Had the Steelers followed by February board last year, they would've drafted Bjoern Werner. Had they followed by April board, they would've drafted Sharrif Floyd. The guy they did pick, Jarvis Jones, would've been their guy by my post-combine March board.
I had Jones ranked seventh behind players who were gone by the time the Steelers picked 17th on draft day. I guess I liked what Jones had to say in our one-on-one interview at the combine because he didn't appear on either my February or April boards.
So with that, let's get to the all-important post-combine March 2014 board. The prospect's previous month's ranking is in parenthesis.
1. Greg Robinson, LT, Auburn (2) -- After the 6-5, 332-pounder ran his 40 in 4.92 seconds, a camera focused on a seated Jeff Fisher, the coach of the St. Louis Rams, who are picking second behind a team that doesn't need a left tackle. Fisher had no expression. Or maybe he was trying to hide it because the entire scene said "This is the No. 2 pick of the draft." But I'll put him first here after that showing.
2. Jadeveon Clowney, OLB, South Carolina (1) -- I was trying so hard to ignore the criticisms about Clowney's work ethic and motor this past season, but it finally got to me at the combine while he was seen hanging around and doing interviews and otherwise wasting time while the rest of the defensive linemen were going through field drills. If you're done, go. Don't hang around and be the show pony. It only makes you look like a joke.
3. Jake Matthews, LT, Texas A&M (3) -- Doesn't have the longest arms (33 3/8), a blazing 40 (5.07), or all that much strength on the bench (24 reps). He just has sweet feet, fluid hips, the best genes in football, and exceptional tape. His field workout was sublime and that surprised no one.
4. Sammy Watkins, WR, Clemson (4) -- Watkins was so impressive during his field drills that only the dynamics of a deep class of WRs can keep him out of the top five. In other words, any team choosing here would have good reason to opt instead for drafting Odell Beckham, Davante Adams or Brandin Cooks at the top of the second round if they need a wide receiver.
5. Khalil Mack, OLB, Buffalo (9) -- Watch Mack ragdoll tackles and you'll see the major contrast with Jarvis Jones. Mack's strength and competitive will is more reminiscent of another MAC 'backer, James Harrison. The Ohio State game is Mack's crown jewel, but in other tapes you see teams running away from Mack's side. Maybe the Buffalo staff should've put him at ILB, as the Kent staff did with Harrison. Mack had a 40-inch vertical jump at the combine.
6. Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA (10) -- Still keeping Barr on Mack's heels, probably by the .01 that separated their respective 40 times. Barr, a 6-5, 255-pound developmental prospect with tremendous upside, ran a 4.66 40 with a 1.56 10 and a 6.82 3-cone. It's why I want to see so much more from him on tape. Maybe the expectations are too high for Barr after having played the position only two seasons.
7. Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M (6) -- I thought I was going to move Evans down this month, perhaps even past Kelvin Benjamin. But the 6-4 3/4, 231-pounder with the longest arms of any receiver at the combine (35 1/8 inches) impressed me with his maturity during his interview. And then the 20-year-old went out and ran a 4.53 40 with a 1.57 10-yard split with a 37-inch vertical jump. The latter number surprised me. I also like the point made by another writer who wrote that in working with the scrambling Johnny Manziel at A&M, Evans has perfected a future pairing with the scrambling Ben Roethlisberger. But in the latter pairing, the giants would be playing above everyone else.
8. Justin Gilbert, CB, Oklahoma State (NR) -- Gilbert basically replaces Darqueze Dennard on this month's board because even though Gilbert's not as physical as Dennard, he's more of a scheme fit. Dennard showed in the field drills that he's strictly a press/bail corner since he struggles to flip his hips out of his backpedal. Gilbert is 6 feet, 202 pounds and ran a 4.37. He's also a superb kickoff return man (6 touchdowns), which fills another Steelers need.
9. C.J. Mosley, ILB, Alabama (5) -- The leader of the Alabama defense is more of a coverage backer who can ably fill holes as a run-stuffer, which has become the way of the NFL anymore. Mosley didn't meet with the media, so I know little about his personality, other than quotes from his coach that he's quiet, sometimes too quiet. That doesn't really bother me in a leader as much as it seems to bother others, as long as he's smart. My concern with Mosley has more to do with the rumors about damage to his knee or knees. Not running the 40 and skipping other drills didn't quiet those rumors, either.
10. Taylor Lewan, LT, Michigan (NR) -- Do you believe Kelvin Beachum is an answer or a band-aid? I don't think the coaching staff is convinced of either answer, so left tackle could/should remain in play. While I knew Lewan could move, I didn't know he could move this well: 4.87 40 with a 1.64 10 split at 6-7.1, 309 pounds. That makes me less concerned about an inconsistent anchor, particularly since he has the frame to become significantly stronger.
The bigger problem -- and one that needs as close inspection as Gilbert's work ethic and Mosley's knees -- is that teammates allegedly told police a few years ago that he had intimidated an alleged rape victim by allegedly saying he would rape her again if she pressed charges on his teammate. Lewan was asked about it at the combine and said, "I can say I never said those things. I've said a lot of dumb things in my life but those are not things that I said. That is a touchy subject. I would never disrespect a woman like that. I consider myself a guy who likes to hold doors, not threaten people."
True or not, how would Dan Rooney appreciate those questions put to his No. 1 pick on draft day?
11. Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Florida State (13) -- People seem to be fading this guy after his combine performance, but in my opinion he only looked better. Yes, his vertical jump of 32 1/2 was a bit disappointing for a guy who seems to levitate easily and naturally. But his 4.61 40 was only disappointing to those who don't take his massive 240-pound frame into consideration. Only two tight ends, Eric Ebron (4.60) and A.C. Leonard (4.50), ran faster than Benjamin. He also caught everything as the ball seemed to disappear into those 10 1/4-inch first-base mitts he calls hands. Only Jordan Matthews, at 10 3/8, had larger hands among wide receivers at the combine. Benjamin may project to being Mike Williams to some people, but he looks like a more athletic Plaxico Burress to me, and that I'm sure would be fine with Roethlisberger.
12. Kyle Fuller, CB, Virginia Tech (NR) -- Matt Steel wrote on our message board at SCI that Fuller reminds him of Hines Ward. That's exactly what I told another Pittsburgh journalist, Ken Laird, at the combine during our group interview. And that was just from his up-close mannerisms. Of course he impressed me with his intelligence in that interview, and I already knew Fuller was a tough and physical player in the Steelers' DB mold. What Virginia Tech boundary corner isn't? He also has six career interceptions and four career forced fumbles. At the combine he measured 5-11 3/4, 190, ran a 4.49 40 with a 38 1/2-inch vertical jump. None of those numbers really stand out, and that's why he would make a perfect trade-down candidate, because the kid can play.
13. HaHa Clinton-Dix, FS, Alabama (NR) -- In personal interviews, I liked Clinton-Dix better than the draft's other top safety, Calvin Pryor. Clinton-Dix is smarter. But Mike Tomlin doesn't pay the Wonderlic as much attention as he does quick-twitch muscle fiber, and the latter would probably make Pryor his guy. Regardless, I see Clinton-Dix as being the better center fielder. Do the Steelers really need that with Shamarko Thomas learning both positions last season? Probably not, but I would think Thomas has a better future making plays in the box than in center field. So due to range and intelligence, I like Clinton-Dix here as another member of my trade-down pool.
14. Ra'shede Hageman, DE, Minnesota (NR) -- The Steelers need defensive linemen and they acted that way at the combine, meeting with all of the top 5-techs including this 6-5.7, 310-pounder who probably wasted too much time playing on the nose last season. But Hageman gained experience, became versatile, and would be a help anywhere on the line in sub-packages as a rookie. Could be the sleeper of the first round, even though hardly any football fans in Pittsburgh want to hear about drafting another 5-tech in the first round, even one who's bigger and has more potential than Cameron Heyward.
15. Louis Nix, NT, Notre Dame (NR) -- Speaking of an unpopular pick in Pittsburgh, no one seems to want a first-round nose tackle in this golden age of spread offenses. Nix did emphasize that his knee is healthy, and to that end he lost 23 pounds in the six weeks leading up to the combine. He's down to 331 and says he can stay there. He didn't time well, but during on-field drills showed off the kind of lateral quickness the Steelers deem necessary at the position. I raved about his confident air with the media, but an official I know who has worked with Notre Dame told me later that he believes Nix's confidence is more arrogance, and that he doesn't relate well with teammates. I don't know. I can only go by what I see, so for now the big man stays on the Beast Board.
To read Beast Board I, click here.