Beasts Unveiled

The Steelers met yesterday with some of the biggest receivers coming out of college football as they attempt to juice up their offense.

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Steelers finished 16th in the NFL in red-zone offense last season by scoring touchdowns only 53 percent of the time they were inside the 20-yard line.

The top two red-zone teams in the NFL last season scored touchdowns 70-plus percent of the time, and the top six scored 60-plus percent of the time.

The Steelers haven't hit 56 percent since 2008, or 60 percent since 2005.

Obviously, those were magical years, and the Steelers met Friday with the kind of players who can help bring those red-zone numbers back up to championship levels next season.

"I'm meeting with four teams," said Ole Miss WR Donte Moncrief. "The Steelers are one of them."

Moncrief is 6-2, 221, but the king beast of the WR group, 6-5, 240-pound Kelvin Benjamin, met with 13 teams, the Steelers being one of them.

Mike Evans, the 6-4 3/4, 231-pounder from Texas A&M, is the other recognized "beast" coming out of the college receiving ranks. But Evans didn't make it to the media room Friday. He could've been busy meeting with Steelers GM Kevin Colbert, who seems predisposed to giving quarterback Ben Roethlisberger some size at that position.

"We realize he doesn't have 10 years left," Colbert said of Roethlisberger last week. "What we have to do is surround him with the best talent, and he has to play to that level that he's capable of playing to if we do get that talent around him. We all have to come together and try to win the Super Bowl."

Benjamin, Evans and Moncrief are favorites of film junky Greg Cosell. In his recently published list of "big, physical wide receivers," Benjamin and Evans are the no-brainers while Moncrief, who played at Ole Miss, reminded Cosell, the senior producer for NFL Films, of Demaryius Thomas and Josh Gordon.

"Some teams will see him as a better fit than others," Cosell told the Sacramento Bee. "He's a big, physical athlete who definitely has first-step explosion."

Moncrief agreed that "I flew under the radar, so I've got to make up for it, come out and show what I've got and do my best to beat everybody in every drill."

He'll get that chance today. Moncrief, who caught 59 passes for 938 yards and 6 touchdowns last season, is looking to match personal bests of 41 inches in the vertical jump and 11 feet 5 inches in the broad jump.

Benjamin, of course, was the receiver who caught the game-winning touchdown pass from Jameis Winston to win the national championship for Florida State this past season. And if it looked as if Benjamin jumped into the air and hung there until Winston delivered that 2-yard touchdown pass with 13 seconds left, that was his intention.

"Yeah. Sometimes I jump early," Benjamin said. "It throws the DB off. They go, 'Oh man.'"

Benjamin caught 54 passes for 1,011 yards and 15 touchdowns last season, the most productive season by far of the three he spent at Florida State.

"Just growing up and being a man," he said of his maturation. "I've learned to do the things you have to do to be a man. Before I was basically just being a kid, doing kid things, not putting in the work you need to put in to be a great receiver."

A 23-year-old redshirt sophomore, Benjamin was held back in the first and third grades while growing up in Belle Glade, Fla. He attended Glades Central, the same school that produced Santonio Holmes, and, like Holmes, grew up chasing rabbits out of the sugar cane fields.

"Muck City," Benjamin said of his hometown. "Everybody chased rabbits back in the day when you were small. I mean, they were good to eat. They're really good if you've never had them before. But that (chasing) also helps you with speed and agility and stuff like that."

Benjamin told reporters he carries only four percent body fat and that he expects to run a 4.3 40 today.

Evans, of course, also interests the Steelers. The 21-year-old caught 69 passes for 1,394 yards and 12 touchdowns as a redshirt sophomore last season, but not every receiver needs his size to score touchdowns.

Fresno State's Davante Adams scored twice as many touchdowns as Evans to lead the nation last season, and Adams checked into the combine at 6-1, 212 pounds.

"Oh, he's the best. He is the best guy," said Adams' quarterback, Derek Carr. "He'll definitely have one of, if not THE, highest verticals. If he needs to go catch the ball at the roof, he's going to go to the roof. I've seen the guy dunk and he's looking down into the rim. I don't think that's supposed to happen with how tall he is."

Adams went to Fresno State so that he could double as a basketball player, but found the workload onerous. So he chose football, but knows what basketball has done for his game.

"It makes it real easy to go up and get those 50-50 balls," he said. "That's why we were so effective in the red zone this season."

Adams led the nation with 131 catches and 24 touchdowns, and was second with 1,719 yards. His long speed has been questioned, but, Carr said, "He's going to come out here and shock some people with how he runs. Some people say he's not as fast on tape and stuff. I still haven't seen him get caught."

That's how another of the big receivers described his speed. Jordan Matthews caught 112 passes for 1,477 yards and 7 touchdowns last season at Vanderbilt to finish as college football's active leader in receiving yards with 3,759.

Still, the 6-3, 212-pound polished route-runner seems to be fading into the middle of the second round among the media's draft experts due to an apparent lack of speed.

Matthews has heard this, and disagrees. "I definitely have shown my explosiveness," he said. "The scouts have all watched the film. I've never been caught. I played four years of high school, four years of college, and I still haven't been caught. So I know where my speed is. I know on the field I'm one of the fastest guys in the country, if not the fastest with the ball in my hand."

Matthews said what drove him throughout his distinguished college career was his competitiveness. After all, his mom is Jerry Rice's first cousin.

"Being at Vanderbilt, we had a lot of adversity, we had a lot of change," Matthews said. "We had three head coaches, six different quarterbacks, three offensive coordinators, four wide receivers coaches. I think a lot more guys around the country played with a little bit more stability but I was able to adapt to change and I still came out one of the top of my field. So I think that's what's different about me. What carried me that whole time was always my competitiveness. The way I came to practice every day, the way I always had that chip on my shoulder since high school, I think has carried me to this point and will help me out moving on to the next level."

Allen Robinson (6-2 5/8, 220) of Penn State is another of the deep crop of big-bodied receivers who'll be available for the Steelers at pick 15, and possibly pick 46. But the Steelers know it doesn't take King Kong to score touchdowns.

Of their 18 red-zone touchdown receptions last season, Jerricho Cotchery scored eight and Emmanuel Sanders scored five. Cotchery added two more from the 20-yard line.

However, both red-zone leaders are potential free agents, with Sanders expected to sign elsewhere. Someone will need to pick up the slack, because, as Colbert said, "We have to make the most of the years that we have left with our franchise quarterback."


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