NFL Draft

Steelers Big Board: Who To Pick At #49

This is the first of two articles that have me very excited, because they begin the process of really digging in to how the distribution of available talent will influence the Pittsburgh Steelers’ draft picks. This is one of the special things a Big Board lets us do that player lists and scouting reports do not – we can turn the draft around and view it from various angles. “Who will be there to choose” is one of the best.

Over the years I have learned to divide draft talent of any given year into six rough tiers, always remembering that those groupings will bleed into each other toward the edges. The Steelers will be targeting what I call the Late-1st Tier, which translates to those players who’d be considered fringe-1st prospects in that mythical thing called an “average year.” The first group is by far the smallest:

“Colbert Specials”. These are the rare players with obvious HOF potential who just stand out as different. Every class has a few. I can remember no class with less than four nor as many as ten. In 2020 the undoubted members of this club include:

Top-Tier “Colbert Specials”

O-LINE QUARTERBACK TIGHT END RUNNING BACK WIDE RECEIVER
Joe Burrow, LSU
D-LINE EDGE LINEBACKER SAFETY CORNERBACK
Chase Young, Ohio St. Isaiah Simmons, Clemson Jeffrey Okudah, Ohio St.

 

There should be no dispute about any of those, especially for Steelers fans who will be at least 40 picks too late. The only doubts will come from who I left out. Read on.

Mid-1st Tier. The best of these have good claims to Colbert Special status but do not make it because real experts have found nits to pick. Consider, e.g., the concerns over Tagovailoa’s durability. The rest of the group are those prospects who’d be newsworthy shocks if they fell out of Round 1. These are the Top 5-20(?) of a typical draft class.

NOTE: The Big Board entries at the end of this piece use Steeler specific grades. For the body of this article series I am trying to get at an all-teams grade based on my understanding of the consensus opinion. I have a well founded opinion on that consensus, but it should not be taken as a criticism if you have assigned a different grade based on direct film study. You are one of the people who go into the average; it is not a standard that you get measured against.

2020 Prospects with Solid-1st Grades

O-LINE QUARTERBACK TIGHT END RUNNING BACK WIDE RECEIVER
T/G Mekhi Becton, Louisville Justin Herbert, Oregon  —  — Jerry Jeudy, Alabama
T/G Andrew Thomas, Georgia Tua Tagovaiola, Alabama  —  — CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma
T/G Jedrick Wills, Alabama  —  —  — Henry Ruggs III, Alabama
T/G Tristan Wirfs, Iowa  —  —  — Laviska Shenault Jr., Colorado
Justin Jefferson, LSU
D-LINE EDGE LINEBACKER SAFETY CORNER
Derrick Brown, Auburn K’Lavon Chaisson, LSU Kenneth Murray, Oklahoma Grant Delpit, LSU Kristian Fulton, LSU
Javon Kinlaw, S. Carolina A.J. Epenesa, Iowa Patrick Queen, LSU Xavier McKinney, Alabama A.J. Terrell, Clemson
 — Yetur Gross-Matos, Penn St.  —  —  —

 

Up above I described how the edges blur at the top of this group, but it should be noted that this happens toward the bottom as well. I would like personally drop Edge Rushers Epenesa and Gross-Matos, and possibly ILB Patrick Queen, to the to fringe-1st group because they seem a little less complete than I’d like. They stay here nevertheless because those groups are so thin in 2020, and the demand is so high, that I can’t see them falling down to where they might belong in in some other year. You should also remember that I rarely scout these players myself, and instead try to collate the opinions from every possible Internet and media source, along with what comes out in discussions with you all. My personal opinions don’t enter into the equation as much as you’d think. Speaking of which, WR Laviska Shenault Jr. and SAF Grant Delpit have both been getting negative buzz that might justify moving them to the late-1st group. Please drop a comment if you have informed thoughts on the matter.

That is a pretty hefty number of players for this tier, but not stunning. There should be around 15-20 names on average, and this year there are 22. It is important because that leaves only six open spots for the rest of Round 1, and this year’s class of late-1st talents is enormous. That is why Pittsburgh is almost certain to do well in the middle of Round 2.

Fringe-1st Tier. Top 20-40 talent. These are the players that have realistic hopes of getting picked in Round 1 if things fall right. Often called late or fringe-1st prospects, many of them inevitably fall to Round 2 every year because the talent distribution and team needs do not match up in their favor.

NOTE: The following list includes everyone I put in the late-1st tier. Down below I will limit this to the players with a reasonable chance of being available when the Steelers pick at #49:

2020 Prospects with Late-1st Grades

O-LINE QUARTERBACK TIGHT END RUNNING BACK WIDE RECEIVER
C/G Lloyd Cushenberry III, LSU Jordan Love, Utah St. Cam Akers, Florida St. Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona St.
C/G Cesar Ruiz, Michigan  —  — J.K. Dobbins, Ohio St. K.J. Hamler, Penn St.
OT Ezra Cleveland, Boise St.  —  — Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU Tee Higgins, Clemson
OT Austin Jackson, USC  —  — D’Andre Swift, Georgia Denzel Mims, Baylor
T/G Josh Jones, Houston  —  — Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin Jalen Reagor, TCU
T/G Lucas Niang, TCU  —  —  —
OT Prince Tega Wanogho, Auburn  —  —  —  —
T/G Isaiah Wilson, Georgia  —  —  —  —
D-LINE EDGE LINEBACKER SAFETY CORNER
Ross Blacklock, TCU Zack Baun, Wisconsin  — Ashtyn Davis, California Trevon Diggs, Alabama
Marlon Davidson, Auburn Terrell Lewis, Alabama  — Antoine Winfield Jr., Minn. Jeff Gladney, TCU
Raekwon Davis, Alabama Julian Okwara, Notre Dame  —  — C.J. Henderson, Florida
Neville Gallimore, Oklahoma  —  —  — Noah Igbinoghene, Auburn

 

32 players with late-1st grades? After a thick band of 22 with elite and solid-1st grades? A total of 54 players with a legitimate chance to go in the top 32?! That’s one hell of strong class at the top of the draft! But the spiky distribution may be even more noteworthy than the overall numbers. That Top-53 includes:

  • 10 Wide Receivers;
  • 12 Offensive Linemen;
  • 6 Defensive Linemen;
  • 7 Corners; and
  • 5 Running Backs.

38 out of 54 players (70%) at just five of the ten position groups is a bit out of whack – but that tight cluster of RB’s is even stranger.

Five Round 1 talents is a very solid, though not unheard of number; but when it happens they’re supposed to be scattered among all three tiers: the Colbert Specials, the Mid-1sts, and the Late-1sts. It’s remarkable to see all five names clustered in a single one of those tiers, especially with only one broadly accepted prospect in the Round 2 group (Zack Moss), and one more with the Round 3’s (Eno Benjamin). What can you say about a RB distribution across the first five tiers that looks like this: 0-0-5-1-1? Yes, there are a liquid ton of prospects with very solid Round 4 & 5 grades, but still. Note that this view of the RB class seems to be a pretty universal sentiment with only a few names ever getting mentioned as competition for Moss and Benjamin, only Moss ever getting named in company with the Big 5, and Moss often falling down to a Round 3 grade. His grade varies more in the eye of the beholder than anyone else’s.

Round 2 Tier. Top 50-75 talent. I always want to round up to 100 here, but there are numerous studies showing that hit rates on draft picks drop significantly after Round 2. That equates to only 64 picks of course, but I expand that on both sides to account for weaker versus stronger classes.

Round 3 Tier. Top 100 talent. Somewhere around 75% of all the starters in the NFL are picked in the first three rounds. 3rd rounders are well behind 2nd rounders, but things do not level off in a typical draft until Round 4; i.e., after Pick # 100 or so on a broad average.

The tables with these names will have to wait for a follow-up article, but I can say that this is the point where the law of averages begins to catch up with this class. There are only a moderate number in each group, and the distribution begins to even out. There are clusters of talent at Edge, Safety, and Defensive Line, along with continued strength at Corner, Offensive Line (getting into the Guards), and Wide Receiver. The class may offer an overabundance of 1st and fringe-1st grades, but I don’t see more than 110-120 young men in all who would deserve Top-100 grades in an average year. Things come back to earth as you get into Day 3.

If you do a lot of mock drafts you’ll have noticed the drop off between Pick #102 and the pair of picks in Round 4 (#’s 124 and 135). There is usually a bargain to be had at 3:comp, but just 20 picks later things start to get very tight and the best options tend to be a Guard, a WR, or a random bargain; and even those picks tend to leave you lukewarm except the WR’s and maybe the Guards.

Day 3 Tier. Prospects who go in Rounds 4-7 because of lower boom potential, greater bust potential, or longer learning curves than those in the earlier rounds. The risk/reward/delay issues slowly get worse as you proceed down the draft.

Round 2 Targets – why I believe it will be a pick for the offense

The Steelers, a team with no real holes in the starting lineup, have an obvious path to take in the 2020 draft. At #49 they will hope to grab a Late-1st talent, which should be possible because the numbers are so unusually high. At #102 the team will look for solid value in the form of a Round 3 talent, with small odds of getting a Round-2 bargain talent; a bargain that would be much more likely in one of the densely populated positions.

I am on record as favoring a pick on the offensive side of the ball at #49, mainly from a sense of team justice. The Round 1 and Round 3 picks have already gone toward the defense (Fitzpatrick and Bush, yippee!), so I want to balance the scales by going offense in Round 2. Kevin Colbert routinely emphasizes his desire to be evenhanded in this way; I believe him; and thus offense gets a mental finger on the scale.

It’s tempting to earn rhetoric points by making a “higher needs” argument, but I don’t think that’s entirely fair. The Steelers could play a game tomorrow with no real holes on the starting roster; which means the team only has “wants”, not “needs.” OTOH, it is a little fair if you focus on a long term perspective. A really good offensive pick at RB, OL, or WR could find himself being a starter in 2021 or 2022, while an equally talented defensive prospect could easily be limited to sub package and depth duties throughout his rookie contract. The only exception I can imagine would be a 3-down Buck ILB good enough to be a ‘Vince Williams who can cover,’ and it would take a lot of luck to see one of those fall to either #49 or #102.

But the real reason I’m so confident in an offensive pick isn’t about my concepts of fairness or shadings on the need scale; it comes down to the distribution of late-1st talent across the different positions. Let’s get back to the actual names. I remind everyone that none of these players “should” fall all the way to #49. On average they would all be picked in the Top 40, and most of them will be. But not all. Not this year.

Round 2 Targets – the list of names

Remember that we have 25 players listed with elite or solid-1st grades, leaving only 14 empty spots to be filled before the Steelers go on the clock at #49. How many of the late-1st prospects are virtual locks to go in those 14? There are only six I would include:

  • QB Jordan Love
  • RB D’Andre Swift
  • WR Justin Jefferson
  • WR Denzel Mims
  • CB Jeff Gladney; and
  • CB C.J. Henderson.

That leaves the following prospects who could realistically be available at #49. Subtract the eight you believe are most likely to get picked, add a few back in to account for lower-ranked players that teams (apparently) reached for, and you’ll have the actual short list of Steeler targets:

O-LINE QUARTERBACK TIGHT END RUNNING BACK WIDE RECEIVER
C/G Lloyd Cushenberry III, LSU Cam Akers, Florida St. Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona St.
C/G Cesar Ruiz, Michigan     J.K. Dobbins, Ohio St. K.J. Hamler, Penn St.
OT Austin Jackson, USC     Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU Tee Higgins, Clemson
T/G Josh Jones, Houston     Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin Jalen Reagor, TCU
T/G Lucas Niang, TCU      
OT Prince Tega Wanogho, Auburn        
T/G Isaiah Wilson, Georgia        
D-LINE EDGE LINEBACKER SAFETY CORNER
Ross Blacklock, TCU Zack Baun, Wisconsin   Ashtyn Davis, California Trevon Diggs, Alabama
Marlon Davidson, Auburn Terrell Lewis, Alabama   Antoine Winfield Jr., Minn. Noah Igbinoghene, Auburn
Raekwon Davis, Alabama Julian Okwara, Notre Dame    
Neville Gallimore, Oklahoma      

 

25 prospects with an all-years grade from 20-40, with only 8 that will go too soon. Pretty nice odds! Even with the slight grade inflation that comes from using “Highest Value to a non-desperate team” as the measuring stick. If two-thirds of those are on offense, and we agree on offense winning the tiebreaker if all other things are equal, it is pretty easy to guess how the wind is going to blow.

Finally, here are the full Big Board entries for all the players with Round 1 grades on the HV scale, from bottom to top. Please note that the grades shown on the following table are Steelers-specific and account for lack of fit or long term openings on this particular roster. Please note that I have not dug into the Corners at all and will not vouch for anything more than, “too talented to fall far enough for Pittsburgh to be tempted.”

Big Board Entries for Early, Mid- and Late-1st Talents

Grades are by Highest Value (“HV#”) to the Steelers. Lack of fit with the 2020 Pittsburgh team results in a discount. An HV of 1:25 means the player is a reach for the Steelers at any point before Pick # 25 overall but good value at any point from the end of the 1st on. Getting that player in the early 2nd would be fine, while getting him at 2:14 would almost be a steal. NOTE: This results in some grade inflation for positions of want because we are talking about the “highest” grade, not the one where a player is expected to go; but grades are never pushed up just because of need. Players with the same HV# are more-or-less equivalent and organized alphabetically.
HV DESCRIPTION
0:00 T/G Mekhi Becton, Louisville. (Junior). Mid-1st talent.
0:00 T/G Andrew Thomas, Georgia. (Junior). Mid-1st talent.
0:00 T/G Jedrick Wills, Alabama. (Junior). Mid-1st talent.
0:00 T/G Tristan Wirfs, Iowa. (Junior). Mid-1st talent.
1:20 T/G Josh Jones, Houston. (RS Senior). 6’5”, 319 lbs. with 9⅝” hands and shorter than ideal arms (32⅛”). Will be a 23-year-old rookie. No one will ever doubt that Josh Jones has the tools to be a high quality NFL starter, including good hand usage, a mauler’s mindset, a superior and well rounded athletic profile, and just enough mechanical issues to provide plenty of room for improvement. He can improve physically too, since he looks more like a basketball player than an NFL Tackle. One has to wonder what a year of specialized NFL strength training will produce! Who knows? He might even bulk up enough to succeed at Guard too. It’s just… he’s never “arrived” in a dominating way, and one worries that a four year starter should look a bit less raw. Bottom line: the ore glints with a lot of gold but the team that drafts him will have some serious digging and refining to do. This gif-supported January scouting report from Nick Farabaugh describes an exciting developmental prospect and ends with a Round 2 grade. That is right in the middle of the pack, or maybe on the pessimistic end. This late December scouting profile sees him as a potential riser into the 1st based on pure athletic potential. This solid-looking January scouting profile ends in a fringe Round 2/3 grade based on bad habits like popping up when he moves; but it ends with an interesting player comp to Oakland’s Kolton Miller, who has become a very solid blindside protector. He flat out brutalized opponents during the Senior Bowl practice week, improved steadily all week, and displayed serious pop in the actual game. Stock on the rise. This February scouting profile sees him as a potential Round 1 pick. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile emphasizes how much and how steadily Jones improved in 2019, and describes the remaining issues as “coachable.” This good, if wordy, March scouting profile from a Rams POV makes an entertaining read and gives a decent idea of where the issues lie.
1:20 T/G Lucas Niang, TCU. (Senior). 6’6”, 315 lbs. with long 34¼” arms and big 10½” hands. Turns 22 in September. Lance Zierlein is a fan: the NFL.com scouting profile calls him “a scheme diverse Right Tackle [and] help-now right tackle prospect who should be a long-time starter.” Tom Mead’s gif-supported March scouting report describes a sound player who would probably have been a Round 1 lock if he had not declined in 2019 due to a nasty hip labrum injury that ultimately ended his season when surgery could no longer be avoided. He basically shut down both Nick Bosa and Chase Young when they played in 2018. Niang said at the Combine that the hip was a long term problem that had slowed him down significantly all year, and that everything is now perfect. This nice, Cleveland-oriented January article on Round 2 OT’s describes Niang as an ideal Right Tackle for the sort of zone blocking scheme that will ask him to move in space, find someone to block, and demolish the guy he finds. Here is a brief, Redskins-oriented scouting profile from early January. This Giants-oriented scouting profile from February has highlights from the game against Purdue, and concludes that Niang is an “ascending prospect” who only needs to build more crispness and urgency into his game. Here is a nice, very brief summary from a Cleveland POV.
1:25 OT Ezra Cleveland, Boise State. (RS Junior). 6’6”, 311 lbs. Will turn 22 in May. [MTG. FOR VISIT] Imagine a higher pedigree and more accomplished version of Chuks Okorafor when he came out; a solid, toolsy athlete with enough potential to earn whispers of the occasional Round 1 grade – including a strong late-1st grade in our own Alex Kozora’s late March, gif-supported scouting report. Alex ended with a comparison to no less than Joe Staley. Make that a “special” athlete with a top 10% SPARQ score and an athletic profile good in every area but hand size. He will require at least one redshirt year to build NFL levels in both strength and mass, plus all the normal work required on technique, but there aren’t many men on the planet with the physical ability to be a blindside protector, and he is one of them. Here is a good NFL.com scouting profile from Lance Zierlein, who notes that Cleveland is a particularly tricky evaluation due to playing through 2019 with a nasty turf toe injury. This Giants-oriented, late-February scouting profile hits the center of the fairway: a toolsy prospect who needs a year of NFL strength training before any other work. This more cynical March scouting profile from a Rams POV sees a Round 4-5 talent who may be more track athlete than football player.
1:25 OT Austin Jackson, USC. (Junior). 6’4⅞”, 322 lbs. with long 34⅛” arms and 10¼” hands. Just turned 21. Yet another of this year’s Offensive Tackles who possess Round 1 athletic ability and could easily develop into pro bowl blindside protectors, but will need a redshirt year to build enough strength and technique for that dream to start becoming reality. Daniel Jeremiah has said, “He could be a Top 20 pick.” The rawness shows up on tape as vulnerability to opponents with sound technique. Bradley Anae took him to school, and this entirely negative screed went up in late December after Jackson got butchered by the Round 1 prospect A.J. Epenesa. “Raw but gifted and likely to be coveted by a variety of teams thanks to his true left tackle traits,” is the conclusion in Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile. He gets extremely high points for being a well grounded young man, which actually translates into being the sort of human you’re likely to bet on. Known for some high character events like donating bone marrow to his ailing sister, that may be a very important part of the evaluation because it also cost him the entire 2019 preseason. No training on technique; no strength training in the gym; all-but-quarantine preventing work with coaches; etc. Project how good he might have been, and… You get the point. His stock requires more projection than most of his peers. This marvelous Combine article from The Draft Network is a great starting place for a big picture. This full-length, January scouting profile from Walter Football ends with a fringe-1st grade and a comparison to a young D.J. Humphries. Nick Farabaugh’s gif-supported January scouting report ends with a Round 3 grade based on huge flashes and major flaws in the 2019 film. This brief January profile summarizes him as a pure boom-or-bust prospect. This Bleacher Report article worries that he could be the next Greg Robinson, an athlete who went at #2 overall on pure potential but is now on team #3.
1:25 C/G Cesar Ruiz, Michigan. (Junior). 6’2¾”, 307 lbs. with huge 11” hands. Will be a 21-year-old rookie. A surefire NFL starter (the Combine broadcast used the words “Day 1”) who faces longer odds against stardom. His stock has gone nowhere but up as the process moves forward. Smart, young (21 years old), athletic (77th percentile SPARQ score), and extremely mobile, he would be a fine successor to our current Center if you keep the expectations to “starter with a lot of upside” rather than “HOF votes to be counted.” Also projects as a solid but not exceptional pulling guard, which would let him earn NFL snaps while he understudies for Pouncey. This goes to a nice Giants-oriented scouting profile from January. This nice February scouting profile argues that he is the best interior offensive lineman of the entire class. The NFL.com scouting profile agrees that he should be an early starter.
2:01 C/G Lloyd Cushenberry III, LSU. (RS Junior). 6’3⅛”, 312 lbs. with big 10⅜” hands and arms like vines (34⅛”). [MTG. AT COMBINE] Will be a 22-year-old rookie. He’s got all the raw physical talent you want, and won numerous honors for his character and leadership at LSU, with the coveted #18 jersey and “permanent team captain” being just the start. Showed better than expected technique at the Senior Bowl; so much so that The Draft Network’s Jonah Tuls wrote: “He’s cemented himself as the top center prospect in this class.” In the actual game, he and teammate Damien Lewis stood at as rocks on an offensive line that otherwise got destroyed. Flashes good quickness but only-good range when pulling. Has a very good sense of using angles to create a running lane, and a tremendous anchor against power rushers on the inside. Tom Mead’s gif-supported scouting report from late January questions “a passiveness to his style”, but other sources disagree and he has certainly earned his teammates’ respect. Should also be an acceptable pulling Guard, which would give him a chance to earn NFL snaps while he understudies at Center. Has enough fixable technique issues to project as the sort of prospect who often disappoints in his rookie season and then makes a major Sophomore leap. This goes to a very solid January scouting profile from a Giants POV, that catches the main points well. Here is an equally solid February scouting profile from a Patriots POV. This is a gif-supported February scouting report from a Chiefs POV. The NFL.com scouting profile applauds him as a do-your-job prospect and genuine team leader.
2:12 OT Prince Tega Wanogho, Auburn. (RS Senior). 6’5”, 308 lbs. with 10⅜” hands and 33½” arms. Just turned 22. A Round 1 athlete as a blind side protector who could develop into a shut down guy if everything goes just right, but is generally pegged for Round 2 because he requires so much work on his technique, and has a minor medical red flag (a knee that required scoping took him out of the Senior Bowl and cost him the Combine). Long, smooth, mobile, and smart, one is tempted to describe him as a higher pedigree version of Chuks Okorafor. Start by reading the excellent background material in this March scouting profile. He never stepped on a football field until high school because he emigrated to America with basketball as the dream (ended by a nasty broken leg). Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile (he is particularly good with OL prospects) agrees with the pass protection upside and poor run blocking, grading Wanogho out as a likely starter after a year of dedicated coaching and work. This late February TDN article from the Combine digs into the personality and admirable approach to the game a bit. This good looking December scouting profile emphasizes his pure athletic talent and overall intelligence, but knocks him for a case of severe inconsistency. Here is a Redskins-oriented scouting profile from December. This New Year’s article gives nice insight into some character and background issues, as does this top notch NFL.com article from September. This nice, Cleveland-oriented January article on Round 2 OT’s describes Wanogho as a better pass protector than run blocker, which is fair so long as it isn’t taken as a limitation. This nice Draft Network interview begins by describing Wanogho as a “natural pass protector who teams will hope to turn into a better run blocker”. This less convincing February scouting profile sees a good run blocker with poor pass protection technique. Here is a nice, very brief summary from a Cleveland POV.
2:12 T/G Isaiah Wilson, Georgia. (RS Sophomore). 6’6½”, 350 lbs. with looong 35½” arms and big 10¼” hands. First point: he is young, as in only 21 years old. Second point: he looks extraordinarily good on the hoof; this is the young man who looked like a Greek god at the Combine. As the two-year starting Right Tackle for a run-heavy offense, Wilson has earned a reputation as a ferocious run blocker with Round 1 athletic potential, but (for the NFL) very poor technique in pass protection. Georgia often protected him with a chipping RB or TE on his side for pass plays. Boom or bust with the raw talent to achieve any heights. His run blocking ability might even let him move inside despite the height; which would instantly make him that much better as a fit with the Steelers. The athletic testing showed great explosiveness but poor COD skills, which combine to an NFL-top-third (67th percentile) SPARQ score. This gif-supported March scouting report from Tom Mead sees very little in the way of physical ceiling, but many issues (starting with foot- and hand work) that need to be addressed before he can earn pro snaps. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile notes that he improved throughout 2019 and has massive upside, but also assumes at least one redshirt year of work on both the hands and feet before he can be fairly judged. This NFL.com article provides good background. This January, Bears-oriented scouting profile summarizes the issues well: very good going downhill, not so much stepping back for pass pro. Here is a nice, very brief summary from a Cleveland POV.
0:00 QB Joe Burrow, LSU. (RS Senior). Early-1st talent.
0:00 QB Justin Herbert, Oregon (Senior). Mid-1st talent.
0:00 QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama (Junior). Mid-1st talent.
1:20 QB Jordan Love, Utah State (RS Junior). 6’3¾”, 224 lbs. with very big 10½” hands. Size, strength, rocket arm, mobility, etc., Love has every physical asset and should get picked in the front half of Round 1 for nothing more than his pro bowl ceiling. Does that make him worth a pick for the Steelers at 2:17 since he could end up being the next Paxton Lynch just as easily as the next pick-your-star-who-got-it? You decide. Had an amazing ratio of TD’s to INT’s in 2018 (32 to 6!), that changed significantly (22 to 17) as he tried to do more in 2019. His former, and K.C.’s current RB Darwin Thompson sees a real similarity to Patrick Mahomes.
1:20 RB J.K. Dobbins, Ohio St. (Junior). 5’9½”, 209 lbs. The 21 year old Dobbins could easily be Pittsburgh’s choice in Round 2, and no one should complain if they land him. Nick Farabaugh’s gif-supported January scouting report gives a good overview: smaller and less of a load than James Conner, but possessing an equally rounded skill set with the addition of breakaway speed, better acceleration, more quickness in space, and no history of health problems. Bulk him up just a little and you’d get a Maurice Jones-Drew vibe: the classic bowling ball with good moves and acceptable hands. Ray Rice may be an even better comp. One can question his ceiling in pass protection due to the lack of size, or raise doubts because he played behind a great college OL, but the same is true for the other top backs in this draft. Almost no RB succeeds when the line allows penetration. This late January article calls Dobbins, “the best all around back in the draft.” He chose not to do any testing at the Combine but is generally viewed as the best overall SPARQ athlete of the RB class.
1:20 RB D’Andre Swift, Georgia. (Junior). 5’8¼”, 212 lbs. As summarized in this nice January scouting profile, the only real flaw people have found is hypothetical: he’s never been asked to carry the ball 300 times in a single season. The skill set itself is amazing for being so well rounded, as this February scouting profile emphasizes. He can break ankles, stiff arm defenders into next week, or run through them as desired, and will do all three. I watched some film and was struck by his knack for drilling through tackles with a last second spin that seems to always gain an extra yard. The vision and timing for holes could not be better. Easy speed that does not stand out but never gets him caught from behind. A finisher’s mentality in a short-but-not-small body. Very good hands with full, WR body control to twist and turn midair for a catch. Does tend to break for the sideline on his bigger runs, but not excessively; he gets there when he makes those breaks; and he is definitely able to stay inside too. I did not see many broken tackles, just ones he avoided and ones he drilled through for that extra yard. This gif-supported February scouting report puts him at the top of the RB class. This tremendous, gif-supported scouting report by Benjamin Solak of The Draft Network points to some limitations relating to tunnel vision that could make Swift less effective in the NFL as an inside runner. Here is a good, gif-supported February scouting report from a Chiefs POV (the clips include several 2018 games and a cut of all his 2019 snaps).
1:25 RB Cam Akers, Florida St. (Junior). 5’10⅜”, 217 lbs. [MTG. AT COMBINE] This Draft Network scouting profile (Marino) argues that the 21 year old Akers “has no physical limitations to execute in any role,” but has been hidden from view because he (a) played behind a terrible OL in college, and (b) may need a good coach to develop his above-the-neck skillset, blocking, and receiving skills. Nick Martin’s gif-supported January scouting report echoes that: “If Akers were a bit more refined in his ball security and catching the ball out of the backfield, there’d be a lot of talk about him as the #1 back in the draft right now.” Sounds awesome! Add in Akers’ youth, his fit to the Steelers blocking scheme, and his skill at blocking; sounds like a serious target for Round 2. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile is a particularly good read because, between the lines, it notes how heavily Akers’ grade depends on projecting beyond the steaming pile that was his offensive line. This February scouting profile makes the argument well, ending with a late-1st grade and a “Day 2 steal” verdict. This Giants-oriented February scouting profile describes him as a top talent weighted down by a complete lack of blocking skills.
1:25 RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire, LSU. (Junior). 5’7¼”, 207 lbs. Stock has gone nowhere but up as the process moves forward, CEH is a short-but-not-small, 21 year old prospect with a list of assets so long you don’t realize it until you try to write them down Begin with a really special ability to make would be tacklers miss in the hole. Add an ankle breaking jump cut that does the same in the open field (no kidding, he left whiffs in his wake on almost every play in the clips from Nick Farabaugh’s January scouting report, and the Combine coverage quoted an NFC coach as follows: “The kid can make you miss in a phone booth”). Then add enough long speed to take simple runs for fifty large if the crease is there. Superb is a mild term for his skill as an outlet and mismatch receiver. Good kick return skills. Surprising power for his size, which pairs favorably with tremendous contact balance (just look at those thighs!). Studied hard with Kevin Faulk to become a good pass protector. The only issue is that he never managed to stand out as the weapon among all of LSU’s other fantastic talent, though it should be noted that he won the team MVP over QB and Heisman winner Joe Burrow, was named a permanent team captain, and Burrow called him the best player on either his Ohio State or LSU rosters. Jeez people, what else could we want except a few extra inches and pounds? People have agreed Shady McCoy as a decent comp, meaning the young one back in his Philadelphia days. This January scouting profile adds yet another important asset: “The most impressive thing about Edwards-Helaire’s resume is how great he was against good opponents.” That is echoed by this advanced-stats January scouting profile, which could not be a lot more positive. This early February scouting profile emphasizes CEH’s well rounded skill set and overall lack of flaws, ending in a mid-2nd grade. Here is a strong, gif-supported scouting report from late January. He lived up to the rave expectations in this June, 2019 scouting profile, which goes into some detail about his straightforward athletic profile. The raves continue in this February scouting profile.
1:25 RB Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin. (Junior). 5’10¼”, 226 lbs. The Draft Network scouting profiles unite to laud Taylor’s “rare blend of [patience], size, burst, and power.” It’s a combination that brings to mind a version of James Conner with much better speed and no record of health issues. He ran a 4.39 dash at the Combine! Yes, he is a trained sprinter, but that is still serious, breakaway speed – especially at 226 pounds with a 10-yard split that was just as good. Alex Kozora’s gif-supported February scouting report describes more of a Mark Ingram than a Saquon Barkley, but that will do; and more than do. He does everything well, just not with the kind of eye-popping athleticism that makes everyone else on the field look slow. The other question marks really go to pushback against conclusions based on the historic stats alone. 2,000 yards in three straight seasons… ‘Is this a league changing runner?!’ The answer is, “no,” but that is no excuse to overreact in the other way. Yes, Taylor played behind a great OL; but he used it exceptionally well as befits a polished prospect. Yes, Wisconsin has produced many RB’s with gaudy college stats and just-okay pro careers, but the same was true for Alabama until Derrick Henry and Josh Jacobs broke out. Yes, he’s had an excessive workload, but he is only 21 years old, that is better than having a scanty record, and he hasn’t been injured. Yes, he had 18 fumbles in his college career; but that’s on close to a thousand touches. Etc. This late January scouting profile characterizes Taylor as more of a power back than an overall talent, with elite vision, very good speed, and questions about his receiving ability (though others have been satisfied about that). This late January scouting profile is more positive, reminding readers that he used to be a track star and the speed is real. This February scouting profile discusses the NFL heritage of good but not great RB’s out of Wisconsin. This particularly good, Giants-oriented scouting profile points out Taylor’s subtle asset: choppy feet that allow for instant and creative adjustments during the run. A tremendous pro day display answered any questions about receiving ability.
0:00 WR Jerry Jeudy, Alabama. (Junior). Mid-1st talent.
0:00 WR CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma. (Junior). Mid-1st talent.
0:00 WR Henry Ruggs III, Alabama. (Junior). Mid-1st talent.
0:00 WR Laviska Shenault Jr., Colorado. (Junior). 6’⅝”, 227 lbs. Mid-1st talent – though this has been argued on these pages and I am considering the almost-certainly-futile gesture of putting him at 1:20. Your thoughts?
1:25 WR Justin Jefferson, LSU. (Junior). 6’1¼”, 202 lbs. with 33” arms. Turns 21 this summer. Good size, great hands, all the speed he can use based on the 4.43 Combine dash, and serious leaping/contested catch ability. Jefferson had been hit with the “complete receiver but not a great athlete” label; his top 20% of the NFL SPARQ score blew that narrative out of the water! He is an easy mid-1st talent in any ordinary draft class, but could theoretically fall to #49 overall in this one. The big remaining question is hard to answer. How much of his massive production came from having Joe Burrow as his QB? This late January scouting profile ends with a fringe-1st grade for other years, but a Round 2 grade for this one. This good, late January, Packers-oriented scouting profile extols his versatility. Read this excellent February scouting profile! It makes great points about Jefferson being a limited athlete who has become the ultimate overachiever through craft, dedication, and determination. This Packers-oriented February scouting profile provides another good summary: Jefferson is going to be a very good NFL receiver, period, end of story. This late February scouting profile extols Jefferson’s great hands and his ability to play even better in the biggest games. The clutch gene matters. Thomas Frank Carr’s gif-supported March scouting report sees a surefire WR2, but questions whether Jefferson has the athletic chops to be a field tilting NFL WR1.
1:25 WR Denzel Mims, Baylor. (Senior). 6’2⅞”, 207 lbs. with long 33⅞” arms. Your author admits to a draft crush on this one that dates back to December. Take that bias into account. That said, Mims really does profile well as the final piece for Pittsburgh’s WR corps: a big, speedy (4.38 dash!), outside weapon who can stretch the field, make big plays, contribute as a blocker, and be an ace in the hole in the red zone. If you care to go past the film, he came in with a top 5% of the NFL SPARQ score, and a very well balanced athletic profile. But the film matters way more for WR’s, and Alex Kozora’s gif-supported, pre-Senior Bowl scouting report supports his candidacy as much as possible, describing Mims as a walking highlight reel of “did he just do that?!” catches. Benjamin Solak’s Draft Network profile sums it up like this: “Mims has a catch radius the size of Mars, with unfathomable leaping ability, tremendous concentration and body control in the air, and the hand strength to snag and secure balls at the very extent of his considerable frame.” But he brings a lot more to the table than just size, leaping ability, hands, body control, and the athletic profile of a multisport athlete. Mims has track champion speed, actually enjoys blocking, and there is room to improve because he suffers from a few obvious but coachable errors that have limited his route running skills. (Things like getting his weight up, telegraphing breaks, and letting his concentration lapse on plays that seem too easy). Oh yes! There’s also my favorite nugget, the one that pushed him over the top in my eyes: the Sugar Bowl broadcast team said he played the 2019 season with a broken bone in his foot! The main drawback is that word “Senior” because the Steelers like to draft youngsters at the WR position (he will turn 23 in late October). This excellent February article has some nice interview quotes, including one where Mims actually boasts about his blocking. Same for this late February TDN article from the Combine. What WR does that? Here is a nice, post-Senior Bowl scouting profile with some statistical analysis. This gif-supported, late January scouting report ends in a late-2nd grade.
2:01 WR Tee Higgins, Clemson. (Junior). 6’3⅝”, 216 lbs. with looong 34⅛” arms. Just turned 21. Gets compared to Alshon Jeffrey or (on a good day) A.J. Green. The odds that he falls even to #49 overall range from small to miniscule outside the weird world of quirky mock draft simulators, but that is greater than zero and thus he goes on the Board instead of the Ain’t Gonna Happen list. That, and the insane number of Round 1 WR talents he has to compete with this year. This February scouting profile features several games of film clips, concluding that his is the best of this year’s “big receiver” specialists. This gif-supported February scouting report from a Bills POV sees many similarities to former Clemson star Mike Williams. Thomas Frank Carr’s gif-supported March scouting report ends with a late 1st grade, describing Higgins as a prospect with fantastic length and hands, excellent speed, and average COD skill, plus plenty of room to grow in his route running.
2:01 WR Jalen Reagor (“RAY-gor”), TCU. (Junior). 5’10⅝”, 206 lbs. [Meeting at Combine] Think “higher pedigree, multidimensional Mike Wallace;” a blazing fast, quick twitch deep threat who can operate from the slot as well as the outside, and also excels on punt and kick returns. There would not be a prayer that he’d fall to the mid-2nd in any other year. Walter Football reports rumors that he’s run a 4.29 dash, though he disappointed hugely at the Combine with a 4.47. NFL bloodlines as the son of Broncos/Colts/Eagles Round 2 Defensive Tackle(!) Montae. Jalen is the sort of WR won’t rescue an inaccurate QB, but can change and even dominate a game with a QB who gets him the ball in stride. His stats were way down in 2019 but, as emphasized in this February scouting profile, that was probably due to the play around him. Known for great releases off the line that should make him hard to press, though it hasn’t been tried by anyone who’s good at it. Drops are the only real complaint. Concentration drops are common with someone who can legitimately turn every catch into a TD, but is that all that’s going on? This December scouting profile points out Reagor’s need to focus on catching and holding the ball before running with it. That is also the main complaint in Alex Kozora’s late February, gif-supported scouting report. The Draft Network scouting profiles agree: he has all-pro potential if he can out his array of WR skills, but needs to focus on not letting DB’s force drops on contested balls. This gif-supported late January scouting report for the Titans agrees that drops are the only real concern on a game breaking Round 1 talent. This gif-supported, Seahawks-oriented scouting report digs down into the flaws a bit but still ends in a late-1st grade. Here is a good scouting profile from a Packers POV (a team that many view as Reagor’s most likely landing spot). This goes to another February scouting profile from a Packers POV (that fan base really wants him!). This late February TDN article from the Combine points out that he is bigger than most speed demons and has good versatility.
2:12 WR Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State. (Senior). 5’11⅝”, 205 lbs. with 9¾” hands and long 33½” arms. God of YAC. An explosive weapon who has been discounted – with painful regret – from a late-1st overall grade for this particular team in this particular year. People were disappointed with his Top 10% SPARQ score! Fought through adversity to first rise up from JUCO and then wait behind N’Keal Harry. Background as a Running Back shows bright in his RAC ability and return skills. Pro-level training from Herm Edwards. What’s not to like except the fact that he is a multipurpose football player who lacks the particular assets (elite speed and/or size) that Pittsburgh could use the most? The Combine broadcast team emphasized his similarity to Deebo Samuel; a tough, RB-at-WR type more than a shifty slasher. The NFL.com scouting profile emphasizes his explosiveness, route running, and COD skills. A fine punt returner. Is a higher pedigreed Diontae Johnson a bad thing? Here is a good February scouting profile from a Giants POV. This goes to a good, late February TDN article from the Combine.
2:24 WR K.J. Hamler, Penn State. (RS Sophomore). 5’8⅝”, 178 lbs. with proportionate 30¾” arms but big-for-his-frame 9⅜” hands. A killer quick, big play slot receiver with world class speed who looks like one of the Kansas City guys Andy Reid uses to dominate the league, and would be a legitimate Round 1 target for the right team. The main concern is size, and the aforementioned fit. He is extraordinarily young (turns 20 in July) and we can therefore project some physical growth from 176 lbs., but how much growth is anyone’s guess. He earns a downgrade on this Board because (a) the Steelers picked a less extreme version of this prototype last year in Diontae Johnson, and (b) even a fully grown Hamler will be tiny enough to raise worries about the NFL pounding. There is some nice gif-supported analysis in this late January article. This goes to a short but decent January scouting profile. Here is a good February scouting profile from a Colts POV. This February scouting profile emphasizes the similarities to Mecole Hardman from last year’s draft class. This nice, late February interview says he ran an electronically timed 4.27 dash.
0:00 DL Derrick Brown, Auburn. (Senior). Mid-1st talent.
0:00 DL Javon Kinlaw, S. Carolina. (Senior). Mid-1st talent.
3:01 DL Ross Blacklock, TCU. (RS Junior). 6’3⅛”, 290 lbs. [MTG. AT COMBINE] A fringe-1st talent with amazing explosiveness off the ball in a body that is a little lighter than ideal for a Defensive Tackle. This grade applies a Pittsburgh-specific discount that borders on being too obscene for the author to stomach. Insert your own grade as desired if you believe that either Heyward or Tuitt are likely to retire in the near future.
3:01 DL Neville Gallimore, Oklahoma. (RS Senior). 6’2″, 304 lbs. Alex Kozora’s gif-supported January scouting report confirms the general view that Gallimore is a fringe-1st caliber, 1-tech penetrator with a skill set similar to Cam Heyward and Javon Hargrave, but less size to hold up against double teams. This grade applies a Pittsburgh-specific discount that borders on being too obscene for the author to stomach. Insert your own grade as desired if you believe that either Heyward or Tuitt are likely to retire in the near future.
3:12 DL Marlon Davidson, Auburn. (Senior). 6’3”, 303 lbs. A very hard player to grade because he projects best as a 4-3 DE with the size and power to rotate inside to a DT position. His college film is further distorted by playing Robin to Derrick Brown’s Batman, which gave him extra opportunities to shine but also put him in shadow by comparison. Could easily go in Round 1 to just the right team. This grade applies a Pittsburgh-specific discount that borders on being too obscene for the author to stomach. Insert your own grade as desired if you believe that either Heyward or Tuitt are likely to retire in the near future, and you see a way to fit that skill set to Pittsburgh’s defensive scheme.
3:12 DL Raekwon Davis, Alabama. (Senior). 6’6⅛”, 311 lbs. Compare to Stephon Tuitt as a prospect, with some college stagnation as the issue instead of an injury problem. The Steelers have the original version. This is another grade that applies a significant, team-specific discount.
0:00 EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson, LSU. (Junior). Mid-1st talent. Arguably late-1st, but he is the second best edge rusher in the class so I won’t waste your time.
0:00 EDGE A.J. Epenesa, Iowa. (Junior). Arguably late-1st talent, but he is tied for being the third best edge rusher in the class so I won’t waste your time.
0:00 EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos, Penn St. (Junior). Arguably late-1st talent, but since he is tied for being the third best edge rusher in the class I won’t waste your time.
0:00 EDGE Chase Young, Ohio St. (Junior). 6’4⅞”, 264 lbs. Early-1st talent.
3:01 EDGE (and maybe ILB?) Zack Baun, Wisconsin. (Senior). 6’2⅜”, 238 lbs. An accomplished Edge Rusher in college who just looks small for the NFL. He will most likely get picked as an Edge Rusher anyway, and probably in Round 2 because of his overall bend and juice, but his best fit in Pittsburgh would be as a developmental, athletic Buck ILB with scary third-down blitz ability. Ain’t Gonna Happen.
3:01 EDGE Julian Okwara, Notre Dame (Senior). 6’4¼”, 252 lbs. Has all the assets you want in a pass rusher except strength, and he has the frame to add it. Perhaps the best Edge prospect out there if Pittsburgh knows of some reason why Bud Dupree won’t be signed. Unlikely to even reach #49 in light of those talents and the league’s desperate hunger for Edge talent.
3:12 EDGE Terrell Lewis, Alabama. (RS Junior). 6’5¼”, 262 lbs. Probably a Round 2 talent, Lewis profiles like a poor man’s Bud Dupree; ideal physical tools with the single exception of good bend-and-dip ability. He will fall on all draft boards because of an injury history, and on fan boards because the Covid-19 outbreak shut off the chance to highlight his athletic gifts in the pre-draft process. Almost certain to go in Round 2 anyway due to the league-wide desperation for anything that even smells like an Edge Rusher, and the limited amount of decent 2020 prospects.
0:00 ILB Kenneth Murray. (Junior). Mid-1st talent.
0:00 MACK ILB Patrick Queen, LSU. (Junior). Late-1st talent, but he is the #3 ILB overall so I won’t waste your time.
0:00 ILB Isaiah Simmons, Clemson. (RS Junior). Early-1st talent
0:00 SS Grant Delpit, LSU. (Junior). 6’2½”, 213 lbs. Might arguably be late-1st talent instead of the mid-1st spot he’s occupied all draft, but he is the #2 Safety overall so I won’t waste your time.
0:00 SAF Xavier McKinney, Alabama. (Junior). Mid-1st talent.
2:24 SAF Ashtyn Davis, California. (RS Senior). 6’⅞”, 202 lbs. A multipurpose Safety who will improve with good coaching. Unlikely to fall out of Round 2 for all the reasons set forth in Tom Mead’s fine, late January, gif-supported scouting report. Grade would go up iif there was an evidence the coaches doubted Terrell Edmunds like a certain segment of the fan base.
2:24 SAF Antoine Winfield Jr., Minnesota. (RS Sophomore). 5’9⅛”, 203 lbs. A playmaking, all purpose Safety with injury concerns offset by an excellent football IQ, football bloodlines, punt returner skills and assets, and ballhawking ability. Round 1 talent who will likely drop to Round 2 for the medical red flags. Grade would go up iif there was an evidence the coaches doubted Terrell Edmunds like a certain segment of the fan base.
0:00 CB Trevon Diggs, Alabama. (Senior). Late-1st talent, but for this particular team? I won’t waste your time.
0:00 CB Kristian Fulton, LSU. (Senior). Mid-1st talent.
0:00 CB Jeff Gladney, TCU. (RS Senior). Late-1st talent, but for this particular team? I won’t waste your time.
0:00 CB C.J. Henderson, Florida. (Junior). Mid-1st talent.
0:00 CB Noah Igbinoghene, Auburn. (Junior). Late-1st talent, but for this particular team? I won’t waste your time.
0:00 CB Jeffrey Okudah, Ohio St. (Junior). Early-1st talent.
To be continued in an article focused on players who will be targeted for the picks at #’s 102, 124, and 135.
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