6. Odell Beckham -- While Beckham is as complete a receiver as there is in the draft from a hands/speed/route-running/toughness standpoint, I still lean to his visit being most likely a smoke screen. While talented, he doesn't necessarily complement the pieces in place on offense. In basketball, ideally you would like a low post scorer to go with your long defensive shot blocker/rebounder in the frontcourt. You'd like to have a penetrating ball distributor to go with a shooting guard that can stretch the floor and knock down 3's. In baseball, you'd ideally want to have some guys who can work the count and get on base in the first couple spots of the order to set up the power hitters in the middle of the lineup. In football, you'd ideally want a size receiver who can threaten outside the numbers in the red zone to go with a couple quick/fast/smaller receivers. The Steelers have one, maybe two Odell Beckham-like receivers. They don't need another leadoff hitter.
5. Mike Evans -- The card would be turned in about .3 seconds after the Bears announced their pick, but it's highly unlikely he lasts until pick 15. He's the ideal cleanup hitter to the speed at the top of the lineup. No need to trade up with several players who have similar size/speed combinations projected in the second round.
4. Justin Gilbert -- I think there is a good chance he's available at pick 15. But what the Steelers look for in corners, he doesn't provide. A friend of mine who played in the league watched some tape of Darqueze Dennard, Kyle Fuller, and Gilbert. He said this about Gilbert: "He doesn't look like he wants to tackle and doesn't do a good job of getting off blocks." Dennard and Fuller are football players while Gilbert is a cornerback. I think that makes him no higher than the third-ranked corner on the Steelers' board.
And let me add this: I have some concern about Gilbert being able to drop his hips to the knee joint. While he looked good in position drills at the combine, he struggled with his 20-yard shuttle. He mentioned he slipped, but to me that's even more of a red flag. Slipping usually occurs when the athlete struggles to sink his hips. The outside cleat on the cut doesn't sink into the turf. The athlete will mostly use the inside leg to try and change direction. This causes the athlete to slip as the inside foot only catches the cleats along the outside ball of the shoe. I've been doing this drill for years with my athletes and can't remember the last time I've slipped. It's always been the guys I train who initially struggle to sink that slip.
3. Eric Ebron -- I could easily put him at No. 2 on this list, but I have him here for two reasons: One, I don't think he lasts until pick 15, and, two, I'm not sure the Steelers want to run the 12 formation as their primary offense. I think Ebron could make the offense extremely unpredictable. Maybe they are smoke-screening by not bringing him in for a private visit. The heavy influx of receiver visits tells me they want to use 3-WR sets early and often.
As far as where Ebron goes, I think the Bills at 9, a mild surprise by the Lions at 10, or the Giants at 12 would seem to make a lot of sense. Having a weapon like Ebron, who is also a security blanket, would seem to help Eli Manning cut down on his 27 interceptions from last year.
2. Trade Down -- It seems as if there are about 10 players who are sure-fire top-12 picks and the rest are guys with mid to lower first-round grades. All positions the Steelers could look to fill are players that would meet their value somewhere between picks 20-30 (Ra'Shede Hageman DE, Louis Nix NT, Fuller CB, Ryan Shazier ILB, Kelvin Benjamin WR). The Steelers could very well prefer to trade down for one of these players and acquire a fourth-round pick. The problem is they'll need someone interested in trading up. There's no way to predict that. And if one of those first 10 or so players don't slip to 15, I don't see many teams wanting to trade up in a deep draft.
If they traded back, then the Steelers could then use that pick to trade up later in the draft. They also might be comfortable with where they are in terms of number of picks. Having consistent drafts of 7-9 players in order to maintain year-to-year balance is where I think they'd prefer to stay.
1. Darqueze Dennard -- There has been talk that teams are souring a bit on him. My feeling about teams floating rumors in the hope "slippage" was discussed last week on one of the draft preview shows. Count me as one who is skeptical of such rumors. I don't see Dennard getting past the Jets at 18.
I understand the concerns about his tightness. Watching the film, however, I couldn't find an instance where struggling to redirect came into play. There isn't a play I saw in which he sprints 10 yards, stops, and sprints the other way (like a 20 yard shuttle movement).
I read a scouting report saying he struggled to redirect against Ty Montgomery on a comeback route. On that particular play, Dennard was looking inside in press/bail cover-3. While looking inside, he reacted late. That 12-yard completion was the only one he gave up in that game.
Dennard was called for a holding penalty when the TE ran a post route in that same game. If you watch the film, you'll see the TE shove Dennard as he begins to stem his route. It was a brilliant holding penalty on Dennard's part. He didn't take the chance that it wouldn't get called and risk giving up a huge play. He took the 5-yard penalty and Michigan State stopped Stanford on that late fourth-quarter drive.
What matters to me most with Dennard is his production. Esteemed analyst Dave-Te' Thomas broke down for Steelers Depot that in 118 targets this year, Dennard only allowed 18 completions for 104 yards. He gave up the lowest yards per pass attempt in the history of college football at .88. Only two other corners in college football ever allowed less than 1 yard per attempt: Deion Sanders at .935 and Jim Marsalis, who was the 1969 Defensive Rookie of the Year for the Kansas City Chiefs, gave up .969 YPA his last year at Tennessee State. Dennard gave up only two touchdowns his entire career.
I've seen some people rave about Phillip Gaines (a prospect I covet in round 2) giving up only 14 completions in 40 attempts this past year. Well, he would have to give up four completions in his next 78 targets to equal Dennard, who also surrendered only 18 completions in 91 attempts in his junior season. Over the course of two seasons, Dennard gave up 1.11 YPA. That is extraordinary.
It's been said that Dennard hasn't covered elite wide receivers in the Big Ten. Neither did Rod Woodson. The only receivers I saw drafted in the top five rounds in 1987 and 1988 were Mark Ingram and Quinn Early. The only QB from the Big Ten in those drafts was Jim Harbaugh.
The Steelers have not drafted a corner in the first round since Chad Scott in 1997. But they have also been picking at the bottom of the draft, when top-tier corners are long gone. I see Dennard being the No. 1 corner on their board and I don't' see them passing up the No. 1 player at the biggest position of need for their third-ranked wide receiver. I think the Steelers realize that if they are going to start creating turnovers, they need corners who don't give up soft cushions. Dennard would provide what is lost when Ike Taylor leaves. And unlike Ike, Dennard can catch the ball (10 career INTs).
I like that Dennard confidently compared his game to Darrelle Revis'. I've compared him several times to Ty Law. At 5-10.7, 199, he's nearly identical to Law (listed 5-11, 200) in height and weight. Like Law, Dennard clocked at 4.5 speed at the combine. But I think the hand-held 4.42 he was clocked at by four scouts are more representative of how players used to be timed at the combine. Dennard's 4.42 is similar to Revis' hand held time at his pro day (4.38-4.42). If the Steelers get a player that's somewhere between a Revis and Law, that's a win.
First Round projection: Darqueze Dennard.