As we delve further into the Pittsburgh Steelers offseason, our attention has begun to shift towards the draft. Like we’ve done in the past, these reports will cover the prospects of the 2015 NFL Draft, placing an emphasis on those who could help the Steelers the most.
We will start this week off with another cornerback that figures to go somewhere in the middle rounds as Oregon State’s Steven Nelson is the subject of my newest breakdown.
#2 – Steven Nelson/CB – Oregon State – 5’10” 199 lbs.
– Strong upper body and well put together
– Uses hands well off of line
– Played both off and press coverage outside as well as in the slot
– In 2014 opposing QBs didn’t challenge him often in games
– Showed he can mirror fairly well
– Nice short-area burst moving forward
– Good route recognition
– Knows how to stay in phase and use sideline as extra defender
– Aggressive competitor
– Returned a few punts
– Lacks ideal measurables to play outside
– Not fluid when turning and running
– Penalized quite a bit for grabbing and clutching
– Doesn’t appear to have a great vertical
– Questions about long speed
– Willing tackler in run support but not consistent in that area
– Needs to work on tackling form
– Change of direction is not great
– Twice earned Pac-12 Conference honors
– Two-year starter, 25 games played in
– 122 total tackles in two seasons
– 8 career interceptions
– Born January 22, 1993
– 24 passes defensed over last two seasons
I spent a lot of time watching Nelson as I went through three full games of his from 2014 against quality competition. Rarely was he tested to his his side deep, however, so that makes it extremely hard to see how he is in coverage when thrown at. When opposing offenses would throw to his side it mostly consisted of wide receiver screens and it appears as though he does a good job of sniffing those out.
In this clip you would like to see him make a solid tackle, but regardless the play is busted thanks to his recognition.
This wasn’t a great throw by the quarterback on this screen, but Nelson read it right away and is trying to fight to the ball.
Here is yet another example of him being tested in the screen game. Again he fails to make the tackle, but the play goes for a minimal gain as help arrives.
Nelson needs to learn to become a better tackler as often times he fails to bring his feet with him. Here you will see him in off coverage against a screen and the receiver powers over him for extra yardage.
Nelson appears to mirror well off of the line in both of these clips. He breaks up the pass in the first one.
On this red zone throw he shows great technique and solid footwork. He stays in phase and forces and incompleted pass out of bounds.
Here you can see Nelson’s lack of change of direction skills as the receiver gets adequate separation on the come back. After giving up the reception you can see him also struggle to change directions and the play winds up going for a score.
While it wasn’t his man that caught the pass in this clip, you would probably like to see a better effort after the reception to make the tackle.
This was one of the few times that I saw Nelson asked to turn and run that resulted in him being tested. He passed with flying colors even though he probably should have come away with the interception.
While he won’t be considered to be a punt returner at the NFL level, he did show in college that he can handle the chore if called upon.
There is a lot to like about Nelson when you watch a large chunk of his tape and he sort of reminds you of a cross between Steelers cornerbacks William Gay and Antwon Blake. His lack of size and perceived lack of long speed will definitely make it hard for him to become anything more than a nickel corner at the next level. If he is to play outside I think he’s best suited to play off in a defense that plays a lot of zone with safety help over the top.
While Nelson is a willing and able run supporter, he does have his moments where he’s not as aggressive as you would like him to be. He needs to work on his form and learn to lower his target with his head up while bringing his feet.
At the combine, I don’t believe Nelson will set the world on fire. He might bench well, but I expect his vertical will be below average based on his tape. If he can run 4.4 or better and turn in an above average short shuttle and 3-cone time, I will go search more tape to see if I missed that on display in games.
Nelson certainly fits what the Steelers look for in a cornerback, but you would like him to be the second one drafted this year by them and not the first. Nelson will more than likely be selected somewhere between late in the third round to early in the fifth. The fourth round looks like where his exact value lies. I think he does have some upside to him and I feel good about him after watching his tape from last season.
Projection: Late 3rd to early 5th round
Games Watched: at USC, at Stanford, vs Oregon
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