The Pittsburgh Steelers could go in a number of directions in the first round on Draft Day. That can be a blessing or a curse. With the depth of this year's draft, they shouldn't worry too much. Picking at 15 is tricky though. When you look at their immediate needs, the two positions that stand out to me is DB and WR, with a slight edge going to CB over S, but all crucial needs that they need to address now. CB Ike Taylor has shown signs of decline and is in a contract situation. S Ryan Clark is aging and the Steelers anticipate his exit. WR Emmanuel Sanders is likely to depart as a free agent, leaving Antonio Brown as the only experienced WR. Ben Roethlisberger is in desperate need of a big receiver.
Here are the players from the DB position that stood out at the NFL Combine and/or interviewed with the Steelers:Justin Gilbert goes sky-high for an interception versus the Sooners in the Bedlam series.
- Oklahoma State’s Justin Gilbert assured everyone that he would run in the 4.2- or 4.3-second range. He ran an official 4.37-second 40-yard dash, which was the best time among all defensive backs. When Gilbert’s speed is added to his prototypical size (6-0, 202), length (33 1/8-inch arms) and ball skills, he has the skill set to be a top 10 pick and top CB.
- Michigan State’s Darqueze Dennard isn’t as physically impressive as Gilbert, but he is considered as the other top cornerback prospect. Dennard ran an unofficial 4.42-second 40-yard dash answering questions about his speed. Dennard was already the most technically sound, aggressive and physical cornerback in this class.
- A third cornerback, Virginia Tech’s Kyle Fuller, may have established himself as the third first-round cornerback with a strong 4.40-second 40-yard dash. Fuller has first round talent, but missed part of his senior season due to injury. Fuller is making his case to be the next cornerback drafted after Gilbert and Dennard.
- At an imposing 6-3 and 211 pounds, Utah’s Keith McGill surprised with unofficial runs of 4.47 and 4.44 seconds in the 40-yard dash. Those are outstanding numbers for a cornerback with that type of size. As the NFL continues to evolve and teams want bigger cornerbacks, McGill’s value will continue to rise.
- Ohio State’s Bradley Roby lived up to his status as a first round talent. He finished with an official 4.39-second 40-yard dash. He looked very smooth in drills. Although he had an up and down junior season. he is ready to make a statement as a first rounder.
Here are the wide-outs who impressed:
- LSU's Odell Beckham, Jr. was clocked at 4.31 seconds for his 40-yard time at the combine. That time was later adjusted to a 4.43-second official clocking. Regardless, Beckham displayed his soft hands as he snared every throw with effortless ease in running the gauntlet drill when receivers are required to catch seven passes in rapid-fire sequence from quarterbacks aligned on opposing sides as receivers sprint across the field. The 5-11, 198 former LSU receiver was smooth in and out of his breaks on 10-yard slant in patterns, 10-yard out routes, 17-yard dig cuts and on the deep takeoff and corner fade routes, which is what he is known for. Odell Beckham Jr., is considered to be a second or third rounder, but now be garnering first-round consideration.
- Texas A & M's Mike Evans. The 6-5, 231 Evans reminds teams of Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver Vincent Jackson with his wide catching radius and ability to snare passes with strong hands reinforced his top 15 pick status. During the gauntlet drill, Evans plucked a pass that seemed behind him without breaking stride. No wonder Manziel trusted his tall target to win so many jump balls last season. He posted slightly better numbers than expected. His unofficial 4.47-second 40-yard dash is noteworthy for a receiver of his size.
- Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks, the 2013 Biletnikoff award winner as the nation’s top wide receiver, ran a pair of 4.30-second 40-yard dashes. Cooks may have become a legit first round pick.
- Saginaw Valley State’s Jeff Janis opened eyes with an unofficial 4.30-second 40-yard dash. Janis is a big receiver at 6-3 and 220 pounds.
Being a University of Pittsburgh graduate and a huge PITT fan, I must discuss the emergence, at least in the eyes of the so-called experts, of Pittsburgh’s Aaron Donald, DT. Following him throughout his career, I knew he was a 'stud' from the beginning. Please read my draft analysis of Aaron Donald posted earlier this month on my profile page for more info and stats.Donald running drills at the NFL Combine. Even with his immense size, he is very quick on his feet. (Michael Conroy - Associated Press)
Yesterday's NFL Combine proved me correct. He worked out and impressed. At 6-1 and 290 pounds, Donald ran an official 4.68-second 40-yard dash. The defensive tackle also recorded a 1.59-second 10-yard split, which really exemplifies his quickness off the snap. As impressive as Jadeveon Clowney’s 40 was, Aaron Donald’s 4.68 at 290 may be more impressive considering he is 24 pounds heavier. He also shined at the Senior Bowl too. While everyone was watching South Carolina DE Jadeveon Clowney, Donald put together a more impressive overall performance at the NFL Combine completing all the drills. He also posted top five performances among all defensive linemen with 35 repetitions on bench press and a 7.11-second timing in the 3-cone drill. Donald was also Top 5 among defensive tackles with a 32-inch vertical jump and a 9-feet-4-inch broad jump.
These workout numbers only confirm what was seen this past season. Aaron Donald was the recipient of the Outland Trophy, Bronko Nagurski Trophy, Rotary Lombardi Award and Chuck Bednarik Award after registering 28.5 tackles for loss and 11 sacks as a senior. Although I don't think he will be available in the second round, the Pittsburgh Steelers could use a 3-technique defensive lineman to address a need at some point of the draft. If he falls to the second round, they should jump on the opportunity to snag him. Plus, he played all four years for the Panthers at Heinz Field which is shared with the Steelers. It would be nice to see him stay at home.
Here is a video of his combine workout: