5 Players Steelers fans MUST watch at the NFL Combine
The 2018 NFL Combine is just around the corner, and if your not sure what you should be looking for, I would love to help you out. I have comprised a list of the top five players all Steelers fans must watch at the Combine this weekend, in addition to a handful of others Pittsburgh could be targeting early in the 2018 NFL Draft.
In this list, I have selected players that I believe the Steelers are interested in (or should be interested in) for the top of the draft. I’ve also chosen players from a handful of positions of need. I was right in predicting the Steelers would draft T.J. Watt when the pick came around last year in the draft. My goal is to be able to guess their pick correctly again.
Here are my top five players to watch at the 2018 NFL Combine.
Rashaan Evans, ILB, Alabama
The Steelers would be thrilled to have Evans fall into their lap at the NFL draft this year, but I believe it is becoming less and less likely to happen. Rashaan Evans is yet another highly promising Alabama linebacker in a long list of Alumni who have had success in the NFL.
Expect Evans to be rock-solid at the Combine, he should look silky smooth in movement drills, and if he can run under a 4.60 in the 40-yard dash, Steelers fans can kiss any hopes of drafting him without a trade-up goodbye. He’s probably the prospect that makes the most sense for the Steelers this year but is unlikely to be there – especially if he tests well.
Leighton Vander Esch, ILB, Boise State
In some ways, Leighton Vander Esch is just as intriguing to me as Evans. Vander Esch is a tall, long inside backer who is dynamic against both the run and pass. He diagnoses plays well, takes great angles to the ball carrier, and is an excellent wrap-up tackler with his long arms.
Most consider Vander Esch to be a late 1st or early 2nd round player, and my assessment is similar. Vander Esch is young and only has one year of experience as a starter, however, he was phenomenal this year, and rated out as Pro Football Focus’s 3rd best linebacker in the nation. He must work on his blitzing ability to become a better player at the next level, but he’s athletic and has an array of moves in his arsenal.
Vander Esch is likely to be there for the Steelers selection at 28 unless he blows up the Combine this weekend. I expect him to run in the low 4.6 range, but wouldn’t be surprised if his long speed was even faster. Vander Esch will look shaky in some drills, but the former walk-on should test as a very solid athlete.
Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama
It’s no surprise to anyone that safety is quickly becoming one of Pittsburgh’s largest areas of need. Mike Mitchell has fallen off a cliff as of late and is not guaranteed to be with the team in 2018, while Sean Davis is coming off a sophomore slump. The Steelers were scorched by Blake Bortles and company in the playoffs and will no doubt want to sure things up in the back end.
Harrison is an athletic physical safety who should test well at the Combine. As of now, I have a late 1st, early 2nd on Harrison. Without a lot of top-end talent at the position this draft class, someone may jump on the opportunity to grab the Alabama product sooner. It’s a toss-up whether or not Harrison makes it to the Steelers pick. If he blows up the Combine, I will go ahead and say it’s unlikely.
Sam Hubbard, EDGE, Ohio State
I’m higher on Hubbard that most, but when I put on the tape, I see so many things I like. Hubbard is a ferocious player with good hand fight and a great motor. He’s plenty big enough for the position, as he will likely come in around 6’5” and 265 lbs. Hubbard possesses a variety of moves and his play motor may even outlast T.J. Watt.
Sam Hubbard may be best suited as a 4-3 left defensive end, but I’m confident he could make the transition to OLB in the Steelers 3-4 front. Hubbard is a former safety who should possess a good bit of athleticism for the position. He’s a young player and a true junior which are both pluses for me. Hubbard was the ‘Robin’ to Nick Bosa’s ‘Batman’ this year for Ohio State, though their number would suggest they had very similar seasons.
Even if Hubbard tests well, I think there is a good chance he is available for the Steelers in the first. It will be up to the Steelers to decide if they think he is worthy of the 28th pick in the draft.
Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville
I would be almost as surprised as you if the Steelers were to go this route, and although it’s unlikely, hear me out. There is a good chance that Lamar Jackson (if available) would be the top player on the board for the Steelers when pick 28 rolls around. Ben Roethlisberger turns 36 during the Combine this year, and though he would like to play another 3 years, his long-term future is up in the air.
Mike Tomlin is not opposed to drafting duel-threat quarterbacks, as we have seen with Dennis Dixon in 2008 and now Joshua Dobbs last year. He also brought in Mike Vick to backup Roethlisberger. The hardest thing to find in the NFL is a franchise quarterback, so if he is high enough on the Steelers board when pick 28 rolls around, it could be a “too good to be true” scenario for Pittsburgh.
Lamar Jackson will undoubtedly blow up the Combine – that will be no surprise to anyone. The question with Jackson comes from his ability as a passer with accuracy and consistency. The Steelers rarely even pick in the teens, and they haven’t had a top ten pick since 2000 when they drafted Plaxico Burress 8th overall. If they feel Lamar is a franchise QB, I don’t think the Steelers can afford to pass on him.
Other notable players to watch
- Josh Jackson, CB Iowa
- Isaiah Oliver, CB Colorado
- Mike Hughes, CB Central Florida
- Darius Leonard, ILB South Carolina State
- Ronald Jones, RB USC
- Carlton Davis, CB Auburn
- Dallas Goedert, TE South Dakota State
- Jesse Bates, S Wake Forest
- Jaire Alexander, CB Louisville