Analyzing Pittsburgh Steelers' Pre-Draft Visits
Up to 30 non-local prospects were brought to Pittsburgh as the team gathered their last bits of information in preparation for the draft. This year was no exception, as players rated anywhere from top-15 prospects to those that could potentially go undrafted took a trip to the Steelers’ facilities.
Based on recent history, these visits are very indicative of the players that the Steelers will draft. Dating back to 2010, they have selected 17 players with pre-draft visits. This list includes two first-round selections (Maurkice Pouncey and Jarvis Jones) and three second-round picks (Marcus Gilbert, Mike Adams and Le’Veon Bell).
Last year, Jones, Bell, Shamarko Thomas, Landry Jones, Justin Brown and Vince Williams all were in Pittsburgh prior to the draft. That represents over 66 percent of last year’s draft class.
Will the Steelers continue this trend? We will soon find out once the NFL draft kicks off Thursday night. Until then, here is a position-by-position preview of all of the reported pre-draft visits for the Steelers.
Note: All prospect meetings information is courtesy of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (subscription required), WalterFootball.com and Behind the Steel Curtain. All NFL Scouting Combine results are courtesy of NFL.com.
There should be little surprise that the Steelers did not have any quarterbacks visit this season. They have three quarterbacks signed through at least the 2015 season.
Ben Roethlisberger could be in line for a contract extension, and if he does sign, it could be for a long time. He told Alan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that he’d like to play until he approaches 40.
Besides Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski has two years left on his deal, and Landry Jones is just entering his second season after being drafted in the fourth round in 2013.
Pittsburgh’s backfield looks set at the top with Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount. These guys provide the Steelers with a solid one-two punch that will be able to carry the load. However, the Steelers are in need of a third-string back that can provide an element of speed to the mix.
The Steelers have expressed interest in a number of running backs, including Andre Williams and Ka’Deem Carey, but only Lache Seastrunk and Jerick McKinnon came in for a visit.
Seastrunk has good speed (4.51 40 yard-dash time) that he uses to get outside and break away from defenders. Despite this, he may struggle running laterally against the fast defenders he will face in the NFL.
His athleticism will be a draw for the Steelers considering they already have two big backs on the roster. He would provide a nice complement to what they already have in the backfield.
If the Steelers don’t think Seastrunk is fast enough, McKinnon would certainly meet the qualifications. He ran the 40-yard dash at the combine in 4.41 seconds and would fit in perfectly as a change-of-pace back.
However, he is not very polished at this point coming from a read-option offense and would need to develop as a pro-style back. With his physical tools, he would certainly be worth a look on the third day of the draft.
Rob Blanchflower was the lone tight end to visit the Steelers. This is not particularly surprising with Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth returning in 2014. They feel comfortable with this duo, and selecting a tight end early in the draft would be a luxury.
Blanchflower has not been an overly productive receiver with only 1,164 receiving yards over his college career. His best season came in 2012 when he caught 43 passes for 464 yards.
Though he may not offer much as a receiver, the 6’5” and 256-pound UMass product is a willing blocker and would compete for the No. 3 role on the depth chart.
Pittsburgh’s receiver corps was decimated this offseason with the loss of Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery to free agency. To replace them, the Steelers signed Lance Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey.
That leaves them with a need at receiver, and there is a strong possibility that one of them will be selected on one of the first two days of the draft.
Odell Beckham Jr., Allen Robinson and Kelvin Benjamin are all receivers that the Steelers expressed interested in, but none were brought in for pre-draft visits. Donte Moncrief, Martavis Bryant, Bruce Ellington, John Brown and Quincy Enunwa all had private meetings in Pittsburgh.
In the search for a No. 1 or 2 receiver, that Steelers will need to invest a top-three selection. Moncrief and Bryant have the size and speed to become a top target, but they will need to develop.
At 6’2” and 221 pounds, Moncrief has excellent size, which is only matched by his 4.40 speed. He has the ability to immediately step in as a deep threat for the Steelers. Last season, he averaged 15.9 yards on 59 receptions and scored six touchdowns.
According to Ryan McCrystal of Bleacher Report, Moncrief can succeed in the NFL, but he has plenty of room to develop.
To excel at the next level, Moncrief needs to embrace his size and focus on developing the fundamentals of running routes as a possession receiver and putting himself in position to make contested catches. All of his flaws are fixable, so his ceiling is reasonably high, but he shouldn't be viewed as a strong candidate to make an immediate impact.
Bryant is a relatively raw receiver at this point, but his physical traits are top-notch. He is 6’4” and 211 pounds and can fly on the field with a 40 time of 4.42 seconds. Pure physical skills will not be enough to make it in the NFL, so he will have to develop as a route-runner.
Bruce Ellington is a compact receiver at just 5’9”, but he has good bulk (197 pounds) and has potential to be a very good slot receiver.
Brown and Enunwa are both late-round developmental options who could be selected in the seventh round or brought in as undrafted free agents.
Tackle does not appear to be a high priority for the Steelers with three capable bodies (Kelvin Beachum, Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams) already on the roster.
In fact, Kevin Colbert recently told reporters that he is “glad Mike Adams is a Steeler,” via F. Dale Lolley of the Observer-Reporter.
That does not mean that the Steelers will pass on a tackle—or any other lineman—if they believe there is good value in the draft.
Head coach Mike Tomlin and offensive line coach Mike Munchak attended Michigan’s pro day, where first-round prospect Taylor Lewan and late-round prospect Michael Schofield worked out. Presumably, they were there to gather data on both players, but Lewan is particularly interesting as he could be a franchise left tackle.
Besides these players, Seantrel Henderson and Lawrence Martin had private visits in Pittsburgh.
Henderson has a massive frame (6’7” and 331 pounds) and could be a dominant right tackle if he lives up to his potential. Not only is he big and strong, but he can be good on his feet. Despite his potential, he's a risk, especially after failing his drug test at the combine, per ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
The lack of interest in linemen isn’t particularly surprising. The Steelers have invested two first-round and two second-round picks and a seventh-round selection on linemen in recent years. If nothing else, they will look to upgrade their depth at the position.
Lawrence Martin is a potential target after the draft.
Aaron Donald is one of the most talented players in the draft, and he also happens to be a local product playing college football at Pitt. But despite playing at the same facilities as the Steelers, Donald is an unlikely selection.
Unlike some of the other top prospects in the draft, Donald isn’t a scheme fit. He doesn’t have the size to effectively be a space-eater at nose tackle or play the 5-technique defensive end for the Steelers.
Pittsburgh struggled against the run last season, and a part of that could be attributed to Steve McLendon. He isn’t a true anchor on the line of scrimmage, and the Steelers may look to upgrade the position.
Cam Heyward recently said that the nose tackles should be prepared to play in sub packages, as reported by Scott Brown of ESPN.com.
It should be worth noting that Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert both attended Notre Dame’s pro day, where they were able to watch Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt.
Tuitt also came to Pittsburgh for a pre-draft visit. He has the ideal frame to play defensive end in Pittsburgh’s 3-4 defense. At 6’5” and 304 pounds, he has the size and power to defend against the run yet the athleticism to rush the quarterback from the end or interior.
Here is what Rob Rang of CBS Sports had to say about Tuitt’s upside:
Tantalizing upside. Highly athletic frame despite massive size. Impressive combination of length, power and surprising quickness. Scheme versatility for the 3-4 and 4-3, possessing the size of most interior linemen while maintaining the quickness to provide a rush off the edge.
The problem with Tuitt is his consistency. After looking like a surefire first-round pick in 2012, his play fell off last season.
Ra’Shede Hageman is another prospect with starting potential early in his career. He actually may have more upside than Tuitt.
The 6’6” and 310-pound defensive lineman is versatile, with the ability to play inside or outside on the line. He can explode off the ball and collapse the pocket but does have motor issues. Like Tuitt, Hageman’s issues with consistency may push him into the second round.
As it stands now, Pittsburgh has an opening at defensive end, and either player could contribute very early as a rotational player before earning a job in the starting lineup.
Beau Allen, a 6’3” and 333-pound defensive lineman, has the look of an option after the draft.
Linebacker is one of the thinnest spots on the Steelers roster heading into the 2014 season. The Steelers lack a legitimate second starter on the inside next to Lawrence Timmons, and there is virtually no depth behind Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones on the outside.
While Arthur Moats helped the cause, the Steelers need to continue to add depth to the position and find a potential starter on the inside to take over for Vince Williams.
Anthony Barr is one of the top-rated prospects that the Steelers have met with, and he could be in play for them in the first round. He has the upside to be a terrific pass-rusher, but like any rookie outside linebacker, he would have to develop dropping into coverage.
The problem with Barr is that the Steelers just spent a first-round pick on Jones last season and have a lot of money invested in Worilds after he signed his transition tag.
Instead, they could wait until the second round where Scott Crichton and Demarcus Lawrence could be available. Both players are ranked as top-five defensive ends by CBS Sports, but they will have the make the conversion to outside linebacker.
At 6’3” and 273 pounds, Crichton would have to drop some weight to play from the stand-up position. However, this size will serve him well when defending against the run and matching up against some of the larger tackles in the league.
Lawrence has potential to be an explosive pass-rusher off of the edge and has been terrific at making plays behind the line of scrimmage. In 2013, he had 20.5 tackles for a loss and 10.5 sacks.
Ryan Shazier is an intriguing prospect who could potentially play the outside or inside for the Steelers. He is 6’1” , 237 pounds—and he can move. His 6.91 seconds in the three-cone drill was one of the top times among all linebackers.
Beyond examining some of the top linebacker prospects in the draft, the Steelers also visited with Carl Bradford, Jackson Jeffcoat, Jordan Zumwalt, Kevin Pierre-Louis and Glen Stanley.
It is evident by the quantity of outside linebacker prospects that the Steelers are looking to add depth at some point during the draft.
It is no secret that the Steelers are interested in adding a starting-caliber cornerback in the draft. At this point, it is just a matter of which one.
They had visits with every top cornerback with the exception of Justin Gilbert.
Darqueze Dennard is arguably the top cornerback in the draft and should be an immediate contributor. He has the potential to be a shutdown cornerback whose physical style of play could cause fits for receivers that do not like contact.
Kyle Fuller can play press-man coverage as well as zone and is willing to step up against the run. He may be the best pure scheme fit for the Steelers out of any cornerback in the draft. Here is what Dane Bugler of CBS Sports had to say about Fuller:
The game appears to come very natural to him, watching the eyes and moves of the WR to react accordingly and break on routes to get his hands on the ball. Fuller is a string bean with limited room to get much stronger, but he plays bigger than he looks with the confidence and instincts to make plays wherever he lines up.
Jason Verrett may be the best pure cover corner in the draft, but his lack of height (5’9”) may prevent him from being a true No. 1 cornerback.
One viable option may be off the draft board, as Bradley Roby recently pled guilty to "physical control of a motor vehicle while under the influence of drugs or alcohol," per Austin Ward of ESPN.com. He has tremendous athletic tools but needs to be developed after he struggled last season.
Given their lack of depth at the position, the Steelers may look to select two cornerbacks throughout the draft, so it is no surprise that they visited with options that could be drafted outside of the first round.
These players included Phillip Gaines, Ross Cockrell, Shaquille Richardson and Jemea Thomas.
Cockrell is an interesting late-round prospect with a combination of size and speed. He can play a physical game and has the football smarts to contribute early in sub packages.
After signing Mike Mitchell in the offseason, the Steelers appeared to have solidified the safety position. That did not stop them from visiting with a number of talented prospects.
Calvin Pryor and Deone Bucannon represent two of the top safeties in the draft.
Pryor is a physical safety who plays very well near the line of scrimmage. He is a physical hitter and potential playmaker in the secondary. However, he will have to get better in deep coverage.
Bucannon is another hard-hitting prospect but with better size at 6’1.” Despite his size and physical nature, he can be overaggressive and, as a result, may give up the big play.
Given all that has been invested in the safety position with Mitchell and last year’s third-round pick—Shamarko Thomas—the Steelers may decide to wait until later.
Brock Vereen and Nick Williams are two late-round prospects who will be considered.
Vereen is an ideal candidate given his ability to play safety as well as in the slot. He has a very high football IQ and is a leader on the field. At worst, he would be a quality addition to the special teams as a rookie and has the upside as a solid starter.
Round-by-Round Analysis of Prospect Visits
Here is a round-by-round breakdown of the Steelers draft board, according to Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller’s final Big Board.
11. Aaron Donald, DL, Pitt
14. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA
17. Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, LSU
18. Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
20. Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
23. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
29. Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville
32. Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State
37. Ryan Shazier, OLB, Ohio State
41. Demarcus Lawrence, OLB, Boise State
44. Ra’Shede Hageman, DL, Minnesota
55. Scott Crichton, OLB, Oregon State
56. Donte Moncrief, WR, Mississippi
63. Phillip Gaines, CB, Rice
67. Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson
69. Deone Bucannon, S, Washington State
76. Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina
77. Jackson Jeffcoat, OLB, Texas
87. Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
90. Carl Bradford, OLB, Arizona State
92. Kevin Pierre-Louis, ILB, Boston College
111. Brock Vereen, S, Minnesota
113. Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor
130. Seantrel Henderson, OT, Miami
140. Jerick McKinnon, RB, Georgia Southern
148. Ross Cockrell, CB, Duke
175. Jordan Zumwalt, OLB, UCLA
185. John Brown, WR, Pittsburgh State
272. Jemea Thomas, DB, Georgia Tech
316. Rob Blanchflower, TE, Massachusetts
353. Shaquille Richardson, CB, Arizona
356. Beau Allen, NT, Wisconsin
365. Quincy Enunwa, WR, Nebraska
Unranked Glen Stanley, LB, Albany State
Unranked Lawrence Martin, G, South Florida
Players in this mock were selected based on Matt Miller’s Final Seven-round mock draft. What this means is that since Justin Gilbert was selected 10th overall by the Detroit Lions, he was not available for my pick in the first round.
In addition to using the draft board, I also consider which players the Steelers brought in for pre-draft visits.
(Note: A * indicates that the prospect was brought in for a pre-draft visit.)
1. (15): *Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State
The pick came down to Darqueze Dennard or Odell Beckham Jr. As much of a weapon that Beckham would be for the offense, the Steelers can find a quality receiver late in the draft. Dennard has potential to be a top cover cornerback and will step up against the run. He may not start as a rookie but will see time on passing downs and should start by his second season.
Alternates: Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU; Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech
2. (46): Louis Nix, NT, Notre Dame
As tempting as Kelvin Benjamin was at this point, the nose tackle position is too important to the defense. Louis Nix should be an anchor in the middle and will help make all of the players around him better. His presence will help solidify the run defense, and he will occupy blockers to free up space for the linebackers to rush the quarterback.
Alternates: Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State; Scott Crichton, OLB, Oregon State
3. (97): *Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame
Back-to-back members of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish will quickly help rebuild Pittsburgh’s defense line. Stephon Tuitt has potential to be a dominant player as a 5-technique defensive end. He will help form a powerful duo with Cameron Heyward and should be considered a steal at this point of the draft.
Alternates: Carl Bradford, OLB, Arizona State; Jerick McKinnon, RB, Georgia Southern
4. (118): Jared Abbrederis, WR, Wisconsin
Jared Abbrederis is a tough, productive receiver who could develop into a No. 2 or 3 receiver in Pittsburgh’s offense. He doesn’t have great speed, but his football smarts and route-running ability make him a worthwhile prospect.
Alternates: Ka’Deem Carey, RB, Arizona; Dri Archer, WR, Kent State
5. (157): De’Anthony Thomas
The Steelers need a change-of-pace running back, and De’Anthony Thomas is exactly that. He was an electric playmaker in college, and the Steelers would look for him to fill that role in the NFL. Not only could he contribute as a running back, but he could also aid in the return game and line up in the slot as a receiver.
Alternates: Justin Ellis, NT, Louisiana Tech; Arthur Lynch, TE, Georgia
5. (173): *Ross Cockrell, CB, Duke
Ross Cockrell should excel on special teams as a rookie and will give the Steelers a legitimate late-round developmental option at cornerback. He could develop into a nickel cornerback as soon as his second season.
Alternates: Jordan Zumwalt, LB, UCLA; Shaquil Barrett, OLB, Colorado State
6. (192): *John Brown, WR, Pittsburgh St.
John Brown is a speedy receiver from a small school. His ceiling is a slot receiver in the NFL, and he can also contribute on special teams.
Alternates: Taylor Hart, DE, Oregon; Brent Urban, DE, Virginia
6. (215): Michael Schofield, OL, Michigan
I always look to add at least one offensive lineman per draft. Michigan has a history of producing quality lineman, and Michael Schofield will come to the NFL with the ability to play guard or tackle.
Alternates: Vinnie Sunseri, S, Alabama; A.C. Leonard, TE, Tennessee State
7. (230): *Rob Blanchflower, TE, Massachusetts
Tight end isn’t a need, but given the depth issues at this position last year, it is time to look for a potential backup for Heath Miller—even if he is only a blocker.
Alternates: Glen Stanley, LB, Albany State; Beau Allen, NT, Wisconsin