The draft. It’s our favorite time of the off season. It feeds us when we’re craving for football the most and provides quite the spectacle. The ambiance, production and atmosphere of the draft isn’t matched by any other in professional sports. Though it deviatied from its usual home in Radio City Music Hall in New York, Chicago was able to capture much of that same feeling that makes the draft special. Kudos to the city of Chicago for hosting and producing an incredible draft.
When I say incredible draft, I’m not only speaking about the atmosphere of Chicago itself. The Pittsburgh Steelers draft this off season was just that – incredible. There has been much debate amongst NFL analysts on just what to make of the Steelers’ selections this past week. Fret not, Steelers fans, as the draft for the Steelers was the best I have seen in recent years. Concerns about defensive back talent coming into the draft were warranted, but should now be silenced with the front office prioritizing rejuvenating the secondary and adding young talent to the mix. However, the Steelers draft kicked off with perhaps its biggest steal of the night.
Round 1 (22nd overall): Alvin ‘Bud’ Dupree, Linebacker, Kentucky
2014 STATS AT KENTUCKY
74 TOTAL TACKLES
12.5 TACKLES FOR LOSS
2 FORCED FUMBLES
Freak. I don’t know if there’s a better word to summarize Kentucky linebacker Bud Dupree. His combine numbers were off the charts good for someone his size. His 42-inch vertical, sub-4.6 forty and 138 inch broad jump are incredible for being 6’4″, 269 lbs. Dupree is an athletic freak who won at the collegiate level by simply being almost impossible for tackles to stop. Rarely do you see a man with this size run faster than running backs at the combine.
I’ve previously expressed my concerns with Dupree’s ability to make an impact immediately in the NFL because of just how raw he is as a pass rusher. Dupree doesn’t possess great pass rushing technique, nor does he consistently show great hand use. These are coachable fixes, however, as Dupree does have one unique trait in this draft of pass rushers. He, better than anyone else in this draft class, converts speed to power. Dupree’s explosiveness off the line is eye-popping. Dupree does also bring with him exceptional bend. Rarely ever do you see a player of this size bring with him the athletic ability to win with bend on the edge. He has shown the ability to disengage, stack and shed and knock tackles’ hands down to gain leverage. I’d like to see him get under tackles’ pads more and play with better leverage, but this can be coached and fixed. Dupree’s ability in space and in coverage is also noteworthy. He showcases excellent closing speed and possesses next-level ability in coverage.
My concerns over this pick could be considered nitpicking. I’m concerned about Dupree’s ability to make an instant impact in terms of rushing the passer. With Dupree’s reliance on his athleticism to beat tackles at the collegiate level combined with his inconsistency, I believe he needs a year of seasoning under outside linebackers coach Joey Porter to develop into the outside linebacker of the future for this team.
Round 2 (56th overall): Senquez Golson, Cornerback, Ole Miss
2014 STATS AT OLE MISS
8 PASSES DEFENDED
This is a pick I didn’t see coming. I knew it was likely going to be defensive back in the second round based on what was being talked about leading up to the draft, but I didn’t expect it to be Golson.
Right away the first thing that jumps out at you when talking about Senquez is his frame. At only a hair under 5’9″, he doesn’t possess prototypical size for a boundary cornerback. When looking solely at size, the pick doesn’t seem very exciting. But, when looking past Senquez’s size and looking at his tape, I’ve slowly become more and more excited about his potential with the Steelers.
There aren’t many 5’9″ defensive backs that notch 10 interceptions in the SEC. I’ve talked previously about why I take production in college with a grain of salt, but this particular stat is worth noting because of his size. Golson often plays much bigger than his frame. His ability to read quarterbacks and jump routes — especially when playing in zone, something the Steelers had to have noticed on tape — is impressive. Golson also displayed fluid hips and the ability to turn and run with receivers with ease. Perhaps most notable because of his size is Golson’s willingness to tackle, specifically in the run game. This is not a cornerback that is going to shy away from contact, something the coaching staff puts heavy emphasis on.
There are drawbacks for Golson though, and they are indeed related to his smaller stature. Of his four touchdowns allowed this season, three of them came to receivers that were 6’4″ and taller. This is the obvious flaw Golson is going to have and it will likely be an issue for him throughout his career. This will likely result in struggling in the red zone against bigger, taller receivers.
In the end, I do believe Golson has the ability and opportunity to start on this defense as a boundary cornerback. There has been chatter of Golson being relegated to the slot for his career, but his tape and very impressive ability show all the traits of being a starting cornerback in this league.
Round 3 (87th overall): Sammie Coates, Wide Receiver, Auburn
2014 STATS AT AUBURN
21.8 YARDS PER CATCH
Another toy for Ben.
Look, this pick has been scrutinized as prioritizing an offensive weapon for Roethlisberger over rejuvenating the secondary (a sentiment I wholeheartedly disagree with) but this is a classic Steelers selection. This is the definition of best player available and drafting for value over specific need. Coates has been scrutinized himself as being somewhat of a one-trick pony with questionable hands. While there is merit to the concerns over Coates’ catching ability, it feels overblown to me. Yes, while at Auburn he was used almost solely as a deep threat, but the important thing to remember about Coates is the fact that his quarterback had to change positions and is now a defensive back. Coates was able to register a 21.8 yards per catch average and attain over 700 receiving yards with a now-cornerback throwing him the ball.
If Coates is indeed a one-trick pony, he does that trick very well. He brings with him 4.4 speed and adds another speedy deep threat to the arsenal that Roethlisberger has at his disposal. The starting four receivers on this team all ran in the 4.4’s at the combine with All Pro receiver Antonio Brown running the slowest time. There was much of the same talk last season when Martavis Bryant was selected. The chatter then was Bryant being a product of Sammy Watkins, shaky hands and poor route running.
Forgive me if I don’t put too much stock into this, especially given the front office’s track record drafting receivers as of late.
Round 4 (121st overall): Doran Grant, Cornerback, Ohio State
2014 STATS AT OHIO STATE
9 PASSES DEFENDED
Unlike George Costanza, this double dip was necessary and well received. The Steelers decided to go cornerback in two of their first four selections in the draft, and this is not by accident. Another example of the front office prioritizing adding young talent to the mix in the secondary.
Ohio State’s Doran Grant is a high football-IQ defensive back that possesses next-level ability in zone coverage and excellent vision. Similarly to Golson, Grant is a defensive back who excels in zone coverage and possesses the ability to disrupt routes and can generate turnovers with his ability to accelerate to the ball. However, also similarly to Golson, the knock on Grant was concern over his size and whether or not he had the size to play on the boundary against bigger, stronger receivers. While Grant does struggle against the bigger, faster receivers on the boundary, he also has fluid hips to turn and run and stay with his receiver.
Round 5 (160th overall): Jesse James, Tight End, Penn State
2014 STATS AT PENN STATE
396 RECEIVING YARDS
This pick just made too much sense not to happen in the fifth round.
The Nittany Lion product is a home-grown kid with tremendous upside. Standing at an imposing 6’7″, 261 lbs., James has the ability to become that Heath Miller-type receiver for Roethlisberger when it is that time. His production while at Penn State isn’t going to leap off the page at you, but he and the Steelers’ front office were recently quoted saying they felt as though he was underutilized and used improperly while playing for the Nittany Lions, a sentiment I agree with.
James has all of the traits you’d like in a man his size – good speed and the ability to win jump balls. Early in his career, James is likely going to be a red zone target because of his exceptional frame but does have the upside and catching ability to become that safety blanket over the middle and underneath that has become somewhat of a staple for this team with Miller. James does need to significantly improve his blocking ability and his ability to make contested catches. James isn’t overly athletic and won’t ever win with his straight line speed, but he does have the traits of eventually turning into a steady receiver over the middle and in the red zone.
Round 6 (199th overall): Leterrius Walton, Defensive End, Central Michigan
2014 STATS AT CENTRAL MICHIGAN
33 TOTAL TACKLES
3.5 TACKLES FOR LOSS
1 FORCED FUMBLE
Pre-draft, Walton wasn’t really a guy I’d paid too much attention to. The consensus was adding a player like Walton late in the draft for depth and rotational purposes made sense, but the product from Central Michigan wasn’t on my radar.
Walton is a former offensive lineman-turned-defensive end that has shown flashes of potential while at Central Michigan. He has shown the ability to get leverage on the inside and penetrate, but is more of the traditional and prototypical 2-gap, 3-4 defensive end. Walton also shows surprising quickness for a man his size and maintains gap control well. He is a project, however, as he is a former offensive lineman and can be caught playing too tall and can be taken out of the play quickly because of it.
The Steelers knew they needed depth at defensive end, and this may be it. Walton is a bit of a project and needs to control his pad level and ability to stack and shed in the run game. He will likely push Cam Thomas in camp.
Round 6 (212th overall – Compensatory Selection): Anthony Chickillo, Defensive End/Linebacker, Miami
2014 STATS AT MIAMI
41 TOTAL TACKLES
4.5 TACKLES FOR LOSS
As I’ve mentioned previously, I am a rather large fan of this draft class for the Steelers. I am not a large fan of this pick, however.
Chickillo is seen as a tweener 4-3 defensive end/3-4 outside linebacker because of his size and perceived strengths/weaknesses. Chickillo is a versatile defensive end/linebacker who has the ability to play multiple spots along the line. The issue with Chickillo is also his perceived strength: he doesn’t have a true position in the NFL. He lacks the athletic ability and natural explosiveness to play as a 3-4 outside linebacker and lacks the power and technique to play as a 4-3 defensive end. Chickillo is not quick off the ball and does not possess any next-level pass rushing technique nor hand usage. Chickillo will excel against the run, but not bring much in terms of pass rushing. He simply lacks the athleticism and explosiveness.
Round 7 (239th overall): Gerod Holliman, Free Safety, Louisville
2014 STATS AT LOUISVILLE
3 PASSES DEFENDED
How often do we talk this extensively about a seventh round selection? Well, to be fair, no one saw Gerod Holliman falling this far in the draft. Once again, this is all about value and taking the best player available.
The one thing you will hear about Holliman is his inability or unwillingness to tackle. As much as I hate to admit it, this is a fair concern with Holliman. This isn’t a perception issue, either, as I once believed. Holliman isn’t a great form tackler nor does he go out of his way to make one. Something else that stood out on film was Holliman’s habit of seemingly giving up on plays. These are not two things you hear when talking about Pittsburgh Steelers safety play. Here’s the thing: I don’t care about that.
I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up a bit. I do care about Holliman’s tackling issue and it alarms me that he seemingly gave up on plays. What I care more about is his natural ability. Holliman is aggressive in his want to generate turnovers, perhaps to a fault. There are times on film where it seems like he gives up on a play if there isn’t a real chance of nabbing an interception. What isn’t being talked about is how these are coachable mistakes. Mike Tomlin isn’t going to have his safeties be unwilling to run up and pop a receiver. He isn’t simply going to allow Holliman to nonchalantly run around the field if there isn’t a chance at generating turnovers.
You can coach poor tackling. You can light a fire under a player and hope that falling in the draft brought him back to reality and showed him that he still has to earn a spot on a 53 man roster, and that collegiate production isn’t going to allow him to simply walk on it. You can’t coach 14 interceptions or the natural instincts that come with them. That kind of production isn’t a coachable asset.
The late rounds of the draft are perfect for taking someone like Holliman. They’re used for depth purposes and taking a flier on upside. Holliman is oozing upside, he just needs to be coached on tackling and shown that poor effort isn’t going to land him a job in at the next level. If the coaching staff can harness Holliman’s upside and ability and he is motivated after falling down to the seventh round after once being talked about as a potential first round safety, this pick could make the front office look like geniuses. It’s all up to Holliman, however.