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.
PlayingĂ‚Â 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 stockĂ‚Â is falling butĂ‚Â 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.