Thursday, February 20, 2014
Countdown to combine: Steelers
By Scott Brown
With the NFL scouting combine starting today, we review positions of need and who the Steelers might be looking at during the combine at those positions.
Position of need: Wide receiver
Unrestricted free agent Emmanuel Sanders is likely to receive an offer that the Steelers are unwilling to match and sign elsewhere. Even if Markus Wheaton is ready to step into the starting lineup after playing sparingly as a rookie and the Steelers re-sign No. 3 wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, they could still find room for a wide receiver, particularly one who is bigger than the ones they have on their roster and are projected to play regularly in 2014. The Steelers would make no bigger splash with the 15th overall pick than if they selected a tall wide receiver, something quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has long coveted.
Three players the Steelers might be targeting
Kelvin Benjamin, Florida State: Played just two seasons for the Seminoles but exploded onto the scene in 2013, catching 54 passes for 1,011 yards and an ACC-best 15 touchdown receptions. Benjamin may be the most intriguing player among the draft-eligible wide receivers because of his blend of size and athleticism and his upside, which may be the highest among the wideouts. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has Benjamin just eighth in his rankings of the top 10 wide receivers in the draft but no player could move up more based on what he does in Indianapolis. It will be interesting to see what his measurements are -- Benjamin is listed at 6-foot-4 7/8, 233 pounds -- as well as what he runs in the 40-yard dash. Benjamin doesn't lack the polish of other top wide receivers in the draft, which might make picking him at No. 15 overall risky. But if the Steelers don't get him in the first round they are unlikely to get another crack at Benjamin.
Mike Evans, Texas A&M:Johnny Manziel's primary target in college has already been linked to the Steelers by several draft analysts, and he may be the most attractive tall wide receiver in the draft. Evans, who is listed at 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds, had two highly productive seasons at Texas A&M before declaring for the draft, and he is second on Kiper's rankings for wide receivers. Here is what Kiper wrote about Evans earlier this week: "I had a friend in one front office tell me he feels Evans has the best ball skills he's seen in 20 years. I won't go that far, but If Evans shows off mid-4.4 speed, we'll have teams debating the top wide receiver in this draft between him and [Sammy] Watkins." Like Benjamin, there are questions about Evans' speed, but no receiver in the draft is better in jump-ball situations or plays bigger than Evans, who had 69 catches for 1,394 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.
Allen Robinson, Penn State: It took him just two seasons to etch his name all over the Nittany Lions' record book for wide receivers, obliterating marks held by O.J. McDuffie and Bobby Engram, each of whom had lengthy and productive NFL careers. The 6-foot-3, 210-pounder has good size and he uses the basketball skills that made him a Division I prospect in high school to make contested catches in traffic. Robinson is not among Kiper's top 10 wide receivers but that is a reflection of the depth at the position more than anything. The two-time Big Ten wide receiver of the year is a likely second-round pick though Robinson still has time to push his way into the first round, especially if he runs well as the combine. He could be an option for the Steelers in the second round if they don't pick a wide receiver at No. 15 overall and if Robinson, who caught 97 passes for 1,432 yards and six touchdowns last season, is still on the board.