Jim Wexell from SteelCityInsider has Earl Thomas as the current favorite to be selected by the Steelers in Round 1.
I think this pick makes a lot of sense, Earl Thomas can compete for the starting CB position opposite Ike Taylor (job is wide open) and immediately help out as the team's 3rd safety (only has to beat out Nate Allen and Ryan Mundy) and in nickel packages (replacing the departed Deshea Townsend).
3-1 – Earl Thomas, FS, Texas: Here’s a guy I was willing to ignore because of A.) the depth of the position in the draft, B.) his poor showing against the Alabama run game, and, C.) the fact the Steelers signed two safeties in free agency and already have Troy Polamalu at the position. Then I learned yesterday that the Steelers had scheduled Thomas for a visit on April 8-9. When I searched his numbers for my story, I read an intelligent write-up in which the analyst compared Thomas to Polamalu. Not that I take such media remarks seriously, but when I turned the tape on to re-watch Thomas in the national championship game, the comparison rang true. Sure, Thomas was run over a couple of times by the Alabama RBs. But as I watched him closely, I saw the quick-twitch Polamalu speed as Thomas came up hard to upend Alabama backs on a handful of occasions with shoulder-first dives at their feet. I also watched Thomas stop three breakaway Alabama plays down the sideline with a burst of speed from the middle of the field. I also watched Alabama – seemingly on purpose – avoid throwing at all to anyone covered by Thomas. The three or four deep Alabama passes were all thrown with the other Texas safety over the top. Nick Saban was not about to let Thomas beat him, because, as a redshirt sophomore, Thomas had intercepted a school-record eight passes, 10 in his two-year career. In the title game, he was used as a chess piece in the Polamalu mold: He blitzed, covered slot receivers, played deep center field, played in the box, and on special teams he was used as a jammer and later came off the edge and almost blocked a punt. He’ll play this coming season as a 21-year-old and is nearly the exact size (5-10.2, 20 as Polamalu (5-10.1, 206) when Polamalu came out. Polamalu ran a 4.40 40 at his combine and dipped into the 4.3s at his Pro Day. Thomas ran a 4.48 at the combine and will likely run faster at his Pro Day (March 31). Thomas might also be able to play cornerback, and could in the least replace Deshea Townsend as the Steelers’ nickel back and third safety.
However, with Thomas’s stock on the rise, and the prototype having been established by Polamalu (no safety shorter than 5-11 had been drafted in the first round for 19 years before Polamalu), it’s unlikely that Thomas will be available at pick 18. The Jacksonville Jaguars, at 10, are becoming the choice landing spot on mock drafts for Thomas, after the safety-deficient Jags addressed their other main weakness by signing pass-rusher Aaron Kampman in free agency.
But, there’s the possibility of trading up, something Kevin Colbert has done twice. The first time in team history was in 2003, when the Steelers held their breath as the San Diego Chargers, picking 15th with a hole at SS after losing Rodney Harrison, traded down 15 spots to draft a CB named Sammy Davis. The Steelers then moved up 11 spots to draft Polamalu with the 16th pick. It cost them third-round and sixth-round picks, which was less than half of the points required, according to the draft pick value board. If the Steelers can procure a similar deal this year, or even pay a smaller price if the Jaguars pass on Thomas at 10, it’s the move I expect them to make.