Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Interesting mock draft

I readily admit that I look at other people's mock drafts. Of course, the first thing I do is glance at who the mocker has the Steelers selecting.

If it's an outlandish pick - this year that would be any mock that has the Steelers taking an offensive lineman first - I quit reading. Otherwise, I'll continue and take in the rest of the mock.

Of course, most mocks, after having the Steelers focusing on nose tackle Louis Nix early, have settled in on the Steelers taking a cornerback or wide receiver of late.

Those wouldn't be bad picks.

But lately, another name has started to surface that makes some sense, North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron.

In fact, Lance Zierlein, a Houston-based media member whose father also happens to be former Steelers offensive line coach Larry Zierlein, threw Ebron's name out last week on Twitter in connection with the Steelers.

I went back and forth with him a bit on it and it made sense.

Then, while perusing the internet, I found the Walter's Football site five-round mock and lo and behold, there was Ebron going to the Steelers again.

Looking at that draft, again, it made sense.

Here's what Walter's had for the Steelers through five rounds:

1. Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina
2. Jason Verrett, CB, TCU
3. Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss
4. Brent Urban, DE, Virginia
5A. Anthony Steen, G, Alabama
5B. Ron Powell, OLB, Florida

I think the Steelers would be thrilled with that haul.

Ebron would be an immediate matchup problem for opponents when paired with Heath Miller. Do you stay in a base defense with both tight ends on the field or go to a sub-package?

Verrett, at 5-10, 189 pounds, is a little undersized, but he's fast (sub-4.4 40) and feisty enough to get the job done at the NFL level.

I've long been a fan of Moncreif and couldn't believe he'd last until the end of the third round, but looking at this mock, it made sense. This WR draft is just that deep.

Urban has also been on my radar as a 3-4 end. He's 6-7, 295 pounds and played out of position at DT the last two seasons after Virginia switched from a 3-4, where he was an end, to a 4-3.

He's not an outstanding athlete, but he's active and gets his hands in the passing lanes.

Steen, of course, was a three-year starter at RG for Alabama, which is no small feat.

Powell, meanwhile, has outstanding upside. He tore his ACL twice in 2012, but rebounded with a solid season in 2013. His arrow, as Mike Tomlin likes to say, is definitely pointed up.

Steelers sign Podlesh

The Steelers assured they will open the 2014 season with their sixth punter in the past four years when they signed veteran Adam Podlesh on Tuesday.

Podlesh, who was with Chicago in 2013, replaces Mat McBriar as the veteran punter on Pittsburgh's roster and will compete with Brad Wing, who has never punted in the NFL, for the job with the Steelers.

At first glance, Podlesh doesn't appear to be an upgrade. His gross average of 40.6 yards in 2013 ranked 33rd in the league.

But he placed 27 kicks inside the opposing 20 - McBriar and Zoltan Mesko had 16 combined for the Steelers in 2013 - and had just two touchbacks, which ranked third in the NFL among regular punters.

Ironically, Podlesh was selected 11 picks ahead of Daniel Sepulveda in the 2007 draft.

The Steelers traded fourth and sixth-round picks in 2007 to move up seven spots to select Sepulveda.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Three more prospects visit the South Side

The Steelers hosted three more potential draft picks on Monday as we close in - finally - on the NFL draft.

In on Monday were corner Shaq Richardson of Arizona, TCU cornerback Jason Verrett and defensive end Scott Crichton of Oregon State.

Richardson is a 6-0, 194-pound late-round prospect at corner, a big difference from Verrett.

At 5-10, 189, Verrett is widely viewed as the fourth best corner in this draft behind Darqueze Dennard, Justin Gilbert and Kyle Fuller.

The only way the Steelers would likely draft him is if they traded down or if he happened to be available in the second round.

Crichton is an interesting prospect at defensive end. He's listed at 6-3, 273, so he would have to put some weight on to play defensive end for the Steelers.

But he has a good motor and forced 10 fumbles in his career. He also recorded 19.5 sacks in his last two seasons.

Crichton is considered a second- or third-round prospect.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Steelers have three more visitors

The Steelers hosted three more potential draft picks on Thursday, as Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier, UCLA linebacker Jordan Zumwalt and Washington State strong safety Deon Buchanon were at the team's South Side practice facility.

Both Shazier and Zumwalt are considered inside linebacker prospects in the Steelers' 3-4.

Shazier (6-1, 238) ran a ridiculously fast 4.38 40 at the Ohio State workout. Even if you add, say a 10th of a second onto that time to adjust for the track, he's still the fastest linebacker in this draft.

But it is a concern that he had a hamstring issue at the combine and then tweaked the same injury during his Ohio State workout. Maybe guys that big aren't supposed to run that fast.

He also tested off the charts in pretty much every drill, including showing off a 42-inch vertical.

Zumwalt (6-4, 235) made 30 starts in college, mostly inside in UCLA's 3-4 defense.

While he doesn't possess Shazier's outright athleticism, he's a rangy player who is described as "violent," even among football players.

While Shazier is considered a first-round prospect, Zumwalt is more of a third- to fourth-round pick.

Buchanon, 6-1, 211, is a second- to third-round guy. He ran a 4.49 40 at the combine.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Steelers host Pryor

The Steelers hosted Louisville safety Calvin Pryor today and some were quick to dismiss the visit because the team had signed Mike Mitchell to play free safety this season.

As Lee Corso likes to say, "Not so fast my friend."

The Steelers did the right thing by bringing Pryor in.

After all, what if, for example, the top 10 players - I'm excluding quarterbacks - on their board are gone, including all of the receivers, corners, linebackers and defensive linemen?

What if the top player remaining on their board when it comes time to pick at 15 is Pryor by a lot and they then find themselves unable to trade back?

Even though strong safety Troy Polamalu just signed a three-year extension, I don't think anyone expects him to play out the end of it. I would expect Polamalu to play this season, see how he feels, and then play again in 2015 if he feels healthy enough.

Beyond that is anyone's guess.

And what happens if Mitchell falls flat on his face or they were to get Pryor into camp and he's simply better? The Steelers aren't into him for a lot of money, so releasing him would not be a huge cap hit.

I'm not saying it's a likely thing that the Steelers would take Pryor, but they do have to do their homework.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Month out mock draft

With the NFL draft now a month away - give or take a few days - here's how I see things breaking down at this point.

I'm sure things will change greatly over the next month, and I'm sure this mock won't make everyone happy. But it was something to do on a rainy night in the office.

I'll do at least one more mock as we slowly press towards the draft - which is ridiculously late this year.

1. Houston, Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida. Bill O’Brien got a first-hand look at Bortles last season when he went into State College and beat the Nittany Lions.

2. St. Louis (from Washington), Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn. The Rams need to see exactly what they have in QB Sam Bradford, but they can’t keep him healthy because the line is so bad.

3. Jacksonville, Jadaveon Clowney, DE, South Carolina. Jacksonville has been trying to find pass rushers for the better part of the last 10 years.

4.  Cleveland, Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M. The Browns didn’t go to Manziel’s pro day, then scheduled a private meeting with him. Sammy Watkins would make sense, too, but what good are wideouts if you don’t have someone to get them the ball?

5. Oakland, Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson. The Raiders just traded for Matt Schaub to take QB off the board. Now, they get Schaub a toy.

6. Atlanta, Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo. The Falcons would have liked to get Clowney to pump up their pass rush and could move up to get him. But they settle for Mack here, and that’s not a bad thing.

7.  Tampa Bay, Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M. The Bucs need help all the way across the line and get it here.

8. Minnesota, Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville. The Christian Ponder experiment is over.

9. Buffalo, Taylor, Lewan, OT, Michigan. The Bills need a right tackle and Lewan looks more like a RT in the NFL than a LT to me.

10. Detroit, Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State. The Lions need help in the secondary. It will be tough to pass on the home state kid in Darqueze Dennard of Michigan State, but Gilbert’s speed and return ability make the difference.

11. Tennessee, Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State. After losing Pro Bowl corner Alterraun Verner in free agency, the Titans could use a replacement.

12. N.Y. Giants, Aaron Donald, DT. Pitt. Donald is the perfect fit for New York’s attacking front four.

13. St. Louis, Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama. The Rams could go WR here but they can get one later. What they can't do is get the best safety available. And rumor has it they love Clinton-Dix.

14.   Chicago, Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State. Jernigan was dominating the national championship game until gassing out in the fourth quarter.

15.   Pittsburgh, Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M. With both top corners gone, the Steelers breath a sigh of relief that Evans isn't. If he and both top corners are gone, look for a trade back.

16.   Dallas, Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville. The Cowboys defense has been a mess on the back end for years.

17.   Baltimore, Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina. The Ravens could use defensive help, but Ebron is too good to pass up.

18.   N.Y. Jets, Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame. The Jets could use a playmaker on offense, but Martin’s a nice value pick for a team that needs guard help.

19.   Miami, Cyrus Kouandjio, OT, Alabama. The Dolphins would have preferred Martin, but settle for Kouandjio.

20.   Arizona, Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State. The Cardinals go for the value. And Carson Palmer is now 34 years old.

21.   Green Bay, Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA. The Packers could use help anywhere on their defensive front.

22.   Philadelphia, Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State. Shazier has outstanding speed, which will fit in well with what the Eagles are trying to build.

23.   Kansas City, Marquise Lee, WR, USC. The Chiefs struck out with Jonathan Baldwin a couple of years ago. But Lee is a more proven commodity.

24.   Cincinnati, Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri. Michael Sams got all the publicity, but Ealy’s the better pro prospect.

25.   San Diego, Louis Nix, DT, Notre Dame. The Chargers need a run stuffer in the middle of their 3-4.

26.   Cleveland, Brandon Cooks, WR, Oregon State. The Browns got their QB early in the draft and now get the fastest player in this draft later.

27.   New Orleans, Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech. Here's a darkhorse pick for the Steelers if Gilbert and Dennard are gone.

28.   Carolina, Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State. The Panthers are basically starting over at wide receiver.

29.   New England, Scott Crichton, DE, Oregon State. Crichton is the kind of disruptive athlete Belichick likes.

30.   San Francisco, Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, LSU. The 49ers don’t have enough playmakers on offense.

31.   Denver, Dee Ford, DE/LB Auburn. An additional pass rusher for the Broncos.

32.   Seattle, Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame. The Seahawks suffered some defensive line losses and get a good value pick in Tuitt.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Steelers add Heyward-Bey in another low-cost move

You at least have to give the Steelers an A for effort for what they've done this offseason even if you don't necessarily like all of the moves.

The Steelers signed their seventh veteran free agent from another team Wednesday, adding wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey with a one-year minimum salary deal.

I said throughout the season the Steelers wouldn't be cash-strapped this offseason and that has proven to be the case, as the team has gone outside its character and added some pieces in free agency. For a team that has usually sat on its hands in the corner of the room while everyone else went crazy, it's a change.

But in reality, the Steelers have continued to be conscious of the big picture, not overspending for any player, even some of their own.

The team wanted to keep Al Woods and Jerricho Cotchery. But once the bidding got too high for both of those players, the Steelers allowed them to walk, signing Cam Thomas and Lance Moore to the deals they had been offering Woods and Cotchery.

Are they upgrades? We don't know at this point. But had they signed Woods and Cotchery to the money they got from Tennessee and Carolina, respectively, the Steelers could have been out of the market completely and missed on adding any of the other five players they have signed.

And that is where the Steelers have bettered themselves this offseason.

In previous years, because the salary cap was stagnant the past few years, the Steelers were only able to replace aging stars and free agent losses with rookies. They opened the 2013 season with 20 new faces on the roster, most of them young, unproven players.

This year, they are replacing veteran free agent losses with veterans. That should make a difference in 2014.

@ The Steelers hosted Michigan State corner Darqueze Dennard and Notre Dame defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt.

Denard has been linked often with the Steelers and the 15th pick in the upcoming draft. The Steelers like him a lot.

Tuitt, meanwhile, was considered a first-round pick heading into this season, but a foot injury has limited him from doing much in pre-draft workouts. He could fall to the second round, where the Steelers would likely love to get him just as they did when tight end Heath Miller fell to them in 2005 when he couldn't work out in the offseason due to a sports hernia issue.

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Steelers sign McCain, will host Heyward-Bey

The Steelers continued a very busy offseason Tuesday by signing free agent cornerback Brice McCain to a one-year deal.

McCain, who was basically the nickel corner for Houston the past few years, will count just $635,000 against the team's salary cap.

His signing leaves the Steelers with less than $500,000 in remaining cap space. But that won't stop the team from continuing to shop.

Wednesday, veteran wide receiver Darius Heyward-Bey is expected to visit.

The Steelers can likely fit Heyward-Bey under their cap without making any other moves if he's willing to sign a one-year deal at the minimum as McCain did. Pittsburgh gave McCain a $730,000 contract with a $65,000 signing bonus.

But per NFL rules, teams can get a cap discount for veteran players that lowers their cap hit slightly. And he moves another salary out of the top 51 salaries, for which the basement is currently $420,000.

McCain, 27, is expected to battle William Gay for the nickel position while also playing special teams and providing veteran depth.

Heyward-Bey would be an interesting signing if the Steelers can make that happen.

The 6-2, 219-pound speedster is a former first-round pick of Oakland who spent 2013 with Indianapolis.

His best season came in 2011 when he caught 64 passes for 975 yards and four touchdowns. He had 29 catches for 309 yards and a score in 2013 for Indianapolis.

@ The Steelers hosted a pair of my draft favorites today, bringing in Ole Miss speedy wideout Donte Moncrief and Baylor running back Lache Seastrunk.

Moncrief is considered a second-round talent, though I wouldn't be shocked if he went at the end of the first round, while Seastrunk is a third or fourth-round guy.