If the Steelers acquire both Jamie Collins and Sio Moore, let me just state that I will be one happy camper. Pittsburgh’s linebacker corps is in desperate need of some versatile and athletic play-makers, and Collins has the tools to develop into a terrific defensive weapon for Dick LeBeau. Collins moved from defensive back to linebacker to defensive end during his collegiate career, and was one of Conference USA’s most feared pass-rushers over the last two years. Overall, Collins registered 190 tackles, 16.5 sacks, 39.5 tackles for loss, 5 forced fumbles, and 3 interceptions. While the former Golden Eagle is a bit raw in terms of his ability to “set the edge” against the run game, he could be a lethal situational pass-rusher while he develops as an outside linebacker.
While some fans might compare Thomas to Troy Polamalu, I liken him a bit more to Bob Sanders. Like Sanders, Thomas does not let his size (5’9″ 213 lbs.) deter him from throwing his body around with reckless abandon. And like Sanders, Thomas can cover a large amount of ground and is adept at playing “in the box” when he is needed to support against the run. Last season, Thomas also illustrated a knack for causing turnovers, and racked up a total of 5 (3 forced fumbles, 2 interceptions) to go along with a career high 84 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss. While Thomas’ height might be a bit of a disadvantage, his 40.5″ vertical leap should help him against taller receivers. Overall, Shamarko has all of the tools to be a successful strong safety in Pittsburgh’s defense, and would be a steal on Day 3 of the draft.
The Steelers took a particular interest in Bray before his pro day in Knoxville, and all signs could point to Pittsburgh brass targeting him if he is available in Round 4. Although the Volunteers and Bray struggled last year, the signal-caller nevertheless set career highs in completions (268), attempts (451), passing yards (3,612), and touchdowns (34). While Bray might have some maturity issues, he has a skill-set and frame similar to Ryan Mallett of the Patriots, and has arguably the strongest arm of any prospect in this year’s draft class. For a raw yet talented player like Bray (6’6″ 232 lbs.), Pittsburgh could be the perfect situation for him. Sitting at #3 on the depth chart behind Ben Roethlisberger and Bruce Gradkowski for a season would be great for the former Volunteer. During that time, Bray could gain as much information as he can from a 2-time Super Bowl winner and an adequate veteran backup, and hopefully clean up his act enough to develop into an eventual replacement for Roethlisberger.
Even if the Steelers take a tall, field-stretching, red zone threat like Justin Hunter early, the team will still need to address the slot position as Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery are only signed through this season. Pittsburgh attended Texas Christian’s pro day a couple of months ago, and the team got a good look at the former Horned Frog pass-catcher. Regardless of whether it was Andy Dalton, Casey Pachall, or Trevone Boykin passing the rock to him over his three-year career, Boyce was a productive aerial threat. After an impressive freshman campaign (34 catches, 646 yards, 6 touchdowns), Boyce posted 61 catches for 998 yards and 9 touchdowns during his sophomore campaign, and 66 catches for 891 yards and 7 touchdowns (plus 1 via the ground) last year. While Boyce’s frame isn’t particularly large (5’11” 206 lbs.), he has a solid pair of hands, and has enough speed, strength, and shiftiness to his game to become an productive slot receiver at the professional level.
Goodman intrigues me as a prospect, and I can definitely see why he peaked the interests of many in the Steelers organization. Pittsburgh’s defense needs competent depth at defensive end and at outside linebacker, and Goodman is coming off of a career year at Clemson (7.0 sacks, 9.5 tackles for loss, and 4 forced fumbles). While Goodman might be considered by some to be a fit as a strongside-outside linebacker in Pittsburgh’s 3-4 scheme due to his deceptive speed (4.67 40 yard dash), I believe that the former Tiger’s long arms (36″) and underrated strength (26 bench press reps of 225 lbs.) might make him a developmental 5-technique in the mold of a young Brett Keisel. Hopefully Dick LeBeau can get Goodman involved in sub-packages early in his career so the Pittsburgh can put a pass-rusher on the field who is comfortable rushing with his hand in the dirt.
If Doug Legrusky is not re-signed, I can see the Steelers using one seletion on a center/guard prospect on Day 3. Why does Khaled Holmes make sense? Well for starters, Khaled (6’3″ 302 lbs.) was the anchor of the interior Southern Cal’s offensive line, and gained plenty of experience in a zone-blocking scheme as a member of the Trojans. Holmes also has some versatility to his game as well. Before he started at center in 2011 and 2012, he was Southern Cal’s starting right guard during the 2010 campaign. Khaled is a smart player who possesses good quickness and agility, and would be a nice fit as a zone-blocking center. I should also add that Holmes is the brother-in-law of current Steeler Troy Polamalu.
Rontez Miles would be a perfect fit with the Steelers as a developmental prospect, and I really hope that Colbert & Co. can acquire him on Saturday afternoon. Like Shamarko Thomas, Rontez’s journey to professional football has been wrought with tragedy and hard times. And like Shamarko, Miles could very well be on Pittsburgh’s radars, especially since he is a talented football player in the Steelers’ back-yard. At California, Rontez was a four-year starter and played both safety and cornerback for the Vulcans. A ball-hawk, Miles picked off 10 passes during his career, forced 2 fumbles, and recovered 2 more. Rontez is also a physical player “in-the-box,” and is willing to throw his 6′ 210 lb. frame into the fray. Miles will of course have to adjust to the speed of the professional game and the increased competition. Thus, he will likely have to sit and play special teams for a year or two. Potential apprenticeship period aside, the raw tools are there for Rontez to develop into a talented free safety in time.
The Steelers will have some uncertainty at the tight end position if Heath Miller misses any extended time. While Matt Spaeth is a decent and familiar stop-gap option and David Paulson flashed a bit of potential during his rookie season, Pittsburgh could stand to add a tight end for depth purposes to their roster this weekend. While Michael Williams is not necessarily a field-stretching type of tight end (51 career catches, 503 yards, 7 touchdowns), his overall experience (4-year starter at Alabama) and his value as a blocker and a red zone threat should not be overlooked. Williams is 6’6″ 278 lbs. and he would be a valuable addition to Pittsburgh’s roster in goal-line and short-yardage packages.
Potential Undrafted Free Agent Targets
Marvin Burdette ILB (Alabama-Birmingham)
Burdette and Mauti were highly productive college players, but both could find themselves undrafted this weekend. The biggest question about Marvin concerns his “vending-machine” build (5’9″ 232 lbs.) and his lack of speed. Height issues aside, Burdette however was a three-year starter at UAB (38 career starts), and was a “tackling machine” in the middle for the Blazers over his four-year career (406 tackles). Members of Pittsburgh’s brass were in attendance for Burdette’s pro day, and I am sure that he will be on the Steelers’ radars once the 7th round comes to a close.
Michael Mauti ILB (Penn State)
Mauti on the other hand would probably hear someone call his name on Day 2, but the 3 ACL injuries he sustained in college could drive him off of draft boards around the league. While Mauti (6’2″ 243 lbs.) does not possess the athletic ability or raw speed of an Alec Ogletree, he is a tough and instinctual player who projects well to the strongside-inside linebacker position in a 3-4 scheme. A fan-favorite among many in “Steeler Nation” for his determination, Mauti will likely garner an invite as a UDFA to Latrobe if he falls through the cracks of the draft process.
Melvin White CB/FS (Louisiana-Lafayette)
The Steelers could be in the market for an under-the-radar UDFA safety like they were when they took Robert Golden last season. I for one believe that Melvin White, a former cornerback at Louisiana-Lafayette, could be a solid fit as a free safety with the Steelers. White possesses good size (6’1″ 203 lbs.), and knows how to tackle and mix it up near the line of scrimmage (2011-2012: 119 tackles and 12.5 tackles for loss). While his hands are not particularly tremendous (2 career interceptions), Melvin has a good amount of speed for a bigger-framed player (4.59 40 at his pro day) and he reminds me a bit of a former raw Ragin’ Cajun cornerback named Ike Taylor.
Nik Embernate OG (San Diego State)
If the Steelers wait until the UDFA period to find a backup interior offensive lineman, they could take a chance on Nik Embernate of San Diego State. Embernate (6’4″ 304 lbs.) was a 4-year starter with the Aztecs and was an instrumental part of the program’s return to relevance over the last few seasons. Nik and the rest of San Diego State’s guys in the trenches helped pave the way for Ronnie Hillman (now with the Denver Broncos), Walter Kazee, and Adam Muema to have stellar seasons on the ground as the Aztecs were among the Mountain West leaders in rushing yards over the last three seasons. While Embernate does not possess a huge “talent ceiling,” he is definitely a heady player who has plenty of experience under his belt and should develop into a solid backup guard at the professional level.
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