Pittsburgh Steelers: Kelvin Benjamin

Cotchery influence helps Wheaton emerge

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
PITTSBURGH – They still exchange occasional text messages, but it’s a wonder Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Markus Wheaton did not experience some separation anxiety after Jerricho Cotchery signed with the Carolina Panthers in March.

Wheaton attached himself to Cotchery last season, shadowing the veteran wide receiver the way a cornerback would as Wheaton made the transition from college to the NFL.

The two were as natural a pairing as peanut butter and jelly. Both are soft-spoken and hard-working, and Cotchery was as eager to mentor as Wheaton was to learn from him.

What Wheaton gleaned from Cotchery is starting to pay off in his second NFL season.

The 5-11, 182-pound Wheaton has caught 11 passes for 135 yards in two games, already doubling his production from 2013, when a recurring finger injury sabotaged his rookie season.

True to his nature, Cotchery did not take any credit for Wheaton’s early success this season, saying the rookie simply needed to an opportunity to show what he can do.

“Every time he got on the field [last season], he made plays,” Cotchery said. “We saw that early on in the year last year before he broke his finger. Going into the Minnesota game in London, we had a good package for him and he was ready to go. I think he played a good game in that Minnesota game, but unfortunately he got hurt and it kind of set him back.”

The broken pinkie finger – and the depth chart with the players ahead of Wheaton at wide receiver, including Cotchery – limited the 2013 third-round pick to six catches and 64 yards.

But Wheaton said learning the game from Cotchery proved to be invaluable, and the veteran -- now in his 11th NFL season -- taught him how to watch game film as well as take notes during meetings.

Taking notes sounds easy enough, but imagine sitting in a class and writing down everything the professor says. That is what Wheaton initially tried to do, and he often found himself lost as he scribbled furiously in his notebook.

“It was a little bit overwhelming, so [Cotchery] taught me what to pay attention to,” Wheaton said. “He taught me how to focus on what’s important and what’s not.”

Cotchery has since moved on to Carolina and started mentoring another rookie wide receiver in Panthers first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin. Cotchery said he expects great things from Benjamin.

The same can also be said for Wheaton, whom Cotchery now follows from afar.

“I knew once he got on the field, he was going to go out there and make plays,” Cotchery said.
PITTSBURGH -- Wide receiver Lance Moore and defensive tackle Steve McLendon were full participants in practice on Wednesday and each is on track to play Sunday night in Carolina.

Moore, who missed the Pittsburgh Steelers' first two games because of a nagging groin injury, has practiced both days this week.

The ninth-year veteran will make his Steelers debut against the 2-0 Panthers barring a setback.

McLendon, who left the Steelers’ 26-6 loss to the Ravens last Thursday with a shoulder injury, also should play in Carolina unless he experiences a setback.

Rookie running back Dri Archer (ankle) and left guard Ramon Foster (ankle) were limited in practice. Archer did not play against the Ravens because of a sprained ankle.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin did not mention Foster when he gave an injury update Tuesday at his weekly news conference.

Defensive end Brett Keisel, strong safety Troy Polamalu and tight end Heath Miller were also given practice off by Tomlin.

A number of Panthers players didn’t practice on Wednesday, including linebacker Thomas Davis (hip), defensive tackle Dwan Edwards (back), running back DeAngelo Williams (thigh) and wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin (knee).

Defensive end Greg Hardy did not practice and the Panthers are expected to take Hardy off the 53-man roster and place him on the NFL’s exempt list following a bench conviction for assaulting his former girlfriend.
PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin offered high praise for a pair of Carolina Panthers players, including linebacker Luke Kuechly, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

“I think he is legitimately in the argument of a J.J. Watt in terms of some of the most exciting young football players in our game,” Tomlin said. “Luke Kuechly is quite simply one of the best in the business.”

That lofty assessment is not merely a case of Tomlin laying it on thick when talking about an upcoming opponent.

Kuechly is the first player since a guy named Lawrence Taylor to win the Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year and the AP Defensive Player of the Year in consecutive seasons.

The 6-3, 238-pounder piled up 156 tackles while intercepting four passes last season in helping the Panthers in the NFC South. Kuechly is tied for third in the NFL with 20 tackles through two games and the 2012 first-round draft pick also has a sack.

“There’s nothing that he can’t do,” Tomlin said of the Panthers’ 23-year-old middle linebacker. “He is good at blitzing. He is a sideline-to-sideline tackler. He has innate instincts. He can slip blocks. He can defeat blocks physically. He is great in the passing game.”

The Panthers used their most recent first-round pick to address their passing game on the other side of the ball.

And Kelvin Benjamin, a big and rangy wide receiver, has already provided some early returns for Carolina.

The former Florida State star has caught eight passes, including one for a touchdown, in two games, and is averaging 17.3 yards per reception.

The Steelers took a long look at the 6-5, 240-pound Benjamin prior to the draft last May and Tomlin and Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert each attended Florida State's Pro Day.

“There are big wideouts and there are really big wideouts,” Tomlin said of Benjamin, the 28th overall pick of the 2014 draft. “This guy is really big. He is going to have a 50 pound or so advantage on just about every defensive back he comes across. He has good body control. He has good, strong hands. He attacks the ball. [Carolina quarterback] Cam [Newton] does an awesome job of locating balls and putting balls in locations that only Benjamin can make the plays. He is an impressive young man.”
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have nine picks in the 2014 NFL draft, and this is the eighth in a series that looks at the nine positions they could address in a week. Keep in mind the Steelers are likely to draft two cornerbacks, so they might not take a player at every position covered in this series.

Our eighth look is at wide receiver.

Added: Lance Moore, Darrius Heyward-Bey

Lost: Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery

Skinny: No position in a deep draft is more loaded than wide receiver. ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said recently that a “minimum of seven” wide receivers will get taken in the first round, and that as many as nine could come off the board on the first day of the draft. The Steelers are unlikely to get a shot at Texas A&M’s Mike Evans, unless they trade up, as one of the tallest wide receivers in the draft will almost surely be a top-10 pick. If the Steelers covet a big wide receiver they could trade down and take Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin or Indiana’s fast-rising Cody Latimer. The pool of wide receivers is also deep enough that the Steelers can wait until after the first round and still get a good prospect. They have a history of finding wide receivers later in the draft, and they might be more inclined to target a cornerback in the first round and wait a little bit to take a wideout. I do think the Steelers draft a wide receiver with one of their first three picks.

Draft likelihood: High


Last WR drafted by the Steelers: Justin Brown, sixth round in 2013

Last WR drafted by the Steelers in the first round: Santonio Holmes, 2006

Last WR taken 15th overall in the draft: Michael Clayton, Titans, 2004

WRs drafted under Kevin Colbert/Mike Tomlin: Eight

WRs drafted under Colbert/Tomlin still with the Steelers: Three
ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has the Pittsburgh Steelers addressing the offensive line in his latest mock draft. ESPN analyst Todd McShay has the Steelers taking a cornerback, though not one who has been frequently linked to them.

Kiper Jr. threw a bit of a curveball in his fifth mock draft Insider by having the Steelers take Notre Dame tackle Zack Martin at No. 15 overall. McShay also went in a different direction with the Steelers in his fifth mock draft Insider, pairing them with Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller in the first round.

Kiper has Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard, Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert and LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. off the board before the Steelers’ first pick in the draft.

He has the Steelers taking Martin over players such as North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron, Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley and Florida State wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin.

Of the Martin pick, Kiper wrote: Pittsburgh could go cornerback here, but I don't like the value with the top two off the board. Receiver is also an option.

McShay has the Steelers taking Fuller at No. 15 overall with Dennard and Beckham off the board.

He considered Fuller, Gilbert and Mosley for the Steelers in the first round.

Of the Fuller selection, McShay wrote: I'm sure they'd love to have Gilbert's playmaking ability, but they've always gone for more physical corners like Fuller over guys like Gilbert who don't get up and press and are poor tacklers. If they can find a way to trade back and add extra picks, that'd be a good move.

It is interesting that Kiper Jr. and McShay have the players (Dennard and Beckham) who have been most frequently linked to the Steelers off the board before the 15th overall pick.
PITTSBURGH -- Mock drafts have, predictably, been all over the place as far as the Pittsburgh Steelers' first-round pick. Most, however, have them taking a wide receiver or a cornerback No. 15 overall, assuming they don’t try to trade down.

I think those two positions are most likely the ones the Steelers will target with their first pick, though North Carolina tight end Eric Ebron could also be in play if he slides a little in the draft.

Ebron is the No. 1 player at one of the few positions that is not particularly deep, and he would give the Steelers a tall receiver while also filling a long-term need. I think Heath Miller has at least three good seasons left in him, but the Steelers have to plan for the post-Miller years at some point.

If Ebron is still available when they make the first pick, I think they give him serious consideration, especially if a couple of cornerbacks are already off the board, as well as Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans.

The Steelers have eight other picks in the draft, three of which are compensatory selections, including one at the end of the third round. They have a lot of needs -- or as general manager Kevin Colbert would frame it "wants" -- particularly on defense.

Here is my projection of the positions they will address with their nine picks, which is contingent on the Steelers not adding extra ones through a trade.

Cornerback (2): The Steelers could use immediate help here, and they don't have a long-term starter at cornerback after third-year man Cortez Allen. I would be surprised if they don't draft two cornerbacks, with one of them coming in the first three rounds. They drafted two cornerbacks in 2011, including Allen in the fourth round.

Defensive line (2): The Steelers will draft a defensive lineman as early as the second round -- ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. has them taking Notre Dame nose tackle Louis Nix III with their second pick in his latest mock draft -- and they need to take at least one end. The signing of Cam Thomas gives them a player with position flexibility, but the Steelers' need at defensive end is every bit as glaring as it is at cornerback.

Wide receiver (1): No position is deeper in the draft, and even if the Steelers don't address it in the first round, they can still get a good prospect later. The Steelers probably won't get a chance to draft Evans unless they trade up in the first round and Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin may be too much of a risk to take at No. 15. LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. has been linked to the Steelers in various mock drafts, and they could pull the trigger on him if they have him high on their board.

Linebacker (1): The Steelers have to take a player who projects as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme given how thin they are at the position. It will be interesting to see what they will do if Alabama’s C.J. Mosley is still on the board at No. 15. Mosley, who projects as an inside linebacker, may be one of the most NFL-ready players in the draft. “He and (Lawrence) Timmons could be your (NaVorro) Bowman and (Patrick) Willis,” ESPN analyst and former NFL scout Matt Williamson said. If the Steelers take Mosley, they will also draft an outside linebacker later in the draft.

Safety (1): The Steelers have hosted at least three safeties for pre-draft visits, including Louisville’s Calvin Pryor, a projected first-round pick. The signing of Mike Mitchell makes it unlikely the Steelers take a safety in the first round but it wouldn't hurt to add another younger player here. The question is whether it makes sense for them to draft a safety -- or instead sign a couple of undrafted free agents -- if they don’t take one in the second or third round.

Offensive line (1): I don't see this as the need that others do. The Steelers got their upgrade up front when they hired Mike Munchak to coach the offensive line and he has plenty of material with which to work. All five starters return, including Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, who tore his ACL eight snaps into last season. And the Steelers have depth up front after re-signing Cody Wallace and Guy Whimper. The Steelers will probably take a lineman they can develop later in the draft, but I could also see them not drafting one for the second year in a row if they take two linebackers or a tight end.

Running back (1): The Steelers need depth and they could use a speedster to complement Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount. The de-valuing of running backs allows the Steelers to wait until later in the draft to address the position and still get a good prospect. I don't see them taking a running back before the fifth round.
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers are expected to take a wide receiver early in the draft and they could try to find what ESPN NFL analyst Matt Williamson defines as a No. 1 pass-catcher.

Williamson, a former NFL scout, wrote an interesting piece about the traits that define a true No. 1 receiver, of which there are only 14 in the NFL, in his opinion -- and none named Antonio Brown.

Brown, who set a Steelers single-season record with 1,499 receiving yards in 2013, just missed making the cut. That is probably because one of Williamson’s requirements of a No. 1 receiver is that he plays big.

That usually, but not always, eliminates players such as Brown, who is only 5-foot-10, 186 pounds. As dynamic as Brown is, particularly when he is in the open field, he did not prove to be a viable scoring option in the red zone last season.

Brown’s eight touchdown catches last season averaged 32.3 yards and his shortest scoring reception was 12 yards. That teams were able to neutralize Brown where players are bunched together in a smaller space highlights the Steelers’ need for a bigger receiver they can target in the red zone.

So too does the loss of Jerricho Cotchery.

Cotchery excelled in the red zone last season, catching all 10 of his touchdown passes in that area, including six inside opponents’ 10-yard line. The Steelers replaced Cotchery, who signed with the Panthers, with Lance Moore, and they can’t expect the 5-9, 190-pounder to come close to giving them what Cotchery did last season when the offense moved into scoring territory.

The need for a taller wide receiver leads me to think that the Steelers will consider two players who fit that profile in the first round: Texas A&M’s Mike Evans and Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin.

The problem for the Steelers is they likely will have to trade up to take Evans while Benjamin, who played just two seasons, may be a reach with the 15th overall pick.

Consider ESPN NFL draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.’s take on the latter.

“Big, physically talented receiver,” Kiper said of Benjamin. “He improved this year from a pass-catching standpoint. He didn’t drop as many balls but he still needs to continue in that area. He’s got upside but he’s not a finished product yet. You wish he would have stayed [in school] because he would have been a top-10 pick next year.”

If Evans is gone before the 15th pick and the Steelers are willing to take a bit of a gamble on Benjamin, maybe they try to take trade back in the first round to collect an extra draft pick and take the 6-5, 240-pounder a little lower.

If it isn’t Evans or Benjamin in the first round, I’d expect the Steelers to wait until the second or third round to take a wide receiver. The position is arguably the deepest one in the draft and the Steelers should be able to get a good receiver -- and a bigger one than the projected top three wideouts on their roster -- even if they wait until after the first round to select one.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have the 15th overall pick in the NFL draft after finishing 8-8 last season. A cornerback, wide receiver or defensive lineman would make sense for the Steelers.

Mel Kiper Jr.’s Grade A 2014 mock draftInsider is out on ESPN NFL Insider today, and his choice is a position that has been linked to the Steelers, though not necessarily a player they have been presumed to be targeting.

Mike Evans shows off speed at combine

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
PITTSBURGH -- Sammy Watkins solidified his standing as the top wide receiver in the draft on Sunday by running an official 40-yard dash time of 4.43 seconds at the NFL scouting combine.

The Clemson standout is expected to be gone well before the 15th overall pick of the draft.

The question for the Steelers is whether or not they will have an opportunity to take Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans with their first-round pick.

Evans has had an impressive combine, though, we don't know how he has performed behind doors in team interviews or if he has any medical issues that might concern the Steelers. Based on everything else, Evans appears to have separated himself from the wide receivers who are jockeying for position behind the transcendent Watkins.

At least for now.

Evans ran an official time of 4.53 seconds in the 40-yard dash, showing impressive speed for a player who measured in at 6-5, 231 pounds in Indianapolis and also has the longest arms of any wide receiver at the combine.

Evans' 40-yard dash time could push him up draft boards and out of the range of the Steelers, who appear intent on adding another dimension to a wide receiving corps that lacks an established big target.

Speed has been the biggest question with Evans, and he opened eyes with what he posted in the 40-yard dash.

To put his time into perspective consider that the 6-5, 240-pound Kelvin Benjamin ran the 40-yard dash in 4.61 seconds, almost a full second slower than Evans.

Evans and Benjamin are probably the top two targets for the Steelers if they use their first-round pick on a tall wide receiver, and there are a couple of things are worth nothing.

The 40-yard dash is just one aspect of the combine, and the combine is only part of what goes into the final grade that the Steelers will assign to prospects prior to the draft.

The draft isn't until May and there are still pro days for the Steelers to attend and homework to do on the prospects that they do like after the combine. In other words, it is way too early to read too much into a 40-yard dash time, though it happens every year or with other physical tests that are conducted at the combine.

What doesn't help the Steelers if they covet Evans: he was considered a high first-round pick before the combine.

Johnny Manziel's favorite target has the size and length that sets him apart from most of the wide receivers in the draft and he was highly productive in the uber-competitive SEC. The combine has confirmed that he has the speed to thrive at the next level, though it's one thing to run fast in shorts and often quite another to play fast in pads.

It will be interesting to see how much Evans has helped himself in the eyes of draft gurus such as ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay when they review the combine.

One thing that appears certain from his time in Indianapolis: Evans did nothing to hurt himself, and he possibly put himself out of reach for the Steelers.

Countdown to combine: Steelers

February, 20, 2014
Feb 20
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.

Steelers all-in on Big Ben

February, 19, 2014
Feb 19
PITTSBURGH -- Another public affirmation of the Steelers' commitment to Ben Roethlisberger provided more proof that the team plans to go all-in on its franchise quarterback.

Kevin Colbert's comments Wednesday about the organization needing to do its part to help Roethlisberger dovetail with recent ones the general manager made about the Steelers having to surround Big Ben with as much talent as possible to maximize his remaining years.

And they again point to the Steelers fetching the tall wide receiver Roethlisberger has long coveted or a game-breaking one early in the 2014 NFL draft.

The offense around Roethlisberger is mostly set, but it could use another wide receiver, especially if Emmanuel Sanders, who started opposite Pro Bowler Antonio Brown last season, signs elsewhere as an unrestricted free agent.

A draft class that is deep, in general, looks particularly strong at wide receiver. And the Steelers, picking at No. 15 overall, could have their choice of wide receivers after Clemson's Sammy Watkins -- from rangy ones such as Texas A&M's Mike Evans and Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin -- to smaller but polished ones such as Southern Cal's Marqise Lee.

The Steelers theoretically could help Roethlisberger by taking a left tackle with their first pick. But it's not a glaring need after the way Kelvin Beachum played in 11 starts last season, and the Steelers have invested two first-round picks and two second-round picks since 2010 on their offensive line.

It's time to let new offensive coach Mike Munchak, one of the best hires of the offseason, to get the most out of those players, particularly tackles Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert.

Any number of positions on defense also could be addressed with the first-round pick, and even if the Steelers target a pass-catcher at No. 15, they might find North Carolina's Eric Ebron too tempting to pass on if he is still available.

The NFL scouting combine, which starts Thursday, should provide more clarity for the Steelers. They will get an extended look at the underclassmen as a group and will presumably fill in more blanks as they start to assemble their draft board.

It is too early to tell where the Steelers will find help for Roethlisberger in this draft. But it has become clear that giving him the best chance of succeeding in the coming seasons has become as much of a priority for the Steelers as addressing a defense that is in need of reinforcements.
PITTSBURGH -- On the same day Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the Steelers have told Ben Roethlisberger they plan to draft a tall wide receiver early, general manager Kevin Colbert offered this nugget in regard to the franchise quarterback.

“What we have to do is surround [Roethlisberger] with the best talent,” Colbert said on Wednesday, “and he has to play to that level that he’s capable of playing if we do get that talent around him.”

Colbert’s response was parsed and part of a larger answer to his acknowledgement that Big Ben isn’t getting any younger. But it signaled that the Steelers plan to go all-in with Roethlisberger, who turns 32 next month, and give him every chance of getting the organization back to the Super Bowl.

That, taken with what Dulac reported during an online chat, points to the Steelers providing Roethlisberger with the tall wide receiver he has long coveted – and hasn’t had since his rookie season in 2004.

Think about it.

The offense, unlike a defense in transition, is already largely in place for 2014.

Pro Bowler Antonio Brown returns after authoring the greatest season by a Steelers wide receiver. Le’Veon Bell has established himself as a feature back with plenty of upside after a robust rookie season. Tight end Heath Miller, solid in 2013, will be even better next season when he isn’t coming back from reconstructive knee surgery.

Colbert could have been referring to the offensive line when talking about the need to surround Roethlisberger with top talent. But the line returns intact after making significant improvement in the second half of last season, and it will get better under the watchful eye of new offensive line coach Mike Munchak.

Kelvin Beachum may not be a prototypical left tackle but he proved to be more than capable there after supplanting Mike Adams following the fourth game of the season. And the second-year man provided enough of a sample size for the Steelers to think he can hold his own protecting Roethlisberger’s blind side while also continuing to get better.

The obvious missing piece on offense is a rangy wide receiver, and the Steelers may not get a better chance to provide Roethlisberger with one while he is still in his prime.

The draft that Colbert said is as deep as any he has seen in 30 years is particularly flush with wide receivers. There are tall ones such as Texas A&M’s Mike Evans and Florida State's Kelvin Benjamin -- each is listed as at least 6-foot-5 -- and there also appears to be a handful in the 6-2, 6-3 range who could be early-round selections.

Whether that means the Steelers draft a tall wide receiver in the first or second round remains to be seen. Colbert insists that the Steelers stick to their draft board and that talent always trumps need when they are making their picks.

The Steelers can’t know how things will shake out during the pre-draft evaluations that shift into another gear next week at the NFL combine.

Or how the actual draft in May plays out.

But if the Steelers are intent on taking advantage of every snap that Roethlisberger has left at wide receiver at No. 15 overall is very much in play despite the more pressing needs they have on defense.
Here is the latest edition of the Steelers' mailbag. Any questions that I received but did not answer here are at the top of the list for next week. Great questions again, and please keep them coming. Send to @ScottBrown_ESPN with hashtag #steelersmail.

Pittsburgh Steelers' mailbag

January, 25, 2014
Jan 25
Here is the latest Pittsburgh Steelers mailbag and thank you for all of the great questions. Those who sent questions that weren't answered they are at the top of the list for next week's mailbag. Please keep the questions coming and send them via Twitter to @ScottBrown_ESPN with the #steelersmail.

And away we go:

PITTSBURGH -- This is the third in a series in which I will examine every position relative to the 2013 season -- and take a look ahead.


2014 free agents: Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery and Plaxico Burress.

The good: Antonio Brown answered any questions about whether the Steelers had a No. 1 wide receiver after Mike Wallace left for Miami with an exclamation point. Brown put together the greatest season by a Steelers receiver by catching 110 passes for 1,499 yards and eight touchdowns. The Steelers don’t have to worry about Brown getting complacent as he is a tireless worker who hasn’t forgotten that 194 players were taken ahead of him in the 2010 NFL draft. Cotchery made the most of his first extensive playing time with the Steelers, catching a career-high 10 touchdown passes and showing that he can still play 10 seasons into his NFL career.

The bad: Sanders put up decent numbers in his first season as a starter but he was also inconsistent. The Steelers need more reliability out of their No. 2 wide receiver since teams will have a whole offseason to game plan for Brown. The Steelers got almost nothing out of rookie Markus Wheaton as a finger injury stunted the third-round draft pick’s development. Derek Moye has intriguing size but he hasn’t shown enough for the Steelers to count on him emerging as the tall wide receiver that the offense is missing.

The money (2014 salary-cap numbers): The Steelers only have serious money tied up in Brown, whose cap hit will be $8.47 million. One of the biggest questions of the offseason is what they are willing to pay Sanders to bring back the fourth-year veteran in 2014. The Steelers matched the one-year, $2.5 million contract that the Patriots signed Sanders to last year as a restricted free agent. They are likely to let the market set Sanders' price before deciding if they want to make a serious run at re-signing him. Cotchery, who made $1.5 million in 2013, has said he wants to stay in Pittsburgh and his price shouldn’t be too prohibitive for the Steelers to bring him back.

Draft priority: Moderate to high depending on what happens with Sanders. If he leaves the Steelers could take a wide receiver with one of their top picks and possibly their first-round selection. This appears to be a deep draft for wide receiver and the Steelers may be tempted to take a tall one with the 15th overall pick.Texas A&M’s Mike Evans and Florida State’s Kelvin Benjamin are among the wide receivers who fit that profile and are projected first-round picks.