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NFLPA Bowl Game: Players To Watch

With the Pittsburgh Steelers’ trying season coming to a disappointing close at the hands of the Denver Broncos in the AFC Divisional Round, Sunday, the focus for Steeler Nation has turned towards free agency and the 2016 NFL Draft, which takes place April 28-30.

Fortunately, a majority of the potential NFL Draft candidates get one more shot to put their talents on display before the buildup to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, starting with the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl and the East-West Shrine Game, Jan. 23, in California State University Dominguez Hills and St. Petersburg, Fl., respectively.

Starting with the NFLPA Collegiate Bowl, we’ll take a look at some of the intriguing prospects that could be fits for the Steelers in the NFL draft and undrafted free agency.

NFLPA Collegiate Bowl — Sunday, Jan. 23, 6 p.m., ESPN2

Mike Thomas, WR, University of Southern Mississippi:  I really like Thomas, who is the lesser-known “Michael Thomas” of this draft class. He’s a very fluid, smooth wide receiver that excels after the catch in space, which is what the Steelers tend to look for in wide receivers. As a collegiate receiver, Thomas runs crisp routes, gets in and out of his breaks quickly, makes tough catches and uses his size well when high pointing the football. What I really like about Thomas is the fact that he could step in right away and helps ease the burden off of Antonio Brown in the return game.

Elandon Roberts, ILB, University of Houston:  Roberts isn’t the biggest or fastest linebacker in the class, but he’s very good against the run, packing a serious punch coming downhill.  Roberts isn’t very athletic moving laterally, but he gets the job done.  I’d like to see him work on his ball skills and awareness leading up to the draft, but he’s going to be — at worst — a productive special teams/two-down linebacker in the NFL.

Sam Carlson, OL, Colorado State University:  Carlson is a bit light for an offensive tackle in the NFL (6’4”, 295), but he has used that to his advantage, showcasing the athleticism and ability to play all over the offensive line, appearing in games at left guard, center and right tackle. Carlson reminds me a lot of Wesley Johnson due to his size and versatility. Although Mike Adams is expected back and the Steelers resigned Chris Hubbard, Carlson could be a late-round or priority undrafted free agent addition to the Steelers heading into camp.

Prince Charles Iworah, CB, Western Kentucky University:  A senior corner for the Hilltoppers who doubled as a track star at WKU, Iworah is a raw talent on the boundary. At 5’11”, 190, he has the size, speed and length to play in the NFL, but he’s certainly a developmental piece. Much like Carlson, Iworah could be a player worth a late-round flier/priority free agent pickup in a deep cornerback class.

Ian Seau, DE/OLB, University of Nevada:  The nephew of the late, great Junior Seau is a classic ‘tweener on the edge heading into the NFL. He was primarily a defensive end in the 4-3 defense run by the Wolf Pack. However, due to his size (6’3”, 250) Seau is a prime candidate to move to OLB or off-ball linebacker in the NFL. During his time at Nevada, Seau racked up 31.0 tackles for loss and 17.5 sacks in 37 starts for the Wolf Pack. He knows how to get to the QB and is very good at using his strength with good technique to wreak havoc in opposing teams’ backfield. He reminds me a lot of Anthony Chickillo coming out last year.

Jatavis Brown, LB, University of Akron:  I wrote about Brown heading into the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl against Utah State. In that game Brown racked up eight total tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and one forced fumble. He was an absolute terror defensively for the Zips, showing that he was arguably the best athlete on the field at any given time. Although I have my concerns about Brown at the next level as an LB (5’11”, 222), he could carve out a nice career as an in-the-box safety due to his speed, athleticism and agility.

J.P. Holtz, TE, University of Pittsburgh:  The Steelers should be at least relatively familiar with the former Panthers tight end since PITT and the Steelers share the same facility. Holtz is an intriguing late-round tight end prospect due to his size (6’4”, 250) and blocking ability coming from a ground-and-pound offense in Pittsburgh under former head coach Paul Chryst and current head coach Pat Narduzzi. That bodes well for Holtz at the next level as teams are looking for tight ends that can be matchup problems in the passing game while also being able to serve as an in-line blocker in the running game.

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