’s reach.
5. Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo
He was a very productive linebacker at Buffalo with 94 tackles, 21 tackles for a loss and eight sacks. This included a dominating performance against Ohio State in which he had 2.5 sacks and an interception.
At 6’3” and 251 pounds, he has terrific size to play linebacker in the NFL and matched it with his 4.65 speed in the 40-yard dash. He would been an explosive player on the outside in Pittsburgh’s defense.
6. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
Last year, Jarvis Jones was at one time rated as one of the best prospects in the draft, yet fell to the Steelers due in part to poor workout numbers and injury red flags. Two years ago, it was David DeCastro who had a surprise fall to the Steelers. Could Anthony Barr be the next player to slip through the cracks?
Barr is very big at 6’5” and 255 pounds, yet ran the 40 in 4.66 seconds. He was one of the top performers in the three-cone drill, as he completed it in 6.82 seconds. This confirms his quickness and explosiveness that he displays on the field. He could be an immediate impact player rushing the quarterback.
7. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M
Mike Evans had an excellent combine performance that not only confirmed his abilities on the field, but also may have put him out of the Steelers’ reach.
Evans clocked in at 4.53 seconds, which is strong for a receiver of his size. Besides his size and speed, he was very productive at Texas A&M, as he led the SEC with 12 touchdown receptions and averaged 20.2 yards per reception.
He also has experience on broken plays with Johnny Manziel as his quarterback. According to Greg Peshek of Rotoworld, he caught about 44 percent of his receptions coming back to the quarterback.
With his size and potential, Evans would be an ideal big receiving target for Roethlisberger.
8. Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State
Justin Gilbert is the second-rated cornerback but may have moved up to the top spot after the combine. The 6’0” and 202-pound cornerback ran a 4.37-second 40-yard dash and had 20 reps in the bench press. Bleacher Report’s Matt Bowen came away impressed:
“Gilbert showed the ability to lower his base during workouts, flip the hips and drive to the football. A playmaker outside of the numbers, the Oklahoma State product made some money on the field inside of Lucas Oil Stadium.”
Combined with what he demonstrated at the combine, Gilbert has 33.12-inch arms that will assist him in playing the ball. With the Steelers in need of a playmaker at cornerback, Gilbert has the physical tools and playmaking abilities (seven interceptions in 2013) to be an excellent option to replace Ike Taylor in the starting lineup.
9. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama
Ryan Clark will be a free agent and Troy Polamalu is in the final year of his contract, meaning that the Steelers will be in the market for a safety. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix did what he needed to at the combine to establish himself as the top safety available.
Clinton-Dix measured in at 6’1” and 208 pounds and was timed at 4.58 seconds. He has shown the ability to play all areas of the field with the willingness to step up against the run as well as being capable of deep coverage. He is a prototypical free safety who will be able to contribute early in his career.
10. Louis Nix, NT, Notre Dame
While at the combine, Kevin Colbert told reporters that nose tackle is still a vital part of the defense, via Scott Brown of ESPN.com. Louis Nix is the top nose tackle available but did not have a particularly good showing this week. Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller called him one of the biggest busts of the combine.
Despite this, the 6’2”, 331-pound nose tackle is athletic enough to plug the middle in Pittsburgh’s defense.
Louis Nix sure can move laterally. Wow.— James C Wexell (@jimwexell) February 24, 2014
11. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
Darqueze Dennard is probably the most physical cornerback in the draft, but there were concerns regarding his speed. His official time in the 40-yard dash was 4.51 seconds, which was a bit slower than Gilbert.
At Michigan State, he played press-man coverage, which is not a scheme fit for the Steelers. However, he is one of the top two cornerbacks available and will definitely be on Pittsburgh’s radar.
12. C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama
C.J. Mosley is one of the most athletic inside linebackers available in the draft, and for this reason, he is a hot prospect, according to Matt Miller.
With his experience in a 3-4 defense, he should be able to step right in as a starter and provide the Steelers with a three-down linebacker. He has the athleticism and the speed to go sideline to sideline against the run. However, he will have to develop more of a physical presence when fighting off blockers.
13. Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
Kyle Fuller is the 59th-rated prospect, but his stock should be on the rise after the combine. At 6’0”, 190 pounds, he has good size and ran well with an official time of 4.49 seconds. Scouts had high praise for him as well, via Bob McGinn of the Journal Sentinel:
“‘He’s the best pure cover corner,’ said one scout. ‘He’ll hit you and plays tough. He’s had a history of injuries.’ Missed about a month with a groin injury late last season. ‘Little thin but a good football player,’ another scout said. ‘Second round.’”
Fuller could very well be a dark-horse candidate for the Steelers in the first round. Jumping on him with their top selection could be worth it. Bleacher Report’s Cian Fahey identified the Steelers as one team that “could get the most out of Fuller.”
14. Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville
Calvin Pryor does not have the elite size as listed on Louisville’s team website, as he checked in three inches shorter at 5’11” and 207 pounds. That should not downgrade him much as a prospect.
He was on par with Clinton-Dix in the 40-yard dash with a time of 4.58 seconds and was a standout in the bench press with 18 reps. Pryor also likes to play a physical brand of football and would fit in very well with what the Steelers like to do on defense.
15. Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
Eric Ebron was a star at the combine and cemented himself as the top tight end in the draft with his performance. He ran a 4.60 in the 40-yard dash, which ranked first at his position, and had a 120.0 inch broad jump, which ranked third. He demonstrated his strength with 24 reps in the bench press.
Ebron would break the mold of the well-rounded tight end the Steelers like to employee. He projects as a receiving tight end and would be a dangerous option with Heath Miller when the offense lines up with two tight ends.
16. Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan
Taylor Lewan should be the third tackle off the board after a strong performance at the combine. He was one of the top performers in the 40-yard dash (4.87 seconds), vertical leap (30.5 inches), broad jump (117.0 inches) and three-cone drill (7.39 seconds). These numbers were particularly impressive given his size at 6’7” and 309 pounds.
Taylor Lewan = 2014's fastest offensive lineman at 4.87 official. (5th fastest OL in last 10 yrs.)— Scott Hanson (@ScottHanson) February 22, 2014
Despite all of his physical abilities, Lewan has to develop more as a run-blocker and has some inconsistencies in pass protection. Sports Illustrated’s Chris Burke also highlighted some character concerns surrounding Lewan that the Steelers must investigate.
17. Dee Ford, OLB, Auburn
Dee Ford did not work out at the combine, but that does not prevent him from being one of the top pass-rushers in the draft.
At 6’2”, 252 pounds, he has the size to play the outside in the Steelers defense, but also has a terrific burst when rushing the passer. For a team that struggles to get to the quarterback, adding another pass-rusher will be a viable option.
18. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU
Odell Beckham Jr. does not have elite size (5’11”, 198 lbs), but he more than makes up for it with his route running and speed.
He was timed at 4.43 seconds in the 40-yard dash and finished in third among receivers in the 20-yard shuttle (3.94 seconds) and 60-yard shuttle (10.93 seconds). He can play inside and outside, making him a versatile receiver in Pittsburgh’s offense.
Beckham’s upper body moves fluidly too and has quick twitch ability to fake out DBs. Underrated strength of his.— Shane P. Hallam (@ShanePHallam) February 23, 2014
19. Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State
Kelvin Benjamin is one of the prospects the Steelers met with at the combine, according to a tweet from Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider. He would fill the Steelers’ desire to add a tall receiver to the mix.
At 6’5” and 240 pounds, he is nearly the size of a tight end but did not test out particularly well. His time of 4.61 seconds will raise concerns as to whether he can create separation from defensive backs. However, his size and production while at Florida State make him a project worth taking a risk on.
20. Marqise Lee, WR, USC
Marqise Lee is the third-rated receiver in the draft, but a relatively disappointing combine lowered him below several of the other prospects. He ran the 40 in 4.52 seconds, which was lower than expected from a “speed” receiver.
An injury-plagued junior season is also a concern, but Lee has shown in the past that he can be a big-time playmaker and should develop into at least a quality No. 2 in the NFL.
21. Ra’Shede Hageman, DL, Minnesota
With no depth on the defensive line, Ra’Shede Hageman is the top-rated 5-technique available to the Steelers. He has prototypical size at 6’6” and 310 pounds and is very strong, demonstrated by 32 reps on the bench press. He has tremendous upside to be a disruptive force along the defensive line.
Hageman will be 24 years old when the season starts, and he may need a year or two to develop in the Steelers’ system.
22. Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Stephon Tuitt is an impressive specimen at 6’5”, 304 pounds. He has long arms (34.75 inches) and good strength (31 bench reps), which can help him control his blocker at the line of scrimmage.
Scouts told Bob McGinn of the Journal Sentinel that Tuitt should be a good fit in the 3-4:
“‘He’s a 3-4 end all the way,’ one scout said. ‘He’ll be on the field all the time. He’s too big, too athletic and has been productive.’ Underwent hernia surgery in 2012. ‘Long arms (34¾). Just kind of up and down,’ another scout said. ‘Came in the year overweight. There are stretches of games where he doesn’t really do anything. He will turn it on some plays and show his strength. He's a risk.’”
23. Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
The Steelers have a history of selecting Ohio State players in the draft, including former first-round selections Santonio Holmes and Cameron Heyward.
Bradley Roby struggled in coverage last season and has a character red flag after being suspended for one game last year due to arrest. But his physical attributes are intriguing.
Roby stands at 5’11”, 194 pounds and was timed at 4.39 seconds. He would be a project, but one with a lot of tools to work with.
24. Aaron Donald, DL, Pitt
Aaron Donald had one of the best performances at the combine, as summarized by Erik Frenz of Bleacher Report. The 6’1”, 285-pound defensive lineman from Pitt was a star in the three-cone drill (7.11 seconds), bench press (35 reps) and 40-yard dash (4.68 seconds).
Donald was very disruptive at the line in college and should continue this at the professional level. However, he is a best fit as a 3-technique in a 4-3 defense. The only reason he is rated this high on the Steelers draft board is because he is an outstanding football player.
25. Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State
Allen Robinson fits the mold as a big receiver at 6’2” and 220 pounds. He utilized this size at Penn State to take advantage of smaller defensive backs and make plays on the ball. Playing under Bill O’Brien would have prepared him for a pro-style offense.
The knock on Robinson, however, will be his lack of speed with an official time of 4.60 seconds.