Living in Terror

You know you're deep into draft season when you find yourself sitting straight up in bed with your heart pounding, your palms sweating, and you're thinking about ... well, a football player.

Yes, I feel the need to admit to being sparked out of my slumber the other night by the thought of Mike Adams being drafted by the Steelers.

Sure, it's disturbing, no matter how you look at it, but such is the life of a football writer as the calendar heads into April.

My subconscious must have been working overtime. I had just finished reading a batch of stories about how Steelers GM Kevin Colbert was visiting his third offensive tackle of the draft season, that Adams had quietly visited with management on the South Side, that Colbert would have no problem if his coach, Mike Tomlin, moved Willie Colon inside to play guard, and that ownership had promised yet another axing of a veteran or two. I've assumed all along that the next veteran to go would be swing tackle Jonathan Scott and his $2.2 million salary.

It all must've coagulated in my brain at about 4 o'clock in the morning and struck fear into my entire being, because, really, the only two available tackles at pick 24 will be Adams and Jonathan Martin, and both were so very unimpressive this past season.

So in need of professional help, I called an expert. I dialed into Nolan Nawrocki's conference call.

Nawrocki's the lead scout at Pro Football Weekly, a scout-turned-reporter instead of the other way around. I asked him first about Adams, the Ohio State left tackle who played half a season last year after being suspended in the tattoo "crisis."

"From a talent perspective," Nawrocki started, "I think he's got the size you want to handle both the left and the right side. He's got great body length and did a solid job at the Senior Bowl. But if you put on the tape, from last year especially, it's kind of troubling watching him try to match up with the speed of the Big 10.

"And if you look at how much time was missed throughout his career – every year it's been something, whether it's been injury or suspension – there just isn't a strong body of work. There isn't overall consistency in his game. For that reason I see him more as a true third-round talent.

"That's where you'd like to get him. He is going to be off some draft boards I think just because of the concerns. I've talked to some teams that wouldn't draft him at all, any place. But if you look at the demand for that position in general, I think teams will look at him in the first round and I'd be surprised if he got out of the top 50."

Knowing the Steelers, Adams is more likely to be off their board than for them to make a reach. So that leaves Martin, a high-character tackle from Stanford who also is coming off a weak campaign.

"The concern with him, first of all, is his strength," Nawrocki said. "I was kind of surprised he decided to come out of school because I kind of felt like he needed more time in the weight room, needed to develop more, and would've really benefitted from it. He only bench-pressed 225 pounds 20 times at his pro day and I think he clearly got away with his level of strength in the Pac 10. If you look at the one rusher he faced who has NFL-type talent, Nick Perry of USC, he just ran right by him, ate him up, beat him inside.

"[Martin] really struggled matching up against that caliber of competition, so if you look at what he's going to do in the pros he'd probably have to move to the right side because he's going to have a hard time matching up with the speed. And he doesn't have the strength you want for a right tackle, so if you really boil it down, coming into the league I think he's more of an ideal swing backup for a good football team. But I think you'll see him get exposed and I think he's going to have a hard time matching up."

I saw it. Nawrocki saw it. Surely the Steelers see it, right?

They need a guard anyway, and in Nawrocki's latest mock he has the Steelers picking one. But who in the world is Amini Silatolu?

"Amini Simotolu is from Midwestern State," Nawrocki said of the Division II school on the Texas side of the Oklahoma border. "If you put on the film of him it's hard not to get excited. He was probably the most enjoyable evaluation of this draft class, just watching the vinegar, the nastiness, the way he was able to dominate that level of competition.

"He played left tackle in college. I think he projects better inside in the pros. The concerns are, one, mental, and, two, character off the field. He got into some fights in the past. He's a little bit rough around the edges. You have to be able to manage him, so that's one concern teams are going to have with him. I think you're going to want to give him simplified assignments and keep it very basic for him initially and let him handle more over time, especially moving inside from the outside and having come from a small school.

"In terms of the talent level, he's definitely one that's fun to watch. You see him break out the ol' tomahawk chop and just throw guys around. He looked like a man among boys at that level. I think he grades out as a first-round talent. I don't expect him to get out of the top 40 or so. I think he's got the chance to potentially be the best guard in this draft if he finds a way to stay in line and if he can really handle a playbook."

Um, he sounds a bit too much like Chris Kemoeatu. Got anything in a Kevin Zeitler type of fit? You know, your basic strong, sturdy, dedicated and smart guard?

"To me, all along he's been a late first-round, early second-round type of talent," Nawrocki said of Zeitler. "You look from early on this season he's just been a model of consistency. He's built exactly how you'd want a guard to be built. There is very little downside. You know exactly what you're getting. You plug him in from Day One and he's going to start and he'll play 10 to 12 years in the league. He comes from a great program at Wisconsin. I think there's a chance he could fit into the back of the first round. If not he'll definitely be a top 50 pick. It's just too hard to find guys like him who are so consistent."

Right. So why not find him at pick 24?

"I think one of the concerns in general with the guard position is that a lot of general managers don't perceive it to be a value position. I think that's begun to change with some of the contracts we've seen the last couple of years. But you look at what's ahead of him: David DeCastro, Silatolu, Cordy Glenn. I think there are a clump of guys in this year's draft who have a little more value and I think they'll be taken ahead of Zeitler.

"But with him, it's kind of like the Pouncey brothers. I think wherever you take Zeitler you'll never feel like you took him too early because of the type of player he's going to become."


And, hey, my heart stopped pounding.

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