MOBILE, Ala. — The Pittsburgh Steelers and 31 other teams watched on as NFL Draft prospects took the field for the second day in Mobile at the Senior Bowl. With the second day coming along, who stepped up in a big way to make their presence known, and who faltered?
Cornerbacks and Safeties Step Up
On Tuesday, it was the day of the offensive lineman, but on Wednesday, the defensive backs shined in a big way. That all started with Toledo cornerback Quinyon Mitchell, who battled it out with Roman Wilson. They did at least a best of seven, and I think Wilson took it ever so slightly four to three on the last rep, but you can see why Mitchell is highly sought after in this class.
He walked up in press coverage and played in off-man. He has both the speed to keep up with receivers down the field, but the length at the line of scrimmage to snuff them out. And he’s fluid in his transitions and turns to keep up with receivers. This was a statement day for him.
Given Mitchell’s measurements and physical attributes they fit the ideal Steelers cornerback quite well. But so would safeties Kam Kinchens and Jaylin Simpson. These guys stand out to me as excellent ballhawks, with Simpson playing down in the box more as a slot guy. Kinchens is known more for his spectacular free safety range, but he became a tight end eraser on Wednesday. That was impressive and showed a different side of his game that really popped off the screen naturally.
The last guy who just keeps catching my attention is Missouri cornerback Kris Abrams-Draine. It’s hard to not see Abrams-Draine as a second fiddle to potential first-round draft pick Ennis Rakestraw, but Abrams-Draine looks like a fearsome cornerback himself. He is a smart player with a wide receiver background, so the ball skills are there in spades.
He checks off just about every box most teams would like, even if he is new to the position and just a little bit raw around the edges. Expect him to continue taking a leap with how he pops off the tape both at Missouri and here at the Senior Bowl.
Steelers Focus on Cornerbacks
The Steelers were clearly honing in on the defensive backs, but especially the cornerbacks on Wednesday. Mike Tomlin walked up to them and seemingly became the matchmaker for matchups he wanted to see. Every time Tomlin talked to either a wide receiver or defensive back, they would end up facing one another. It helped working those together as an opportunity to evaluate both positions, and since they are so talented, it’s hard to not see the team taking one at both positions in this class.
Tomlin seemed to get even more excited as the day went on, and talked to everyone in the line of prospects at least once. This is just what he loves to do as a coach, and it is clearly obvious that he loves to do. He said he was a junkie for this stuff, and he is, and will hit the pro day circuit just as hard, too.
But for now, all we have to go off is Senior Bowl targets. And that seems to be defensive backs and offensive line. You can put safety and wide receiver as secondary options to that.
Slot WRs Abound
If the Steelers do want to add a wide receiver in this class, and I bet they will, the Senior Bowl probably is where that guy will come from. That’s just a guess, not a spoiler, but this event has five players who make sense to fit that entire mold. For one, Western Kentucky’s Malachi Corley is built like a running back, similar to Deebo Samuel, but does play differently than the 49ers star. Corley has a physicality to his game and is not afraid to get out there and block.
In a similar area, Xavier Legette reminds you, build-wise, of A.J. Brown. Roman Wilson, Ricky Pearsall, and Ladd McConkey each have proven to be expert route runners who can separate. In toher words, they will find what they are looking if they really wnat to land someone in this class.
And while Arthur Smith’s offense might run a lot of 12 personnel, it does rely on players who can create easy yards after the catch and be dangerous with the ball in their hands. Oftentimes, those quick screens help extend the guardrails in the offense to allow the quarterback to succeed. One more receiver would help break the offense open in that regard, and a power-blocker could help push forward the run game component of his offense. That’s why, with all the needs they have, I still consider wide receiver to be a significant one, even if it is not quite as large as it wold have been without a system like Smith’s coming into town.
NC State LB Shines
For linebackers, I really thought that Payton Wilson out of NC State is proving to be a high talent player. His issue has never been about talent, and you can see why. Wilson is all over the football field, flying sideline-to-sideline. His coverage instincts are extremely polished, and he has a unique frame that works. Wilson’s weight is not an issue, but his frame carries long arms and a surprising amount of muscle.
That is all to say, if he can put his injury history to the side, it’s hard to not see Wilson flying up boards. He deserves that honor with his athleticism and physical traits. Wilson is proving at the Senior Bowl that he can put it all together as a high-level prospect, even if the health concerns will continue until he lands with a football team at the end of the process.