The Jabrill Peppers news yesterday knocked me for a bit of a loop.
Peppers was someone whom I believed could give the Pittsburgh Steelers what the great Troy Polamalu gave them.
But then, shouldn't Peppers act like Polamalu?
Hey, for all I know, Peppers' failed NFL Combine drug test -- his "diluted sample" -- was what the player says it was: an overhydration after flying in from the coast and preparing for two different positional workouts. But I have no way of knowing the truth.
I want to believe -- after all I've read about Peppers -- that he truly is a serious football player, because that's part of his allure. While linebackers aren't drafted for their dispositions, and Reuben Foster can squabble with all the hospital workers he wants, and Tim "Smokey" Williams can go ahead and light it up, Peppers is a future team leader. He has to act like one.
So that's part of the reason my predictive foundation has been shaken this year. I agree with what Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert said Monday, that this draft is "unpredictable, more so than in the past."
With that in mind, as I take to writing my annual Draft Odds column, I recommend bettors choosing the Field this year. It's where I'm placing several qualified candidates in order to whittle this massive list of candidates.
The Field this year includes strong candidates such as Marlon Humphrey, Adoree Jackson, Derek Barnett, Jarrad Davis, Haason Reddick and Tyus Bowser, because I have reason to believe those players will already have been drafted.
I'm also throwing safeties Budda Baker and Obi Melifonwu in the Field.
Melifonwu just plays too tall for a DB, in my opinion. Of course, I thought the same about Kam Chancellor when he came out, and learned later that Mike Tomlin wanted to draft Chancellor. Apparently there's no DB too tall for Tomlin, and that provides hope for the dear Obi Wan Kenobi.
As for Baker, he fits the needed slot-corner spot perfectly. But I believe he's too small for Steelers first-round parameters.
Speaking of parameters -- and I know Tomlin said Monday the Steelers don't have any disqualifying parameters -- I'm throwing CB Tre'Davious White into the Field as well. For a team that didn't have enough cornerbacks with man-coverage ability last season, I'm eliminating cornerbacks with shuttle times of 4.25 or greater. That rules out White and later-round hopefuls Cordrea Tankersley, Sidney Jones Jourdan Lewis, Brian Allen, Rasul Douglas and Nate Hairston.
I'll also rule out Takk McKinley, the pass-rusher who played for Tom Bradley at UCLA. Bradley is no doubt a great source for the Steelers. His brother Jim Bradley is their orthopedic surgeon and McKinley is out with a shoulder injury. But a Steelers source told me at the Combine that an injured player won't be chosen to back up their 39-year-old linebacker. That source wasn't Colbert or Tomlin, but I'm running with it.
Throw the Sack-A-Takk into the Field and let's set those odds at 4-1.
As for the rest, good luck. I hope you hit a longshot.
David Njoku, TE, Miami (10-1) -- Talk about sprinting to the podium, I think Ben Roethlisberger will skip there if this player is available. For all of Njoku's rawness at his position, he's a certifiable offensive threat and would greatly improve the Steelers in the red zone. After the catch, Njoku is a big running back in the open field. But he can't possibly fall to 30, can he? Seemingly every mock has him falling but I refuse to believe it can actually happen.
Corey Davis, WR, Western Michigan (9-1) -- No, Njoku won't fall, according to analyst Josh Norris, who's in touch with plenty of personnel men. But Norris is predicting Davis will be available. Davis is a guy whom I called during the season "a bigger, faster Hines Ward." That, of course, is Davis' ceiling, and his floor is probably Jordan Matthews, who was chosen in the second round in 2014 by Philadelphia. The reasoning behind a potential fall to pick 30 is that Davis underwent ankle surgery after the season and hasn't been able to work out. But the Steelers proved with Heath Miller that they can trust their eyeballs with just tape and still hit home runs. And, really, with Martavis Bryant not having been cleared to return, Davis would address their greatest need.
T.J. Watt, OLB, Wisconsin (8-1) -- Yes, the drafting of Watt would be more about potential rather than instant help, but at least he'll be healthy from the start. Watt has the frame to add weight and the passion for the game to become an outstanding all-around edge player. The problem is that Dallas and Green Bay have the same need and are picking in front of the Steelers.
Charles Harris, DE, Missouri (7-1) -- He's supposed to be picked earlier, but perhaps the league will find the same hesitancy with Harris that I do. I do see the pass-rush power, and his near exact Jarvis Jones-like workout numbers were improved upon at his pro day. But I have a hunch Davis could slip to the Steelers and cause a decision. After all, Missouri does churn out quality pass-rushers. And these odds are tempting.
Chidobe Awuzie, CB, Colorado (13-2) -- The perfect fit for what ails the Steelers in the slot. "The Cheetah" can cover and hit and perhaps even give them some dime linebacker on third-and-long. But I haven't heard boo out of the Steelers concerning this guy.
Jabrill Peppers, Slot CB, Michigan (6-1) -- Even a better fit in the slot. Of course, people have cast so many stones at Peppers for being an undeserving Heisman finalist that an overrated player has now become underrated. Yes, he has some bad tape in deep coverage, but he also carried extra weight in order to help his team as a linebacker. He still ran the same 40 time at 213 pounds as Sean Davis did at 201. Yes, Peppers intercepted only one pass in his two years as a starting linebacker, but that's how many former UCLA linebacker Carnell Lake had in three years. Peppers shows great hands, instincts and intermediate coverage skills that can no doubt be improved at a lighter weight, and with coaching and reps. In my opinion, he's a championship player -- if drug free. His strike, even if undeserving, will now put him into the NFL's testing protocol. If the Steelers know him and trust his explanation, that strike may never grow. And just to be clear, I haven't read where anyone has compared Peppers to Polamalu as a player. It's a generality, a typecast. Peppers has that kind of playmaking potential and that kind of leadership. He's an "it" player who would help opening day as a return specialist and dime linebacker while learning the critical slot position behind Will Gay.
Carl Lawson, DE, Auburn (5-1) -- Tomlin's words to Lawson at his pro day haunt me every time I try to put him in the second round: "I need you to rush the passer." Lawson isn't going to drop into coverage, and, hey, that's what I've been hoping the Steelers would realize, because they barely play a 3-4 anymore.
Derek Rivers, DE, Youngstown State (4-1) -- Better times and measurements than Lawson, better run defender, better history of health. So why did I rank Rivers behind Lawson in my positional analysis? Because Colbert has never drafted a sub D-1 player in the first round. Well, that reason isn't good enough anymore. When your foundation has been shaken, you go back to your fundamentals. I liked this guy as the favorite right after the Senior Bowl. I'm ending it that way.
(To read last year's odds column, click here.)
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