With the Pittsburgh Steelers losing in the first round of the playoffs to their hated rivals the Baltimore Ravens, Pittsburgh fans now have only the offseason to look forward to. Free agency is usually pretty limited in the Steel City. General Manager Kevin Colbert seemingly broke away from the usual free agency lull last year and signed four free agents that were expected to come in and contribute: safety Mike Mitchell, running back LeGarrette Blount, wide receiver Lance Moore, and nose tackle/defensive end Cam Thomas.
None of the four signings worked out as hoped and Mitchell may be the only one left on the team by the time the 2015 season rolls around. Barring the signing of a young pass rusher in free agency, it’s likely the Steelers will be more reserved in free agency once again and will rely on the event that has brought them six Lombardis: the NFL Draft.
This year’s crop of young talent doesn’t look quite as deep as last year but there are still a great number of gifted prospects that would fit the Steelers well. What you can see below is the first 2015 Steelers Depot Big Board. This Big Board will include 20 prospects that look like they could be a fit in the Steelers offensive and defensive schemes.
I have only included prospects that fit the following areas of need: Outside linebacker, cornerback, tight end, safety, defensive end, guard, and tackle. I don’t see quarterback, running back, wide receiver, center, nose tackle, or inside linebacker as top areas of need and I doubt the Steelers front office will draft a player at these positions in the first three rounds. I have ranked them in order of the Steelers needs, schemes, and players talent not necessarily what round they will be drafted in. Some of these players may not be available to Pittsburgh but many thought Jarvis Jones and David DeCastro wouldn’t be available to the Steelers either. So without further ado here is the first Steelers Depot Big Board for the 2015 NFL Draft.
1) Dante Fowler Jr. – Defensive End/Outside Linebacker – Florida – 6’3″ 265 lbs. – I doubt he makes it to the Steelers but Fowler is built like a Steelers linebacker. I worry about his ability to set the edge in the run game but his pass rushing abilities are intriguing. He has violent hands and some excellent pass rush moves and counters. He looked like a player that might see his production drop when disruptive defensive tackle Dominique Easley left for the NFL but he had a solid senior campaign.
2) Alvin Dupree – Defensive End/Outside Linebacker – Kentucky – 6’4″ 270 lbs. – Dupree might be one of the best prospects in this draft capable of playing the “Elephant” role in some new hybrid looks in the Steelers defense. He’s got great length and agility. I love his violent hands. He had 24 sacks in his college career and one was one of the better pass rushers in college football in 2015. He has a great first step but like Fowler he needs to work on setting the edge. He’s comfortable with putting his hand in the dirt as well as standing up and dropping into coverage.
3) Maxx Williams – Tight End – Minnesota – 6’4″ 250 lbs. – Maxx is easily the top tight end in this class. He might be off the board before the Steelers pick because of it being such a weak tight end class. Alex Kozora wrote a full scouting report on Mad Maxx and he is quite impressive. He’s a good inline blocker, not great. He can play on the line and split out wide. Can maybe play some H back. He’s a true dual threat tight end and I actually think he’s better than the first tight end taken last year, Eric Ebron. His body control makes him a threat on the sidelines and in the red zone where the Steelers have really struggled.
4) Trae Waynes – Cornerback – Michigan State – 6-1″ 183 lbs. – This is a weak cornerback class but I think Waynes could be a good fit in Pittsburgh. Plays a lot like Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller. He’s a versatile corner that can be your #1 corner. He lacks bulk so you worry about him getting pushed around by bigger receivers. However he has great awareness and ball skills. Not the greatest run defender due to size but not afraid to stick his nose in there.
5) Quinten Rollins – Cornerback – Miami of Ohio – 6’0″ 203 lbs. – Rollins is a former basketball player with only one year of college football experience. He is extremely raw but extremely talented. Basketball background may aid him in his excellent ball skills. Not afraid to stick his nose in run support. Very physical corner for a guy not used to as much contact. Fluid athlete. He’s going to need some serious coaching at the next level. Tremendous upside.
6) Ifo Ekpre-Olomu – Cornerback – Oregon – 5-9″ 195 lbs. – He was viewed as one of the top cornerback prospects until his terrible knee injury. He lacks the height you would expect in a top-flight cornerback but he has some absolutely elite athletic skills. He has incredible agility. He’s a fluid athlete who looks more like he’s running routes with receivers than covering them. Despite the height difference he plays a lot like Darrelle Revis. I think he can be a difference maker at the next level. He’ll be hard to evaluate so fresh off of injury.
7) Shane Ray – Defensive End/Outside Linebacker – Missouri – – 6’3” 245 lbs. – Ray is a fantastic athlete with elite athleticism. He’s got crazy speed around the edge. I like his quick jab and swim move but it seems to be his calling card and the move he relies on most. Like a lot of the edge rushers in this class, if he can’t beat his man in the first couple steps he’s going to get stonewalled. He has a really high motor and he can get great bend but it’s not consistent. I haven’t seen enough of him dropping into coverage to say for sure if he can be a 3-4 OLB. He might be best suited within a 4-3 scheme being used in the same way Von Miller is.
8) Randy Gregory – Defensive End/Outside Linebacker – Nebraska – 6’6″ 240 lbs. – Long, rangy athlete plays similar to Browns outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo. Explosive first step when standing up. He can use a bevy of different pass rush moves. He’s able to get off blocks pretty effectively. He has some consistent injury concerns. His biggest weakness has to be as a run defender. He’ll chase a running back down with superior athleticism but he gets blown off the ball and run at too many times. He was a key member of the Huskers defense that got kicked in the teeth when Melvin Gordon ran roughshod for 408 yards on them. He just cannot set the edge. Tall and lanky but needs some sand in his pants to be elite.
9) Derron Smith – Safety – Fresno State – 5’11” 195 lbs. – He’s an incredible ballhawk that can cover receivers and provide solid run support in the box. He’s got great vision and awareness but he still takes poor angles. Height and weight are a concern when he’s going up against tight ends. Could provide much needed playmaking ability in the secondary.
10) P.J. Williams – Cornerback – Florida State – 6’0″ 195 lbs. – Williams has good size and an impressive resume as the defensive MVP of the 2014 BCS National Championship. Plays a lot of press-man. He has a reckless style of play which is great when he’s making hits but it causes him to overpursue and misdiagnose plays sometimes. Great athleticism and physicality. He has a tendency to not turn his head around when playing down field, which is going to get him flagged a lot at the next level.
11) Marcus Peters – Cornerback – Washington – 6’0″ 190 lbs. – If I was going off pure natural talent he might be #1. He’s a phenomenal athlete with good size. He can play press man, off man, and in zone. Short area quickness is impressive. Does well at jamming receivers at the line. Average run supporter. He is an absolute head case off the field. Disturbing report out of Seattle that he choked an assistant head coach and threw multiple violent tantrums.
12) Vic Beasley – Defensive End/Outside Linebacker – Clemson – 6’2″ 235 lbs. – Beasley is stupid fast for an outside linebacker prospect. His first step is incredibly explosive. But honestly he reminds me too much of a player already on the Steelers roster: Jarvis Jones. Beasley was moved around a lot in 2014 and some of his production was inflated as a result. He can’t shed blocks. He can get washed out in the run game due to his size. He was utilized in multiple fronts at Clemson but he’s too small to play on the line in a 4-3 front in the NFL.
13) Jalen Collins – Cornerback – LSU – 6’2″ 195 lbs. – Collins is an intriguing size/speed prospect. He’s a big corner but he doesn’t defend the run as well as he should for a guy his size. Tends to hesitate in run defense and not stick his nose in there. Hasn’t been a ball hawk. Only played two seasons at LSU so he might be more of a project than you want in a potential first rounder. He looks raw on tape.
14) Cameron Erving – Florida State – 6’5” 310 lbs. – Tackle/Guard/Center – Erving is an extremely versatile lineman with a rare combination of size and athleticism. He excelled at all three positions. Although I don’t see tackle, center or even guard as extremely high needs for the Steelers, Erving would easily be the eventual replacement for Ramon Foster and could be the ultimate swing lineman in the meantime. He does a great job of often getting to the 2nd and even 3rd level in run blocking. He needs to work on his pass protection especially against speed rushers.
15) Hau’Oli Kikaha – Defensive End/Outside Linebacker – Washington – 6’3″ 246 lbs. – He’s a mature prospect who suffered two ACL tears in 2011 and 2012 on the same knee. He’s a high motor, high work ethic kid who was a leader on the Washington defense. He gets good bend around the edge. He’s comfortable standing up or with his hand in the dirt. He’s a violent hitter, however, he’s got a bit of Mike Mitchell Syndrome where he’s looking to take his opponent’s head off but doesn’t use great form in tackling. He doesn’t have spectacular athleticism and it might limit his upside.
16) Landon Collins – Strong Safety – Alabama – 6’0″ 220 lbs. – Not sure the Steelers want to draft a strong safety with Shamarko Thomas waiting in the wings but they might not be able to pass on the talent of Collins if he’s there. He’s a splash play waiting to happen. The kid is smart, has gone up against some of the best competition in the country, and is an absolute hammer in the box. But you can’t play him at free safety and you can’t line him up on slot receivers or tight ends.
17) Eli Harold – Defensive End/Outside Linebacker – Virginia – 6’4″ 250 lbs – Harold was a 2 year starter in Charlottesville who contributed greatly to an outstanding Cavaliers defense. He was extremely productive but his game needs some refinement. He doesn’t show great flexibility when rushing and lets linemen get into his chest too easily. Despite decent height and weight his frame is small. Not sure how well he can do dropping into coverage.
18) Nick O’Leary – Tight End – Florida State – 6’3″ 247 lbs. – He’s good at a lot of things but not great at much. He has incredibly strong hands and has few drops. Makes himself a great red zone target. Looks good as an H-back and move tight end. He plays a lot like Dallas Clark. He’s a willing blocker but I don’t think he has the frame or power to be an effective inline blocker. I worry he doesn’t have much upside and what you see is what you get. He might not make the next Big Board.
19) Kevin Johnson – Cornerback – Wake Forest – 6’0″ 175 lbs. – He’s got the length you want in a premier corner but none of the bulk. He has a really slight frame and I’m not sure he really can bulk up. Despite his weight he is a banger in the run game. He flips his hips with ease. Again in spite of his weight he can jam guys in press-man. His quick acceleration makes him somewhat intriguing in press and bail coverage. He tends to get hurt underneath as he’s expecting receivers with deep speed to run the length of the field. If you could add 20 lbs. to him he’d probably be a guaranteed top 15 pick.
20) Owamagbe Odighizuwa – Defensive End/Outside Linebacker – UCLA – 6’3″ 270 lbs. – He wins the hardest name in the Draft to pronounce contest. He’s extremely strong and can be a great run defender from day one. Relentless motor but he’s not very polished as a pass rusher. It’s bull rush or nothing with him right now. He might not have the athleticism to turn into much more than a run stuffer a la Jarret Johnson. He doesn’t look like he has the agility to cover in space. He’s one of the better pure “football players” at the Senior Bowl even if he doesn’t have a ton of upside. Early reports out of Senior Bowl practices have been glowing.
Honorable mentions: Arik Armstead (DE), Tre’ Jackson (G), Arie Kouandjio (G), Markus Golden (DE/OLB), Trey Flowers (OLB), Gerod Holliman (S), T.J. Yeldon (RB), Javorious Allen (RB), Cam Thomas (S/CB), Tyler Kroft (TE), Jesse James (TE)
There is still a lot of film to watch on all of these guys and this board is fluid. We’ll be looking at posting another one post-Senior Bowl and Combine and then one final big board after all the prospect’s pro days are complete.
If there’s a prospect you think deserves to be on the board over someone else or you disagree with part of an evaluation please let us know in the comments section and let’s have some dialogue.