As we all know by now, the Pittsburgh Steelers have a number of needs to address through the upcoming draft process. Due to the fact that the franchise has depth and talent issues at so many different positional units on their roster, it is definitely hard to pinpoint one specific position that Pittsburgh’s brass will target in Round 1 of next week’s draft. Mystery and intrigue aside, I believe that Colbert & Co. will most likely go in one of four different “positional directions” with their first pick on “Draft Weekend.”
As bad as the Steelers need a wide receiver, let me state that I will not necessarily be thrilled if the Steelers take Cordarrelle Patterson with the 17th overall pick.
I know, I know, Patterson (6’2″ 216 lbs.) is “fast,” “explosive,” “can change directions quickly,” etc.. But I hope that Pittsburgh’s brass understand that the former Volunteer has questionable hands, is a sloppy route-runner, and has issues surrounding his “football I.Q.” and understanding of the game.
Heck, Patterson was not even the most productive pass-catcher (46 catches, 778 yards, 5 touchdowns) on his own team last year. Nevertheless, Cordarrelle shined on kickoff returns, punt returns, and even as a tailback for the Volunteers due to his explosiveness. While the upside is definitely there with Cordarrelle, he is a project pick in my opinion and is unlikely to reach his full potential until possibly late year 2 or early year 3 of his career.
If the Steelers’ brass elect to go in a bit more sensible direction in Round 1 at the wide receiver position, they could opt to take a pass-catcher like Keenan Allen of California or DeAndre Hopkins of Clemson.
Sure, I understand that people were less than thrilled with Allen’s 40 time at his Pro Day. But I know of plenty of receivers who have shown an adequate amount of speed on tape who have had their draft stock hurt due to questions about their “speed” after bad showings in the 40. In fact, Allen was one of the Pac-12’s most productive pass-catchers over the last two seasons (2011-2012: 159 catches, 2,008 yards, 12 touchdown catches, 1 touchdown rush)
In my opinion, Allen is the best wide receiver in this draft class, and I believe that his skill-set would make Pittsburgh’s receiving corps even more dangerous. Allen is one of the best route-runners in this year’s class, and his ability to run precise routes at all levels of the field will make him a terrific weapon for any quarterback to have at his disposal.
In addition to his route-running, Keenan also illustrated the ability to play in the slot and outside the numbers at California. Dye to the fact that Keenan can line up and contribute at different spots on the field, he can definitely be a versatile chess-piece for any offense to utilize. The other reason why I like Allen is because he has terrific body control when the ball is in the air, and he uses his 6’2″ 206 lb. frame to his advantage. For a team with so many red zone woes a year ago, Allen would be a great fit for a team looking to put more 6’s on the board than 3’s when they enter their opponents’ 20 yard lines.
Although Hopkins (6’1″ 214 lbs.) does not possess “blazing” speed, he definitely has enough to make opposing defenses respect him in the short, intermediate, and deep areas of the field. His route-running is also solid, and his ability to help with blocking in the running game are also huge pluses as well. The biggest reason why I like Hopkins though is mostly due to his productivity, especially in the red zone, at Clemson. Hopkins was Tahj Boyd’s “go-to-guy” in the red zone over the last two seasons, and DeAndre definitely proved himself to be a reliable target for the Tigers during that span as he hauled in a total of 23 touchdowns in addition to 154 catches for 2,383 yards!
Thankfully for the Steelers, they could very well have their choice of any of these three prospects at #17 overall. In fact, they might even be able to slide down the draft board a bit (2-10 picks) and still acquire one of them due to the questions which surround each pass-catcher.
As I mentioned previously, people around the league have started to question Patterson’s ability to learn an N.F.L. offense, and that was before he scored an 11 on his Wonderlic. Allen’s health and “lack of speed” might be cause for some teams to say “no.” And if Hopkins really was one of the players who trashed a hotel room in Indianapolis, he could take a tumble down some draft boards.
Regardless of whether or not Colbert & Co. take one of these three players in Round 1, I am sure that Pittsburgh’s brass will want to select at least one wide receiver on Day 1 or Day 2 of “Draft Weekend.” Antonio Brown is the only Steeler receiver signed through the 2014 season, and it would be unwise for the franchise to bank on Emmanuel Sanders, Plaxico Burress, and Jerricho Cotchery to stick and stay past this year.
First of all, let me state that I for one am not as high on Kenny Vaccaro as I am on other safeties in this draft class. In fact, I believe that other safeties like Phillip Thomas, Shamarko Thomas, and D.J. Swearinger (in that order) would be better fits on Pittsburgh’s defense. Selecting Vaccaro (6′ 214 lbs.) would definitely make sense for a safety-needy team like the Steelers.
What Pittsburgh’s defense could definitely use right now is some sort of “Post Polamalu & Clark” transition strategy at the free and strong safety positions. And the Steelers would be wise to find a solution sooner as opposed to later, because Robert Golden is the only depth with any experience at the position, and he was relegated to mostly special teams during his rookie campaign.
In addition to the franchise’s lack of depth at the free and strong safety positions, Pittsburgh’s defense has been haunted by slot receivers and the quick-hitting passing-game during Dick LeBeau’s second-stint as the team’s defensive coordinator, and a player like Vaccaro could definitely help to shore up those issues.
While I have some issues with Vaccaro’s “long-speed,” as a physical and “in-the-box” strong safety, Kenny would be a nice fit in the Steelers’ secondary. A productive player for Texas during his four-year career, Vaccaro was a two-and-a-half year starter with the Longhorns. In addition to his experience, Kenny also played both free and strong safety and racked up 186 tackles and 4 interceptions over his final two seasons at Texas.
Despite the fact that I believe that the Steelers could fill their need for a safety or two later on in the draft, I would nevertheless be happy to see Pittsburgh’s brass select Vaccaro. I mean, if Carnell Lake and Dick LeBeau think that he is “the guy” they must have in Round 1, then I think it’s a pretty safe bet that Vaccaro has the tools to turn into a solid professional football player.