Hopeful Stories

It's Easter time, a time for hopeful stories about those who should have little or no hope of being drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Here are three of them:

* A teammate once called Doug Flutie "America's favorite midget," and I took offense, because Flutie, at 5-9¾, stands exactly as tall as me. Well, Russell Wilson stands an inch taller, at 5-10 5/8, and even he's considered "a midget" by pro standards. But he might be the best college quarterback no one on NFL Network is talking about.

"People worry about the height too much but it's not a factor at all," Wilson said at the combine. "I played behind the fourth biggest offensive line in the entire country. They averaged 6 foot 5, and I believe I've definitely shown I can make all the throws inside the pocket and obviously make throws outside the pocket as well and do a lot of different things."

Wilson led Wisconsin to an 11-3 record. In the three losses, he directed the offense to 98 points.

He was a fourth-round pick a few years ago in baseball, but figures to be a fifth-round pick at best in the NFL because he's shorter than his hero Drew Brees by the difference of the B and Y keys on my keyboard.

The Steelers are looking for a backup quarterback and they should think long and hard about drafting a winner such as Wilson instead of looking at their typical array of big, strong, fast fifth-round athletes who are typically gone after a year.

* Respected draft pundit Lance Zierlein, in a tweet late this week, raved about Division II left tackle Amini Silatolu, a 6-3½, 311-pounder who has "better upside than David DeCastro" because of his "quicks, power and nasty." And Zierlein linked to a video of the player that knocked my socks off.

I wrote to Zierlein that I expected the power and nasty from Silatolu, but could not believe the big man's mobility.

Zierlein responded with a zinger right at me because of what I wrote in this space a week ago, that my fear about Silatolu is he's the next Chris Kemoeatu.

"People see the name and they want to link him with Kemo," Zierlein wrote. "Not even close."

The son of former Steelers O-line coach Larry Zierlein, Lance explained that Kemoeatu has tight hips, is unathletic, has bad balance, and poor hand usage.

Kemoeatu, of course, was the Steelers' assignment-challenged and angry left guard who was released last month.

Silatolu projects to left guard and from what I've seen he would drastically improve the position as a puller into the strong side, which was actually Kemoeatu's best asset. But Silatolu's already better.

However, there's one problem: The game in which Silatolu rocked, rolled and ragdolled his way through was against Angelo State, a 5-6 team that hasn't had a player drafted in 14 years. And Kevin Colbert doesn't exactly have a history of drafting small-school players in the first round.

"They're missing a step along the way," Colbert said when asked at the combine about Silatolu in particular and Division II players in general. Silatolu may have missed a step along the way, but let's hope the Steelers don't miss what appears to be a great step in bolstering their offensive line.

* And, finally, there's Dont'a Hightower. Yes, every mock chieftain in 32 cities has him landing with the Steelers at pick 24, but there are some serious questions about the inside linebacker and they're all numerical: 4.71, 4.73, 4.68; 7.53, 7.55, 7.55.

Those are his 20-yard shuttle and 3-cone times as reported from the Alabama pro day. And those times are HIDEOUS.

First, the 20-yard shuttle times are worse than his 40-yard dash time. At 265 pounds, the big linebacker's 4.68 40 time looked pretty good. It was only .02 slower than that of 232-pound Lawrence Timmons at his combine. But personnel directors like to subtract the 20-yard shuttle from the 40-yard dash to better gauge agility. Rarely, if ever, is the 20 time slower than the 40.

As for the 3-cone times, those are worse than every linebacker who ran at the combine, as well as 21 of the 23 timed defensive ends. And Hightower only ran the 3-cone at his pro day, when all is supposed to be in the player's favor.

The astute drafniks laugh at those of us in the media who are predicting that Hightower is a first-round pick. They say he's "stuck in the mud" and would have zero chance of ever covering a Ray Rice one-on-one out of the backfield.

But I remain undeterred. I have to stick with what I watched all season, and will trust his coach, Nick Saban, who said the following about his two-time captain at Alabama:

"With Hightower, it's a little bit unusual when you have an inside backer who became your pass-rusher on third down. He's actually played inside backer in the 3-4, played the nickel backer in sub, and he plays defensive end when we go to any kind of rabbits. And when we were in our odd stuff, when we moved guys around with a bunch of linebackers, he does that and plays a different position in that.

"He not only did it, and knew what he was doing, he knew what everyone else was supposed to be doing and he was telling other guys what to do. He's got a lot of diversity in what he can do."

And I have to believe Dick LeBeau knows it, too.

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