Friday, May 3, 2013

The Steelers 2013 Draft Class And Minicamp Observations

As we finish up our covering of the 2013 NFL Draft class, we turn our attention now to the remaining four draft choices. The final draft quartet from rounds five through seven was Terry Hawthorne, cornerback from Illinois; Justin Brown, wide receiver from Oklahoma; Vince Williams, inside linebacker from Florida State; and Nicholas Williams, defensive tackle from Samford.

We provided full breakdowns and/or commentaries on the first five picks in the draft, starting with Jarvis Jones, outside linebacker out of Georgia. Jones said recently that while he respects his game, he wants to be the first Jarvis Jones, not the next James Harrison.

“I don’t compare myself in no way to James Harrison,” Jones said at the Steelers’ rookie minicamp today. “He’s a great player. Respect him. Never met him. But I love his game. I wouldn’t mind being an impact player like James Harrison.”

The Steelers are the preeminent authorities on 3-4 rush linebackers, and as an outside linebacker in a pro-style 3-4 scheme, Jones led the nation in sacks the last two seasons with 28. -

Round two brought running back Le’Veon Bell from Michigan State, whose Pro Day the Steelers attended and whom they worked out privately. Bell weighed 230 lbs. at the NFL Combine, but the Steelers list him at 244 lbs. Haley's influence? You be the judge: Bell was the top performer at running back in the three-cone drill. The top performer in 2012 in that category? Chris Rainey. -

The Steelers went back to the future and drafted a lightning-fast wide receiver with the initials M.W. in the third round -

We told you why Shamarko Thomas, strong safety out of Syracuse, why he will 'work hard until his hands and his feet fall off.' -

Most recently we examined the possibilities of Oklahoma product Landry Jones being Ben Roethlisberger's successor. -

Now we come to the final picks.

Selected in the fifth round was Illinois cornerback Terry Hawthorne, who ran a 4.44/40 at the NFL Combine and a blazing 4.31/40 at the Illinois Pro Day. He made a pre-draft visit to the Steelers.

Hawthorne started all four years, but also dealt with injuries each year. So durability may be a question, but is a physical and aggressive who can play both outside and in the slot. He has upside, is fast and will tackle. Can play press like Ike Taylor or Cortez Allen. -

At 5'11 and 195 lbs., Hawthorne does need to bulk up a little (lithe and lanky build) and get stronger for the position. He may be raw, but he has good transition in his hips. He can be "susceptible to fakes and too easily bites in coverage, needing to show better discipline," but you can't argue with 4.31 speed. In addition to playing cornerback, he also can return punts and kicks, and was even originally recruited as a wide receiver. -

Hawthorne recorded six interceptions, two being returned for touchdowns, 138 total tackles and 22 passes defended. He has shutdown-cornerback ability that will make it hard not to have him on the Steelers roster come August.

With the sixth pick, the Steelers chose wide receiver Antonio...*ahem*...sorry, Justin Brown out of Oklahoma. Brown was a pre-draft visitor to the Steelers facilities, but was not an invitee to the NFL Combine. Brown spent last season with the Sooners after transferring from Penn State in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal, and joins Oklahoma teammate Landry Jones with the Steelers.

The 6'3", 210-pound Brown caught 73 passes for 879 yards and five touchdowns in 2012. He seems to know how to use his size against defenders when going up for the ball, but he let's the ball hit his body a little too much. A problem If It Ain't Steel pointed out that a certain former Steelers wide receiver had.

Brown's route running will need to be tightened up as he tends to round his cuts. Plus, since he isn't very fast (4.60/40) or quick, he isn't able to create separation very well. This allows the defensive backs to stay on their coverage. Still, you can't teach size, and he uses that size to go and make the tough catches. When he does catch with his hands first, he does have dependable ones. He also knows how to use his size off of jam coverage to get open in short yardage. Can also be used as a return man. -

The Steelers compensatory pick was the 206th and it was used on an inside linebacker they call "The Destroyer" - Vince Williams. At 5'11" and 233 lbs., he packs a wallop. -

The things that stick out when watching the tape on Williams:
1) he HITS; tackles well
2) he has good closing speed
3) he doesn't get bogged down in traffic and wards off blockers well

1) he can be slow to read/react
2) he doesn't have a very quick change of direction
3) he can take bad angles

But linebackers coach Keith Butler knows all of this. He knows that Williams is a two-down linebacker, but that he is physical and has raw ability that they will coach up. -

"Obviously if he is not going to be a three-down football player in college," Butler said, "then he is not going to all of a sudden step to the National Football League and be a three-down player. That is something we have to determine in training camp." -

The Steelers final selection in the draft was Nicholas Williams, a 6’4” 320-pound defensive tackle. And although he's a "project," defensive line coach John Mitchell admits to liking his potential.

"I like this guy. He didn’t dominate right there in Samford. He only started two years there, but I think his football is ahead of him rather than behind him." -

Definite practice squad player, but, as the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Mark Kaboly said of Williams at Friday's minicamp, he was the "most physically mature guy out there."


Speaking of minicamp, the rookies and invited undrafted free agents are ready for their close up. Well, at least a few of them are.

"Out of the 41 players at Steelers rookie minicamp, I predict 7 will make the 53-man roster."

One of those to make an impact was safety Shamarko Thomas. Several made praiseworthy comments about him, including Kaboly again who called him a "stud."

What Steel City Insider's Jim Wexell said of Thomas, though, is easily the quote of the day: "It was only the first workout in shells for Steelers rookies, but to me the most impressive was Shamarko Thomas. A brick shithouse. Sudden."

Another who should make himself noticed is Reggie Dunn, the Utah University return man who had four kick returns for touchdowns and averaged over 45 yards per return in 2012 and tops out at a world class 4.22/40 time.

Allow us to put it this way - the first rule of Reggie Dunn Club is you do not kick it to Reggie Dunn:

The second rule of Reggie Dunn Club is you do NOT kick it to Reggie Dunn:

For the rest of Friday's highlights and observations, read Mark Kaboly's piece from The Steel Mill:

Kaboly's The Steel Mill Blog: Steelers rookie minicamp observations (Saturday, Day 2):


TIDBITS: According to ESPN's John Clayton, the Steelers are anxious to spend the Salary Cap space money that will be cleared when Willie Colon's contract officially comes off the books. Clayton says the Steelers will sign wide receiver Steve Breaston in the next few weeks.

Breaston visited the Steelers a few weeks ago and, considering the Steelers don't actually have enough money right now, he will likely sign a deal once Colon's money clears after June 2nd. And if he is signed, it could spell the end of Plaxico Burress' second stint in the Black and Gold.