With the 2015 NFL Draft slightly in our review mirror, and there’s a little more time to diagnose the selections, it’s appropriate to post my final grades for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Waiting doesn’t make the grades that much more meaningful, but we’re able to think about the selections with a clearer head.
Round One: Bud Dupree/OLB Kentucky
As I’ve written about, this one was a complete surprise in the best way possible. Like Ralphie getting his Red Ryder BB Gun, it was a gift we hoped for but didn’t expect.
Dupree has some work to his game. He needs to continue to develop as a pass rusher and overcome the fact he’s probably not a natural pass rusher. He has to anchor better against the run and play to his size. Maybe he could improve his motor and effort. Point is, he isn’t a finished product.
But the upside is impossible to ignore. Dupree is a freak athlete at 270 pounds. With a great get off and a powerful tackler, it’s intriguing to think how he will thrive in a system with a true outside linebackers coach and one that will allow him to get after the quarterback more often.
His learning curve isn’t eliminated but the extensive work as a stand-up outside linebacker should ease the transition, arguably the most difficult thing for true conversion players.
Arthur Moats is a fine, no-nonsense pass rusher but there’s little question Dupree can provide more of an impact. If he’s a quick study, it’s plausible he starts cutting into the veteran’s playing time from early on.
From a short and long-term perspective, Dupree’s ceiling is high. The board simply couldn’t have broken any better in the first round.
Round Two: Senquez Golson/CB Ole Miss
His height is the main topic of conversation. But it’s not just the height that worries me. It’s the combination and lack of height, length, and vertical that puts him at a severe disadvantage on some route concepts.
Is he going to have the length and strength to play the pocket of the receiver. How well will he match up against big receivers? We already know Antwon Blake’s struggles in the red zone, allowing multiple touchdowns inside the five last year.
In the short-term, what does Golson offer over Blake? I’ve struggled to come up with that answer. Should Cortez Allen bounce back, and granted that is a big if, he might not profile as anything higher than a #4 CB in year one. And even if Allen finds himself on the bench again, you’re putting out two sub 5’10 cornerbacks in nickel packages. It’s less than ideal.
To be fair, height aside, he fits the Steelers’ scheme well. Lots of speed. Fantastic football IQ who takes good angles to the ball in the air and reads the quarterback’s eyes well in zone coverage. Physical and will support the run. All traits the team likes to associate themselves with.
It isn’t a difficult pick to understand. But still don’t love it.
Round Three: Sammie Coates/WR Auburn
If he didn’t have inconsistent hands, there’s no chance Coates would have fallen to the third. A player the team showed pre-draft interest in the former Tiger, bringing him in for a pre-draft visit, it’s no surprise they jumped on him.
On paper, Coates checks all the boxes. 6’1, 212 pounds. Ran a 4.43 at the Combine and jumped 41 inches in the vertical. He’s drawn some obvious comparisons to Martavis Bryant and those are valid. Like Bryant, Coates knew one way in college – vertically. The third rounder averaged nearly 22 yards per catch in 2014.
That doesn’t mean he’s destined to replicate Bryant’s success, who, if you remember, took nearly half the season to make an impact. But he’s on that path.
As Kevin Colbert said, Coates doesn’t have bad hands. They are obvious lapses of focus and some ugly drops. I’m sure it’s going to happen in training camp just as it did with Bryant’s roller coaster August. The difference between bad hands and Coates is he shows good technique as a catcher. Hands extended away from his body as opposed to being a body catcher.
Like Dupree, he is one of those freak athletes that is tough to pass up in the third round. And given the fact the Steelers are only three deep at wide receiver, at worst, Coates will initially serve as protection against injury.
Round Four: Doran Grant/CB Ohio St
In classic Steelers’ fashion, they double-dip at corner within the first five rounds for the third time since 2009. Grant is two inches taller than Golson but they profile the same way. Physical and a reliable tackler who sticks his nose into the pile against the run.
His inability to stay in-phase in man coverage makes him suited for the Steelers’ zone-dominant scheme.
I do wonder where his upside lies and it’s not as if we can simply trust the team’s evaluations of cornerbacks. Their recent track record is ugly.
It’s unreasonable to think he is going to get much – if any – playing time on defense his rookie year but he could be a major asset as a gunner. Cornerbacks with 4.44 speed who can hit are ideal for the position.
Round Five: Jesse James/TE Penn St
Steelers’ fans became starry-eyed over the selection. Grew up in McKeesport, went to school at Penn State. Great kid, great story.
On the field, it is difficult to get a read on him. In-line tight ends are being phased out in the college game, Rutgers’ Tyler Kroft had a similar issue, leading James to being underutilized. He left school as a true junior and similar to Stephon Tuitt, has a quite a bit of growing to do. He’ll take even more time to adjust to the rigors of the NFL than the typical rookie, physically and mentally.
While his size poses a threat downfield and there is a little bit of athleticism in his game, he isn’t going to blow by anyone. His route running needs a lot of work and it’s unlikely he’ll ever be proficient there as a separator.
But he’s tough as nails, willing to take a shot to make a catch. And an experienced blocker who will get better. His size alone makes him an asset. Could become Matt Spaeth like as a blocker while being a better receiver.
It’s time to accept the Steelers aren’t interested in finding a “move” tight end. They want a blocker first with a little bit of athleticism. They look for players who profile like James. And when the team uses 12 personnel, it’ll be nice to have a receiving threat defenses respect.
Consider year one a redshirt for James as he grows into his frame. Then he’ll stand a chance to contribute.
Round Six: L.T. Walton/DE Central Michigan
Walton was arguably the most unknown player of the Steelers’ eight selections. Player I watched as much tape as I could on and came away with a “take it or leave it” feeling. Pick wasn’t supposed to be sexy but it wasn’t inspiring, even to someone who can get on board with a quality trench player.
Thinking it over more, I have slightly changed my tune about his chances of making the 53 man roster. Given the lack of depth, the door is cracked, though the odds are better for him to land on the practice squad.
While he lacks the arm length typically desired in the position, under 33 inches, he does boast nice size at 6’4 319. His motor was one of the traits John Mitchell spoke highly of and it pops on tape.
Though he was rated highly by Pro Football Focus for his disruption, I don’t see much of a pass rusher on tape. His upside seems limited to a rotational end.
It stands to reason the team is going to reinvest in adding depth to the position next year. Are Cam Thomas, Clifton Geathers, or Ethan Hemer, ever going to develop much more? Unlikely. Which could phase out Walton before he ever gets a chance.
Round Six: Anthony Chickillo/OLB Miami (FL)
You can check out as much tape as you want. It’s still not going to tell you much about how he will transition as a 3-4 outside linebacker. Suited for a 4-3 end, he’s now going to be asked to play with his hand up. While the team is going to be smart with him and play to his strengths, it’s a huge switch. And one that doesn’t make a ton of sense.
The team likes his motor and the best hope he has early in his career is to factor on special teams. Because there isn’t much room on the roster. There are already nine linebackers who have sewn up a roster spot meaning at the absolute maximum, the team will be adding one more.
Again, where’s the upside? I struggle to find it.
Round Seven: Gerod Holliman/FS Louisville
I’ve made my thoughts pretty clear on the selection. The round doesn’t matter. A bad pick is a bad pick and there are few people in Holliman’s corner. Below average athlete who isn’t physical and has some serious effort concerns.
On the plus side, the team is getting a player who tied the FBS record for interceptions in a year. Makes sense for a Steelers’ safety group that failed to pick off a single pass in 2014, the only team in the NFL to do so. Maybe something clicks. I hope it does.
But just about any other selection would have made me happier than Holliman, a player who was off my board.
The final tally: 2 CBs, 2 OLBs, 1 WR, 1 TE, 1 DE, 1 FS
Like last year, three of the team’s selections were underclassmen (Coates, James, Holliman). Half (Golson, Grant, Coates, James) were official pre-draft visitors.
It was a hit and miss class. They took two players who were off my board, Golson and Holliman, a short list to begin with. But I was ecstatic about the Dupree pick and really like the value of Coates. Lukewarm on Grant, feel a little stronger about James. Late Day Three felt like a mess and was a bittersweet way to end the draft.
It’s going to make hitting those first three picks all the more important.
Overall Grade: B-