By: Zach Metkler, GZ Sports Report WriterFollow @GZSports_ZM
Over the years, the Pittsburgh Steelers have done an excellent job of find late-round prospects that are able to contribute in ways that far exceed that of a Day 3 pick. Although the team has been effective at finding players in early rounds, the Steelers their fair share of diamond-in-the-rough players that were taken in late rounds of the draft. This list includes players such as Antonio Brown, Kelvin Beachum, Brett Keisel, Ike Taylor, and William Gay, plus many more who made solid contributions for the team over the years. In this years draft, there are some players who fit the bill of late-round gems that the Steelers should try to get their hands on.
Cooper Rush, QB, Central Michigan (6’3″, 228 lbs.)
Truth be told, Rush is one of the most above-the-shoulders quarterbacks I have broken down. While he has a “different” body type (he does not look the part of a traditional quarterback) and has average arm strength, he is one of the most intriguing prospects in this draft. Rush’s vision on the field allows him to process plays at an incredible rate, a rate that is honestly the best in this class and most of the classes in recent memory. Even though his arm strength is far from superior, he makes up for it with excellent ball placement, anticipation, and accuracy. This leads to Rush taking care of the football and not forcing throws that he can clearly see aren’t there, something that many college quarterbacks struggle with. What’s the greatest aspect of Rush, though? His ability to be coached. The biggest issue with his arm strength stems from his narrow throwing base so if coaches can work on his mechanics, he has the potential to greatly improve many facets of his game.
Jahad Thomas, RB, Temple (5’10”, 190 lbs.)
Jahad Thomas experienced excellent production while at Temple, showing flashes as a do-it-all utility player, excelling in the run game, pass game, and return game. While Thomas might not have the desired size to be an every-down running back in the NFL, he could be a nice late-round pick up that can turn into the type of player that Todd Haley wanted from Dri Archer. Thomas’ quickness in the open field consistently makes him a nightmare to bring down by spinning out of would-be tacklers arms and looking like a blur when cutting and changing direction. His flexibility as a runner, receiver, and return man will make him a tantalizing prospect for a team that wants a poor-man’s Tyreek Hill. With his ability to work out of the slot and as a jet-sweep runner, he could give the Steelers plenty of options to get creative.
Robert Davis, WR, Georgia State (6’3″, 219 lbs.)
Robert Davis might just be my favorite late-round prospect in this draft. At 6’3″, 219 lbs., Davis has a fantastic blend of size and speed (4.44s 40) for the wide receiver position. He possess great acceleration by showing off deceptive burst find his way through traffic off the line and sprint into the open field. This plays along well with his great route-running, where he is able to consistently create separation between himself and defensive backs. He possesses good body control to contort in the air, preventing him from being manhandled off his trajectory. With his blend of physicality, size, and speed, Davis is more than qualified to be a pick for a team in the later rounds, especially like the Steelers, who could turn Davis into Martavis Bryant 2.0 without the off-the-field issues.
George Kittle, TE, Iowa (6’4″, 247 lbs.)
While Kittle is no O.J. Howard, he is one of the more under-the-radar prospects in this class in a historically strong tight end class. He has a very sturdy frame, which allows him to stay on the line as a blocker, but also has the athleticism to be a nice asset in the passing game. Hailing from a pro-style offense at Iowa, he was asked to do it all for the Hawkeyes. Compared to players like Jesse James, Kittle will come to the NFL already having solid pad level and leverage and has shown to use consistently solid hand placement on blocks. The one stat that has stood out to me when breaking down Kittle was how consistent his hands are: he has just 1 drop in his career to compare to his 48 career catches and when watching the tape, plenty of his catches were difficult, poorly thrown balls that were sometimes very contested. That is Heath Miller consistency. The difference? Kittle has much more athleticism and elusiveness than the former Steelers great. He could be a nice option to throw into the mix with James and Ladarius Green.
Stevie Tu’ikolovatu, NT, USC (6’1″, 331 lbs.)
When watching Tu’ikolovatu on tape, it is easy to see glimpses of Casey Hampton in the wide, surprisingly athletic nose tackle from USC. At the point of attack, “Big Stevie” uses a jarring punch to knock offensive linemen off their path. With his low center of gravity, Tu’ikolovatu does a great job of using his leverage to anchor himself into the ground and prevent movement along the line, allowing him to be in full control of the fight in the trenches. He has the ability to be a type of new-age nose tackle, has he is never satisfied with just taking up blocks. Instead, he keeps his head up to look for the ball and finds a way to get off blocks and penetrate the line to make it into the backfield due to his deceptive agility. Even with Javon Hargrave locked into the starting lineup, Tu’ikolovatu could give the Steelers security at the position with Daniel McCullers not making any true progress to make a huge impact. Big Stevie could be the type of player the Steelers need to help shore up their run defense with Hargrave in the middle.
Collin Bevins, DE, Northwest Missouri State (6’6″, 285 lbs.)
Bevins is a small-school, hard-nosed, 150% motor defensive end who put together elite stats in college, albeit against inferior competition. As a former wrestler, Bevins understands how to use leverage to his advantage against opposing offensive linemen. When looking at his frame, he appears to almost be a tweener, but his length and tremendous hand size and strength give him solid upside as a potential late-round prospect. Bevins is the definition of an extremely raw prospect, but with proper coaching, he has the potential to be a decent player in the NFL. The Steelers never shy away from finding raw prospects that could provide valuable depth.
Vince Biegel, OLB, Wisconsin (6’3″, 246 lbs.)
On and off the field, Biegel has the feel of a Steelers defender. Where he lacks in pure athleticism and power, he makes up with pure effort on every single play that effectively sets edge with great hand usage and drive. Biegel is the type of high-character player that every locker room could use and his natural-born leadership qualities on and off the field are no joke and he brings an intensity and love of the game that you don’t often see from players anymore. He is a smart, instinctive, hard-nose football player that will strive to improve upon his deficiencies to try to reach his full potential. Biegel is reminiscent of Tyler Matakevich from last year’s draft: a player who isn’t that athletically gifted but gives 200% every play and wants to make an impact in any way that he can, whether that is on defense, specials teams, or simply being a body in practice to help the players around him improve.
Marquel Lee, ILB, Wake Forest (6’3″, 240 lbs.)
With the departure of Lawrence Timmons, the Steelers could benefit from adding another body at inside linebacker. Marquel Lee could be that player in the middle alongside Ryan Shazier. Lee has a great build with great length and does a decent job of diagnosing the plays happening in front of him. He flows with the motion of the play and has shown the ability to sift through traffic to get to the ball. Lee is a relatively raw prospect in terms of his coverage skills, but if he can get coaching to tap into his potential, he can turn into a quality backup linebacker in the NFL and potential spot starter.
Channing Stribling, CB, Michigan (6’1″, 188 lbs.)
There is a strong possibility that the Steelers will address the cornerback position with another early pick this year, but if they choose to wait, Channing Stribling could be their player. He has a long frame that allows him to put himself on receivers off the line, giving him exceptional press capabilities. When he plays with inside leverage, he is able to use his physicality to contain receivers against the sideline, blurring the vision for the quarterback and limiting the window for the receiver to make a catch. When the ball is in the air, he also does a great job find the ball and getting his hand in to disrupt the play. This was shown by his 6 interceptions over the past 2 seasons at Michigan. In run support, Stribling doesn’t shy away from coming up and making a stop, demonstrating decent technique for a young cornerback. Stribling has struggled against quick receivers, meaning he might solely be an outside corner, but he could turn into a solid press corner in the NFL.
Nate Gerry, S, Nebraska (6’2″, 218 lbs.)
There has been a consistent theme with the players on this list: they are hard-working, high-effort players. This is a trait that is necessary for late-round picks in the NFL. Nate Gerry is no different. As a prototypical strong safety, Gerry plays with advanced instincts against both the run and the pass, rarely hesitating based on what he sees. This allows him to anticipate routes and quickly come down hard on would-be receivers. This has also turned into turnovers, as he possess soft hands with solid ball skills. On his career, Gerry has 13 interceptions. Where Gerry really thrives, however, is in run support, where he flies down into the box like he was just shot from a cannon. This has led to many tackles near line of scrimmage. Adding a player like Gerry could allow the Steelers to use Mike Mitchell and Sean Davis more freely in the secondary as high free safeties, which is where they are better fits to begin with.
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