6 Hidden Gems the Pittsburgh Steelers Should Have Noticed at the Combine
One need look no further than this year’s Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks for evidence of that.
If the Steelers are to avoid a third straight underwhelming season, they must get back to uncovering hidden gems on the second and third days of the draft.
Fortunately for the Steelers, there are several players who fit the bill in this year’s draft class. Many of those players weren’t considered top-flight prospects heading into the combine, but if their performances at the event are any indication, that may have been a mistake.
Of course, working out in shorts is by no means the be-all, end-all to identifying football talent. Still, if these players prove successful at the next level, it will have begun with what they showed at these workouts.
Combine results courtesy of NFL.com.
Dri Archer, RB, Kent State
With Le’Veon Bell in town, running back won’t be a position the Steelers target in the early rounds of the 2014 NFL draft. However, with Jonathan Dwyer and LaRod Stephens-Howling set to become free agents, Pittsburgh could look for a change-of-pace back on Day 3.
Bell looks to be a quality featured back, but one aspect of his game that is lacking is true breakaway speed. Therefore, it’d only make sense for the Steelers to target a back with just that in this year’s draft.
If so, Dri Archer out of Kent State may be their best bet. Archer was seen as a late-round flier at best, but his draft stock may have improved dramatically when he ran a blazing-fast 4.26 40-yard dash.
In his lone year as a starter, Archer managed nearly 2,000 yards of total offense. Even more impressively, he averaged a mind-boggling nine yards per carry.
Archer’s not just a big-play threat offensively, though. In his last two collegiate seasons, the undersized (5’8”, 173 lbs) back took four kickoffs to the house.
Archer’s versatility and big-play ability would be welcome additions to the Steelers offense.
Donte Moncrief, WR, Mississippi
It’s no secret that the Steelers are in the market for a big wide receiver this offseason. Whether or not they opt to select one early in the draft remains to be seen, but if they choose to shore up other positions first, they should still be afforded a wealth of options in the later rounds.
Donte Moncrief’s not a giant by any means, but at 6’2”, he’s got at least three inches on both Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders—not to mention his speed rivals theirs.
Moncrief ran a 4.40 40-yard dash at the combine, tied for third-best among wide receivers. That feat’s made even more impressive when one considers that Moncrief’s got at least 30 pounds on the two men (Brandin Cooks and John Brown) who finished above him.
Moncrief also posted an impressive mark of 39.5 inches in the vertical jump, suggesting he’s got the tools to high-point the ball with the best of them. That mark bettered those of Mike Evans and Allen Robinson, both projected early-round picks by NFLDraftScout.com.
Wesley Johnson, OL, Vanderbilt
While Pittsburgh's offensive line was thought to be a big priority heading into the offseason, it’s starting to look likelier that the team will be content to start a group very similar to last year’s.
However, as we’ve seen all too much lately, it never hurts to add depth up front. One candidate to do just that for the Steelers would be Vanderbilt’s Wesley Johnson.
Johnson’s combine didn’t blow anyone away, but he did perform well across the board. Highlights of his performance include top-five finishes (at his position) in both the broad jump and three-cone drill.
Two aspects of Johnson’s game in particular should make him appealing to the Steelers. For one, he’s durable. Johnson’s 51 starts are the most in Commodores history.
Coupled with that, Johnson’s mighty versatile. He’s got starting experience at tackle, guard and center. The importance of that can’t be understated for a team that’s experienced injury issues everywhere along the offensive line lately.
Ryan Carrethers, NT, Arkansas State
Louis Nix of Notre Dame has been linked to the Steelers by numerous draft experts, including a couple on SI.com. However, Mike Mayock (h/t Steelers Depot) contends that it’d be foolish to spend a first-rounder on a player who’d be fortunate to play half of the team’s defensive snaps.
Supposing the Steelers concur with that line of thinking, there should still be some options at the nose guard spot in the draft’s later rounds.
One that comes to mind is Ryan Carrethers. Carrethers is one of the most physically imposing NFL hopefuls this year. At 6’1” and 337 pounds, he’s got the stout and stocky build teams look for at his position.
More importantly, Carrethers has the strength to plug up the middle. That much is evidenced by his 32 reps in the bench press, good for third-most amongst defensive linemen.
Seeing as Carrethers led Arkansas State in sacks in 2013, he may also help an ailing pass rush return to prominence.
Khairi Fortt, LB, California
The Steelers never shy away from adding linebacker talent and that’s unlikely to change in 2014. Presuming the team targets other positions in the early rounds, Khairi Fortt would make a great consolation prize.
Fortt’s collegiate career was somewhat marred by injuries. He sat out the 2012 season with a knee injury and also missed the last three games of the 2013 season with a biceps injury.
However, he proved capable of playing at the next level when on the field. In fact, he was a semifinalist for the Butkus Award that is annually awarded to the nation’s top linebacker.
Fortt proved plenty strong enough by bench-pressing 225 pounds a positional-best 30 times at the combine. He also showed that he’s got the wheels to succeed in coverage by running a 4.70 40-yard dash.
Fortt may not make an immediate impact, but he could excel on special teams while being groomed into an eventual starter.
Brock Vereen, S, Minnesota
With Ryan Clark’s career all but over and Troy Polamalu’s best days in the rear-view mirror, many Steelers fans have been lobbying for the team to pick up a safety early in the 2014 NFL draft.
But if the team adds a player like Louis Delmas in free agency and/or feels comfortable with Shamarko Thomas seeing extended playing time, the Steelers could opt to hold off on a safety pick.
If so, they could do much worse than Brock Vereen in the later rounds.
Vereen, brother of New England Patriots running back Shane, is a very intelligent player and was instrumental to the success of an underrated Golden Gophers defense in 2013.
Vereen also improved his draft stock by posting stellar marks in possibly the two most scrutinized events at the combine. He posted a positional-best 25 reps on the bench press and complemented that with a 4.47 40-yard dash, good for second among safeties.