No matter how much anyone’s stock rose at the 2014 NFL Scouting Combine, all the players at the top of the Steelers board remain within their reach in the 2014 NFL draft.
Sure, not everyone among Mike Evans, Justin Gilbert, Darqueze Dennard, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Calvin Pryor and Louis Nix will be available when the Steelers pick at No. 15. But at least one of them will be.
This will not be a repeat of 2012, when Dontari Poe went to the Steelers at No. 24 in a lot of pre-combine mock drafts. Then the Memphis nose tackle blew away everyone at the combine with 44 reps in the bench press and skyrocketed into the top half of the first round, eventually going to the Kansas City Chiefs at No. 11.
Current Steelers nose tackle Loni Fangupo tied for third at the 2012 combine with 36 reps in the bench press, but he’s struggling to crack the lineup. Poe made the Pro Bowl in 2013 for a playoff team. The Steelers could have used Poe in 2013. They allowed 4.3 yards per carry, the most they’ve allowed since 1999.
Not that the Steelers had to “settle” for David DeCastro in the 2012 draft. He’s on a Pro Bowl track, and if they could get him at No. 24 in 2012, they can get Evans, Gilbert, Dennard, Clinton-Dix, Pryor or Nix at No. 15 this year.
The 6’4 3/4″, 231-pound Evans ran a 4.53-second 40-yard dash, third-fastest at the combine among the nine receivers listed at 6’4″ or taller, according to NFL Draft Scout. The only two who were faster were 211-pound Martavis Bryant of Clemson (4.42) and 195-pound L’Damian Washington of Missouri (4.46).
Chances are probably 50/50 at best that Evans will last until No. 15. The Texas A&M sophomore established himself as the No. 2 receiver in the draft behind Clemson’s Sammy Watkins. But it’s not unrealistic that he’ll fall and allow the Steelers an opportunity to draft the tall receiver Ben Roethlisberger has always wanted.
Oklahoma State’s Gilbert was the combine’s fastest defensive back with a 4.37 40 and the fourth-fastest among all combine participants. His 40 time doesn’t rank among the top 15 cornerbacks at the combine since 2006, according to NFL.com, but cornerbacks need a lot more than just straight-line speed. DeMarcus Van Dyke (first, 4.28) and Justin King (fifth, 4.31) are among the five fastest cornerbacks at the combine since 2006, and both have been among the riff-raff filling the Steelers’ depth chart at cornerback in recent years.
Gilbert has the edge on Dennard as the top cornerback prospect in the draft, according to NFL.com. He intercepted seven passes in 2013, returning two for touchdowns. He also returned six kickoffs for TDs in college. That extra dimension gives him a Swiss Army Knife attractiveness.
If the Steelers can’t get Gilbert, Dennard of Michigan State will get a long look. NFL Draft Scout ranks Dennard ahead of Gilbert and selected Keenan Lewis as his pro player comparison. Perhaps drafting Dennard would be an indirect way for the Steelers to make up for the mistake of letting Lewis sign with the Saints last year.
Dennard might not be the best fit for the Steelers’ zone coverage scheme, based on NFL.com‘s scouting report. If Gilbert is gone and the Steelers pass on Dennard, they’ll have a legitimate shot at one of the top two safeties in the draft.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix of Alabama or Calvin Pryor of Louisville almost certainly will be an option for the Steelers at No. 15. Both safeties could even be available. Both intercepted seven passes in college.
Nix, the Notre Dame nose tackle, helped himself by showing up at the combine 23 pounds lighter. He’ll be much more attainable than Poe was in 2012 if the Steelers want to go in that direction.
So how can the Steelers be confident that at least one player among Evans, Gilbert, Dennard, Clinton-Dix, Pryor or Nix will be on the board when they pick at No. 15?
They can thank the Big 10. Not the Big Ten Conference, the Big 10 Prospects of the 2014 Draft.
Rob Rang, Dane Brugler, Pete Prisco and Pat Kirwan of CBSSports.com all have released their latest mock drafts since Feb. 26. Charles Davis, Daniel Jeremiah, Bucky Brooks and Matt Smith of NFL.com all have updated their mocks since Feb. 21. All eight of them have these 10 players going within the first 14 picks: Jadeveon Clowney, Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles, Teddy Bridgewater, Watkins, Khalil Mack, Anthony Barr, Greg Robinson, Jake Matthews and Taylor Lewan.
More than two months remain before the draft, but if all 10 of those players are picked before the Steelers are on the clock, that leaves only four other players who can be picked.
If those mock drafts come to fruition, one of the names at the top of the board at the Steelers’ draft headquarters will be written on a card and presented to Roger Goodell when he takes the podium to announce the No. 15 pick.