Yesterday, some representatives of the Steelers attended Michigan State’s Pro Day. While it was not exactly a shock to see some of Pittsburgh’s employees at a major college Pro Day like the Spartans’, Head Coach Mike Tomlin definitely wanted to get to know two of Michigan State’s draft-eligible prospects better: Running Back Le’Veon Bell and Tight End Dion Sims.
According to the Detroit Free-Press, Tomlin, along with two other members of Pittsburgh’s staff, actually went out to dinner with Bell and Sims on the night before their workout sessions. In fact, Sims had this to say to the Free-Press this about his meal with Tomlin:
We laughed a lot, joked a lot, shared some personal stuff
Unlike Sims, Bell had actually met Tomlin before their Tuesday outing, in fact he told the Free-Press how:
I [Bell] actually met with Mike Tomlin at the combine and talked with him. I know what he thinks of me; he thinks I’m a great player. I think I impressed him today. So I’m just trying to help my cause. Hopefully they pull the trigger. You never know.
Of the two players, Bell would definitely be the prospect who could help the Steelers the most as they try to rebuild. Not only does Pittsburgh lack a clear-cut starter at the position, they are transitioning to a Zone-Blocking scheme under new Offensive Line Coach Jack Bicknell Jr..
After two seasons of sharing the load with other backs (combined 1,553 Rush Yards, 21 TD’s), Bell broke out big last year. Due to the fact that Kirk Cousins went to the N.F.L., the Spartans’ passing game was anemic. Thus, Michigan State’s Offense was largely based around the bruising Back who shouldered the ground-game load over the entire 2012 campaign. Overall, Bell carried the ball 382 times for 1,793 Yards and 12 TD’s, and did so as he faced 8 and 9 man Boxes each and every week.
While Bell is known more for his running, the most underrated part of his game is his hands. During his final two collegiate seasons, the former Spartan caught 67 passes for 434 Yards and 1 TD. Granted, Bell is not going to make anybody forget about Marshall Faulk as a pass-catcher, especially down the field or positioned in the slot. Yet Le’Veon’s soft hands, and his ability to be used as a weapon in the Screen game are nice assets for any Offense to have at their disposal.
The biggest questions Le’Veon must face however as he transitions to the pro game will deal with his straight-line speed and his initial burst once he gets his hands on the ball. Bell ran a 4.6 40 Yard-Dash at The Combine (he did not run at his Pro Day), which is good for a player his size (6’1” 229 lbs. currently), but is definitely not considered to be game-breaking speed.
Thankfully for Bell, he has a great amount of agility for a player with his frame, and posseses some experience as a Zone-scheme runner from his college days. The Running Back put up solid numbers in the 20-Yard Shuttle (4.24 Sec.) and 3-Cone Drill (6.75 Sec.) at The Combine, and finished the 60-Yard Shuttle in 11.75 seconds. Bucky Brooks of NFL.com is a big fan of Le’Veon, and from what I have seen of the Running Back (here and here), I like how well he used his vision to set up blocks and made some savvy and necessary cuts when the Spartans ran Zone plays.
While Dion Sims is a much more raw prospect than Bell in terms of his overall playing experience, he is still a player who could intrigue the Steelers’ Front Office in the middle Rounds of the Draft. Although I do not believe that Pittsburgh will be in the market for a Tyler Eifert or a Zach Ertz, the Coaches and Scouts might be willing to take a chance on a developmental, yet athletic prospect early on Day 3 like the former Spartan Tight End.
Sims possesses a unique combination of quickness and athleticism for a player of his size (6’5” 262 lbs.). Dion ran his 40 Yard Dash in 4.75 Seconds, and even posted a Vertical Jump of 35 Inches! Like Bell, Sims posted most of his better numbers at The Combine, but he did show off his strength as he improved his Bench Press numbers from 22 to 26 at his Pro Day.
While Sims is an athletically gifted player, he has only played in three collegiate seasons, and has sustained his fair share of injuries during said span. The Tight End played a chunk of the 2011 season with a broken hand, and missed 3 Games last season due to an ankle injury.
The former Spartan Tight End probably suffered just as much as Bell last year, if not more, because of Cousins’ departure to the N.F.L.. Although Sims set career-highs in Catches (36) and Yards (475), Michigan State’s reliance on Bell, and the lack of consistent Quarterback play held Sims back some. And this was especially when it came to the number of Touchdowns he recorded last year (2). Although Sims’ 2012 numbers were rather pedestrian, they still trumped his 2009 and 2011 stat-lines combined in Catches and Yards (23 Catches, 232 Yards), and one could see the improvements he made as a blocker and a pass-catcher.
Although he is a bit of a risk, Sims could be an athletic gamble worth taking on early Day 3 of the Draft. Plus, the Steelers could stand to acquire someone who has the ability to emerge as a viable weapon in “12” personnel (1 Back, 2 Tight Ends) sets, and in the Red Zone. Remember, Heath Miller is coming off of a bad knee injury, and Leonard Pope, David Paulson, and David Johnson are the only depth at the position right now for Pittsburgh. Thus, the Steelers could use a developmental “insurance policy” at the position just in case none of the players I alluded to above work out alongside Heath once he returns.
I for one am intrigued to see if the Steelers select one, both, or none of the Michigan State prospects I discussed previously. Tomlin and some of the Staff certainly appear to be interested, but we saw a similar situation play out last year when Pittsburgh’s Head Coach went out to dinner with Kirk Cousins before his Pro Day in East Lansing. Regardless of what happened last year though, the Steelers do have needs which both players could help to fill if they are indeed selected. Until “Draft Weekend” comes however, we will just have to wait to see if Pittsburgh’s interest is “real” or simply for “show.”