The beauty of covering the draft process is that all of the players are your players.
For a while.
But, the draft is at hand, and the 120 players with whom the Pittsburgh Steelers have met will soon be whittled down to seven drafted players.
So, it's goodbye.
* Goodbye to Karl Joseph. A one-on-one interview with the WVU strong safety at the NFL Combine made it seem as if he was a nobody to the rest of the league. Today, the bandwagon is bursting, and undoubtedly full of NFL teams as well. If his knee's good, I suspect he'll be long gone by pick 25.
* Goodbye to William Jackson. I spotted him playing cornerback for the University of Houston last October and tweeted how he would make a great second-round pick. Yeah, right. He's a 6-foot, 4.3 guy with "First Round" rubber-stamped across his chest.
* And, finally, it's goodbye to Andrew Billings. I fought the good fight for this massive 3-tech. Yes, he has the versatility to play anywhere from 0 to 4 along the interior, and the Steelers could've made great use of that kind of flexibility. Even though people tried to peg you as a nose, Andrew, you were so much more. Parting is such sweet sorrow.
On the bright side, it's time to say hello to the following seven players, all of whom I expect to see next weekend in Pittsburgh at rookie minicamp.
Was anyone surprised when David DeCastro fell to pick 24 in 2012? Heck no. The dude's a guard. Guards fall, and so do short cornerbacks. Don't be surprised when Vernon Hargreaves, the cornerback from Florida, falls to pick 25.
Hargreaves's name has been written in stone among the top 15 of media mocks since January, but he's 5-10 1/2 and in college had trouble with taller receivers. And judging from the 32-city mock drafts I've done this past month, cornerback isn't the must-have position in this first round that it normally is. I suspect one of the few teams that wants one will take the taller and faster Jackson instead, and it'll set off fireworks in the Steelers' war room because Hargreaves is the rare rookie who can step in and start right away. Like DeCastro.
The other thing I learned from those sprawling mock drafts is there's a shortage of safeties out there. The Steelers aren't the only team that needs a playmaker on the back end, and pick 58 is an insufferable place to sit and watch them come off the board one by one throughout the second round.
So, I'll reverse gears. I'll put my trust back in Robert Golden. And Shamarko Thomas. And Rusty Ventrone. And, hey, Will Allen, what are you doing this year? Anyway, give me Big Man Jr., Javon Hargrave, the defensive tackle who's actually bigger and quicker than Billings but not quite as strong. Hargrave (6-1 1/2, 309) comes out of Donnie Shell's South Carolina State with 4.9 speed and a 34 1/2-inch vertical jump. He was a point guard for a two-time state prep champ in North Carolina and went on to become the MEAC's two-time Defensive Player of the Year with about a million sacks and a billion tackles-for-loss. (Yes, it's been a long draft season.)
It's over to the offensive line with the pick of UCLA's Caleb Benenoch (6-5 1/2, 311), the big man with the light feet. He's a natural knee-bender with a strong punch who'll compete with Mike Adams for the No. 4 tackle spot and/or Chris Hubbard for the No. 2 backup interior spot. Versatile backup with an upside.
With Jeremy Cash, the Steelers can now put that $ in front of LB on the lineup sheet, a la Deone Bucannon, the $LB of the Arizona Cardinals. Listed as a strong safety, Cash was actually a playmaking linebacker at Duke, where he made 332 career tackles and was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year last season. He claims to have played deep, and claims to have done it well, during Senior Bowl week, and that he was never really given much of a chance to cover as a four-year box safety with the Blue Devils. That remains to be seen, but he IS a smart, instinctive playmaker at the line of scrimmage who'll provide Mike Tomlin with a hybrid chess piece for his ever-evolving defensive unit.
Losing that fifth-round pick may cost the Steelers a talented project such as Brandon Williams, but Tomlin turns to the analytics sheet here and drafts tight end Beau Sandland of Montana State. Known for his in-line blocking, Sandland, at 6-4 1/2, 253, ran a 4.69 40 at the Combine. He has an 83-inch wingspan and 35-inch vertical jump and used both to snare 37 passes last season at 17.1 yards per.
This one's for the locker room: Keenan Reynolds, Navy. He would be the first QB drafted out of Navy since Roger Staubach in 1964, but Reynolds will play running back, run gadget plays, cover kicks and maybe return a few. The pick acquired for Brad Wing gives the Steelers a (presumptive) Navy Seal at one end of the locker room and Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva at the other. I'd say that outta lock it down.
Cornerback Kevon Seymour was a sometimes starter at USC who showed flashes of NFL ability amid inconsistencies that deal with footwork and ball skills. He's 5-11 1/2, 186 and ran a 4.39 40 at the Combine with a 35-inch vertical jump. He can play special teams as he develops.
STEELERS DRAFT HAUL
1. Vernon Hargreaves, CB, Florida
2. Javon Hargrave, DT, South Carolina State
3. Caleb Benenoch, G/T, UCLA
4. Jeremy Cash, S/LB, Duke
6. Beau Sandland, TE, Montana State
7A. Keenan Reynolds, RB, Navy
7B. Kevon Seymour, CB, UCS