I remember texting to the CBSsports.com mock drafters that "I wouldn't take 8 of your first 10 picks at pick 17," so it was re-affirming to hear analyst Mike Mayock "punching holes in the top 10" recently by saying how hard it is to find anyone but offensive linemen, a couple of defensive tackles, "and maybe a cornerback" for the top of his board.
Anyway, here's my update, with the previous month's ranking in parentheses.
1. Jonathan Cooper, G, North Carolina (4) – I have doubts the Steelers would take a guard even if my No. 1 falls to 17, but this isn't a prediction column; it's about what I would do. And Cooper moves to the top this month because of the intelligence he showed me at the combine and because he gained 26 pounds and still looked fit. That extra weight might be exactly what Cooper needs to put some necessary physicality into his game. To that end he did 35 bench reps, one shy of the OL leader.
3. Luke Joeckel, OT, Texas A&M (2) – During the season I wrote I would rather have A&M's right tackle, Jake Matthews, later in the first round than Joeckel at the top, but Matthews went back for his senior year. I would still take Joeckel given the opportunity, only because I didn't like Marcus Gilbert or Mike Adams coming out. While those two Steelers tackles have played better than expected, they still make me nervous.
4. Lane Johnson, LT, Oklahoma (NR) – I had made a case to rank the extremely athletic Johnson No. 1, and in particular for putting him ahead of both Fisher and Joeckel, but my notes remind me Johnson's 24 years old, or at least two years older than both of those tackles.
5. Chance Warmack, G, Alabama (1) – I have to believe the leaks about Kelvin Beachum starting at LG next season are meant to influence Willie Colon into accepting a lower salary. Either way, Warmack entertained me at the combine the way he entertained me as a pile-driver all season. And Eddie Lacy talked about Warmack's competitiveness as if he's the second coming of Larry Allen.
6. Ziggy Ansah, DE/OLB, BYU (8) – All of the sudden everyone loves Ansah because of his Senior Bowl game tape? I'm not buying that he was as dominating in that game as his stats indicate. It's probably more of an excuse for experts to catch up on this guy. Just remember that the Steelers probably don't like him as much as we geeks do. Ansah has started only 9 games, will be a 24-year-old rookie, and really should fit better as a 4-3 end. Still, at 6-5¼ , 271 (35.1 arms), he ran the 40 in 4.62 with a 10-yard split of 1.56. He's the oxymoron that is Legitimate Freak, or someone around whom a coordinator draws his Xs on the chalkboard.
7. Jarvis Jones, ILB, Georgia (NR) – And speaking of building a scheme around a player, I'm finally drinking the Kool-Aid with Mr. Jones here. I could write a full column on this decision but let me just say that if his comments about preferring to play 4-3 OLB prevent him from buying into playing ILB, and he can't set the edge as a 240-pound 3-4 OLB, he CAN at least provide pressure on pass downs, which would be his rookie role anyway. Even if he can't get off the block initially, Jones has strong hands and enough hustle to cause trouble on third-and-longs. Of course, aside from the questions about his attitude and aptitude for moving inside, and his size for playing outside in a 3-4 scheme, Jones comes with questions about his medical condition (spinal stenosis) and his age (24). A lot of studying is needed, but I'm keeping him in contention.
8. Tavon Austin, WR, WVU (11) – Another freak, only smaller. Austin ran an "unofficial" 4.25 at the combine, but, in the dubbed-in film replay, NFL Network showed him just a nanosecond off Marquise Goodwin's shoulder. Yet, when the official times came down, Goodwin topped the combine with a 4.27 and Austin was given a 4.34. I call bunk on that. Austin's a 4.2 guy in my mind. The other point in moving a 5-8½, 174-pounder up this far on my board was made by Austin when he said, "I haven't missed a game in eight years. My durability's pretty good." So with the Steelers in need of a wide receiver, running back and return specialist, they can get all of that with Austin.
9. Dee Milliner, CB, Alabama (5) – I had him ranked fifth before the combine with the note that his time will be very important. The guy runs a 4.31 unofficial and I move him down three spots; how does that make any sense? Well, he showed some really bad hands, and if the Steelers are going to take a corner in the first round he better have good hands.
10. Kenny Vaccaro, S, Texas (13) – A safe pick at a position of depth-chart and big-picture need, Vaccaro would also give the kick-coverage units an immediate boost. It should also be considered that the Steelers won't be able to draft either of the next-tier safeties – Jonathan Cyprien and Matt Elam – in the second round.
11. Dion Jordan, OLB, Oregon (9) – Back to the take-a-freak-because-he-is-one school of thinking, Jordan remains a risk in my mind because of the lack of power in his game. But, he's a 6-6¼ linebacker with proven coverage skills and thus remains on the list.
12. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Clemson (10) – In last month's rankings I pondered Hopkins or Cordarrelle Patterson. At the combine, Hopkins impressed me much more than Patterson in the interviews, but Hopkins ran a 4.57 40 and a 4.5 short shuttle. Doesn't matter much to me, but those pedestrian times do lessen his value and continues to make trading down an attractive option.
13. Xavier Rhodes, CB, Florida State (16) – Built like a safety, but his tape and combine numbers all scream Dick LeBeau cornerback. Stock climbs here with the likelihood that the Steelers will sign William Gay and let Keenan Lewis leave in free agency. Rhodes would become Ike Taylor's butt-kicking heir apparent.
14. Keenan Allen, WR, California (15) – Contrast Hopkins's two-spot drop to Allen's one-spot gain after Allen did NOT run at the combine. I still don't know much about Allen, other than he has great hands and moves like a running back after the catch. I don't know if he has deep speed, primarily because his QB at Cal was so bad and the tape just doesn't tell much.
15. Jonathan Cyprien, S, Florida International (NR) – He didn't participate in the running drills because of a minor injury, but a review of the Senior Bowl shows Cyprien to be a thick thumper of a deep center fielder, and that's the one worry about Vaccaro, who might be more of a box safety.
16. Bjoern Werner, OLB, Florida State (6) – His times (4.83 40, 7.3 3-cone, 4.4 shuttle) didn't help the perception that Werner lacks "twitchy-ness," but the agility this defensive end showed in the linebacker drills caught my eye.
17. Johnathan Hankins, NT, Ohio State (7) – Was going to drop Hankins and maybe throw RB Montee Ball on the list because of his three-down skills and durability, but Hankins moved so well in the agility drills that I hate to give up on a 21-year-old just because he jiggles too much and came off in the interview as someone with the immaturity level of, well, a 21-year-old.
Dropped from list: Eddie Lacy, RB, Alabama (12); Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame (14); Matt Barkley, QB, Southern California (17).