2014 Draft Sleepers Who'd Fit Perfectly with the Pittsburgh Steelers
When it comes to the NFL draft, the first-round picks will garner all of the attention, but it is the late-round sleepers who can make or break a draft. Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert has never been known for his late-round prowess, yet he has made some quality selections in recent years.
Since 2010, Colbert has found quality contributors such as Jonathan Dwyer, Stevenson Sylvester and David Paulson. The Day 3 prospects haven’t been limited to backups, as the Steelers also drafted Cortez Allen, Kelvin Beachum and Vince Williams—all starters who were drafted in the fourth round or later.
Of course, the star of the bunch was Antonio Brown, a former sixth-round selection who was supposed to contribute as a return man as well as a backup receiver. Luckily for the Steelers—and Brown for that matter—he was a perfect fit for the offensive system and blossomed into one of the best receivers in the league.
Colbert will try to strike gold again as he continues to build the depth chart and capitalize on his late-round picks. He will have plenty of opportunities with six selections in the final four rounds.
So can Colbert find another late-round gem or a sleeper in the second or third round? Here is a look at some of the top draft sleepers who’d fit perfectly with the Steelers.
Jeff Janis, Wide Receiver, Saginaw Valley State
It is no secret that the Steelers will be looking for a wide receiver in the draft, but just because they will likely target one in the first three rounds does not mean they will pass on a talented option later on.
Jeff Janis of Saginaw State is one of the top sleepers at receiver in the draft.
The 6’3” and 219-pound receiver is ranked as the 195th-rated draft prospect by CBS Sports. He ran the 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds at the combine, which—combined with his 3,207 receiving yards over the past two seasons—has caught the attention of the NFL.
Doug Farrar of Sports Illustrated recognized Janis as an underrated prospect at the combine. He also saw that he didn’t look out of place at the Senior Bowl. Janis told Farrar that he felt like hit fit in while there:
Just playing in the Senior Bowl and comparing myself to those guys. I was pretty much the biggest receiver there, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to go up against that kind of talent. But I felt like I fit right in. I felt very comfortable. I feel that I’m going to perform pretty well [at the combine]. My times are there with the best of them, so I’m pretty confident in that.
Janis has already shown that he can produce at an elite level at the Division II level; now he has to prove that he can complete against NFL-quality competition. But one thing is for sure, he has every physical tool that you would want from a late-round receiver prospect.
Phillip Gaines, Cornerback, Rice
The Steelers will target a cornerback early in the draft, but at this point, there is no way in knowing who that will be. While the big names such as Justin Gilbert, Darqueze Dennard, Kyle Fuller and Bradley Roby will dominate the draft talk, Pittsburgh may look to a lesser-known name in the second round.
The Steelers already hosted Phillip Gaines for a predraft visit, according to Bob Labriola of Steelers.com. It is no wonder they brought him in for a closer look, as he had one of the best combine performances by any cornerback.
Though he’s a relatively unknown prospect among the top cornerback prospects in the draft, Gaines performed at an elite level at the combine. Besides having very good size (6’0”, 193 lbs), he has excellent speed (4.38 40-yard dash) and had one of the top times in the three-cone drill and 20-yard shuttle.
Charles Davis of NFL.com took notice, as he identified Gaines as one of his top defensive sleepers in the 2014 draft.
Gaines had 35 passes defended over the past two seasons and had four interceptions last year. He has some work to do, but if the Steelers miss out on a top cornerback in the first round, he will be a viable option in the second as a cornerback who can develop into a solid starter.
James White, Running Back, Wisconsin
James White is a name that caught my attention months ago and, just a few weeks away from the draft, is a name that should still be on the Steelers’ radar.
White is identified as a fifth-round prospect by CBS Sports, which is the perfect time for the Steelers to select a backup running back.
Unlike Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount, White isn’t a power back. Instead, he is a balanced back who can run between the tackles or get outside. His lack of size (5’9”, 204 lbs) will limit his role, but that is not a problem.
White was a productive runner in college with 4,015 yards and 45 touchdowns. He emerged as a receiver last season with 39 receptions for 300 yards. These skills will serve him well as a potential third-down or change-of-pace back.
Shaquil Barrett, Defensive End, Colorado State
With the lack of depth at outside linebacker, the Steelers will be in the market for a pass-rusher in this year’s draft. They may go back to a school that produced two former Steelers.
Joey Porter and Clark Haggans both played at Colorado State, and now Shaquil Barrett is a defensive end who could make the transition to outside linebacker for the Steelers.
Porter recently coached at his alma mater before returning to the Steelers as a defensive assistant. While at Colorado State, he worked personally with Barrett, as described by Benjamin Hochman of The Denver Post.
“To watch what he did, it’s crazy, because he works on it every day in practice. He’s always trying to strip someone. I’m now speechless,” Porter said in response to Barrett forcing fumbles on back-to-back plays in the New Mexico Bowl.
Barrett will have to develop his pass-rushing moves but has the ability to strip the ball and is said to have a “nonstop motor” by Dane Brugler of CBS Sports.
At 6’1” and 260 pounds, Barrett has the ideal size to play the outside. He isn’t overly athletic but has the willingness to be coached, and there is no man better to coach him than Porter.
Jordan Zumwalt, Linebacker, UCLA
Another potential sleeper at linebacker is Jordan Zumwalt. He was recognized by Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated as a gem hidden by a draft star.
Playing with Anthony Barr, Zumwalt may not have stood out, but Burke called him “a charged up special teams player” who can also provide depth.
Zumwalt is tall (6’4”) but lacks bulk for his height at only 235 pounds. However, he is a smart football player who does not let his lack of mass impact his ability to make hits. It’s his attitude that helps him succeed on the field, especially on special teams.
He will need to add strength at the next level, but he can do that while playing special teams. This is where rookie linebackers typically make their mark for the Steelers. He should be available in the third or fourth round.
As reported by Scott Brown of ESPN.com, Zumwalt had a predraft visit with the Steelers.
Michael Schofield, Offensive Tackle, Michigan
Offensive line may not be a priority position for the Steelers, but it is always a good idea to draft at least one lineman for depth purposes.
Taylor Lewan may get all of the attention at Michigan, but Michael Schofield is a player worth examining.
Schofield was identified as a hidden gem by Chris Burke of Sports Illustrated. Though he doesn’t believe Schofield will be an immediate starter, he believes he can contribute as a swing tackle and guard.
The Steelers can develop him for a season to take over this position from Guy Whimper. Schofield did get experience at guard at the Senior Bowl, but had 26 starts at right tackle and 10 at left guard while at Michigan.
Schofield will have trouble against speed rushers, but that is something that can be negated if he plays guard. He is worth a shot as a developmental backup lineman.
Given how many injuries the Steelers face on their offensive line, quality depth is a necessity, and Schofield can only add to it.
Brock Vereen, Safety, Minnesota
Charles Davis of NFL.com has Brock Vereen listed as one of his defensive sleepers for the 2014 draft:
Vereen, the younger brother of Patriots RB Shane Vereen, is turning heads with his athleticism. His versatility is helping his stock -- I think he’s fast enough to play corner (he ran a 4.47 40, fastest of all the safeties, at the combine) and has the frame for it at 6-0, 199. Zimmerman was not invited to combine, but he was a first-team All-Big 12 performer last season. He’s the quintessential coach’s kid -- he’s always in the right spot. He’s a good tackler and ball hawk. There’s a place in the league for guys like him who get the job done.
Besides his NFL bloodlines, Vereen has the ability to play safety or cornerback. He is a very coachable player and a great presence in the locker room. In other words, he sounds like everything that Mike Tomlin loves from his backups.
At 6’0” and 199 pounds, Vereen has the size to step up against the run while his 4.47 40 speed will allow him to match up with some of the more athletic receivers in the league.
Vereen has no immediate need to start, but could step in as a valuable role player early in his career before eventually developing into a starter and leader in the secondary.
Vereen has had a predraft visit with the Steelers, per Jason Butt of the National Football Post.
Unless otherwise noted, all stats are courtesy of ESPN.com, draft rankings are courtesy of CBS Sports, and all predraft visit information is courtesy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (subscription required). All combine results courtesy of NFL.com’s results tracker.