I know it’s been awhile since I’ve released a mock, almost a month, and like The Walking Dead season finale, I’m sorry to make you wait. But unlike TWD (#whoisit), you don’t have to wait until November to find your answers. Though I only have roughly 40 scouting reports posted so far, I’m closing in one nearly 100 prospects watched, and feel a lot more comfortable with players than the last two installments.
I am attempting to marry the idea of picking players who fit the Pittsburgh Steelers and ones they would legitimately be interested in. It is a little different, I do like to make every mock fresh and not just recycle the same names, and it might feel a little out there, but here we go.
Round One: Shilique Calhoun/OLB Michigan State – 6’4/3 251
I’m not sure if I’ve seen Calhoun to the Steelers at 25 in any single mock. I promise I’m not doing it just for the sake of being different. I don’t have a report on him, he’s literally the last player I’ve watched, but have studied him for six games, over three seasons. That’s more work than I’ve put in on any player because I know I need to defend this.
Though I am well aware of the haggis-like pre-draft process, full of stuff that kinda makes you sick, if we believe Tony Pauline’s notes, the Steelers have OLB in play at 25 and have shown interest in Kamalei Correa. But Correa lacks length and Calhoun is a much better frame with vine-like 34 1/4 inch arms. By comparison, Correa is a toddler.
Some very smart and well-respected people think Calhoun is only a 4-3 end. I get the idea, he’s tall, high-cut, and doesn’t initially come off feeling like an outside linebacker, but his drops at the Combine were pretty good. And his agility drills were remarkable. His 4.25 short shuttle was 4th best of all potential-pass rushers (OLB and conversion players) while his 6.97 was third best. As we saw in my OLB study, I used 4.35 and 7.0 shuttle thresholds. Joey Bosa and James Cowser were the only others at the Combine to pass both.
The production is fantastic. 27 career sacks, ten last year. 44 career tackles for loss. 2013 Big Ten Defensive Linemen of the year. Three-time 2nd-Team nationally by the AP. 42 career starts. Team captain the last two years. Watched several interviews of him, check this one out for example, and he’s someone with a personable, non-stuffy, attitude with confidence that doesn’t breach into arrogance.
Played well in big games. 2.5 sacks in four bowl games. 3 TFL, 2 sacks, and a forced fumble in the Big Ten Title Game versus Iowa, a game where he just took over. A super smart pass rusher who reads the tackles set and wins in a variety of ways. Impressive punch and the ability to knock down the tackles hands to win the edge. Lower body has seemed to add muscle from 2013, as you’d expect, which was important. Strength to two-gap and hold the POA. Can move in space.
There are issues, of course. He isn’t the bendy guy you might hope to get. A little stiffer like Bud Dupree without the chart-topping measurables (though Calhoun’s are very good). Big surface area to hit and can be pushed upfield. Never played with his hand up and Haley’s Comet is more frequent than seeing Calhoun drop.
Given the need for a successful pass rush from the Steelers’ outside linebackers, something that wasn’t up to par last year, without much in the of long-term talent Dupree side, it’s a need. Cornerback is the least valuable position on the roster. I can win with Robert Golden and there are plenty of mid-round safeties to like. This edge class is bad, Calhoun won’t last to 58, and after the first round, there are only 2-3 guys intriguing enough to be on the radar.
I can’t say I’m certain if the Steelers are smitten with him. There isn’t much reported interest. But there should be.
Others Considered: William Jackson III, Reggie Ragland, Vernon Butler, Mackensie Alexander, Josh Doctson
Round Two: Jihad Ward/DE Illinois – 6’5/1 297
Long. Lean. Mean. That’s how Mike Tomlin likes ’em. Ward has an NFL Draft invite, which nearly guarantees he’s going to go in the first two rounds. Though the production was not profound, 4.5 sacks over the last two years, he was often double-teamed and wasn’t in a productive environment.
Though his times were not great, that doesn’t seem to matter to Pittsburgh, and on tape and watching him in Mobile, it’s apparent he’s an athlete. A guy who played wide receiver in high school can move. The need is obvious, and I won’t talk your ear off about why it’s important. I’ve rerun it more than the 78 straight episodes of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives Food Network shows.
But Ward is the total opposite of Guy Fieri. I actually like Ward. And no frosted tips. Everybody wins.
Others Considered: Darian Thompson, Keanu Neal, Sean Davis, Artie Burns
Round Three: Jonathan Jones/CB Auburn – 5’9/1 186
This is my dude and you all know it. The only one to appear in all three of my mock drafts, and yeah, he’s probably going to be in the rest, for the reasons I’ve said many times. Can stay in-phase. Shows a vertical. Finds the football. Competitor. Physical, big hitter. Thrived against top competition. Showed interception/turnover production. All that good stuff.
He can play outside. That’s where I’d start him. Or, if your heart is set on it, I see no reason why he can’t move to the slot, just as was the plan of Senquez Golson, who played outside at Ole Miss. Sticking with that SEC theme at corner.
Jones is someone the team plans to bring in for a visit so the interest is obvious.
Others Considered: Leonte Carroo, Connor McGovern, Yannick Ngakoue
Round Four: Deon Bush/SS Miami (FL) – 6’0/3 199
Another guy I’ve seen a good bit, three games on, but haven’t prepared an official report. One thing is clear: the dude can hit. Will straight smack you. Thinking an immediate special teams impact, and he covered punts and kicks in 2015. His visit to Pittsburgh has been confirmed. Good deal of starting experience, 32 starts, enough to think he’s a candidate, which again, his visit tells us.
Though he didn’t pick off many passes, four career interceptions, his hard-hitting ways forced a ridiculous nine career fumbles, including five in 2014. That’s the Mike Mitchell/Ryan Clark mold the team digs. Carnell Lake, as he did with Mitchell, can get this guy to play with a little more control.
Others Considered: Justin Simmons, Malcolm Mitchell, Eric Murray
Round Six: Marquez North/WR Tennessee – 6’2/4 223
North would have gone much higher than the 6th had it not been for a comical list of injuries. But he’s healthy now, participating in full at the Combine, and is one of the few receivers to nearly hit every piece of criteria outlined in my study. Just one inch shy on the vertical at the Combine, and I don’t think he performed that at his Pro Day. Still, he’s a remarkable athlete for his frame and the Steelers flock to those guys.
With Martavis Bryant’s suspension, the door for taking a wide receiver opens up. Though I don’t spend a great deal of time thinking about it, there is a very real possibility to the goes into 2017 with only Antonio Brown and Sammie Coates as its only proven receivers. Restock, reload. That’s the motto. Redshirt year for North, who can catch up on basically missing all of 2015.
Others Considered: Henry Kreiger-Coble, Stephen Weatherly, D.J. White
Round Seven: DeAndre Elliott/CB Colorado State – 6’0/7 188
The ‘ol double-dip at cornerback. As Steelers as apple pie is to America. Though the 4.55 40 was a bit off-putting, it didn’t exclude him from our list, and his other marks, 41 inch vertical, 3.94 short shuttle, 6.93 three cone, are at the top of his class. 33 career starts, seven career picks, and the team met with him at CSU’s Pro Day.
With William Gay, Ross Cockrell, Golson, Doran Grant, Jones, and now Elliott, there’s a unit you can work with. And that isn’t even counting Cortez Allen, who is a longshot and bonus if he can stick. I firmly believe given the team’s scheme, you can win with this group. And with their youth, if you hit, a group that can exist for years.
Others Considered: Ryan Smith, Trevor Davis, Ufomba Kamalu
Round Seven: Matt Skura/C Duke – 6’3/3 329
Given their school-yard flirting with Geoff Schwartz and Stefen Wisniewski, it’s obvious the Steelers aren’t content with their offensive line situation. Skura is the one dude I don’t know a ton about, but he’s played a lot of football. 40 career starts and as you’ll see in a post later this week, that is important for interior linemen. Over 2700 snaps over three years is no joke.
And yes, you know I love my studies. Skura was one of four 310+ pound guards to make our cut, given his size and length (35 1/4 arms). The Steelers were also Duke’s Pro Day. Maybe mainly for Jeremy Cash but it offered another look at Skura.
Others Considered: Mike Hilton, Blake Countess, Nick Kwiatkoski
Overall, I am happy with this draft. The unfortunate glaring need is a lack of a nose tackle. This is the time where I’ll see who read this whole thing and who immediately jumped down to the comments after not seeing Andrew Billings on this list. I still love Billings but really don’t think he’ll be there at 25. Elated if he is, but like Shaq Lawson, I’m not convinced.
I like what was done at corner, edge rusher, and defensive end. North is a bit of a risk but the situation allows it. Skura might be one of those tough hombres who is tough to cut, a la Cody Wallace.