The 70th annual Senior Bowl has reached its conclusion. The last of team practices concluded on Thursday evening and the game took place on Saturday. Most of the player evaluations were made throughout the week, as teams place a heavier emphasis on practice habits and personal interviews rather than the actual game itself.
Earlier in the week, I listed a few players I felt like the Steelers should watch closely as practice week was set to get underway. As the week progressed, players began to separate themselves from the rest of the pack.
Pressure surrounds the Steelers and their upcoming draft, as the team’s Super Bowl window finds itself closing quicker than expected thanks to underwhelming development of young defensive players and missed opportunities late in the season.
With the Senior Bowl becoming an established pipeline of evaluated talent for the draft, head coach Mike Tomlin and his team of scouts were spotted in Mobile taking in the practices.
— Ryan Sakamoto (@BEASTwriter_) January 25, 2019
With another checkpoint down as we draw closer to draft day, here are some notable names the Steelers should circle as they leave Mobile for the NFL Combine in late February:
Foster Moreau – TE – LSU
With 2/3 of the tight ends on the Steelers set to be free agents in 2019, the team may be forced to look to the draft to add more depth. Jesse James may find himself seeking a full-time starting role elsewhere, and the Steelers aren’t very high on the abilities of Xavier Grimble.
LSU’s Foster Moreau exits Mobile as one of the top players in his group, asserting his name in the ranks of Washington’s Drew Sample. During practice week, Moreau caught the eye of scouts by running exceptional routes, to the point where he was open more often than not. Many teams took notice, including the Steelers, who grabbed Moreau for an interview on Wednesday.
Moreau would bring another sizable body to the tight end group, while also adding another smooth route-runner to go alongside Vance McDonald. Foster should be available on day three of the draft, and should the Steelers find themselves needing a young and capable pair of hands, Moreau may very well be the answer.
Penny Hart – WR – Georgia State
Admittedly so, I’m the conductor of the Penny Hart hype train. The 2019 NFL Draft is stacked with talent at the receiver position. With the future of Antonio Brown still very much in question and the team lacking a young speedster on the depth chart, it’s likely the Steelers look to the draft at some point to address the receiver position.
Penny Hart is by no means is a first round pick receiver, due to his size and playing “lesser competition” at Georgia State. Yet when Hart made the voyage to the Senior Bowl, he proved he could turn dust from even the best of corners in front of NFL talent evaluators. Hart’s combination of speed/quick feet makes him a lethal slot receiver, something Pittsburgh may be in the market for despite having Ryan Switzer still on the roster.
Much like Moreau, Hart will have to wait until day three to hear his name called. Penny needed a strong Senior Bowl to prove his worth among the rest of the pack, and he very well did. If Pittsburgh is satisfied with their early draft picks, Hart may very well be on the Steelers radar as they enter day three of the draft.
Lonnie Johnson – DB – Kentucky
The Steelers most blatant need resides in the defensive secondary, as the Steelers failed to get any consistent play from any of their secondary players besides Mike Hilton and Joe Haden.
Kentucky’s three Senior Bowl invites all played in the defensive backfield, yet cornerback Lonnie Johnson emerged as one of the top corners in Mobile behind Temple’s Rock Ya-Sin, a player who the Steelers also should continue to watch after being listed on my pre-Senior Bowl watch list. Johnson would bring a physical, hard-hitting presence to a Steelers defense that is in dire need of an alpha dog opposite of Haden, possessing the versatility to play in multiple coverages.
Aside from his physicality, Johnson’s week in Mobile also proved he’s able to handle man to man coverage. Lonnie thrived in 1-on-1 drills throughout the week against a top-notch receiving corps. Johnson is a high-value guy who could play himself into the second or third round, and could be the piece to the puzzle the Steelers thought they once had in Artie Burns.
Germaine Pratt – ILB – NC State
Many favor the Steelers to pull the trigger on either a inside linebacker or cornerback in the first round of this year’s draft. With two serviceable linebackers who could hold the fort down for one more season in Vince Williams and Jon Bostic combined with the athletic abilities of LJ Fort, drafting an inside linebacker might not have as much priority as addressing the defensive backfield.
Yet, the Steelers are still searching for Ryan Shazier’s long term replacement, as none of the above linebackers listed above are considered enough to carry the position for the years to come. NC State safety-turned-linebacker Germaine Pratt possesses the athletic ability to cover the field much like Shazier once did.
Pratt registered over one hundred tackles in 2018, while racking up six sacks, three passes defended and two forced fumbles. Pratt produces at a high rate and tackles extremely well. With his range and athleticism at the middle linebacker position, the Steelers may very well have their answer for covering the dangerous pass-catching running backs and tight ends who have scorched them in recent years.
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.
NFL Cancels In-Person 2021 Scouting Combine in Indianapolis; Pro Days On
After weeks of rumors and speculation, the NFL has made it official, announcing in a memo to clubs Monday they are significant alterations to the 2021 Scouting Combine.
Annually held in Indianapolis, the league is scrapping in-person workouts at Lucas Oil Stadium, instead opting for pro days on college campuses. The NFL will coordinate with schools to ensure “consistency in testing and drills,” providing video of said workouts to all clubs.
Interviews and psychological testing of prospects normally executed at the physical combine will instead be conducted in an entirely virtual format.
As for medical evaluations, limited in-person exams will most likely be conducted over a three-day span in early April. While some evaluations will also be held virtually, an undetermined number of prospects will be invited to designated satellite locations for in-person exams. Each franchise will be permitted to dispatch a physician and athletic trainer to conduct the in-person portion.
Leading up to the 2021 NFL Draft in April, the league will work directly with clubs, schools and affiliated broadcast partners to ensure media availability with Combine invitees. The NFL intends to keep with tradition and make head coaches and general managers available to the media as well.
The altered Combine format was devised and overseen by a special committee of league and club officials, including NFL Chief Medical Officer Dr. Allen Sills, Arizona Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill and Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert.
Further details regarding protocols and finalized dates will be released as the committee continues to meet and plan over the coming weeks.
Here’s the full memo on changes to the 2021 scouting combine: pic.twitter.com/e1KNcuaUTn
— Tom Pelissero (@TomPelissero) January 18, 2021
Report: NFL to Make Significant Changes to Combine Due to COVID-19
Major changes to the 2021 NFL Scouting Combine are expected amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
According to a report by Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer, plans of hosting the combine as traditionally constructed are “dead” following a conference call between league officials Friday. It is becoming increasingly likely that the medical and performance-based portions of the event will be held separately.
A number of alternatives are being considered, including regionalized medical checks, standardized pro days and interviews conducting via Zoom.
With regards to the regional medicals, the NFL could set up shop and administer the examinations at hospital in states where a large number of players are conducting their workouts and preparation, such as Arizona, California, Florida and Texas.
The intent would be to limit travel for players, where as the team physicians conducting the examinations would likely have already received their vaccinations.
Other aspects of the medical process can be accomplished virtually, such as reviewing injury histories.
As for the pro days, NFL or individual team personnel would put players through drills at their respective schools, but standardize each workout to ensure prospects are going through the same exercises as they would in Indianapolis. Measurements and result would then be distributed league-wide as they normally would be.
League officials will continue to meet over the coming days, according to Breer, but a finalized plan is expected later this coming week.
The NFL has also weighed the option of postponing the combine until April, but still holding it in Indianapolis. While it is on the table, the move would likely requirement the 2021 NFL Draft to be postponed as well.