The Steelers have more needs in this draft than usual, which means that they will need to take advantage of players passed over by other teams. Lucky for them, there are common flaws in the NFL Draft scouting process that will cause teams to overlook talented players. The most obvious of these flaws is downgrading players because of their size, rather than their skill set. The new NFL focuses on what Mike Mayock likes to call height, weight, speed prospects. These are prospects who have outstanding athleticism but lack the technique, football IQ, and overall skill that other players have. If the Steelers can overlook the size of some unheralded prospects, they could capitalize and secure some talented players to build around for the future.
Three players that come to mind when thinking of this are Jason Verrett, Telvin Smith, and Bruce Ellington. I rank Verrett as the 12th overall player and best cornerback on my board. Telvin Smith is my 66th overall player and my 4th ranked off-LOS linebacker. Bruce Ellington is my 78th overall player and 12th ranked wide receiver. All of these players are being valued at least a half round later than I have them ranked.
When looking at Jason Verrett it is hard to argue that his skills aren’t the best in the class. His footwork is by far the best in the class and also is one of the best players in the class at disrupting the catch point. Verrett is 5’9″, 6 inches shorter than the tallest corner in the class, but can defend a 6’3″ wide receiver at the catch point better than some of the 6’3″ corners. Verrett is also far and away the best run defender and tackler in the class at corner. And it isn’t close. At all. He is overmatched by 5 inches and 30 pounds by some receivers in the class but wouldn’t struggle at all bring them to the ground in open space. He does this by using his outstanding technique and understanding of the game to use his lack of size to his advantage. Most of the tall corners in this class struggle to understand how to use their size to their advantage, which is the trait that is getting them overvalued in the first place.
Telvin Smith is another player who is devalued because of his size. If you completely ignore Smith’s size when watching his film it would be hard to deny that he is a legitimate mid second round talent. He is being valued in the 3rd round of most drafts, however, because he is 6’3″ and only 218 pounds. His light frame does give him some advantages, mainly his speed. If you were wondering he ran 4.52 40 yard dash, and yes you read that right. There are two options for Smith when he gets to the NFL that could completely get rid of issues about his size. He has the frame where he could easily add 10-15 pounds and still be a very effective starting linebacker. He could also convert to a safety and be a poor mans Kam Chancellor. Even if he doesn’t add weight or transition to safety, he could still be a very effective linebacker in the NFL. Despite his lack of weight he had success in college against many NFL caliber players. There is no reason to believe that he won’t be able to do the same in the NFL, even if it isn’t as an every down player.
Bruce Ellington has the skills of very few other receivers in the draft, but he is being overlooked because he is only 5’9″. I could name you plenty of receivers in the NFL who have had success despite their lack of size. Most namely the one and only Antonio Brown. Brown, like Ellington, is 5’9″. Ellington also has a very similar skill set to Brown. Both players are quicker than they are fast, outstanding in space, and play bigger than their size. Ellington can be an effective red zone receiver despite his size because he uses his route running skills and technique to create space for himself. Despite Ellington already being a good route runner and having good ball skills, Ellington is still relatively raw. He was the starting point guard on South Carolina’s basketball team and, obviously, this helps him have outstanding hand eye coordination for the position.
All three of these players lack the traditional size that NFL teams look for, but they make up for that in their skillset, football IQ, and technique. The Steelers can capitalize on this to have one of their best drafts in years.