As the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare for the NFL draft, there seems to be a variety of positions that have been mocked to the team in the first round. The Steelers enter the offseason with needs at cornerback, and linebacker, with the potential to upgrade at safety and outside linebacker. Then, of course, there is the Antonio Brown drama which has many thinking wide receiver.
As the NFL combine approaches players have the chance to raise their draft stock or watch it fall as they stand next to their peers. Who are five players that the Pittsburgh Steelers should have their eyes on this week at the combine, and what do they need to see to move up or down their board?
Byron Murphy, Washington cornerback
Cornerback is likely the biggest need on the roster right now. One option who could be available at pick 20 is Greedy Williams. Williams is a player who undoubtedly is going to have a strong combine performance. He is the typical height-weight-speed athlete.
The other options at cornerback come with DeAndre Baker and Byron Murphy. Murphy is the most interesting to watch this week because a strong combine could push him inside the top 20, and take him off of the Steelers board. A weak combine could have the Steelers waiting for him in the second round.
The questions with Murphy start with his size. He could check in from 5’10-6’, and every inch would help his draft stock. The same can be said with his weight, as he has reportedly put on muscle this offseason and should check in around 188 pounds.
Of course, if he put on weight, it has to translate to the field.
Murphy is at his best when he has his eyes on the quarterback and breaks on the ball. He has quick feet but does not have long speed, and usually plays off coverage to keep things in front of him. If Murphy runs a slow 40, it could help him fall to 20. For what it is worth Joe Haden ran a 4.52 standing at 5’11”, 193 pounds. Where you would expect Murphy to thrive is the short shuttles and the broad jump. If he can post similar size numbers to Haden and strong scores in those areas he could be a perfect fit at pick 20. If he comes in closer to 6’, over 190 pounds and runs a fast 40, he will not make it that far.
Devin Bush, Michigan Linebacker
Linebacker is mocked to the Steelers in the first round as much as any other position. Steelers fans would love Devin White, but he may have a combine performance that solidifies he will not fall to 20. Mack Wilson is a player many mock to the Steelers. The only thing that Wilson could do at the combine is to hurt his stock, though. He is expected to test as a strong athlete, as most of the questions that lead him to fall to 20 come with processing the game on tape.
While those two are expected to have strong NFL combines, Devin Bush is the most volatile of the bunch that could be first-round options. Most of the questions surrounding Devin Bush comes to his physical stature and athleticism. He plays like a student of the game and has NFL bloodlines in his family.
However, he is likely going to come in under 6’ in height. There are not too many linebackers who can make it under 6’, and if they do, they likely have elite athleticism, like Bobby Wagner.
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Devin Bush plays bigger than he looks and he plays faster than he looks. The question comes down to whether or not that is because he is processing the play on the field so quickly, or if he has the athleticism to raise his game at the second level.
His strength and arm length will be worth watching as well as his ability to shed blocks can be unorthodox but has led to success in college. Does he have the size and length to translate his style of play? The combine could push him into the Steelers radar at 20, or it could give them the chance to re-assess in the second round.
Jachai Polite, Florida EDGE
The Steelers have a big decision to make with Bud Dupree as he has just one season left before free agency, and Kevin Colbert talked about letting him play out on his fifth-year tag. You do not have to pull the Steelers arm to get them to draft an outside linebacker high, and if the right player is there they will run to the podium?
Is that player Jachai Polite? Polite is one of the better fits for the Steelers because he is a bit smaller, and many who run 4-3 fronts will not see him as a scheme fit. He cannot consistently set the edge against the run but can play off of the ball in the Steelers front.
The question comes down to how athletic he is. After drafting Jarvis Jones, who tested poorly, the Steelers had enough and drafted two straight uber-athletes in Dupree and Watt. Polite has the chance to be that stud athlete as well.
The two things to watch for with Jachai Polite will be his weight and his 3-cone time. He is supposed to weigh in around 240 pounds; for reference, T.J. Watt was 250 pounds, and Bud Dupree 269 pounds.
If Polite is going to be that light, he needs to put up an elite 3-cone time to get first-round consideration. The weight can be excused and can help get Polite to fall to 20 if he comes in around 245. However, if he does not put up the elite bend scores, he will not fit what they are looking for.
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Florida Safety
Chauncey Gardner-Johnson is an exciting prospect who ascended draft boards with a stellar 2018. He moved from free safety to the slot and became a communicator on the defense who consistently found the football. His ability to play any spot in the secondary and bring communication skills has to have the Steelers attention.
Once again the questions with Gardner-Johnson come down to how athletic he is. He looks like an explosive player on video, does the broad and vertical jump testing matchup with his play on the field? A strong testing day could turn Gardner-Johnson into the chess piece in the back end that the Steelers add in the first round.
Kelvin Harmon, NC State Wide Reciever
It almost seems foolish to think the Steelers would go wide receiver in round one with the way that they draft wide receivers. However, if a player such as Kelvin Harmon were to put up a stellar combine, it would be hard to pass up on.
Kelvin Harmon presents intrigue because he is a balanced route runner who can contort his body in the air and haul in contested catches. He brings size and underrated after the catch ability.
Questions with Harmon will come down to whether or not he can take the top off of the defense, and just how explosive in the air he can get. Kelvin Harmon and N’Keal Harry for that matter could shoot themselves into consideration to go in the top 20 with a strong 40-yard dash and a better than anticipated vertical jump.