Did the Seattle Seahawks just prove that the Steelers should draft defense?
Well, Steelers fans know about the problems with their defense, but from my seat the Seahawks proved that the Steelers should forget about filling specific positional needs in the draft and should think about the general need: more beasts.
The Seahawks have been rebuilt from the ground up since Super Bowl 40, and that may have been the silver lining to losing that game to the Steelers. Of course, the Steelers had the young franchise quarterback and felt the need to stay the course and draft for specific needs after that game, and who could have blamed them?
The Seahawks did take three or four years to use that plan themselves, but once they changed their coach and general manager (2010), and then their quarterback (2011), they were unfettered by expectations and could draft pure and unadulterated beasts, regardless of position.
The Steelers still have a championship window thanks to their franchise quarterback, and they'll likely feel invigorated by a 6-2 second half and the fact they're in a relatively weak conference. But I will beg them all the way throughout this draft season to ignore the temptation to draft for need and to do what's best for the long-term good of the franchise: more beasts.
With that in mind, here's my initial Top 15 prospect list for the Steelers this draft season:
1. Jadeveon Clowney, Wherever He Wants To Play, South Carolina -- This guy reminds me of Jevon Kearse. Now, understand that I haven't watched him closely this season, but every time I do he's the same Freak he's always been. I don't know about the claims from some that he coasted through this season to remain injury-free and preserve his draft status. It doesn't really matter much to me anyway. Neither does the fact that he's not a seeming fit for the Steelers' defensive scheme. But just draft this killer and figure it out later.
3. Jake Matthews, LT, Texas A&M -- Many argue that the son of Hall of Famer Bruce Matthews is the best left tackle in the draft, and I only disagree slightly. A better pass-blocker than Robinson, I also watched Matthews once pull around right end to get in front of a screen pass with his team backed up on its own goal line. He went down the right sideline for a big gain, and I had to watch it over and over because I wanted to make sure I burned that image of the lineman's speed and agility into my brain.
4. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson -- Watched him take a slant to the house one game and I couldn't stop thinking that it would be nice to see the Steelers draft a taller Santonio Holmes. Strong hands. Great focus. And fast. Also was arrested once for smoking weed and suspended two games. As long as he doesn't wake up, burn, and tweet, I think he can have a long career.
5. C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama -- Didn't finish well, and probably because Auburn and Oklahoma made blocking him a priority, but I've watched too many outstanding performances by the guy I like to compare to NaVorro Bowman. And paired with Lawrence Timmons, that would put the Steelers' backers in the same ballpark as the 49ers'.
6. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M -- The immediate comparison is to Vincent Jackson, but for a guy who's been covering Steelers drafts since 1995 he's Plaxico Burress: doesn't jump well, doesn't high-point well, but is a massive downfield target for a quarterback who can buy enough time to get the WR and the ball there at the same time. Evans also showed he can take screen passes a long way with his speed and power.
7. Teddy Bridgewater, QB, Louisville -- I watched him pick apart Florida in one bowl game and Miami in another, but I've also watched him play like an ordinary, average-sized, and easily-sacked QB. At an estimated 6-2, he's been called a taller Russell Wilson, but Bridgewater seems to get more passes deflected and batted down than does the 5-11 Super Bowl champ.
8. Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State -- At some point he's going to have to show the Steelers what he can do in off-coverage, but in press-man he's physical and sticky. And strong. That's the trait that stands out to me. He's a grabber down the field, but when he grabs, they go down. He's also much stronger in the run game than the other highly rated corner, Justin Gilbert. Dennard's not 6 feet, and he won't run a low 4.4, but he plays with a beastly mentality and, again, that's what I'm looking for.
9. Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo -- I'm slow to key into the guys who don't play a position of need for the Steelers, and who aren't on TV much, and when they are it's against questionable competition. From what I've seen I like his burst and his mentality, but the last time I watched him I thought I saw some bustability. Need to see more.
10. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA -- Might as well put him in lockstep with Mack, because I believe this physical freak has a bustability element, too. Barr has terrific speed and size, but too often seems to possess the instincts of a guy who was just moved from running back yesterday instead of two years ago. He could develop into a Hall of Famer, or he could be Manny Lawson.
11. Dee Ford, OLB, Auburn -- Now, back to the guys I really like but who don't have the physical traits of the above two OLBs. Ford reminds me of Joey Porter with his burst and his zest for the game. Ford also looks like any of the players who were dressed in blue and flying around Met Life the other day, a winning defensive football player. He does get buried in the run game, but, then again, he played DE for Auburn. Those future OLBs are supposed to take their lumps from OTs in that regard. That's why I disagreed with the statements that Jarvis Jones was better prepared for the NFL since he played 3-4 OLB in college.
12. Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina -- He's hailed as the next great deep threat at his position, but I also like his willingness to block, and North Carolina used him frequently out in front of screens. So that all should make him a wanted man by A.) Ben Roethlisberger, B.) Todd Haley, and C.) Mike Munchak, who would no doubt involve Ebron and Heath Miller in his ZBSs.
13. Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State -- I can agree with the many experts who pick at this player's warts. He's 23, drops balls like he's Plax Jr., and wasn't the go-to receiver for his QB. But he was the deep threat. And he's a freak. And he can jump higher than Evans and was my favorite player to watch all season. I think Roethlisberger would turn this guy into a superstar. Freak time!
14. Zack Martin, OL, Notre Dame -- Yeah, the Steelers watched Kelvin Beachum turn into a serviceable left tackle in only his second season, but that means the Steelers have lost their most versatile game-day reserve. Beachum was being trained to play center, guard and tackle. But Martin's already done all of that in college. So the Steelers could use that excuse to draft a better left tackle. Yeah, just use this guy as the sixth man until an NFC team comes along and destroys the left side of the line and you're forced to deal with reality.
15. Kyle Van Noy, LB, BYU -- Love his burst. Love his backstory of trouble-turned-leader. Love his versatility. Upon viewing more tape I notice he doesn't cover as well as I'd like to see an ILB cover, but he's much better than most 3-4 OLBs that I've seen. And if he can't lose weight and move inside as the next James Farrior (a college 3-4 OLB as well), he'll make it as an OLB. That's not needed right now, but I can't leave another of my favorite players off my first list.
Players left over on the scratch paper: HaHa Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama.