Visit NFL from the sidelines on the new Observer-Reporter site:

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A quick Q&A with Cam Heyward

Caught up with Cam Heyward today as the Steelers finished up their first week of OTAs. Here's what the emerging star at defensive end had to say:

Q: Your room is going to have a whole different look to it this year. What kind of adjustment is that going to be for you?

A: I can't tell yet. I'm still learning the guys, and guys are trying to pick up stuff. We'll see once camp comes.

Q: Do you feel like there's more pressure on you now, given the guys who are gone, to step up and be a leader?

A: Shoot, I put enough pressure on myself. The last thing I want to think about is somebody else putting pressure on me. I've got goals and I'm looking for more team goals than individual goals. If we can hit those, we're all good.

Q: What are some of those team goals?

A: To be the No. 1 defense. Coach (Dick) LeBeau put it up for us. We struggled last year. We were 13th. In the last 10 years, we've had four or five No. 1 defenses. We've got to get back to that.

Q: Does it seem strange to say you struggled and you were 13th? Struggling is like 30th, isn't it?

A: That's the thing. Our bar is set a lot higher than other places. I wouldn't have it any other way.

Q: What do you think the dynamic is going to be like without some of the guys who are now gone? No Ziggy (Hood). No Brett (Keisel)? If you look back two years ago with what you had, it's completely different.

A: Right. We don't know what our roster is going to be once camp is done. Everybody is going to have to contribute. I'm looking for everybody to put their best foot forward and just continue to grow.

Q: It's been very tough for rookies to come in here and help out and play a lot, as you saw. Stephon (Tuitt) is coming in, and the team kind of stepped out of character and even Dick (LeBeau) said Tuitt has a chance to contribute a lot right away.

A: Everybody has a chance. It's about seizing that. We'll see how he develops and how he grows. I know he's going to be a great player one day. You don't know when it's going to happen. It could be this year, next year, whenever. Everybody grows different. You've just got to learn. That's the thing about the NFL, you're constantly learning. Hopefully, he can take in all of that information.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Pouncey back on field

The Steelers got a pleasant surprise today as they opened their OTAs with center Maurkice Pouncey fully cleared to return to the field.

Pouncey looked fit and trim lining up with the first-team line and proclaimed himself fit and ready for anything.

"It was a big step," said Pouncey, who missed all but eight plays of the 2013 season with a torn ACL. "For the coaches to see it, for my teammates to see it, for me, myself, to see it, it was pretty cool."

@ In a somewhat surprising move, rookie Ryan Shazier lined up with the first-team defense at inside linebacker from the start.

It was an out-of-character-move for the Steelers, who never hand a starting job to a rookie.

Then again, maybe it wasn't all that surprising since the Steelers stepped out of character on draft day and said Shazier had a very good chance to start.

Why waste time putting somebody else at the spot if you know Shazier is going to be the guy?

But there have been other rookies over the years who were obviously better than the previous starters, and they had to wait at least a few practices or until training camp to grab the spot.

@ Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor were two notable players missing from today's practices.

@ Daniel McCullers does not look like a 352-pound man. He's tall and lanky.

@ New defensive lineman Cam Thomas, on the other hand, looks every bit of the 330 pounds he's listed at.

@ Javis Jones said he has been working hard in the weight room to get stronger. Jones has been working out in Georgia with some other NFL players.

Jones answered nearly every question today raving about new assistant linebackers coach Joey Porter.

Example: Have you gotten stronger this offseason.

Answer: You know, Joey Porter goes in and lifts like he's still a player. . . etc.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Getting ready for mini-camp

The Steelers will hold their mini-camp next week and will have a completely different look this season - particularly on defense.

While their will be some changes on offense, the majority of the changes on the team will be on the defensive side of the ball.

Mike Mitchell will be at free safety. Jason Woirlds and Jarvis Jones will get all of the first-team reps at linebacker  - not a huge change, but LaMarr Woodley won't be sharing that time. Cam Thomas will line up at defensive end opposite Cameron Heyward.

One spot there won't be a change at, at least not yet, will be at inside linebacker next to Lawrence Timmons. Vince Williams will likely open up as the starter - at least for now. But expect rookie Ryan Shazier to be worked in there plenty as well.

The Steelers are that high on their first round pick.

I would expect second-round pick Stephon Tuitt to get some work with the first unit as well, with the team masking it by moving Thomas, a free agent signing, to nose tackle at times.

With so many new faces on defense, this is an important mini-camp for the Steelers. Given the team's schedule this year - with three of their four games against Baltimore and Cleveland coming early in the first six weeks - it can't afford to stumble out of the blocks like it did in 2013 when it started 0-4.

And 0-4 start this season would include losses to both Cleveland and Baltimore, which would be killers.

This team needs to work its defensive starters together as much as possible in mini-camp and training camp to find its continuity.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Steelers news and notes

The Steelers concluded their rookie orientation over the weekend, with the big news being the work of Jordan Zumwalt, a sixth round pick, at both inside and outside linebacker.

The pick of Zumwalt was deemed as curious to some because the Steelers had already selected inside linebacker Ryan Shazier in the first round. But at 6-4, 236, Zumwalt has the length to line up outside as well - if he can develop some kind of pass rush moves.

Remember, he played at UCLA, which ran a defense similar to what the Steelers employ under the tutelage of former Steelers assistant Lou Spanos. And Zumwalt was the play caller for the Bruins, which means he should have a pretty good working knowledge of the defense.

Zumwalt isn't being counted on as a starter. So if he's going to make this team as a special teams ace - which is what the Steelers envision - it will help his cause greatly if he can provide some position flexibility.

* I've seen numerous reports of teams who wanted to get into position to draft Shazier, whom the Steelers selected with the 15th pick in the first round.

Dallas was going to take him at 16 if the Steelers did not, and Green Bay, which picked a few spots later, was also hot for the speedy linebacker.

The latest team that emerged with an interest in Shazier is Atlanta, which reportedly tried to trade up after making its first-round pick to get him. The Falcons found the price to move up out of the early portion of the second round to be too steep.

* The Steelers signed a pair of their draft picks, nose tackle Daniel McCullers and tight end Rob Blanchflower, to four-year contracts on Monday.

Those are the easy ones and come at no real cost against the cap. But the higher-drafted players won't be signing until after June 1.

* The Steelers will add 3,000 seats to Heinz Field for the 2015 season. No tax money will be used to finance the seating. But ticket holders will see a surcharge of $1 to help finance the expansion.

* Saw a photo on Twitter today showing three former Towson players together in the Browns' locker room.

That has to be neat for Towson, but I'm not sure what it says about the Browns.

OK, maybe I am. It would be a lot better for Cleveland if those three players were all from, say, Alabama, instead of Towson, which, last time I checked isn't going to be confused for a football factory.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A look at the Steelers draft picks

1. (15) Ryan Shazier, ILB, Ohio State. I had Shazier on my radar going into the draft. He's like a heat-seeking missile. But I, like everyone else, fell into the trap of thinking the Steelers HAD to take a wide receiver or cornerback, overlooking the need at inside linebacker. I didn't think the Steelers would take the second coming of Lawrence Timmons because, you know, they already had Timmons. But is there something wrong with having two of those guys? Should start right away. Passed on: Darqueze Dennard (CB)

2. (46) Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame. Almost a no-brainer when he fell into their lap in the second round. Had Tuitt not been injured in his final season and then showed up at the combine with a stress fracture in his foot, he would have been a first round pick and possible consideration for the Steelers in the first round. A solid pass rusher from the end position who can also stop the run in the same vein as Cam Heyward. There's a very good chance he'll start right away as well. Passed on: Davante Adams (WR), Stanley Jean-Baptiste (CB)

3. (97) Dri Archer, RB/WR/KR, Kent State. This seems to be the pick most are settling on when they question the Steelers' draft. If Donte Moncrief had still been on the board, he would have been the pick. But while the "official" time at the combine on Archer was 4.26, the Steelers and many other teams had him at sub 4.2. He's also a killer in the open field with his great vision. Yes, he's only 173 pounds. But he fills an immediate need as a kick returner - all of their 2013 kick returners are gone - and he'll we worked in as a slot receiver and change-of-pace runner. This kid is not, I repeat, not Chris Rainey, who was just a quick, little running back. Archer will score at least five TDs this season. Passed on: Martavis Bryant (WR) , Keith McGill (CB)

4. (118) Martavis Bryant, WR, Clemson. After passing on Bryant to take Archer, the Steelers wind up with both. How close were they to taking Bryant in the third? The team put out a bio sheet with Bryant as their third-round selection, then had to put out another showing him as the 118th pick instead. Bryant has good size (6-4, 211) and speed (4.42). And he's a deep threat, as his average of 20-plus yards per catch in college would suggest. But he's raw as a route runner. A boom or bust pick. Passed on: Pierre Desir (CB)

5. (157) Shaquille Richardson, CB, Arizona. After passing on corners all the way through, the Steelers got a guy they really like. Carnell Lake discovered Richardson on film while at UCLA and invited him to a camp. The Bruins' staff liked him so well that after the camp, they offered a scholarship. But Lake was hired by the Steelers soon after that and Richardson and two others were accused of stealing a purse. The charges were dropped, but Richardson ended up at Arizona. He's got good size and speed and is a potential starter down the road. Passed on: Ryan Carrethers, NT.

5. (173) Wesley Johnson, G-C, Vanderbilt. As I've already stated on this board, this was one pick I questioned. If the Steelers had taken a tackle prospect, I would have understood the pick. But Johnson, primarily a left tackle in school who played some guard and center, is projected as an interior swing guy. Then again, the Steelers had the same projection for Kelvin Beachum and he's now their starting LT. Passed on: Jeoffrey Pagan, NT

6. (192) Jordan Zumwalt, ILB, UCLA. After taking Shazier in the first round, it was somewhat surprising the Steelers doubled down at inside linebacker. But their depth at the position was terrible in 2013. He'll compete immediately with Vince Williams, Kion Wilson and others for a backup spot, with the winner being decided by who plays the best special teams. Zumwalt should be very good on teams, so the others might have their work cut out for them. Passed on: Jamea Thomas, CB, Georgia Tech

6. (215) Daniel McCullers, NT, Tennessee. At 6-7, 352 pounds, he's massive. A project who is going to have to keep his weight down - he said he got as high as 420 in high school - McCullers will be John Mitchell's latest project. Actually, Mitch has a few to work on, counting Tuitt and last year's seventh-round pick, Nick Williams. Tuitt is a more finished product, though, and if Mitch can turn Williams and/or McCullers into contributors, he'll have helped the Steelers turn the corner. Passed on: Beau Allen, NT

7. (230) Rob Blanchflower, TW, UMass. I loved this pick, and not just because it won me a dinner from co-host David Todd on the ESPN 970 draft show - I called not only the position but the player. Blanchflower is a good all-around tight end who can both block and get down the field to challenge defenses. He's not a burner (4.82) but he's solid in every facet of the game, which is what the Steelers look for. He had some injury issues in college, but will push for a spot on the roster as the No. 3 tight end. Passed on: Seantrel Henderson, OT

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The draft, that's a wrap

I thought the Steelers came away from this draft with a pretty good haul in this draft, filling a number of needs with some great value players.

Tops among those were defensive linemen Stephon Tuitt in the second round and wide receiver Martavis Bryant in the fourth.

Tuitt was a guy I felt was a first-round talent who dropped in this draft due to his injury issues in 2013. He played heavy due to an offseason hernia issue, then wasn't able to work out for teams during the draft process because of a stress fracture.

Despite his issues, Tuitt still had a productive 2013 season - though not up to his 2012 standards. Had he been healthy, he doesn't get out of the first round. It's like the Steelers got two first round picks.

As for Bryant, the Steelers had a late second-round grade on him and their pick at the end of the third round came down to Bryant and Dri Archer after Donte Moncrief was taken by Indianapolis a handful of sections before they picked. They took the speedy Archer, much to the chagrin of many, and were fortunate to also score Bryant in the fourth round.

I was one of the few in the Steelers media room who liked the Archer pick. Speed is speed and Archer can line up at both running  back and wide receiver while also giving the Steelers a kick returner. If they hadn't taken Archer, they were looking at the prospect of having running back LeGarrette Blount return kicks.

But also getting Bryant in the fourth round seemed to alleviate some of the issues many had with taking Archer.

* The selection of Jordan Zumwalt seemed curious since the Steelers had already taken inside linebacker Ryan Shazier in the first round. But Zumwalt will be a beast on special teams while also pushing the likes of Kion Wilson, Chris Carter and Terence Garvin for a roster spot.

Zumwalt hits like a beast and could be a future special teams captain.

* Between Zumwalt and cornerback Shaquille Richardson, the Steelers got a couple of players who were recruited to UCLA when defensive backs coach Carnell Lake was on staff there.

Richardson wound up not staying at UCLA, in part because the Steelers hired Lake, in part because he and two other recruits were accused of stealing a purse. The charges were later dropped, but UCLA wanted to grayshirt Richardson and have him sit out a semester while the investigation took place.

Richardson, in fact, called Lake to ask him what he should do and Lake told him he might want to pursue an offer from Arizona instead of waiting for the smoke to clear at UCLA.

The Bruins also ran a defense very similar to Pittsburgh's - under the direction of former Steelers defensive assistant Lou Spanos. It's another reason they were actually very interested in Anthony Barr in the first round if he dropped.

* The Steelers have agreed to terms with 10 rookie free agents after the draft, including a pair of former Stanford standouts, defensive end Josh Mauro and defensive back Devon Carrington.

Mauro (6-6, 271) was certainly a draftable player and is a nice prospect as a 3-4 defensive end. He likely fell out of the draft after running a pedestrian 5.15 40.

The other eight are offensive lineman Chris Elkins (Youngstown State), defensive end Ethan Hemer (Wisconsin), offensive tackle Kaycee Ike (UAB), linebacker Howard Jones (Shepherd), quarterback Brendon Kay (Cincinnati), defensive tackle Roy Philon (Louisville), offensive guard Will Simmons (East Carolina) and tight end Eric Waters (Missouri).

All rookies will participate in the team’s rookie minicamp next weekend, which runs May 16-18.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Three rounds, no corner

The Steelers went into the draft with four obvious needs: Cornerback, wide receiver, defensive line and inside linebacker.

OK, the inside linebacker need wasn't a great one, but they did want to upgrade the position after shuffling Vince Williams, Terrence Garvin, Kion Wilson and even safety Troy Polamalu through the position after Larry Foote was injured in the regular season opener last season.

Through the first three rounds of the draft, the Steelers have addressed two of those spots and kind of added a player to one of the others.

And with six picks remaining in the draft's final four rounds - one each in the fourth and seventh rounds, and two each in the fifth and sixth - don't be surprised if Pittsburgh moves around to grab some players it covets to fill the remaining needs.

It wouldn't shock me at all if the Steelers traded their fourth and a sixth round selection to move up to the early part of the fourth round today and acquire a cornerback.

I like Pierre Desir of Lindenwood, who is raw but still on the board, but there are still a number of developmental guys still available. At this point, however, you're going to be getting a guy who's too something: small, slow, raw, etc.

Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau did go on record Friday as saying he liked the team's DB depth.

@ LeBeau also went on record as saying that he expected both Ryan Shazier, the linebacker the Steelers selected in the first round, and defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt, whom they selected in the second round, to not only contribute this season, but to push hard for starting jobs.

That statement was completely out of character for the Steelers, but it does tell you a lot about the team's current depth.

Shazier and Tuitt are both talented, to be sure, but the days of taking guys and sitting them for a year are while they learn are out the window.

@ The one thing the Steelers have definitely done at this point is improve their team defense.

After the New England game last season, it was very apparent that they just didn't have the team speed on defense to compete with those kind of spread passing attacks.

But with the addition of safety Mike Mitchell in free agency and Shazier at linebacker, the Steelers have gotten a lot faster on that side of the ball.

@ Speaking of faster, it was all about the speed with third-round pick Dri Archer.

Archer was a guy I liked enough to preview on the draft series I did for ESPN 970-AM strictly because of his speed and versatility.

He was officially clocked at 4.26 seconds in the 40 at the combine, which is plenty fast enough, but a number of teams, including the Steelers, had him at sub-4.2.

Yes, he's only 5-8 and 173 pounds, but he's lightning in a bottle.

Archer also lined up in the slot on passing downs and caught 99 passes at Kent State, where he averaged 12 yards per reception and 7.2 yards per carry over the course of his career. He also scored four touchdowns on kickoff returns in just 18 career attempts since most teams tried to keep the ball away from him in that role.

Archer did have some fumbling issues in college - he had 13 in about 450 career touches - but he also scored 40 touchdowns in those 450 or so career touches. In fact, his 40 touchdowns were one off the team record of 41 set by one Josh Cribbs. And we all know what a pain in the behind Cribbs was to the Steelers over the years.

Could the Steelers have used a big receiver instead? Certainly. And there were still a number of them available, including Clemson's Martavius Bryant.

But Archer will have a bigger impact this season than Bryant ever would have. The Steelers will find ways to get the ball into his hands five or six times per game, and they will be five or six plays that will make everyone in the stadium hold their collective breath.

The Steelers took a chance a few years ago with Chris Rainey. Archer is Chris Rainey all over again, only a lot faster.

He could create all kinds of matchup problems. If you have him run routes out of the backfield, there's not a linebacker in the league who will be able to run with him.

And if you have to use a corner on him, that is one less corner to cover somebody else.

@ As for the big receiver, I still like what I saw from last year's sixth round pick, Justin Brown in practice over the final month or so of last season.

Brown is a big kid who showed some soft hands and the ability to high-point the ball. Ryan Moye was more polished and made more plays in the preseason last season, which is why he got the spot on the regular season roster last year, but I'm not counting Brown out of the competition this year.

There's also Darius Heyward-Bey hanging around.

@ The thing some people are forgetting about when they talk about the Steelers' passing game is the fact that LeVeon Bell is going to be a big part of it.

Despite missing three games at the start of last season, Bell nearly broke the team record for receptions by a running back. He'll do so this season and likely catch close to 70 passes.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Steelers take Shazier and other thoughts

Looking at Ohio State linebacker Ryan Shazier during the run-up to the NFL Draft,  I thought he was a clone of Steelers inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons - only faster.

The Steelers apparently saw the same thing.

They made Shazier their somewhat surprising first-round pick Thursday in the draft, passing on cornerback Darqueze Dennard.

That move was sure to make Steelers fans angry, since most had settled on a corner or wide receiver being the pick. After all, those were viewed as the team's two biggest needs along with defensive line.

But really, the Shazier pick makes some sense.

The biggest need the Steelers had coming into this offseason was improving their team speed on defense. They did so at free safety, replacing Ryan Clark with Mike Mitchell.

Thursday, they got a lot faster at inside linebacker as Shazier teamed with Timmons gives them a pair of hit-and-run linebackers.

Shazier's addition also will get Troy Polamalu back out of the box, where he spent a lot of time in 2013 because the Steelers didn't have a linebacker other than Timmons who could cover, and allow him to play off the line of scrimmage, where his playmaking ball skills will be more evident.

And with cornerback and wide receiver being two of the deepest positions in this draft, the team will have the option of addressing their needs there in later rounds.

But linebackers who were productive in college and can run a sub-4.4 40-yard dash, they don't come around too often.

@ Shazier's hamstring issues in the offseason were a concern for me when I looked at him in the draft process. But they weren't as big an issue to me as the numerous injury issues Alabama inside linebacker C.J. Mosley had.

Mosley might have been more of a sure thing at inside linebacker - and Baltimore picked him a couple selections after the Steelers took Shazier - but his injury history is downright scary.

Here's what I wrote in my pre-draft column for Thursday's Observer-Reporter, where I had the Steelers taking cornerback Kyle Fuller: "If Dennard is gone, the Steelers will look at corners Justin Gilbert and Fuller or inside linebackers C.J. Mosley of Alabama and Ryan Shazier of Ohio State.

Mosley would be a nice addition to play next to Lawrence Timmons, but had numerous injury problems at Alabama, while Shazier is a speedy run-and-tackle linebacker in the same mold as Timmons."

@ There are still some very good corners and wide receivers on the board heading into Friday's second and third rounds.

At cornerback, I like Rice's Philip Gaines or Nebraska's Stanley Jean-Baptiste in the second round as a possible Steelers' pick, or Lindenwood's Pierre Desir, Jaylen Watkins of Florida or Bashaud Breeland of Clemson in the third round.

At receiver, there are a bevy of guys still available, some who can probably come in and help right away.

I expect Marqise Lee and Jordan Matthews to go early in the second round, but Donte Moncrief of Ole Miss, Penn State's Allen Robinson Cody Latimer or Davante Adams of Fresno State would be solid picks in the second round. In the third, I'd look for Clemson's Martavius Bryant, Jarvis Landry of LSU, or Kevin Norwood of Alabama.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Nunn's loss leaves a void

The Steelers’ draft room will be a somber place today. For the better part of the past 50 years, there was a spot in the room held by a former sports writer, the only sports writer permitted into the inner sanctum.

Bill Nunn Jr., who died Tuesday night at 89, was that respected within the organization.

Of course, Nunn wasn’t just a sports writer. He had given up that profession when the Steelers hired him to scout the predominantly black colleges that had often been overlooked by NFL teams to that point.

Nunn, as a sports writer, sports editor and later managing editor of the influential Pittsburgh Courier, arguably the nation’s preeminent newspaper for African Americans, had been selecting the Black College All-American Team for a number of years. And as a former standout college basketball player at West Virginia State College – he was good enough to garner attention from both the NBA and Harlem Globetrotters – he knew an athlete when he saw one.

And Nunn saw many playing at the black colleges in a time when the nation was split in half by race.
Nunn started working for the Steelers as a part-time scout for the Steelers in 1967. By 1969, the same year Chuck Noll was hired to coach the team, he was brought on in a full-time basis, playing a huge part in the team’s acquisition of the greatest dynasty in NFL history.

It was through Nunn’s work that the Steelers found players such as Mel Blount, John Stallworth, L.C. Greenwood, Donnie Shell, Ernie Holmes, Joe Gilliam, Glen Edwards and Frank Lewis, all players from predominantly black colleges that Nunn had identified as having NFL futures.

Forty years ago, he had a huge part in helping the Steelers obtain the greatest draft class in NFL history.
In 1974, the Steelers selected Lynn Swann, Jack Lambert, John Stallworth and Mike Webster in the first five rounds of the draft. There were five future Pro Football Hall of Fame players selected in that draft. The Steelers selected four of them.

“It is, by far, the greatest draft in NFL history,” said Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert. “Our hats are off to Art Rooney, Jr., Dick Haley and Bill Nunn as well. Obviously, Coach Noll and his staff have to be applauded, and we will certainly be thinking about that group as we go into this draft.”

Nunn “retired” from scouting in 1987. But he continued to help the Steelers with their scouting efforts. Listed as the Senior Assistant of Player Personnel in the team’s media guide, Nunn would help the Steelers evaluate talent prior to the draft. Every year at training camp, he would sit at a picnic table high above the practice fields, watching and evaluating.

That seat, along with the one he held in the Steelers’ draft room every year, will sit empty now. But Nunn’s legacy with the team is quite the opposite. He was a juggernaut in all walks of life.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Final mock draft

Editor's Note: Feel free to tear this up. I added some trades I see happening on draft day in what should be one of the more interesting in recent years.

1. Houston, Jadeveon Clowney, DE, Houston. It's looking pretty settled that the Texans are taking Clowney or trading the pick to somebody else who will take him.

2. Cleveland (from St. Louis), Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson. The Browns could probably stick at 4 and get Watkins. But they fear somebody else jumping ahead of them.

3. Jacksonville, Khalil Mack, LB, Buffalo. Despite the fact the Jags don't expect Justin Blackmon to play this season, they go for a pass rushing linebacker who might be the best player in the draft.

4. St. Louis (from Cleveland), Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn. The Rams pick up some extra selections and still get the player they really want.

5. Oakland, Jake Matthews, OT, Texas A&M. What's this? A safe Raiders pick? Sure, why not?

6. Atlanta, Taylor Lewan, OT, Michigan. In this scenario, it wouldn't be surprising to see the Falcons try to slide down a few picks in a trade with a team looking for a QB.

7. Tampa Bay, Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M. Go figure, two Aggies picked and not one of them is Johnny Manziel.

8. Dallas (from Minnesota), Aaron Donald, DT, Pitt. The Cowboys are said to be hot and bothered about moving up to get Donald.

9. Buffalo, Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina. A big tight end is a young quarterback's best friend.

10. Detroit, Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State. The Lions don't often get things right, but they do here,  keeping Dennard in the state.

11. Tennessee, Johnny Manziel, QB, Texas A&M. Surprise QB pick here. The new Titans' brass isn't in love with Jake Locker, who can't stay healthy.

12. N.Y. Giants, Zack Martin, G, Notre Dame. Tom Coughlin likes to build in the trenches.

13. St. Louis, Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, S, Alabama. The Rams will reap a bounty of picks in this draft and are off to a good start with Robinson and now Clinton-Dix.

14. Chicago, Calvin Pryor, S, Louisville. The Bears would have preferred Donald here and could go for a corner. But safety is also a need and the corner class is deeper.

15. N.Y. Jets (from Pittsburgh), Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State. The Jets are a mess in the secondary. They get a dynamic return man to boot and the Steelers pick up an extra third-round pick.

16. Minnesota (from Dallas), Blake Bortles, QB, Central Florida. Low and behold, the Vikings get their quarterback.

17. Baltimore, Odell Beckham Jr., WR, LSU. Yes, the Ravens signed Steve Smith in the offseason. But that's a Band-Aid.

18. Pittsburgh (from N.Y. Jets) Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech. Fuller will be a special teams stud right away and be the likely starter at nickel corner.

19. Miami, C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama. The Dolphins would have loved an offensive lineman here, but it's too high to get into the second tier of linemen.

20. Arizona, Derek Carr, QB, Fresno State. Carson Palmer is not the long-term answer at QB for the Cardinals.

21. Green Bay, Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA. The Packers have long looked for a complimentary pass rusher to pair with Clay Matthews. Barr is raw, but he can get after it. A good value pick at this point, and Mike Neal is not the answer.

22. Philadelphia, Brandin Cooks, WR, Oregon State. Chip Kelly got to see plenty of Cooks in college and he's a perfect fit in the slot in Kelly's spread offense.

23. Kansas City, Xavier Su'a-Filo, G, UCLA. The Chiefs lost three lineman to free agency and have to others set to be unrestricted after the 2014 season.

24. Cincinnati, Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State. Another run-and-tackle linebacker for the Bengals. Could Teddy Bridgewater be a possibility here as well?

25. San Diego, Louis Nix, NT, Notre Dame. This pick hasn't changed in any of my mocks. It just makes too much sense.

26. Cleveland, Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville. The Browns get their quarterback.

27. New Orleans, Marqise Lee, WR, USC. The Saints dumped Lance Moore and Darren Sproles in free agency and Marques Colston isn't getting any younger. Hey, Marqise and Marques, a merchandiser could probably do something with that.

28. Carolina, Morgan Moses, OT, Virginia. The Panthers have some holes, but replacing  Jordan Gross at LT might be the biggest one.

29. New England, RaShede Hageman, DE/DT, Minnesota. A classic Belichick pick, a defensive lineman who can play inside or outside.

30. San Francisco, Kony Ealy, DE, Missouri. The 49ers get Aldon Smith insurance in Smith's former college teammate.

31. Denver, Joel Bitonio, G, Nevada. The Broncos have an immediate need at guard and are in a win-now mode.

32. Seattle, Timmy Jernigan, DT, Florida State. Jernigan reportedly tested positive for marijuana at the combine. That won't bother Pete Carroll, who gets a top-20 talent at 32.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Tomlin, Colbert talk draft

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert held their annual pre-draft press conference today. Here's a rundown on the topics they touched on:

* Colbert reiterated that he feels this is the best draft class he's seen in 30 years of evaluating talent.

He said there are 19 players the Steelers would love to draft with the 15th pick and that the quarterbacks will be the lynchpin to this process.

Colbert believes, as I do, that if you polled all 32 teams, you'd get 32 different answers on how they feel this QB class stacks up.

Because of that, and the depth of this draft, he doesn't feel there will be a lot of trades in this draft, though the quarterbacks could certainly affect that.

That said, he feels that if the quarterbacks last though the early portion of the first round, there could be a lot of trade action in the latter portion of the round with teams moving up to get the QB of their liking.

* Colbert said there is zero chance the Steelers move up in this draft, but they would be very open to moving back.

The Steelers won't move up because of the third round pick they traded to Cleveland last year to get Shamarko Thomas. They have a compensatory pick in the third round, but those cannot be dealt.

Because of the depth of this draft, the Steelers wouldn't mind moving back, getting one of the players they like, and acquiring another pick or two. Pittsburgh already has nine choices in this draft.

* Tomlin said given that the Steelers have lost more defensive linemen this offseason than they have signed, you can bet defensive line is on the team's radar.

He wouldn't close the door on signing more free agents - Brett Keisel, perhaps? - but said the team is focused solely on the draft at this point.

Tomlin did say, however, that because of the amount of sub-packages the team uses now, pass rushing ability is a premium for defensive linemen, be they interior or edge players.

* Tomlin also said that linebacker Sean Spence and defensive end Nick Williams are completely healthy and moving forward.

Spence hasn't played in two years after suffering a very serious knee injury in the preseason. If he can get back healthy, that would be a big plus for the team.

Williams missed his entire rookie season with a knee injury. But the Steelers like his athleticism.

Friday, May 02, 2014

Steelers first-round odds

With a week left to go to the NFL draft, here's my rundown on who I think will be the team's No. 1 draft pick based on players I feel have a chance to be available.

I'll be releasing my final mock draft early next week.

1. Darqueze Dennard,CB, Michigan State. I think Dennard is the frontrunner, provided he's available. I'd peg those chances at about 50-50 right now.

2. Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech. He fits the Steelers' style and if they trade back even a few picks, he could be gone. A nice fallback option at corner if Dennard is gone.

3. Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, LSU. At 5-11, 198, Beckham isn't one of the big receivers in this draft. But he's a polished route runner who has drawn comparisons to Antonio Brown. Would it be a bad thing to have two Antonio Browns?

4. Anthony Barr, LB, UCLA. This could be a value pick. Barr is still learning the position and would probably be a top-10 pick in any other year given his athleticism. Jason Worilds is signed only for this season at this point, though I feel a long-term deal is in the works once the Steelers get past the draft.

5. Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State. I know he tests off the charts in terms of speed and he's an outstanding return man, but Gilbert doesn't play very physically. In my opinion, Dennard and Fuller will be better pros. Gilbert could be dynamic as a return man, however.

6. Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina/Zack Martin, G, Notre Dame. A pair of fallback options if everyone else on this list is gone, which is unlikely.

Targets for a trade back 10 or so picks

1. Jason Verrett, CB, TCU. Tough and physical. At 5-10, 189, doesn't have the size of the top three guys, however.

2. Marquise Lee, WR, USC. Polished and talented. He dropped in this draft due to some injury issues in 2013. But a talented receiver, nonetheless.

3. Louis Nix, NT, Notre Dame. I know fans would be upset if the Steelers took him at 15, but if the Steelers grabbed him at, say, 25, and picked up an extra third-round pick, would anybody complain?

4. Ryan Shazier, LB, Ohio State/C.J. Mosley, LB, Alabama. Both have injury issues that could cause them to fall. Both are talented prospects. Are they worth the gamble?