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Thread: NFL Combine: Steelers seeking another 1st round gem

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    NFL Combine: Steelers seeking another 1st round gem

    NFL Combine: Steelers seeking another gem

    Thursday, February 24, 2011
    By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    Darron Cummings/Associated Press

    Center Maurkice Pouncey runs a drill at the NFL's scouting combine in Indianapolis, Feb. 27, 2010. The Steelers drafted Pouncey in the first round of last year's draft.

    INDIANAPOLIS -- Making it to the Super Bowl has not been a deterrent for the Steelers and the players they have selected with the No. 1 pick in the subsequent NFL draft, even though they have been selecting at the bottom of the 32-team heap.

    They're not all the way in the basement this year -- the Green Bay Packers ensured that when they beat the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV -- but recent history has suggested they are still able to find quality players who develop into significant postseason contributors, if not sensations, even from the bottom of the pile.

    For the Steelers, the process starts in earnest today when the NFL Scouting Combine begins at Lucas Oil Stadium, a six-day series of tests, interviews, medical exams and drills in which coach Mike Tomlin and his staff will try to unearth the next Santonio Holmes or Ziggy Hood -- the players they selected after Super Bowl appearances in 2005 and '08.

    "For me, I'm looking at pedigree that jumps out at me, things you can't coach," Tomlin said. "Just start the process of getting to know the draft class personally, what makes them tick, their issues and things of that nature. Just start the information gathering process in terms of putting together a profile on these guys. But, in terms of the physical activity I'm just simply looking at pedigree."

    Tomlin and director of football operations Kevin Colbert struck it big last year with center Maurkice Pouncey, whom they selected with the 18th overall pick after missing the playoffs in '09. Not surprisingly, the romance with Pouncey began at the combine when he wowed Tomlin, Colbert and offensive line coach Sean Kugler with his intelligence, recall and schematic understanding during an interview session.

    Maybe the same will happen this week with one of the top cornerbacks in the '11 draft, allowing the Steelers to immediately address a position in dire need of an upgrade.

    But that is what Tomlin is trying to do at the combine -- assess the quality and depth of the position and identify its top candidates. After all, they got a slow start on their draft preparation because of the Super Bowl.

    "At this point in the process, I'm trying to, more than anything, get a sense of what the class is about, the strengths of the class," Tomlin said. "No question we're going to have an interest in corner, but I don't know that there's been a year that I've been here that I can't say that."

    A lot will depend on what happens with Ike Taylor, their best corner who is an unrestricted free agent.

    The Steelers likely will try to re-sign Taylor, who will be 31 in May, because they don't have anybody ready to step in if he leaves. Bryant McFadden, the other starter, was picked on repeatedly in '10, particularly in the Super Bowl, and the coaches seem content to use William Gay as a nickel back, not a starter. What's more, Keenan Lewis, a third-round pick in '09, was passed on the depth chart by seldom-used Anthony Madison in the dime defense.

    One player who could develop is Crezdon Butler, a fifth-round choice last year who should get more of a chance in '11.

    "I don't view those guys any differently than I view any of the young guys that we have in other positions," Tomlin said, referring to Lewis and Butler. "We expect those guys to improve, to be better players in 2011 and take the necessary steps to do so. That doesn't mean that we might not present them with some competition. That's part of it."

    The Steelers will not be in position to draft either of the cornerbacks who are considered the best in the draft -- Patrick Peterson of LSU or Prince Amukamara of Nebraska. But they could find themselves with an opportunity to draft Jimmy Smith of Colorado (6-2, 205), Brandon Harris of Miami (5-11, 195) or Aaron Williams of Texas (6-1, 195) -- players whose first-round position could be solidified with a good showing at the combine.

    But, in '06, they traded up from No. 32 to No. 25 to take Holmes, considered the top receiver in the draft.

    "It is a physically taxing position," Tomlin said of cornerback. "You have to have a great deal of God-given ability and belief in that. Now, how do you measure their belief in their ability? Not by what they say, but by what you see on tape: how they play, how they respond to positive things, how they respond to negative things. All of that helps you build a profile, if you will."

    Even from the bottom of the heap.

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    Re: NFL Combine: Steelers seeking another 1st round gem

    Inside draft position: 10 key combine battles

    By Chad Reuter
    The Sports Xchange/
    Feb. 23, 2011

    From a player's perspective, the NFL Scouting Combine is all about separating from the competition.

    Beyond running the fastest 40-yard dash or throwing up the most reps of 225 pounds on the bench press, it's up to each prospect to do something to separate himself from players at his position who have similar draft value in the minds of the NFL's 32 decision-makers.

    Coaches and scouts view game film as the single-best tool for player evaluation. But because prospects play different schedules against widely varying levels of competition, teams cannot only rely on tape when trying to project players to the next level.

    Texas' Aaron Williams is in a likely duel to become the No. 3 corner. (Getty Images)

    Here are a few of those battles to watch this week:

    Third-ranked cornerback:
    Brandon Harris (Miami, Fla.) vs. Jimmy Smith (Colorado) vs. Aaron Williams (Texas)

    Smith has the inside track behind Patrick Peterson (LSU) and Prince Amukamara (Nebraska) because of his size, length and aggression in run support. But Williams is similar in stature, and although Harris will measure 1-2 inches shorter than the two 6-footers, he's likely to be the fastest of the three. He's capable of making plays against ball carriers on the outside.

    Scouts also want to see the prospects make plays on the ball in position drills.

    Top-rated defensive end:
    Da'Quan Bowers (Clemson) vs. Robert Quinn (North Carolina)

    Quinn's medical issue (surgery on benign spinal tumor in high school) aside, both players have top-five talent but must display the athleticism necessary to be feared pass rushers in the NFL.

    Bowers needs to be fast and agile in testing to get rid of the "not explosive" label, while Quinn looks to refresh teams' memory of his prowess chasing quarterbacks after sitting out all of the 2010 season due to NCAA suspension for accepting benefits from an agent.

    First-round offensive guards:
    Rodney Hudson (Florida State) vs. Mike Pouncey (Florida) vs. Danny Watkins (Baylor)

    In most drafts, one or two interior offensive linemen go in the first round, so this battle could change the way draft Thursday plays out.

    Pouncey played guard and center like brother Maurkice, but must prove he is as tough and competitive. Watkins will turn 27 next fall, but could be the top guard taken if he proves the athleticism to also start at tackle, as he did for two seasons at Baylor. Hudson's smallish frame turns some scouts off, or leads them to grade him as a center, but testing better than expected at about 300 pounds could tip the scales in his direction.

    Second-tier 3-4 outside linebacker:
    Sam Acho (Texas) vs. Jeremy Beal (Oklahoma) vs. Brooks Reed (Arizona) vs. Jabaal Sheard (Pittsburgh)

    Teams using 3-4 schemes looking for pass rush help in the late first or second round may be evaluating these four college defensive ends.

    Acho's strength and character will endear him to some teams, and an excellent combine could really push him up boards. Reed's pass-rush moves, long hair, and hustle will remind scouts of Green Bay star OLB Clay Matthews III, but he'll need to show his athleticism before making the comparison truly valid.

    After an unimpressive Senior Bowl week, Beal really needs a big combine to have any chance at being a second-round pick. Sheard had a shoulder injury that prevented him from participating in Pitt's bowl game, as well as the Senior Bowl, but teams hope he'll be able to perform linebacker drills to see his fluidity in space.

    Top offensive tackles:
    Anthony Castonzo (Boston College) vs. Derek Sherrod (Mississippi State) vs. Tyron Smith (Southern Cal) vs. Nate Solder (Colorado)

    The top spot among offensive tackle rankings has been fluid for a full year because these top four all have had moments in which they look exceptional -- and all have looked very ordinary. Testing could help determine the ranking order, but team and scheme preference might still dictate that five teams could rank them five different ways.

    To earn the top grade on NFL teams' final draft boards, Castonzo needs to look like a left tackle in agility testing and pass-protection drills, Smith must come in over 300 pounds -- he played last season at around 285 -- and meet high expectations in testing, while both Sherrod and Solder need to prove stronger and more flexible than expected.

    No. 3 quarterback:
    Jake Locker (Washington) vs. Ryan Mallett (Arkansas) vs. Christian Ponder (Florida State)

    Unfortunately, most top quarterback prospects decide not to throw at the combine because they prefer to pass to familiar receivers in their scripted pro day. However, the second-tier prospects could really help themselves with a strong performance.

    Locker has the most to gain by throwing and needs to make up ground after a lackluster career and Senior Bowl week. Mallett's ability to sling the ball is much less in doubt than his agility, so solid testing there, as well as in interviews, could have his stock on the rise. And a strong medical check could satisfy teams' worries about Ponder's throwing (right) arm, which underwent multiple surgeries over the past two years.

    Second-tier running backs:
    Kendall Hunter (Oklahoma State) vs. DeMarco Murray (Oklahoma) vs. Jacquizz Rodgers (Oregon State) vs. Daniel Thomas (Kansas State) vs. Shane Vereen (Cal)

    There is an absolute logjam of running backs with second- and third-round value. The group ranges in size from diminutive but tough 'Quizz Rodgers (5-7, 190) to big Daniel Thomas (6-2, 225), and the other three are all legitimate rushing/receiving threats who may only be separated by team preference.

    Any back exceeding expectations with a hot 40-yard dash (as well as the 10- and 20-yard splits) or agility tests could break away from the rest of the group and follow likely first-rounders Mark Ingram and Mikel LeShoure off the draft board.

    No. 1 safety:
    Quinton Carter (Oklahoma) vs. DeAndre McDaniel (Clemson) vs. Rahim Moore (UCLA)

    Moore was considered the favorite to be the first safety picked this season, but scouts aren't sure he has the instincts or tackling ability to be a first-round pick.

    If the bigger, stronger Carter and/or McDaniel can prove nearly as fast and agile as Moore, or display exceptional hands in drills, they cannot only close the gap but surpass the former Bruin on teams' boards.

    No. 1 wide receiver:
    A.J. Green (Georgia) vs. Julio Jones (Alabama)

    Comparisons between these two receivers have been hot and heavy since Green returned from suspension in October. Green's superior agility and big-play ability wowed scouts over the past three years, but Jones' physicality may give him an advantage over the lanky Bulldog at the next level.

    If there is little difference between the two receivers in the various tests, Jones' size could push him over the top (if teams can put aside his occasional drops).

    First-round wide receivers (pick No. 22-32 range):
    Jon Baldwin (Pittsburgh) vs. Leonard Hankerson (Miami, Fla.) vs. Torrey Smith (Maryland)

    Baldwin and Hankerson are the sort of tall or big-bodied receivers teams seem to covet late in the first (Dwayne Bowe, Kenny Britt, Michael Jenkins). A better-than-expected 40-yard dash time, or even excellent work in the gauntlet or other receiving drills, could help them gain comparisons to Britt or Jenkins, and not second-round disappointments Dwayne Jarrett, Malcolm Kelly and Limas Sweed.

    Smith's after-the-catch ability challenges defenses in other ways, but without the size to match Baldwin and Hankerson -- he's expected to measure around 6-foot, 205 pounds -- he needs to prove he can separate from NFL corners with exceptional speed and short area quickness. Thus his agility tests, not just his 40-yard dash time, must be top-notch to earn a first-round slot.

    Chad Reuter is a Senior Analyst for, distributed by The Sports Xchange. Follow him on Twitter at @ChadReuter.

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  3. #3

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    Re: NFL Combine: Steelers seeking another 1st round gem

    I'll take Brandon Harris if Pouncey isn't available.

    I know he's 1-2 inches shorter but that doesn't bother me if the guy is the fastest out of the group. Our secondary needs speed and ball skills and Harris seems to have both. He is also a very solid tackler.

    He's also from the U which have had proven success in developing NFL talent. They also face tough competition in the ACC.
    Tomlin: Let's unleash hell and "mop the floor" with the competition.

  4. #4

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    Re: NFL Combine: Steelers seeking another 1st round gem

    Combine has strong defensive talent

    Updated Feb 26, 2011

    The term “franchise player" is a term which seems to have been an exclusive discussion for offensive players over the years. However, personnel sources said there are more franchise players available for the 2011 NFL Draft on the defensive line than are available on the entire offensive side of the ball for April's player selection weekend.

    Call it cyclical, but teams looking for impact players on the defensive line will likely be able to get it, and even deeper in the draft than usual.

    “In fact, it looks like it's deep in 3-4 ends. We're a 4-3 team and we think there's some really quality depth as pass-rushers at defensive end that goes into the second round. So we're excited about that,” St. Louis Rams general manager Billy Devaney said.

    Defensive line

    As many as 10 defensive linemen could be selected in the first round of the 2011 draft, but it's not unprecedented that so many linemen could go off the board on the first day.

    "This is the second year that I think we've had a very good defensive line draft: the defensive tackles and defensive ends. I think it's great for the league because for the longest time we had a dearth of D-linemen. We are now excited about having some very high producing athletes along the front,” Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff said.

    While nine defensive linemen were selected in the first round of last year's draft, only two of them — defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Gerald McCoy — would be deemed as franchise type of players. Suh wound up winning the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award while McCoy played well before missing the final three games because of injury.

    Three defensive linemen this year are projected to go in the top 10 — DT Nick Fairley (Auburn), DE Da'Quan Bowers (Clemson) and DE Robert Quinn (North Carolina) — and all three should be deemed as franchise players, according to personnel sources.

    Fairley, according to an AFC defensive coach, is a classic “3-technique” defensive tackle for a 4-3 defense. He has drawn the comparison to former NFL defensive tackle Warren Sapp.

    Bowers is capable of taking over a game at any time, personnel says. He has a tremendous upside and is a classic 4-3 defensive end. He's known for his strength and hands. He had knee surgery after his season was over, so he will only lift weights at the Combine.

    Despite being suspended for the entire 2010 season, Quinn's game tape is so strong from the 2009 season that he's expected to be a sure-fire top-10 selection. While being a little raw, he's capable of being an explosive edge rusher. And while he'll need a little work on his pass rush moves at the NFL level, his upside is huge.

    Usually, you'll see a drop off in talent at a position when you have more than one franchise player available. Such is not the case in this draft.

    “It's another good draft class, one of the best you've seen of guys who can put their hand down and get to the quarterback,” Buccaneers general manager Mark Domenik said.


    The linebacker position is easily the weakest of the three defensive positions for this particular draft.

    According to one NFC general manager, there are no franchise players available at linebacker. Instead, there are some hybrid outside linebackers/defensive end types who offer good value late in the first round or early in the second round. But one player, Von Miller (Texas A&M), is expected to go off the board in the middle of the first round.

    Miller, who played with his hand down as a defensive end in college, is projected to play outside linebacker in the NFL. Teams that run a 3-4 defense figure to strongly consider selecting him somewhere within the first 20 selections. Akeem Ayers (UCLA) and Julian Houston (Georgia) also have a shot to go in the first round.

    Unfortunately, after those three hybrid linebackers, there could be a scarcity of top-end pass rushers from an outside standpoint.

    “I think there are more teams in the NFL looking for 3-4 talent, but there's some changes going on in the college game, things going on with the spread offense. You're getting more 3-5-3 kind of defenses which are more similar to what we run, so there's actually some defenses in college that are changing that to supplement some of the extra demand in the NFL,” Steelers director of football operations Kevin Colbert said.

    Defensive back

    This draft isn't deep on franchise players at either defensive back position.

    In fact, cornerbacks Prince Amukamara (Nebraska) and Patrick Peterson (LSU) are the only two defensive backs projected to be selected in the first round. Both have a shot to be selected within the first 10 selections.

    Amukamara, who has good size for his position, is known for his physical play. He will fit in with most defenses because of his ability to play press coverage. Teams like cornerbacks who are willing to be physical at the line of scrimmage.

    Peterson is certain to be the highest rated defensive back by all 32 NFL teams.

    Like Amukamara, Peterson has excellent size, but is considered to be the better athlete of the two players. The only knock on Peterson is where he'll line up at the next level. Some draft analysts believe he could play safety in the NFL.

    One other cornerback, Jimmy Smith (Colorado), could go in the first round because of his ability to play in press coverage.

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