Pittsburgh Steelers: Sammy Watkins

PITTSBURGH -- ESPN analysts Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay don’t always agree when evaluating draft-eligible players. But their thinking falls along the same lines when it comes to Steelers fourth-round draft pick Martavis Bryant.

Kiper listed the former Clemson wide receiver as one five offensive players drafted in the later rounds who could make an immediate impact in the NFL. McShay also said that Bryant has a chance to contribute early for the Steelers.

“He does a really nice job of getting off the line and he’s a vertical route runner,” McShay said. “You’ve got a big, strong-armed quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger and you want a guy that can stretch the field vertically. There’s some boom or bust there, but when you get him in the fourth round you’re not worried so much about the risk factor. If he focuses and does all the right things he could wind up being a real steal from this class.”

[+] EnlargeMartavis Bryant
Tyler Smith/Getty ImagesMartavis Bryant's size and speed could help the WR earn plenty of playing time as a rookie.
The 6-foot-4, 212-pound Bryant gives the Steelers the tall wide receiver that the offense has lacked. His 40-yard dash time (4.42 seconds) at the NFL scouting combine as well as his career yards per catch (22.2) at Clemson validate his potential as a big-time deep threat.

And he started only one season at Clemson where first-round picks DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins overshadowed Bryant, meaning he is far from a finished product -- something that should excite the Steelers’ coaches as well as challenge them.

“He’s what I have been hunting,” Steelers wide receivers coach Richard Mann said. “Probably had he played more [at Clemson], stayed for another year, he would have been a first-rounder for sure. I think all that he needs to learn we will teach it to him.”

Bryant slipped to the fourth round of the draft because of concerns about his maturity as well as his inconsistency as a pass-catcher. The Steelers hosted Bryant for a pre-draft visit and were comfortable enough after what they heard from him to think that he will be fine in the right environment.

As for the drops he had in college, Mann said that is something that can be easily corrected and can probably be traced to Bryant’s hand placement or his trying to run before securing a catch.

“He does a really good job of tracking the ball and catching it over the top,” Mann said. “A lot of times guys can’t do it and it’s very hard to teach.”

McShay agreed that Bryant’s ball skills are undeniable.

“He was inconsistent catching the ball but he also makes tough catches,” McShay said, “and he can adjust to the ball below his waist, over his head, behind his body.”

It is way too premature to get overly excited about Bryant, who takes part in the Steelers' three-day rookie minicamp that starts on Friday.

Fred Gibson, the last physically gifted wide receiver that the Steelers drafted in the fourth round (2005), didn’t even make it out of training camp. And for all of the buzz created by the second-round selection of Limas Sweed in 2008, the former Texas standout caught just seven career passes for the Steelers.

Chronic drops were one of the reasons why the Steelers released Sweed in 2011.

One thing that Mann won’t do is speculate on how big of a role Bryant will have in the Steelers’ offense as a rookie. But he also won’t rule out Bryant challenging for the starting job opposite Pro Bowler Antonio Brown.

“You have to come in and work because we have other guys in the room,” Mann said. “Potentially he will be a starter, you just never know. You play the best. That’s how you win.”
PITTSBURGH – The NFL draft is finally here. And just as the NFL did with its annual selection process I will drag out my final pre-draft coverage.

I will start with the 14 players I think will be drafted before the Pittsburgh Steelers pick. I will follow that with a compilation of mock drafts. Next will be my five most realistic targets for the Steelers followed by the player I think they will pick in the first round.

Here are the 14 players I don't think will be available when the Steelers are on the clock for the 15th overall pick tonight.

DE Jadeveon Clowney, South Carolina: Somebody is taking him No. 1. It's just a matter of whether the Texans do or trade out of this pick.

WR Sammy Watkins, Clemson: The best wide receiver in the draft could slip a little if he doesn't go No. 2 to the Rams or No. 4 to the Browns. But he will still be an early pick.

QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M: The ultimate wild-card could go as high as No. 3 to the Jaguars. He is a big risk but some team is going to gamble on Manziel early in the draft.

OT Greg Robinson, Auburn: The comparisons to Pro Football Hall of Famers are premature but he will be a top-five pick. The only question with Robinson is whether he is the first offensive tackle taken.

OT Jake Matthews, Texas A&M: Don't be surprised if the Rams take him at No. 2 over players such as Watkins and Robinson. Rams coach Jeff Fisher knows all about his bloodlines.

OT Taylor Lewan, Michigan: The Falcons at No. 6 are probably the earliest he goes off the board. Lewan is a candidate to slip but hard to imagine him lasting until the 15th pick.

WR Mike Evans, Texas A&M: The Steelers never had a chance at the tall wideout their fans wanted. Look for the Raiders to grab him with the fifth overall pick.

LB Khalil Mack, Buffalo: Don't be surprised if the Bills pick Mack if he gets past the Jaguars. He is a safer pick than Clowney but doesn't have as much upside.

DT Aaron Donald, Pitt: The best defensive player in college football last season goes in the top 10. And I see the Vikings bypassing quarterback Blake Bortles to take Donald.

OT Zack Martin, Notre Dame: Everyone seems high on the most versatile offensive lineman in the draft. It's hard to see Martin making it to No. 15.

WR Odell Beckham Jr., LSU: A player who has been linked extensively to the Steelers in mock drafts won't be there at No. 15. A team could try to trade up for one of the most explosive players in the draft.

OLB Anthony Barr, UCLA: I picked Barr after he fell to the Steelers in an ESPN NFL Nation mock draft. It won't happen in the real thing as he is too much of a playmaker and has too much upside not to go before the 15th overall pick.

S Calvin Pryor, Louisville: Big hitter could go in top 10 if Lions draft a safety at No. 10. The Bears could take Pryor at No. 14, one spot ahead of the Steelers.

QB Blake Bortles, UCF: The Steelers would love it if two quarterbacks are taken before the 15th pick. Some team is going to take the quarterback that Ben Roethlisberger predicted will be the best one in this class.

More praise for Odell Beckham Jr.

April, 28, 2014
Apr 28
PITTSBURGH -- The player ESPN analyst Todd McShay has the Steelers taking No. 15 overall in his latest mock draft also headlines his All-Satellite Team.

First, props to McShay for his creativity in putting together a team of draft-eligible players based on who is the best in space. And LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. tops his five-player team followed by Kent State running back Dri Archer, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and Oregon State wide receiver Brandin Cooks.

Of those five the Steelers won’t get a chance to drafting Watkins unless they trade up in the first round and they won’t have any interest in Manziel.

The other three should be in play for them and McShay has previously written that Beckham would be an ideal pick for the Steelers. McShay, who ranks Beckham as the third-best wide receiver in the draft, is clearly enamored with the former Tigers star.

Here is what he writes about Beckham:
Beckham has elite top-end speed, but that's only part of what makes him so good in space. He accelerates quickly, frequently makes the first defender miss after the catch and is a very instinctive open-field runner who knows when to cut back against the grain. He uses his fluid hips and quick feet to get defenders off-balance in space, using a variety of shoulder dips, inside-outs and other moves. He has the potential to develop into a dangerous return specialist in the NFL.

McShay gave three players honorable mention after the five players on his All-Satellite Team, including Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert, a projected first-round pick.

Also earning honorable mention nods were Oregon running back De'Anthony Thomas and Pittsburg State wide receiver John Brown.

The Steelers hosted Brown for a pre-draft visit, and he is projected to go in the fourth or fifth round.

Analyzing McShay mock: Steelers 

April, 24, 2014
Apr 24
The Pittsburgh Steelers have the 15th overall pick of the NFL draft and it seems likely they will select a cornerback or a wide receiver in the first round.

ESPN analyst Todd McShay plays general manager for every team in his latest mock draft , pairing players with teams based on what he thinks are the best fits, not how he sees the first round unfolding in two weeks.

PITTSBURGH -- This draft is loaded with wide receivers and Mel Kiper Jr.'s ranking of the top 100 players Insider in it is the latest affirmation of how deep and talented the position is this year.

Almost one-fifth of the players on Kiper's list are wide receivers as there are 19 of them. To put that into perspective, consider that there are 19 quarterbacks and running backs combined among Kiper's top 100 players, a list that was released on Tuesday.

There is high-end talent, as well as depth at wide receiver, as Kiper ranks eight wide receivers among his top 32 players and four of them in his top 13.

Clemson's Sammy Watkins is Kiper's highest-rated wide receiver (No. 2 overall) followed by Texas A&M's Mike Evans (No. 6), Oregon State's Brandin Cooks (No. 12) and LSU's Odell Beckham Jr. (No. 13).

The depth at wide receiver gives the Steelers flexibility if they want to address cornerback with their first-round pick.

That may be the Steelers' most glaring need and this may finally be the year that they take a cornerback with their first-round pick for the first time since 1997.

There are 11 cornerbacks among Kiper's top 100 players, though the position does not have nearly the high-end talent as some other positions, according to his rankings, including wide receiver and offensive tackle.

Kiper has only Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert (No. 14) and Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard (No. 15) among his top 32 players. Kiper's next highest-rated cornerback is TCU's Jason Verrett at No. 37.

Based on Kiper's top 100 players, it would make a lot of sense for the Steelers to take one of the top cornerbacks with the 15th overall pick -- assuming Gilbert and/or Dennard is still available -- and wait until the second or even third round to pick a wide receiver.

The Steelers' draft board, of course, may look a lot different than Kiper's.

But it should also reflect the quality and quantity at wide receiver, a position the Steelers have had success addressing later in drafts.
I received so many questions last week that I did a second mailbag. Keep the questions coming, especially with the draft only a month away. If you have a question please send to @ScottBrown_ESPN with #steelersmail.

And away we go...
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert has said this is the deepest draft he has seen in 30 years of scouting.

ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper won't go that far in proclaiming the 2014 draft a potentially special one.

"I don't see it," Kiper said Thursday during a conference call with ESPN NFL Nation reporters. "Now I think there's some positions yeah where you're going to see steals and you're going to see great bargains that you do every year."

What is noteworthy about this difference of opinion: Colbert and Kiper are viewing the draft through different prisms.

The Steelers aren't scouting any of the top quarterback prospects with Ben Roethlisberger in the prime of his career. And that is one position where Kiper said there is quantity but questions about quality particularly when it comes to the quarterbacks who are projected as the top picks.

Kiper also said there is a dearth of true pass-rushing defensive ends after Jadaveon Clowney, whom he thinks the Texans will take No. 1 overall. But the Steelers play a 3-4 defense and they would scout defensive ends who project as outside linebackers at the next level.

That is not to say Colbert or Kiper are off as far as their assessment of the overall draft; just that the two are looking at it from different angles.

Kiper has identified seven players whom he believes are elite ones in the draft and Clowney is among a group that doesn't include any quarterbacks. Rounding out what Kiper called the "Sensational Seven" are: Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson, Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack, Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews, Michigan offensive tackle Taylor Lewan and Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans.

The Steelers are unlikely to get a crack at drafting Evans with the 15th overall pick.

If they go cornerback with their first pick Kiper has Oklahoma State's Justin Gilbert rated slightly higher than Michigan State's Darqueze Dennard, who visited the Steelers on Wednesday.

But he said the two are so close that Gilbert is 1 and Dennard is 1A as far as cornerbacks in the draft.

"This is the year to get one," Kiper said of the Steelers taking a cornerback in the first round though he added that there is a bit of a drop-off at the position after Gilbert and Dennard. "A corner, wide receiver, d-line and o-line would be the positions of need, I think for the Steelers."
PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers used a third-round pick last year on Oregon State wide receiver Markus Wheaton, and I'm starting to wonder if they will give serious consideration to adding his college teammate via the draft.

To do that the Steelers will have to spend their first-round pick on Brandin Cooks even though he would do anything but add size to their receiving corps.

Cooks measured in at just 5-foot-9 3/4 at the NFL scouting combine in February but he also wowed teams in Indianapolis by running a blistering 4.33 in the 40-yard dash.

Take that eye-popping time, Cooks' production in college -- he caught 128 passes for 1,730 yards and 16 touchdowns last season -- and his swagger and there is a lot to like about this guy.

Speed, after all, wasn't the only thing that Cooks displayed at the combine. He called himself the best wide receiver in the draft and explained from where such confidence emanates.

"Numbers don't lie and I feel like no one is out there working harder than me," Cooks said. "I have a lot to prove. They say I'm not the tallest but I feel like there's so many guys in this game today that are potential Hall of Famers like Steve Smith, DeSean Jackson. I can go down the list and there's under 5-10 [players] that are great receivers in this game. For me, I'm a playmaker.”

Cooks has a believer in ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr.

Kiper ranks Cooks as the No. 3 wide receiver in the draft behind only Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans -- the two players Cooks beat out for the Biletnikoff Award in 2013 -- and the 15th-best player overall.

Kiper has compared Cooks to Rams wide receiver Tavon Austin, the eighth overall pick of the 2013 draft, but said Cooks is quicker, stronger and a little bigger than Austin.

Kiper has the Ravens taking Cooks at No. 17 overall in his latest mock draft. But the Steelers could give him serious consideration at No. 15 depending on how the draft shakes out before they make their first pick.

I'm all for the Steelers adding a tall receiver to the offense but it doesn't look like the 6-foot-5 Evans will last until the 15th pick of the draft. And the Steelers are setting themselves up to make a mistake if they place too much of a premium on height when assigning draft grades to wide receivers.

As Cooks said, "Speed kills and I feel like that's what I'm going to bring to the game."

WR Bryant could be a fit for Steelers

February, 24, 2014
Feb 24
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers almost certainly won't get a chance to draft Sammy Watkins.

But the other wide receiver from Clemson could be a possibility in the second round if the Steelers address a different position with the 15th overall pick.

[+] EnlargeMartavis Bryant
Tyler Smith/Getty ImagesWR Martavis Bryant finished his three-year Clemson career with 1,354 yards and 13 touchdowns.
ESPN draft analysts Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl wrote that Martavis Bryant was among the wide receivers who helped themselves at the NFL combine, and indeed he posted impressive measurables across the board.

Bryant checked in at 6-4 and 211 pounds, and he ran an official 40-yard dash time of 4.42 seconds, tied for fifth and a tick better than the more celebrated Watkins.

Bryant further flashed his athleticism by tying for sixth among wide receivers in the vertical jump (39 inches) and tying for eighth in the broad jump (10 feet, 4 inches).

Here is what Muench and Weidl wrote as part of a report Insider on the running backs and wide receivers following the physical tests:
Bryant dealt with a few focus drops throughout the season, and being more of straight-line receiver, he wasn't an ideal fit within the Clemson offense. However, he has an intriguing skill set that translates well and could bring strong return in the fringe Day 2 range for teams like the Ravens, Steelers, Lions and Panthers who are looking for a vertical threat to team up with a strong-armed quarterback.

Bryant appears to have a ton of upside, and he set a Clemson record by averaging 22.2 yards per reception during his career. But he played sparingly his first two seasons at Clemson and didn’t start until 2013 when he caught 42 passes for 828 yards and seven touchdowns.

Questions teams such as the Steelers will have to answer when evaluating Bryant: Did his supreme physical skills not translate into more production at Clemson because he was overshadowed by DeAndre Hopkins, a first-round pick last year, and Watkins?

Also is Bryant’s best football ahead of him or are his measurables more of a tease than an indicator of success in the NFL?

Bryant, who has been training with Pro Football Hall of Famer Cris Carter in Florida, was asked by reporters in Indianapolis what strengths he will take to the next level.

"Great speed off the ball. Good hands," he said. "I love to run past defenses after catching the ball."

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.

NFL draft watch: Martavis Bryant

February, 7, 2014
Feb 7
PITTSBURGH -- Just like at Clemson, Martavis Bryant will be overshadowed in the pre-draft process by Sammy Watkins, a likely top-10 pick in May.

But if the Steelers target a wide receiver later in the draft Bryant could be a good fit for them, according to Scouts Inc.'s Kevin Weidl.

Here is what Weidl wrote about Bryant as part of ESPN.com's look at possible injury replacements for top players on every team:
At 6-foot-5, 200 pounds, Bryant has a long and flexible frame with excellent top-end speed. He is at his best as vertical route-runner where he displays the ability to quickly eat up cushions and run by defenders. While he has his share of drops he also has a wide catch radius and range tracking the ball downfield. Bryant has a chance to be a steal in the mid-rounds if he finds the right system like the Steelers, where he can stretch the field to take advantage of (Ben) Roethlisberger's arm strength while taking some pressure off Antonio Brown at the same time.
The drops are a bit of a red flag considering that problem sabotaged Limas Sweed's NFL career. But Bryant's size and speed make him an intriguing prospect, and the sheer depth at wide receiver could drop him in the draft. So too could the fact that Bryant does not have a ton of game tape from Clemson.

Bryant played three seasons for the Tigers but didn't start full-time until 2013, when he caught 42 passes for 828 yards and seven touchdowns while playing opposite Watkins.

ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. has said good wide receivers will still be available in the middle rounds of the draft. Bryant, who averaged a whopping 22.2 yards per catch at Clemson, seems to fit the profile of wide receivers who will still be available if the Steelers pass on one in the first two rounds.
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, 11, 2014
Jan 11
This is the first Steelers' mailbag and it is someting I hope to make a staple both during the season and in the offseason. Please send any questions for the mailbag to @ScottBrown_ESPN with the hashtag #SteelersMail. I will try to answer all of the questions that are within reason.

And away we go:

Steel City wake-up: morning links

Steelers president Art Rooney II made the media rounds Wednesday, meeting with two groups of print reporters and appearing on Steelers TV. Rooney addressed a range of topics, from Ben Roethlisberger's contract situation to his satisfaction over the direction of the offense.

What may have slipped under the radar was Rooney acknowledging that the Steelers have informed the NFL they will appeal if they are stripped of a draft choice for coach Mike Tomlin's sideline interference in Baltimore.

Tomlin was fined $100,000 for the incident and he issued a sweeping mea culpa less than a week after his sideline footwork turned into a national story. That, apparently, was enough for Rooney.

"Mike has paid the price and as far as we're concerned it should be behind us," Rooney said.

The league left the punishment open in case the four points the Ravens may have lost on the play -- they settled for a field goal after Jacoby Jones' long kickoff return -- cost them in a playoff tiebreaker.

That never happened, which is why Rooney said the case should be closed.

"As far as we're concerned it really had no impact on that game or no impact on the playoffs," Rooney said. "There's no reason for that to be revisited at this point."

Here is a look at other news regarding the Steelers as well as the teams around the AFC North:
  • Rooney tackled some league issues, including ways to improve officiating while also helping the referees. He offered tepid support for Roger Goodell's push to add two more teams to the playoffs. Rooney said the Steelers should have made the playoffs last season but he is also pleased with the direction the franchise is heading despite back-to-back 8-8 seasons.

  • ESPN.com Ravens beat writer Jamison Hensley examines outside linebacker Terrell Suggs' future in Baltimore, which looks like an uncertain one. That may be good for the Steelers considering no player has sacked Roethlisberger more than Suggs.

  • ESPN.com Browns beat writer Pat McManamon isn't buying into the hype that surrounds Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel. McManamon writes that the Browns should steer clear of Johnny Football with the fourth overall pick and take a player such as Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins.

  • ESPN.com Bengals writer Coley Harvey handed out his final grades three days after Cincinnati again made a quick exit from the playoffs.

NFL draft watch: WR Sammy Watkins

January, 5, 2014
Jan 5
PITTSBURGH -- It’s hard to imagine a player as dynamic as Sammy Watkins slipping to the 15th pick of the 2014 draft assuming the Clemson wide receiver is in it.

Watkins put the exclamation point on an outstanding junior season by absolutely dominating Ohio State in the Orange Bowl, and he could be the first wide receiver taken in the draft.

Do the Steelers have a chance of selecting Watkins? Probably not unless they are willing to trade up, something they do not have the chips (i.e. extra picks) to do. But they are at least in position should Watkins start to drop in part because a handful of teams picking ahead of the Steelers need a quarterback and could reach for one.

There is plenty of time for the shine to fade from Watkins’ 16-catch, 227-yard performance against Ohio State. He will have to go navigate the gauntlet that is the pre-draft process. And remember a subpar 40-yard dash time dropped Jarvis Jones in the draft last year and allowed the Steelers to take him 17th overall.

If something similar happens with Watkins for whatever reason, it is a no-brainer that the Steelers take him at No. 15 even with the number of needs they have on defense. He is a bigger receiver -- Watkins is listed at 6-1, 205 pounds -- and has tremendous ball skills. Watkins would give the Steelers a deep threat to pair opposite Pro Bowler Antonio Brown and add another dimension to an offense that should be very good in 2014.

It is unlikely that Watkins lasts past the first 10 picks of the draft, but strange things can happen when teams place too much emphasis on the pre-draft process rather than what a player has put on tape.

And the Steelers can dream.

Especially quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.