Here We Go, Again

In spite of local unrest, Jim Wexell continues to write about college defensive backs. Here's what the SCI publisher saw and heard yesterday.

Customers are pleading with me to forget this madness of finding value in the first-round from a defensive back.

They point out that even I, in an earlier column, wrote that the Pittsburgh Steelers would be better off finding a cornerback in the second or third rounds, and that I'm stuck in a moment that I can't get out of.

But I say good. And I say that I won't, that this is far too important. In fact, I'm stuck on a player because I can't even eliminate UCLA free safety Rahim Moore after he ran a 4.62 40.

Ironically, that time might help him land with the Steelers.

The 40 time helps an evaluation, but at the combine, for defensive backs, the on-field drills matter most. And Moore's work in that area was sublime.

Moore on Tuesday confirmed he's the perfect coverage free safety. He understands the middle of the field and has terrific hips, hands and ball skills. Say hello, Steelers, to your new nickel back.

It's a position of need. You don't like William Gay? Get a nickel back. You don't like Anthony Madison? Get a nickel back. You want someone to bide his time somewhere before moving to free safety in a few years? Get a nickel back.

Maybe he doesn't hit as hard as Clark, or most Steelers free safeties of the past, but going for the ball instead of the kill shot would certainly be a nice change of pace.

And Moore will be 21 years old throughout his rookie season, just like Lawrence Timmons, Rashard Mendenhall and Maurkice Pouncey. And who's to say Moore won't become a more fearsome tackler when he gets a little older?

There's also this: Moore idolizes Ed Reed. One of the coaches at UCLA set Moore up with a 45-minute conversation with Reed. Moore gushed when I asked him about it at the combine.

"That is one of the smartest men I've ever talked to in my life," Moore said. "When I first got on the phone with him I almost started crying. That's how much I love the guy."

Might he give a little more when playing against the Ravens?

At the combine Tuesday, during the fundamental "W" drill, Moore utilized a footwork technique that NFL Network analyst Deion Sanders had been disappointed others were not using.

The other analyst, Mike Mayock, jumped in first after Moore's smooth run.

"He's a safety with corner feet and corner skills," said Mayock.

"He's like Ed Reed," said Sanders.

"That's his favorite player," said Mayock.

"I can tell," said Sanders.

There's another reason I'm stuck on Moore right now. Aaron Williams and Jimmy Smith are both too tight in the hips to help the Steelers at their problem nickel spots.

Sure, it'd be great to draft a big cornerback at the bottom of the first round, someone who'll eventually move into the position and uphold the team's tradition of big, physical cornerbacks. Both of those guys can run, too.

But big cornerbacks with stiff hips too often become big safeties with stiff hips who too often find themselves out of the league.

"Tight, Mike. Tight, Mike. Tight," Sanders said to Mayock while the 211-pound Smith went through his paces.

Williams was a bit more agile, and his three-cone time of 6.72 is impressive, but right away Sanders said of the muscular 204-pounder, "That's a safety."

And you knew he was probably right.

Sanders said the agents of both players will be calling him because "safety" is a dirty word for money-conscious cornerbacks-to-be. "But I have to tell the truth," Sanders said.

Sanders, as always, gave his opinions, his truths, during the entirety of the players' on-field drills.

* On Nebraska's Prince Amukamara: "Prince is too high. He's high as a kite."

* On Texas's Curtis Brown: "Oh my God. Did you see the ball skills?"

* On Smith's partner at Colorado, Jalil Brown: "A little stiff? The tin man needs oil. He was really stiff."

* On Chimdi Chekwa of Ohio State: "Don't like that at all. Looked like a track guy playing football. A little stiff … real raggedy."

* On Brandon Harris of Miami: "Oh, yeah, baby. I liked that." Also: "Great hands. Best I've seen here."

* And again on Moore: "Nice. And low, too. That was nice. That was nice."

With my eyes receiving confirmation through my ears, courtesy of the great Deion Sanders, my three defensive backs are … drum roll please … Moore, Harris and Curtis Brown.

- Moore measured 5-11.6, 202 and ran 4.62 (40), 6.90 (3-cone).

- Harris measured 5-9.4, 191 and ran 4.51, 6.77.

- Brown measured 5-11.5, 185 and ran 4.54, 6.59.

I promise to get myself unstuck from this position and move on, but I'll be watching these three defensive backs the next six weeks. The Steelers should, too.


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