I used to call this my Beast List. Probably in honor of Marshawn Lynch or something.
And, really it was more about attitude than analytical draft rankings. I like to think I would always draft the best player available regardless of position, and to a degree the Pittsburgh Steelers do that, but of course need enters into the equation. So, I try to mix BPA and need as quietly as I can, and that's what this list attempts.
But I'm changing the name this year. And, yes, it's profane, vulgar and oftentimes unprofessional. But sometimes, in the attempt to entertain, the profane becomes the professional, and therefore I'm calling this list of 22 players -- since the Steelers will be picking 22nd in the first round this year -- The Asskickers.
It was born out of my repeated attempts to pronounce the name Owamagbe Odighizuwa, and to be honest I'm lucky I can just copy and paste that unholy spelling.
But I watched him play, and was impressed with a no-nonsense attitude which reminded me of James Harrison's. So I talked to his former teammate, Jordan Zumwalt, and Jordan told me he's the strongest player he's ever played with or against. But I still couldn't pronounce his name, so Zumwalt told me to just call him "Owa," and I said, "How about Owa The Asskicker?" And a column was born.
There's a bit more to it: In reading up on Keith Butler's plans as the Steelers' new defensive coordinator, he said he was going to continue to utilize a 4-3 alignment on pass downs (or vs. 3 WRs) and the 3-4 as a base (vs. regular personnel). The Steelers used each about 50 percent of the time last year, so I began thinking about niches that needed to be filled for each alignment. Let's see, they need a true 4-3 end, and maybe a 3-tech, but they also need a 3-4 OLB in case they couldn't re-sign any of the three whose contacts are up, and then I remembered that they also need some depth behind their 5-techs.
That's when it all broke down for me, and that's when I cried out in my lonely despair, "Just send me some Asskickers!"
So, here's my list:
1. Leonard Williams, DL, USC -- I watched his bowl game against Nebraska to get a look at the consensus top defensive players coming out this year. As I watched Williams, I tried to think back to whether Reggie White dominated the line of scrimmage with such ease. And when I watched Nebraska OLB Randy Gregory, I thought about Jarvis Jones' struggles as a rookie. Hmmm. One makes me think of Reggie White and the other ...
2. T.J. Clemmings, OT, Pitt -- Massive with a heavy punch, this guy consistently collapsed his side of the line. He was only moved from defense two years ago, and I wonder if he could eventually play LT. Not that it matters. The guy could play guard for me.
3. Brandon Scherff, OT, Iowa -- He's being knocked for his feet and may have to move to guard in the league, but again I don't care. I'll take his nasty play demeanor all day long, tackle or guard. Much better than Bryan Bulaga, in my opinion.
4. La'el Collins, OT, LSU -- May as well finish my early run of offensive tackles, and, hey, the Steelers really only need some depth there. But this crop is too good and the Steelers could get a legitimate crack at one of these battleships. Collins isn't pretty. He lurches around and will whiff on occasion and lunge on others, but he lurches around like a nasty monster. I was going to rank a pass-rusher here, but I watched the one I had in mind play against Collins. Give me this Asskicker instead.
5. Dante Fowler, OLB, Florida -- Made me a little angry watching him dance a few times right before the snap in his bowl game against East Carolina. He did have three sacks that game, but, hey, it was East Carolina and they threw 66 passes. But I watched a little more and like his versatility, hand down, stand up, drop into coverage, rush up the middle, and, really, he would do it all day long. He's already 261 pounds and won't turn 21 until Aug. 3.
6. Alvin "Bud" Dupree, OLB, Kentucky -- Fowler's youth moved him ahead of Dupree, who's a bit bigger at 6-4, 266, but is coming out after his senior season. These are my two favorite edge players in this draft. As for Gregory, with all of his potential at 6-6 and still young and skinny, I just don't want another guy who can't get off blocks unless he runs past one or jolts inside to grab a QB stepping up into the pocket. I want a beast of a man who can also play the run as a 4-3 DE in the nickel. Dupree is one of them.
7. Andrus Peat, OT, Stanford -- Not a killer like the above tackles, but a real battleship. When he latches on, you aren't going anywhere. He's receiving criticism from the experts and is falling down first-round rankings that I've seen, but my feeling is the Steelers would have to think long and hard about a guy who could become Jonathan Ogden some day at left tackle.
8. Kevin White, WR, WVU -- OK, the Steelers don't need a first-round WR, but I must pay homage to the strongest, baddest Asskicker at his position this season. He may not have the best speed but he can handle any kind of DB physicality and pluck the thing, which wouldn't be a bad idea for a struggling red-zone offense.
10. Marcus Mariota, QB, Oregon -- Since my favorite QB -- Cardale "The Rhinoceros Hunter" Jones -- went back to school, I not only had to find a new No. 1 player for this list, I have to ponder at least one QB, since the Steelers' depth at the position is so weak. Mariota wins.
11. Danny Shelton, NT, Washington -- I finally came around on this big man. I just watched him play Oregon and he had a great battle with Hroniss Grasu. On one short- yardage play, Shelton overpowered Grasu, an excellent center, and slammed him to the ground. He then helped Grasu up and patted him on the butt. Hey, if James can mature into an Asskicker with sportsmanship, why shouldn't I look for that in a nose tackle? And here's another reason: After the playoff loss to Baltimore, I walked up to Steelers NT Steve McLendon at his locker. As I got close, I noticed he was sobbing into his hands. I walked away to give him a minute, but he didn't stop. The dude really hates to lose. But I walked back up to him and he pulled his sad face out of his hands to see if I needed anything. All I really wanted to know was how bad his shoulder was hurting him. I really wanted to know if it was a chronic problem, so I asked him about it. He nodded in the affirmative that it was still hurting. I asked if it hurt him all the way down the stretch. He started to say no, because he is the last person to ever use an injury as any kind of excuse, but he realized the season was over and switched his answer to yes. Then he put his face back into his hands and I left. The guy played great that night, and so did his rookie backup Daniel McCullers. But Shelton's here because of Big Steve's shoulder.
12. Ereck Flowers, OT, Miami -- I may as well finish off the last of my favorite tackles in this tackle-rich draft. I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I -- a guy who watched him terrorize Virginia Tech one Thursday night -- left him off. A serious Asskicker here.
13. Alex Carter, CB, Stanford -- This guy's all over the various boards, and I'm starting to believe he's a late first, early second-round guy because of "heavy feet." Well, I've watched him run down receivers on the opposite sideline from behind; I've watched him play press man and zone; I've watched him take perfect angles every time; I've watched him get physical in the run game; and I've watched him put it all together as a smart, 200-pounder who could always play safety if those "heavy feet" hurt him at CB. He's the son of a former NFL cornerback, Tom Carter, so he's had the advantage in learning technique and, thus, it could be theorized he doesn't have much upside. But he won't turn 21 until next October. He's a child who's played against men the last three years. He's tough and smart and right now he's my favorite cornerback for a team that desperately needs one.
14. Marcus Peters, CB, Washington -- This is an Asskicker. Just watch him play press man against Arizona State strongman Jaelen Strong. But, Peters was kicked off his team in mid-season. All I know is that he couldn't get along with the new coaching staff. Again, as this list keeps reminding us, like James in his younger days. I've also heard that Peters isn't really a bad guy. Well, that's for Mike Tomlin to figure out at the combine, because I really like Peters as a player. The only reason he's listed behind Carter is that I feel Carter's more mentally tough and probably a smarter player. You can be smart and be an Asskicker, too.
15. P.J. Williams, CB, Florida State -- He wears No. 26 and is just about 6 feet and is physical against the run. I worry about his deep speed, and also his character after he allegedly left the scene of a bad accident and received some of that preferential Florida State treatment. That kind of thing really rubs me the wrong way, but, again, I trust Tomlin's people skills enough that if he finds Williams trustworthy (and fast enough), then this physical corner in the Rod Woodson outfit should find his way into the Steelers' locker room.
16. Maxx Williams, TE, Minnesota -- More of a move TE than in-line, although I have no doubt this guy could do both very well. He can also catch and he can also run. In his bowl game, Williams took a pass down the sideline and hurdled a DB, came down to toe-tap the boundary line, and then put a move on one final defender to score a touchdown. Tough, fast, nimble and another son of a former player, Brian Williams. I'm not sure the Steelers need one badly enough to spend a first-round pick, but this tight end fits their offense perfectly.
17. Owa The Asskicker, DE, UCLA -- Built low to the ground and muscular like James, but without the bend or the hips to drop into coverage. Aw, we can't have everything, can we? But he's perfect for the nickel package as an outside or inside lineman. He keeps his pads low, utilizes his God-given strength, and has a relentless motor. I love him. And am hoping he lasts until the second round.
18. Vic Beasley, DE, Clemson -- Could this guy last till the second round? Yeah, wow. I'm surprised by his recent low trending among the experts, but then again I'm not surprised because while watching Beasley the last time I tweeted that while he reminds me of a young Joey Porter, I don't see the Steelers being in need of another light (220 pounds) linebacker, particularly a light outside linebacker. But, he is an Asskicker, and I don't want to ask too many questions of those with such a mindset.
19. Michael Bennett, DT, Ohio State -- Definitely a 3-tech, to whom I normally wouldn't give a second thought. However, the Steelers are searching for niche pieces to satisfy two alignments, and this guy comes hard every down, as you may have noticed throughout Ohio State's brilliant stretch run. I would certainly give him a long look, and probably would bolt to the podium if he's available in the second round.
20. Lorenzo Mauldin, OLB, Louisville -- "Lozo" is one of my favorites for the second round, and like last year's WR group, this group of edge rushers will have staying power into the middle rounds. Mouldin has been passed around to 18 different foster and group homes as a youngster and has survived. And in watching him, you can tell that he has an edge and some grit in his attitude. Trust me, this guy won't be dancing before a snap. I have a feeling that at the combine when I ask him to name his favorite NFL player, he'll glare at me and just say, "James."
21. Shaq Thompson, SS, Washington -- The draftniks seem to have fallen out of love with this guy. Daniel Jeremiah wrote that perhaps Shaq should move from will-backer to running back in the league. Well, that's what they said in 1989 about another guy coming out of the PAC-10 named Carnell Lake. But the Steelers drafted Lake in the second round and started him at SS in their opener. He turned into a perennial Pro Bowler, and even made the Pro Bowl late in his career as a CB. Not saying the 231-pound Shaq will ever play CB, but he has the look of a winner that Lake possesses even to this day.
22. Henry Anderson, DE, Stanford -- We're getting into third-round territory here, but this guy has become one of my favorites. Just as I illustrated above how I'm forever on the lookout for the next Carnell Lake, I do the same with Aaron Smith, and this guy looks like him, all the way down to the No. 91 he wore at Stanford. Anderson at 6-6, 295 is the classic 5-tech. Not that the Steelers really need a high pick to bolster their depth, but this guy just played too well and did all of the things Smith did to help the Steelers win two rings. In his own quiet way, Smith was an Asskicker. So is Anderson.