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.
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.