Too bad the combine couldn't end with everyone strapping on the pads and lining up to play.
That's the allure of the Senior Bowl, and today I'll preview the game by placing players in the context of Steelers draft-day philosophy.
A nation's lonely eyes turned to Bryan Bennett (13S) out of Southeast Louisiana when he reported as a fill-in. But Bennett's defining moment may have defined the entire crop. At practice he rolled left under pressure, switched the ball to his left hand, and threw it straight into the ground. Daniel Jeremiah interrupted the other analysts to say, "That's not the worst pass I've seen here."
The Steelers should be able to find a solid backup in the fourth round, someone like Jeremy Langford (33N) or David Cobb (37N). But then a guy comes along -- David Johnson (7S) -- and you try to convince yourself that, yes, the Steelers should draft the superior talent in the second round. Johnson is a 6-1, 224-pounder who this week has looked like a better-built DeMarco Murray with the receiving skills of a Le'Veon Bell. A bit exaggerated for comparison's sake, but watch him today. He just might be the best back in this draft.
The Steelers do need a return man, and the best is in Mobile. Tyler Lockett (22S) lacks size but would be a dynamic choice to replace Antonio Brown as a punt returner. Lockett is likely a third-rounder, and perhaps too rich for the Steelers, whom I fear will shrug off the poor year by Ty Montgomery (7N) and grab him late. Good in theory, but the guy can't catch.
Clive Walford (46S) has been one of the most dynamic prospects this week. Even injured, Walford put himself into first-round territory along with Maxx Williams, who's probably a better stylistic fit for the Steelers. Mad Maxx isn't in this game. A poor man's version is Nick Boyle (86N), who can block as a fullback and H-back but has looked slow so far.
The star of this year's Senior Bowl group was Duke's Laken Tomlinson (77N), but the Steelers need tackle-guards, not guard-centers.
After an unimpressive showing this week, Pitt's T.J. Clemmings (68N) will likely be available at pick 22 if the Steelers are so inclined. I would have no problem, but it's unlikely the Steelers could take that risk at 22. The stock of La'el Collins (60S) has also fallen this week, but doubt he'll be available to them in the second round. Ty Sambrailo (51S) probably will be. Highly touted throughout the season, Sambrailo was beaten badly in his bowl game by Nate Orchard and hasn't impressed this week. I like Daryl Williams (78S) better, and might consider him in the third round.
A couple of raw monsters interest me later in the draft: Donovan Smith (76N) and Blaine Clausell (75S). Smith, from Penn State, is 6-6, 341, and Clausell, from Mississippi State, is 6-6, 315. I'll watch both of them in game action for the first time today.
My man Henry Anderson (91N) hasn't been blocked in Mobile and is starting to look like a second-rounder. At 6-6, 287 he's not having any trouble winning inside as a 3-tech, is built to be a 5-tech, and could probably be the strong-side end in a 4-3 big nickel. That's three positions for a team that has a lack of depth on its D-line. The king of Senior Bowl week, of course, has been Danny Shelton (95N), a first-round nose tackle. Carl Davis (71N) is 6-5, 321 and has been more disruptive this week than at any point in Iowa's season. My fourth favorite in this group is Clemson's Grady Jarrett (95S), who at 6-1, 288 is a mix of penetrating DT and backup NT in the Chris Hoke mold. Jarrett's also been compared to former Ravens NT Kelly Gregg.
If James Harrison retires, the Steelers not only will need a pass-rusher but a run-stopper on the edge of their nickel. So maybe it's time to draft a 4-3 defensive end. I'm looking here at Owa Odighizuwa (54S), Shrine Bowl star Za'Darius Smith (94N), and Mississippi State's Preston Smith (91S).
The big outside linebackers are 268-pounder Trey Flowers (86S), 264-pound Geneo Grissom (85S), 255-pound Markus Golden (33S), and 256-pound Lorenzo Mauldin (94S). The Steelers could find one of them in the third round. Flowers has impressed me lately.
Orchard (99N) had an outstanding week but may be too rich for the Steelers anymore. The guy everyone is calling a sure Steeler -- as they did two years ago with Jarvis Jones -- is Hau'oli Kikaha (98N). But he doesn't do much for me, and that's probably why he'll end up with the team. If I don't like him, here he comes.
Guys like Kevin White (20S) and Senquez Golson (21S) will test whether the Steelers want ballhawking cover corners or whether they'll stick with their Cover-3 base in which they utilize corners/safety hybrids.
Again, White and Golson look like perfect second-rounders to me. Another 5-9 corner, Quandre Diggs (26N), has been impressive this week with his physicality, as previously mentioned in Bowl Series. He's had Steelers mid-rounder written all over him.
Ladarius Gunter (27S) of Miami is an attractive 6-1 cover man, and there are a couple of interesting projects: Quinten Rollins (22N) played point guard for four years at Miami, Ohio, before turning to football this past season; and Nick Marshall (14S) was Auburn's quarterback before turning to CB this week. Also keep an eye on D'Joun Smith (31S) of Florida Atlantic. Steven Nelson (2N) is a 5-11 cover corner who should last until the third round. (The more CBs I list, the more I believe those saying it's a deep crop.)