It’s the week of the NFL Combine, where hundreds of NFL Draft-hopefuls will flock to Indianapolis, Indiana to showcase their best athletic abilities in front of scouts, coaches and front office personnel representing all 32 teams in the league.
It’s a great time for teams to evaluate players further and see their true measurables, while also getting the chance to meet with potential draft picks and interview them.
It’s an important time for all clubs, yet there’s an intriguing importance placed on this off-season given the current climate around the Pittsburgh Steelers. Whether it be waving good-bye to Le’Veon Bell, trying to find a trade partner for Antonio Brown or attempting to fix the defense for 2019, all eyes are on Pittsburgh to see what the next move will be.
While GM Kevin Colbert finds himself in Lucas Oil Stadium for the next few days discussing potential trade deals and other items of business, the NFL Draft will be of high focus and priority. Pittsburgh currently holds the 20th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, and will likely need to hit a home run on the pick to capitalize on a closing Super Bowl window.
So who should the Steelers focus their efforts on?
Obviously, work has to be done and noted on nearly every player. However, spending a heavy amount of time on Kyler Murray as opposed to others isn’t necessary… Unless of course the Steelers have quite the draft plan up their sleeve.
With plenty of options to consider in the first round, here are five players the Steelers may circle and closely watch as the NFL Combine unfolds:
LSU’s Greedy Williams is believed to be the first corner selected in this upcoming draft, and is expected to be taken somewhere in the top ten picks. This leaves ten picks for any team to swoop in and take Byron Murphy out of Washington, if the Steelers decide against pulling the trigger to trade up.
Murphy’s technique and ball skills shined in the pass-happy PAC-12, something the Steelers secondary can certainly use opposite of Joe Haden. Murphy may not be available for selection for Pittsburgh due to the continued hype he’s garnering, yet the Steelers should peg him on their radar as a potential player that can play in virtually any scheme he’s in.
A more likely option for the Steelers in the later parts of the first round appears to be Georgia cornerback DeAndre Baker. Playing in the SEC, Baker has seen some of the best receivers in the country, facing NFL caliber talent on a weekly basis. Baker, similar to Murphy, sits at 5-11 and is able to run with just about anybody in man coverage.
His physicality is what separates him from the rest of the pack, as The Draft Network points out. “Has a lot of pop in his pads, will lay the boom on receivers when he’s meeting the football at the catch point. Plays the boundary vs. the run with intent to hold the edge”.
If Murphy/Williams are out of the picture, don’t be surprised if Baker ends up in Pittsburgh.
With Devin White (most definitely) and Devin Bush (potentially) going round one, the group of inside linebackers then falls to the next tier of talent. Alabama’s Mack Wilson has seen his name dropped in the first round of a few mock drafts, and perhaps rightfully so, as the talented linebacker has shown a lot of strength, physicality and instincts to play at the next level.
After the departure of Ryan Shazier, the interior of the Steelers linebacking corps simply hasn’t been the same. Jon Bostic did a solid job of filling in for run support, yet Pittsburgh remains in need of a young, athletic linebacker to fill the void Shazier left. With a strong combine, Wilson may force the Steelers to select him in the latter parts of the first round, or trade up in the second to get him.
Kelvin Harmon-WR-NC State
While D.K. Metcalf and N’Keal Harry battle it out for WR1 contention, NC State WR Kelvin Harmon has begun to creep up to early round contention, and right fully so. Harmon’s ability to track the football and come down with it, no matter where on the field. Harmon’s athleticism+big frame has brought comparisons to Keenan Allen, Davante Adams and Michael Thomas.
With Antonio Brown likely out the door, the Steelers will look to add another play-maker opposite of JuJu Smith-Schuster. Harmon has serious potential to be a great receiver at the professional level, and if paired with Smith-Schuster, would cause nightmare mismatches for opposing defenses.
Terrill Hanks-LB-New Mexico State
Terrill Hanks is by no means close to Josh Allen in terms of a hype train, yet Hanks may be able to provide exactly what the Steelers are looking for in an outside linebacker. Hanks was asked to do a little of everything at New Mexico State, from dropping into coverage to pinning his ears back and rushing the passer.
Hanks showcased his ability to do everything asked and more, and would provide a service that Bud Dupree simply hasn’t been able to successfully fulfill. With a year left on Dupree’s contract, the Steelers can find Hanks in the middle rounds of the draft and turn him into the true 3-4 outside linebacker opposite of T.J. Watt.
Mic Drop: Adam Zielonka of Washington Times on McFarland, Brooks
Instead of trading for a proven running back like Leonard Fournette, the Steelers simply drafted a rookie with their 4th round pick. That rookie is Anthony McFarland out of the University of Maryland. To fully explain what McFarland brings to the table, Mike Asti was joined by Adam Zielonka, who is a sports reporter for the Washington Times. Zielonka also touched Antoine Brooks, the other Maryland product drafted by the Steelers.
Colbert Explains Why He Wanted Three Rounds Added to 2020 Draft
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert is offering an explanation as to why he wanted three rounds added to the 2020 NFL Draft.
Speaking with NBC Sport’s Mike Florio on the PFT PM podcast Tuesday, Colbert took the opportunity to clarify his suggestion.
“The reasoning was, part of it was selfish,” Colbert said. “You wanted to have a safety net because we’re dealing with less information, and the more picks you have, maybe you’ll have a little bit of a safety net again.”
With the league’s self-implemented travel restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, clubs were unable to conduct their normal scouting activities prior to the Draft. This included Pro Days, private workouts and in-person interviews.
Less opportunities to watch and speak with prospects results in a larger margin for error.
Colbert went on to say that it also would have benefited some of the fringe prospects in the Draft that never had the chance to showcase themselves at a Pro Day or other setting.
“The other thing was it would give the marginal player that didn’t get his opportunity to go to a Pro Day and to perform. Maybe there will be more players drafted and then those players will then again have the chance they might not get.”
Now without rookie minicamps, the challenges are mounting for clubs and NFL hopefuls.
“Every year a team might stumble upon a tryout player,” Colbert said. “Maybe if we ever get on the field, we can think of a way to help those because there’s a big group of players that aren’t getting opportunities because of the situation.”
Colbert reminded Florio that the Steelers discovered Devlin “Duck” Hodges as a tryout in camp last year.
It is unclear when teams will be allowed to return to the practice field for their offseason programs, with clubs currently conducting theirs entirely from home.
Mic Drop: NFL Draft Recap Show
It was eat, sleep, draft coverage, repeat for Mike Asti and the Steelers Now crew this past week. And now that the draft is over, Mike Asti evaluates each pick and gives his thoughts on some moves he says the Steelers should have made.