It’s been nearly 13 years since the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted safety Troy Polamalu in the first round of the 2003 NFL Draft and being as the team has yet to find his heir apparent, several believe they just might select another safety in round one of the 2016 NFL Draft.
In their latest mock draft, Pro Football Focus once again has the Steelers selecting USC LB/S Su’a Cravens in the first round with their 25th overall selection.
Steve Palazzolo writes of the mocked Steelers pick:
Just as was the case in the first mock, Cravens goes to Pittsburgh where the inevitable Troy Polamalu comparisons will start. Cravens played mostly linebacker at USC, often lining up over the slot or setting the edge in the running game. He’s not afraid to take on blocks, as evidenced by his +23.6 grade against the run the last two years, but he’s also shown well in coverage (+20.7) and as a pass rusher (+8.8).
Can the Steelers catch lightning in a bottle once again in the form of another first-round USC player? The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Cravens was a three-year starter at USC and is definitely a player who will play quite a bit in the second level of a defense in the NFL just as he did in college. The real question is whether or not he can play as a deep safety in addition to that.
Being as it looks like former fourth-round draft pick Shamarko Thomas has no future as an every-down safety, the Steelers need to find one who can play alongside veteran Mike Mitchell. While the prospects are good that they’ll be able to re-sign fellow Robert Golden prior to the start of the new league year, you have to wonder if he’s the long-term answer. I’m guessing he’s not.
While Polamalu did become one of the Steelers greatest defensive players of all-time, if you remember, his rookie season in Pittsburgh didn’t go very smooth.
In all of the tape that I have watched of Cravens from last season, he played almost entirely inside the box and outside the tackle. Can he also play deep as a cover-2 safety, or as single-high safety in a cover-1 or cover-3 shell? Due to his physicality and speed, does it even matter if he can’t? One thing is for certain, it’s hard to ignore Cravens’ run defense and pass grades that PFF has compiled on him over the course of the last few seasons.
I plan on studying Cravens a lot more in the coming weeks and that includes looking back at the role he played in the USC defense in previous seasons. It will also be interesting to see him compete at the upcoming combine. Is he a slam-dunk first-round prospect? PFF certainly seems to think so.
ETA: 2013 interceptions as safety