The combine numbers that most significantly changed the odds on my Steelers draft tote board weren't the 44 bench reps put up by NT Dontari Poe or Poe's 4.98 40 time. Nor was it anything like Luke Kuechly's explosive 38-inch vertical jump. But they were certainly helpful.
No, it wasn't a positive number that jumbled this board. The most significant number affecting the Steelers, as I saw it, was 18 – the bench reps put up by my initial tote board leader Peter Konz.
Konz was my favorite coming into the combine, albeit a shaky one because I had some reservations about putting a center on top when the Steelers need a guard.
That, it turned out, proved to be another point of contention. During a roundtable interview with Konz, I learned that he went to Wisconsin as a tackle and was moved to center. When I asked him if it would be wise for a team to draft him as strictly a guard, he showed hesitation before replying in the affirmative.
Of course, Konz is smart enough to say all the right things, but I'm trusting my gut on this when I say he isn't the center-guard I thought he was. His history of injuries is the third strike, although the catcher did drop the foul tip because I can't take him off the board completely.
Further explanation is available in my updated odds:
* Peter Konz (15-1) – He was moved from tackle at Wisconsin because of a spate of injuries at center, and he became one of the best in the country. Konz said he's never played guard in a game, and then he said this about why he enjoys talking to the media so much:
"My major is radio-television film. I love it. I love the attention!"
Then, when asked about the 18 reps, Konz said, "It's about what I expected."
Have to love that he tells the truth, but a good excuse would've helped him there in my mind.
At this point he doesn't sound anything like a Pittsburgh Steelers lineman. The only reason he's still on the board at all is because he's such a good player, and he left after his junior season, and that perhaps the Steelers are privately worried about Maurkice Pouncey's problematic ankle.
* Devon Still (13-1) – This is a player who grew on me as the season progressed. I watched him early and he came off as lazy. But he did come through in big games, and on the critical plays, with an explosiveness that's hard to find.
Now, he's not a true nose tackle, and that's what the Steelers need, but he's here based on value alone because the defensive tackle position – Jerel Worthy, Fletcher Cox, Michael Brockers – appears to be a rich vein at this point in the first round. Still seems to have the combination of potential availability and the physical traits the Steelers appreciate.
Besides, he looks and sounds just like his cousin, Levon Kirkland.
* Dontari Poe (11-1) – Mike Mayock watched one of Poe's game tapes and raved about his athleticism and explosiveness. But Mayock also said he also saw Poe on the ground "about seven times." Mayock said Poe puts his head down too often and hasn't learned to use his hands the way he should.
Those are the reasons Poe could fall to pick 24 in spite of his Herculean performance at the combine. That Herculean performance, and the fact he's still only 21 years old, and the fact he weighs 346 pounds and doesn't look fat and is a workout warrior with championship-caliber character, are reasons the Steelers would draft him if he were to somehow slip through the cracks.
* Luke Kuechly (10-1) – One would assume that the outstanding numbers put up by Kuechly at the combine would move a guy who wasn't on the initial tote board further out of reach. However, Kuechly wasn't on the initial tote board because I doubted that, if for some odd reason he slipped, the Steelers would pick him anyway because he wouldn't play three downs for them for a couple of years, or at least until Lawrence Timmons either moved on or became injured.
But, Kuechly's numbers tell me that the Steelers would have to find a place for such an instinctive athlete no matter what their plans are at this point. Not that he's any more likely to fall, but teams just don't appreciate middle linebackers the way they used to, so there's a bit of hope.
* Jonathan Martin (15-2) – He didn't work out at the combine, but moved up on this tote board anyway just because I met him and couldn't help but notice his intelligence. He turned down Harvard, in fact, to play left tackle at Stanford.
The Steelers need athletic, intelligent linemen and that's the heart of Martin's game. I watched him early last season and immediately identified him as a top-tier tackle because of that athleticism. But as the season progressed, Martin showed that he lacks polish and needs further coaching, and that may be the reason he slides to pick 24.
It's not likely that he falls, but it's likely that if he does the Steelers would rush his name to the podium.
* Kevin Zeitler (6-1) – Konz was asked why he watches so much tape and he said it's because he hung out so much with Zeitler, who got Konz into the habit of leaving practice and going directly to the film room to watch tape of that practice.
Zeitler is about as serious of a football player as there was at the combine, and the Steelers love that kind of passion and dedication. The problem is he's strictly a guard in a draft in which they can find a starting guard in rounds two and three, and possibly four. Also, Zeitler's not the most mobile of guards and probably doesn't provide much value at pick 24. But if the Steelers don't have any other option, Zeitler's a great fallback option – or they could trade down and draft him.
* Field (5-1) – Probably our most heavily bet spot every year. I think it's a sucker bet, but if you want to wager on the Steelers drafting David DeCastro, Riley Reiff, Fletcher Cox, Michael Brockers, Jerel Worthy, Mark Barron, Mike Adams, Courtney Upshaw, or a cornerback, wide receiver or running back, this is your place.
* Dont'a Hightower (7-2) – I want to make him the favorite, but it's difficult when you understand how easily the Steelers can fix their offense by drafting a right tackle in the first round and a guard soon thereafter.
On the other hand, Hightower is a perfect fit for a team looking to groom someone behind James Farrior this season. True, Hightower would have to leave his ILB spot on pass downs to Timmons, but the natural run-stuffer could move to defensive end on third downs, just as he did at Alabama. Hightower showed off some natural pass-rushing moves in the national championship game, and that also gives him the versatility to swing to outside linebacker if needed. Of course, versatility is big with Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin.
* Cordy Glenn (3-1) – More versatility here as Glenn proved he has the athleticism to give the Steelers what they need at right tackle. This is a player with SEC pedigree who could probably start at RT as a rookie, or either guard spot, or perhaps even LT. As a RT, Glenn would allow the Steelers to kick Willie Colon to RG and they could then draft a LG in the second round to set their O-line for years.
That scenario itself makes Glenn the favorite, but he's not a sure thing since he proved at the Senior Bowl that he's a better tackle than guard and that could cause a team to draft him higher than his inconsistent play and athletic rigidness say he deserves.