Steelers Pre-Draft Day Buzz
The NFL draft is one day away and unlike the past three years, things have set up for the Steelers where it’s one of the most unpredictable drafts in years for Pittsburgh.
In 2009, word began to circulate where the Steelers were keying on Ziggy Hood, while in 2010 it became known weeks before the draft that the Steelers guy was Maurkice Pouncey at No. 18, and last year despite many pundits pegging Texas Cornerback Aaron Williams as a lock for the Steelers at No. 31, word began to leak a few days before the draft that the Steelers had their sights set on Cameron Heyward over Aaron Williams and that ended up being the case.
This year no consensus player has emerged and the Steelers from a rumor mill standpoint all over the map. However, all signs continue to point to the Steelers going Linebacker, Offensive line or Defensive Tackle.
Here are my top five names to watch for Thursday (Likely to be around at No. 24), based on buzz coming out of Steelers circles: (Group does not included players who are expected to be off the board)
FIVE NAMES TO WATCH
1. Alabama ILB Dont’a Hightower (6-2, 265 lbs)
2. Wisconsin OG Kevin Zeitler (6-4, 315 lbs)
3. Memphis DT Dontari Poe (6-3, 346 lbs)
4. Ole Miss OT Bobby Massie (6-6, 320 lbs)
5. USC OLB Nick Perry (6-3, 271 lbs)
Sleeper: Midwestern State OG Amini Silatolu (6-4, 311 lbs)
Breaking down draft prospects linked to Steelers at Linebacker, Offensive Line and Defensive Tackle:
Widely regarded as the No. 2 3-4 inside linebacker in the draft behind Luke Kuechly, Alabama’s Dont’a Hightower (6-2, 265 lbs) continues to be the hot name connected to the Steelers based on need at ILB but is he last years Aaron Williams where the draft experts over-rate the Steelers interest based on the Steelers need? That talk is out there and there are believed to be mixed opinions from high ranking officials in the Steelers organization but there’s a lot to like about Hightower.
PlayingÂ under Nick Saban, Hightower comes from a winning tradition, has a great football IQ and has team captain written all over him. From an on the field standpoint, Hightower has some freakish talent for a player his size, running a 4.62 forty and is a physical player fitting the Steelers style of play. Has a nose for the ball but has his question marks in defending the pass and his weight is a concern as most players his size are defensive ends.
“If Hightower does thin down, he’s going to make whoever drafts him smart, a personnel man told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “If he doesn’t and he goes the other way and gets fat, he will be a bust.”
As a junior, Hightower had 85 tackles, 11 for loss, 4 sacks and 1 interception. He’s a player who’s a 50-50 bet to be around at No. 24.
While inside linebacker is the more pressing need, outside linebacker is said to be very much on the Steelers radar with the player to watch at No. 24 being USC outside linebacker Nick Perry (6-3, 271 lbs) who some feel might not be a great fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker, but sources say Mike Tomlin loves Perry and regards him as a high pedigree backer and Tomlin even indicated in Monday’s press conference that the team would draft a linebacker with a high pedigree even if scheme wasn’t a fit.
Perry is regarded as being lightning quick off the snap, with excellent speed to turn the corner and cut back to the inside. The redshirt junior had 54 tackles with 9.5 sacks, 13 tackles for a loss, three forced fumbles and two passes batted in 2011 for the Trojans.
Another outside linebacker of interest to the Steelers is Alabama’s Courtney Upshaw (6-1, 273 lbs) who’s stockÂ is falling butÂ is unlikely to get past the Bengals at No. 21. Although regarded as a tweener by some, Upshaw has a thick build and has drawn comparisons to LaMarr Woodley. “He’s like LaMarr Woodley, ” Mel Kiper Jr said this week in a conference call. “I love Upshaw one personnel director told the Journal Sentinel. “He’s big, powerful, full-grown man. The guy you would compare him to is LaMarr Woodley.”
Upshaw carries his mass well and similar to Woodley has the speed and flexibility to use his power and weight to routinely beat offensive linemen with bull rushes and speed around the corner.
Upshaw is a player who was a disruptive force for Alabama in 2011, collecting 52 tackles with 9.5 sacks, 18 tackles for a loss, an interception and two forced fumbles. He also comes from a winning culture, something Mike Tomlin said is very important when he evaluates players.
Other intriguing 3-4 pass rushers who could be around at No. 24 is Illinois OLB Whitney Mercilus (6-4, 261) who is raw but has dynamic pass rushing ability, leading the nation in sacks and forced fumbles last year. The junior collected 57 tackles, 22.5 tackles for a loss, 16 sacks and nine forced fumbles.
Boise State’s Shea McClellin (6-3, 260 lbs) is a rising outside linebacker prospect who’s versatile and has a relentless motor. McClellin recorded 50 tackles, seven sacks, 12.5 tackles for a loss, two interceptions, and one forced fumble in 2011. The Ravens are said to be very high on McClellin
Wisconsin guard Kevin Zeitler (6-4, 315) is under strong consideration and the Steelers are said to like Zeitler a lot and he reminds them of Alan Faneca in some aspects.
Zeitler is an excellent run blocker who is strong at the point of attack and comes from a dominant run blocking team in college at Wisconsin. According to draft statistics, Zeitler led college football with 142 knockdowns and 33 blocks that resulted in touchdowns. Wisconsin averaged 467 yards per game in 2011, including 237 on the ground. What is also enticing is that scouts feel Zeitler could be a starter at somepoint in his rookie season..
Georgia guard Cordy Glenn (6-5, 345) is a player the Steelers have looked at but he is believed to be less regarded by Steelers brass than Zeitler and maybe even Midwestern State’s Amini SilatoluÂ by some evaluators in the organization. Glenn though is a longshot to be around at No. 24, compared to Zeitler and Silatolu.Â Mel Kiper has Glenn going No. 17 to the Bengals and Todd McShay of ESPN has Glenn going No. 22 to Cleveland.
Glenn is a massive lineman who is agile for a big man and played left tackle in college but struggles against speed pass rushers, which has many teams including the Steelers looking at him as a guard, where scouts feel will be the best fit for him in the NFL. Glenn is powerful and some evaluators believe could be a pro bowl player inside and be a dominant guard in a power man blocking scheme.
SLEEPER: A sleeper to keep an eye on if the Steelers move back is Midwestern State’s Amini Silatolu who the Steelers are said to be high on. Silatolu comes from a small school which has him regarded as a second round prospect by many, but there’s a ton of intrigue surrounding his ability and some scouts and teams are said to have him neck and neck with Glenn and Zeitler or even rated higher than the two. The Steelers really like him.
Best Case Scenario: Top rated guard David DeCastro shockingly falls into the 20’s
At the tackle position, the name to watch here is Ole Miss OT Bobby Massie
(6-6, 320 lbs) who has gone from a projected 2nd-3rd round pick to being regarded as a first round prospect by a number of teams, including the Steelers. Massie has moved his way into the late first/early second round discussion.
Massie has great upper body strength and is extremely athletic, which has some scouts believing he could move inside to guard, like the Steelers felt with Marcus Gilbert when the team drafted him last year in the second round. That’s one reason the Steelers like him so much as they covet versatility from their linemen.
Massie is quick, light on his feet for such a big player and due to his strength and athletic ability, has a good combination of quickness and strength. Massie has long arms and plays with a nasty edge which also interests the Steelers. Massie is quick off the snap in run blocking situations and finishes his blocks. The biggest knock on Massie is his pass blocking technique, something that should improve at the NFL level.
Meanwhile, there appears to be a smokescreen going on with chatter out of Steelers headquarters the team is still considering Ohio State OT Mike Adams (6-7, 323 lbs)
A possible reason for the smokescreen is leverage for the Steelers possibly moving back if a team behind the Steelers really wants Adams and thinks Pittsburgh is going in that direction.
Adams is a great talent with a ton of potential but had a number of off-field issues at Ohio State, including a failed drug test at the combine as he tested positive for marijuana.
Among the red flags at Ohio State:
He was suspended for two games in 2009 for violating team rules, and was cited in January of 2009 for misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia after being stopped by police for running a stop sign. Charges were eventually dropped as the cop ruled Adams was smoking a pipe with tobacco, according to the Columbus-Dispatch. In 2011, Adams was one of five players suspended for first five games of 2011 season for receiving benefits from a tattoo parlor owner.
If there’s another tackle the Steelers consider at No. 24, it would likely be Stanford’s Jonathan Martin if he falls.
Will the Steelers actually select a position in the first round that will only see the field 35-40% of the time? That’s the debate regarding the Steelers pressing need at nose tackle.
The player who will be under consideration is Memphis defensive tackle Dontari Poe (6-3, 346 lbs) who is a freakish talent but regarded as just an average football player.
Will Poe’s talent be too good to pass up if he falls all the way to No. 24 as his stock is falling? Sources say if the Steelers bite, look for it to be a Kevin Colbert pick.