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.
NFL Releases Pro Day Schedules
The 2021 NFL Combine should be kicking off this week in Indianapolis, but like so many other things in the past year, it has been canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The NFL has decided not to risk bringing together prospects, scouts and media from around the country and will instead be relying on the schools’ individual pro days to evaluate prospects.
With that in mind, the league has taken a greater measure of control over the process, and on Wednesday, released a preliminary schedule for each team’s pro day.
March 5: Kansas
March 9: Kansas State, Northwestern, Wisconsin-Whitewater
March 10: Arkansas, Marshall, Maryland, Wisconsin
March 11: Clemson, Nevada, Texas
March 12: Arkansas State, North Dakota State, Oklahoma
March 15: Army, Kent State, Middle Tennessee St., Vanderbilt
March 16: Georgia Tech, Temple
March 17: Arizona, Georgia, Illinois, Pitt, San Jose St.
March 18: Auburn, Buffalo, Central Arkansas, Louisiana Tech, Louisiana-Monroe,
Stanford, Troy, West Virginia
March 19: Memphis, Ohio, TCU
March 22: Air Force, Bowling Green, Colorado, Colorado State, Florida State, Iowa, Missouri, Toledo
March 23: Alabama, Central Michigan, Iowa State, Nebraska, Purdue
March 24: Michigan State, Mississippi State, South Carolina, USC, Virginia
March 25: Georgia Southern, UMass, Ole Miss, North Texas, Penn State, San Diego St., SMU, Tennessee, Western Michigan
March 26: Boston College, BYU, Michigan, South Dakota State, Virginia Tech
March 29: Arizona State, Duke, Louisiana-Lafayette, Miami (Fla.), Miami (Ohio), North Carolina
March 30: Alabama, East Carolina, Florida Atlantic, Louisville, NC State, Ohio State, Texas A&M, Tulane, Washington
March 31: Boise State, Florida, Kentucky, LSU, Notre Dame, Wake Forest
April 1: UCF, Minnesota, Charlotte, Oklahoma State, Oregon State, USF, Western Kentucky
April 2: Oregon, Tulsa
April 7: Texas Tech
April 9: UAB, Ball State, Houston
Should Steelers Use First Round Pick on a Center?
NFL Releases Further Details of Altered Draft Process
After cancelling the in-person NFL Scouting Combine last week due to COVID-19 concerns, the league released further details of the significantly altered draft process in a memo to clubs Friday.
Teams are prohibited from timing, testing, interviewing or examining draft prospects at any location other than all-star games or the respective player’s pro day.
Clubs are also banned from hosting draft prospects for facilities visits, dinners, film sessions and private workouts. Violations of these rules would be subject to punishment in line with the NFL’s anti-tampering policy.
Further muddying the process, clubs will only be allowed to have a maximum of three individuals attend pro days. However, all times and measurements are said to be made available league-wide.
Lastly, the league also released further details and restrictions on the pre-draft interview process. While in-person interviews and visits will be prohibited, they can be conducted virtually or via telephone.
Clubs can schedule up to five video conferences or phone calls with a prospect, with each conversation limited to one hour. Virtual psychological tests will not count against the five interview limit.
Teams can begin conducting interviews with draft eligible underclassmen on Monday, Jan. 25.
Interviews with seniors can begin on Monday, Feb. 1.