Monday, March 10, 2014

Steelers Post-Combine NFL Draft Look - Big-Play Receivers; Reality Of A Restructure

Toward the end of February, If It Ain't Steel wrote a mini-preview of possible wide receivers the Pittsburgh Steelers might look to in the NFL Draft. The thought behind it being that the organization is looking to get a big target this May. - http://ifitaintsteel.blogspot.com/2014/02/steelers-want-roethlisberger-for-life.html

There is no doubt that the draft is teeming with BIG-time talent. And with the departure of wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders being imminent, the need to get a reliable and, as we quoted Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Gerry Dulac as saying, a "big" or at least a "big-play" receiver.

In the weeks since writing that, though, I've fallen out of love with Florida State WR Kelvin Benjamin, but only with regard to the Steelers. "A rare combination of size (6'5", 240 LBs, 4% body fat) and speed (4.61/40)....(who is) a physical mismatch vs. defensive backs and linebackers" is someone who'll still likely go in the first round.

Just not for the Steelers.

We say that partly because if the Steelers' plethora of needs on defense - so if a WR is drafted first, he'd better be game-ready.

But we say it mainly because of the raw aspect of his game, including his propensity for drops, that lends itself to more of a bottom of the 1st-round selection. We in no way think he'll be a bust (Jerry Rice had a problem with drops in college too), just that he may not be the best fit for the Steelers.

With Antonio Brown and soon-to-be re-signed Jerricho Cotchery being the only wide receivers to be counted on, and Heath Miller being the only true tight end receiving option, who do the Steelers turn to as those potential game-ready candidates come May?

Mike Evans, WR, Texas A&M: 6'5", 231 LBs, 4.53/40, 37" vertical jump, 65 receptions, 1,322 yards, 12 touchdowns (1st round) - On March 5, Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle tweeted (@ChronBrianSmith) that he hears that Evans hears he's a top-five guy: "#Texas A&M's Mike Evans said he's hearing more and more he could be a top-10 pick in #NFL draft. Met with 20 teams at combine."

If so, that's bad for the Steelers. If It Ain't Steel has thought this all along, however. Thus our initial push for Benjamin. Clemson's Sammy Watkins will be (long) off the board by the time the Steelers select, but Evans just might be around still. Playing the type of offense he did with the type of quarterback that he did, he is the most likely candidate should the Steelers go that route in round one. - http://youtu.be/wl2OfgKbEBs

Eric Ebron, TE, North Carolina: 6'4", 250 LBs, 4.60/40, 24 reps/225-LB Bench Press, 62 rec, 973 yds, three TDs (1st round) - I know, Ebron isn't a WR, but he is both a "big" target and capable of the "big play." Just as importantly, he can block...and Heath isn't getting any younger.

If Evans is already gone by the 15th pick, don't be surprised if the Steelers feel the best player available is a versatile, mismatch-making tight end. - http://youtu.be/LfznL8SqDkA

Allen Robinson, WR, Penn State: 6'2 1/2", 220 LBs, 4.60/40, 39" VJ, 97 rec., 1,432 yds, 6 TDs (2nd round) - Per Frank Cooney of The Sport Exchange, Robinson is a "fluid athlete for his size with room to get stronger. Deceptive acceleration with sharp cuts to be a dangerous catch-and-go pass catcher. Physical ball carrier with balance and body strength to shake off defenders and pick up chunks of yards after contact." The biggest question surrounding him is if he has enough speed (4.60/40) to separate from NFL defensive backs. - http://youtu.be/hrV19HYDCnk

Jordan Matthews, WR, Vanderbilt: 6'3", 212 LBs, 4.46/40, 35.5 VJ, 112 rec, 1,477 yds, 7 TDs, (2nd round) - Matthews' final two seasons with Vandy were prolific. He finished as the SEC's all-time leader with 262 catches and 3,759 yards. Per CBSSports.com, Matthews has a "chiseled frame (and)...size/speed combination along with his hand/eye coordination and body control makes him an attractive prospect, showing the ability to make plays at all levels of the field and do damage after the catch."

The cousin of NFL legend Jerry Rice, who shined at the Senior Bowl, is strong (21 reps of the 225-pound bench press), has a long stride and can take a quick swing pass and go the distance. According to NFL.com's Chase Goodbread, "he's a big-time prospect." - http://youtu.be/pZhNot3CIl0

Donte Moncrief, WR, Ole Miss: 6'2", 221 LBs, 4.4/40, 39.5 VJ, 59 rec, 938 yds, 6 TDs (2nd-3rd round) - Between game play and highlights, what jumps off the screen (no pun intended) and what tips the scale for me with Moncrief is his hops, his vertical leap. His ball-tracking ability and catching apex make him dangerous and highly desirable. Then when doing research on him, one word used often in describing his play was "sudden." - http://youtu.be/XpOHRPmhErw

And while this won't be the only piece we do on possible WR draft picks, it covers the ones we expect we might see taken at the top of the draft. To then sum up, the one we would most like to see in Black and Gold is...

Martavis Bryant (pictured), WR, Clemson: 6'4", 211 LBs, 4.42/40, 39" VJ, 42 rec, 828 yds, 7 TDs, (2nd-3rd round) - "He is a terrific athlete with the speed/size combination to create mismatches at all levels of the field." - Dane Brugler NFLDraftScout.com

Bryant was overshadowed all season by teammate Watkins, but he made the most of his opportunities late in the year, including in the Orange Bowl victory over Ohio State when he scored two red-zone touchdowns.

Point blank, Bryan is tall, lithe, has long arms (32 5/8"), is flat out fast (had unofficial 4.34/40) and can jump out of the building. He has short-area burst for short and intermediate routes, but also has the body control and long strides to take the tops off of defenses. Needs to learn to catch better with his hands instead of his body to overcome his drops, but that's pretty much the worst that can be said about him. - http://youtu.be/EBY_lsCjCT4

~ Addendum ~ There are certainly other top-flight possibilities. Ones such as USC's Marqise Lee (6'0", 192 LBs, 4.52/40, 38" vertical jump), LSU's Odell Beckham, jr. (5'11", 198, 4.43/40, 38.5 VJ), Oregon State's Brandin Cooks (5'9 3/4", 189, 4.33/40, 36" VJ) and Fresno State's Devante Adams (6'1" 212 LBs, 4.56/40, 39.5) are all smooth, shifty, speedy athletes with burst and separation ability for the big play. (They all are also possibilities, we just don't feel they're probabilities.) In other words, they're each another Antonio Brown and potentially Markus Wheaton. We believe the Steelers will look to go away form that in this draft and look toward a little more size.

~

Speaking of Antonio Brown... Let's get one thing straight: players are neither in any way doing anything special, in any way magnanimous, nor especially loyal to their teams when they restructure. This is just as true with AB. All he did was take a check. Albeit one that now has the Steelers at approximately $3 million under the Salary Cap.

The restructure, for want of a lengthy explanation, is mainly an accounting measure. The team is allowed to turn a certain percentage (I believe up to approximately 90%) of the earnings a player would get for a season into a bonus that is paid as a lump sum.

The team's Salary Cap issues are eased and the player gets a new Escalade and matching suit. That's it. Nothing more (on the players' parts), nothing less (on the teams' parts).

So stop deifying the players when all they're doing is lining their pockets.