Coach's Corner: Steelers' Rookie Expectations (Pt. 2)
Photography is courtesy of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette & Still Curtain
The Steelers have made a living by hitting in the mid-to-late rounds of the draft. Some of these late round hits include Vince Williams, a 6th rounder in the 2013 draft. Williams has played the third man in the Steelers MLB core, starting a hand full of games every year also contributing on special teams. Last year Williams received a contract extension and will be listed as the starter this year with Lawrence Timmons leaving in free agency.
The Steelers like to build at all levels of their game in the NFL draft. This has been proven with picks Anthony Chickillo in the 6th round two years ago and in the 7th round last year (Tyler Matakevich). Both have proven to be great special teams additions and both are poised for this upcoming year to get more work on defense as quality depth/rotations pieces at the linebacker position.
Probably the most notable find in the late rounds was Antonio Brown. An undersized WR from a small no name school was drafted in the 6th round and wasn’t even the Steelers first WR drafted in the 2010 draft.
3rd round selection (comp pick): James Conner, RB, Pitt
Probably one of the best stories in the NFL draft this year. For those that have not followed his story, Conner was diagnosed with cancer at his playing time at Pitt. While Conner was taking chemo treatments, he was still training and working to come back strong. He was often working out at nights after treatments. Conner did come back and had a solid season for the Pitt, even though he was not 100% in full form.
With Conner, I see good and bad with the selection of a comp 3rd round pick in this year's draft. I personally had Conner coming off the board in the 5th round or at the very highest bottom of the 4th - this to me was a big reach on behalf of the Steelers. I think that Conner lacks top end speed to accelerate from defenders and has issues with pass blocking.
However character, heart and determination is off the charts with this kid. I think he can archive a role of a very good back up that can come in and play to when Le’Veon Bell needs a rest. That being said, this year’s draft class might have been one of the deepest RB draft classes in recent years; I think the Steelers passed on a very solid football player in Samaje Perine from OU who went to the Redskins with the next RB taken off the board.
Despite me not liking the spot Conner went in the draft, there is a lot to like about him football wise; he is very powerful runner with a great ability to run through contact. I also think that he has good hands to catch out the backfield, which is not something most people bring up about him as a RB.
Other good news is that Conner was an underclassmen that left early to play in the NFL. Also he was not 100% last season due to coming back from cancer so there may be another level that we have not seen from the former Pitt Captain. I think that Conner has the ability grow into a starter but hope it doesn’t take his full rookie contract to get to that point. The Steelers have a good idea of the value they got with this pick being that he’s been in their backyard for years.
4th round selection: Josh Dobbs, QB, Tenn
Coming into this season more than past ones, the Steelers need to start thinking of life after Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger made comments after the loss to New England in the AFC championship that it might be his time to hang it up. Most didn’t read too much into this, but this is something that we need to think about with the style, play and the age of Ben Roethlisberger.
Josh Dobbs is a great pick at this point in the draft. Dobbs has personally worked with Peyton Manning over the years and also went to school (literally) to be a rocket scientist.
Being a D1 SEC QB and going to school full time as with that major tells me a lot about the pressure that he can take on as well leadership this kid possess. Dobbs now has the ability to focus just on football and I think he has the tools to take over for the Steelers with in the next three years. Dobbs has the ideal height for the position but at 6’3 being 216 is not the weight for a starting quarterback. He needs to add about 15-20lbs to his frame, which I think focusing just on football is obtainable for him.
Dobbs has a very good comparison to Dak Prescott, both with size and physical attributes. This is not to say that he is going to have the same career as Dak but they possess the same playing style. Dobbs has a great quick release and good with working his progressions. He doesn't stare down a WR or a hot route; he looks and works through the progressions.
One negative scouting review I have is that Dobbs can have at times very sloppy footwork, which leads to him through the ball off his back foot. The negatives are fixable with Dobbs and I think he can overcome them and be solid for the Steelers some day in the future.
5th Round Selection: Brian Allen, CB, Utah
I did think the Steelers needed to double-dip on CBs in the draft but I was a little surprised to see Allen come off the board in the 5th round. Allen to me was a late 6th or 7th round pick. I think Allen shows some very good big-play ability but is definitely the definition of a raw player. Allen has things you cannot teach, like the ideal size at 6’3, 215 lbs complimented by running a 4.48 in the 40.
Allen started his football career in high school and college as a WR. Allen later moved over to CB after two seasons as a WR at Utah. He has a lot of issues coming to the pros, such as flipping his hips often too early and missing reading routes.
Something that can be concerning when a player is not overly productive in college is that Allen only started 10 games at CB. He did come away with five INTs those two seasons, four in which came in his senior season leading his team. With his amazing athleticism the Steelers are hoping that they can teach him and develop him into a good corner down the line.
To me, Allen has to play “lights out” on special teams to earn a spot on the 53-man roster. Realistically, Allen starts the season on the practice squad, where he can get better in practice.
6th Round Selection: Colin Holba, LS, Louisville
This pick makes a bit more sense today than it did on draft day as the Steelers cut their long-time LS Greg Warren shortly after the draft. Still, Colin was not listed to be drafted and feel like this could have been a missed opportunity to add depth on the OL or bring in another LB.
Holba was a two-year starter at Louisville and performed admirably. He should be a starter day one as he is the only LS penciled in right now on the roster but needs to hit the weight room hard this off-season.
7th Round Selection: Keion Adams, OLB, WMU
For a 7th round pick I think he could be a steal. Adams is very athletic and wins most of his edge battles with his quickness and great footwork. I think Adams may fit the mold of the LBs I listed as late round steals that can help on special teams and develop into a rotational starter if he can get a bit stronger. Going through offseason workouts with James Harrison and Bud Dupree will help with that.
To recap the draft, I think the Steelers hit most of their needs. Some would have like to have seen a TE added to this draft but with Jesse James they should be fine and also with the increased look of 4 WR set next season. The Steelers had some players fall to them and they reached on a few.
Overall, I would have to give the Steelers draft a solid B+. It takes about 3 or 4 years to really know the true impact of how a draft effects a franchise but I can say the Steelers are walking away a better team with this draft class added to their roster.
- Coach W.