Pittsburgh Steelers

Report Card Grades for the Steelers' Undrafted Free Agent Signings

Curt PopejoyContributor IMay 14, 2014

Report Card Grades for the Steelers' Undrafted Free Agent Signings

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    Nell Redmond/Associated Press

    Now that the 2014 NFL draft is done, it's time for a little reflection. Not on the players chosen, but on those signed after as undrafted free agents. It is an interesting dynamic that takes place after the draft. 

    The NFL draft is a process where the staff of each franchise choose the players they think can help them win. By contrast, the undrafted free-agent signing period completely flips the script. Now it is the prospects that get to pick their team. Priority free agents field calls from teams and pick which they want to sign with.

    Pittsburgh went out and signed a total of nine free agents after the draft. This number might seem low in comparison to other teams, but a team can only sign enough to fill their roster. Teams with fewer players under contract sign more undrafted free agents. Here's the breakdown of the rookies Pittsburgh are bringing in:


    Chris Elkins, G, Youngstown State

    Ethan Hemer, DE, Wisconsin

    Kaycee Ike, OT, UAB

    Howard Jones, LB, Shepherd

    Brendon Kay, QB, Cincinnati

    Josh Mauro, DE, Stanford

    Roy Philon, DT, Louisville

    Will Simmons, G, East Carolina

    Eric Waters, TE, Missouri


    After having a chance to break these players down more closely, it is time to project a little more about their future with this team and give them a grade.

Chris Elkins, G, Youngstown State

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    Phelan M. Ebenhack/Associated Press

    Guard Chris Elkins is a local player from Youngstown State. He's a squatty athlete with short arms but nice punch. More athletic than powerful, his game is more about being quick and effective than mauling.

    If Pittsburgh is committed to a zone-blocking scheme, Elkins could find a spot on the practice squad while he learns the nuances of playing guard or center in the NFL. He also needs to get into a weight room and improve his strength, especially considering the number of 3-4 teams he could face.

    Grade: C+

Ethan Hemer, DE, Wisconsin

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    Ross D. Franklin/Associated Press

    Wisconsin defensive end Ethan Hemer is one of the top free agents the Steelers signed. You have to go back to 2012 to see the best of Hemer's film, but it is there. The biggest difference between 2012 and 2013 for Hemer seemed to be his size. He was noticeably smaller in 2013, which hurt his functional strength. 

    Hemer is a natural 5-technique end, but he will need to get stronger if he wants to find himself on a roster at any point. It is a long shot that Hemer will make the final roster, but he could get a spot on the practice squad. 

    Grade: B

Kaycee Ike, OT, UAB

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    Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

    The Steelers understand that they need to be sure they have given themselves all they can do to bolster their offensive line. Last season was a nightmare for the first eight games with injuries. UAB's Kaycee Ike is nice tackle prospect with some upside.

    His road to the roster will be steep, but he is another nice signing after the draft, because his potential is as high as any offensive lineman taken in the last two rounds.

    Grade: C+

Howard Jones, LB, Shepherd

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    Larry N.Souders/Associated Press

    Shepherd outside linebacker Howard Jones is a fascinating prospect. Going into the scouting combine, he was a relative unknown. However, his performance in Indy was good enough that it started sending teams back to the film.

    What they saw was a player with an explosive first step and NFL-quality quicks. They also saw a player who wasn't polished or as productive as his measurables would indicate.

    Jones certainly has the physical gifts to warrant becoming a developmental player. He's one that is easy to root for, as pass-rushing outside linebackers are always in demand.

    Grade: B+

Brendon Kay, QB, Cincinnati

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    Chuck Burton/Associated Press

    There's no excuse for every team in the NFL to pass on a quarterback in each draft. The financial backlash is minimal, and if you are able to find the best great sleeper quarterback, your franchise is made.

    Pittsburgh did not draft a quarterback, but they did sign Cincinnati quarterback Brendon Kay. On film, you see Kay is a tremendous athlete. He used his legs as much as his arm at Cincinnati, and he showed nice running ability. 

    Kay is an interesting fit for the Steelers, but it's hard to think he'll win a spot on the quarterback depth chart. His best bet could be that Landry Jones outplays Bruce Gradkowski to a point where he is released. Then Key could assume that third quarterback role. 

    Grade: B-

Josh Mauro, DE, Stanford

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    If there is a player on this list with the best chance to make the team, it is Stanford defensive end Josh Mauro. There's really no reason Mauro wasn't drafted, and he has the talent to be a solid pro.

    Mauro is experienced and has shown growth over the course of his college career. Mauro only weighs 271 pounds, but he has a long, lean frame that can hold another 15 or 20 pounds with ease. 

    Mauro is a smart player, and as a natural 5-technique defensive end, he is a perfect fit for the Steelers. He understands leverage and how to win off the snap. This was a great signing for the Steelers, as they are working hard to sort out their defensive line problems.

    Grade: A

Roy Philon, DL, Louisville

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Louisville defensive lineman Roy Philon is an interesting prospect, because even with a very good 2013 season, he was passed over by the entire league. Philon has good quicks off the snap, and plays with good power. Philon showed a nice gift at getting into the backfield in 2013, netting 12 tackles for loss. 

    On the Steelers, Philon's ultimate goal could be to beef way up and play nose tackle. However, ultimately Philon looks and feels more like a one-gap, 4-3 defensive tackle. It's hard to know, going over his games, what the plan is for him from a Steelers standpoint. 

    Grade: C-

Will Simmons, G, East Carolina

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Will Simmons might be the best offensive lineman that the Steelers signed as an undrafted free agent. Simmons has tremendous size and length, and he moves pretty well for a man his size.

    His body type means he could play guard or tackle in the NFL. This is especially valuable on the Steelers’ roster. The more players who can play multiple positions, the better off Pittsburgh is.

    Simmons is another player who could have easily been drafted in the final two rounds. He is a great scheme fit for the Steelers and a sleeper talent. Don’t be surprised if Simmons bumps a player like Guy Whimper to make the final roster. 

    Grade: B+

Eric Waters, TE, Missouri

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    Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

    It is interesting that the Steelers spent a seventh-round pick on a tight end in Rob Blanchflower and then signed Eric Waters as an undrafted free agent. Whereas Blanchflower is very much a typical Steelers tight end, Waters is not.

    Blanchflower is a big, physical kid with limited athleticism. Waters, on the other hand, is more like a big wide receiver with a long, lean frame. To compare, Waters is nearly identical in size to Kelvin Benjamin. However, he is faster and has a better vertical jump.

    The rub is, Pittsburgh has almost no film on Waters. He’s been unable to put together anything during his time at Missouri.

    Pittsburgh is rolling the dice that he can show the football acumen to match his athleticism. The current crop of tight ends is pretty average, so Waters should have every opportunity to win a roster spot. 

    Grade: B+

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