Pay attention to predraft visits

Ray Fittipaldo 4 years ago

Keep a close eye on the college prospects who are parading through the Steelers practice facility this month. There is a good chance a few will end up being drafted or signed next month.

NFL teams get the chance to interview most of the top college prospects at the NFL scouting combine in February. They get another opportunity to get to know them and others not invited to the combine a little more at their pro days. But those visits are often short because other coaches and front office people also want to talk to them.

The best opportunity to spend an extended period of time with a prospect is by bringing them in for a predraft visit. The NFL allows teams to bring in as many as 30 college players per year. Those are ongoing this month. Several have been through and several more will happen in the coming days and weeks.

Last year five of the players who visited the Steelers ended up being drafted or signed as an undrafted free agent. They were Jarvis Jones (first round), Le’Veon Bell (second round), Shamarko Thomas (fourth round), Vince Williams (sixth round) and Nik Embernate (undrafted free agent).

The visits are not just for this year. The Steelers and other teams want to interview players in the case they become available years down the road as free agents.

Back in the spring of 2010, LeGarrette Blount and Alex Carrington were among the predraft visitors. The Steelers did not draft or sign either then, but they went after them this year when they became available as free agents. The Steelers signed Blount, a running back. They were not able to sign Carrington.

In 2010, the Steelers also brought in Maurkice Pouncey, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown for predraft visits. All three were drafted by the Steelers.

There is some gamesmanship involved when prospects visit. On Monday, the Steelers played host to Louisville safety Calvin Pryor, who is projected as a mid first-round pick. The Steelers draft at No. 15 overall, but it’s unlikely they would take a safety because their biggest free agent signing was Mike Mitchell, who will be taking over for Ryan Clark.

Is that a smokescreen, so other teams think Pryor is in play for the Steelers? Will the Steelers take him if he is the best available player at No. 15? Or are they getting to know him in case he becomes available four or five years down the road?

More prospects will be visiting this week. So far, the Steelers have brought in receivers Bruce Eillington of South Carolina and Dante Moncrief of Mississippi, safeties Pryor and Brock Vereen of Minnesota, running back Lache Seastrunk of Baylor, defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt of Notre Dame and cornerback Darqueze Dennard of Michigan State.

*Who knew I had to stop covering college basketball to fill out a decent NCAA tournament bracket? I correctly picked Connecticut to win the national championship as well as nailing two of the other three Final Four participants. The only region I missed was the Midwest. I had Michigan beating Kentucky. (The Wolverines lost on a last-second shot by Kentucky’s Aaron Harrison).

That put me in 656th place in the ESPN tournament challenge. My biggest mistakes were picking Syracuse to go to the Elite Eight, picking UMass, and not Tennessee, to go to the Sweet 16, and picking San Diego State over Arizona in a Sweet 16 matchup.

But before you label me a college basketball expert, ESPN allows you to fill out 10 brackets. On one of the others, I finished in 10,170,172th place. My champion in that bracket was Oklahoma State.

*Ed’s chat is today at 1:30.