Combine performances push CBs up in mock drafts

Ray Fittipaldo 6 years ago

Many NFL draft analysts have unveiled their post combine mock drafts in recent days. As for the secondary-needy Steelers, the good news is they all have an even better feeling about this year’s cornerback class than they did before the combine. The bad news is many of the top corners performed so well at the combine that they might be out of reach for the Steelers when they pick at No. 25.

Ohio State corner Eli Apple had been someone who was projected to be a late first-round pick before the combine. He was a popular player mocked to the Steelers at No. 25 in the first round.

Now analyst Bucky Brooks has him going No. 8 overall to the Miami Dolphins. Others are following suit. ESPN’s Todd McShay has him going to the Raiders at No. 14 overall in his latest mock draft. McShay has the Steelers taking Clemson corner Mackensie Alexander instead.

McShay also believes Houston corner William Jackson III could be a possibility for the Steelers as well. Jackson ran a 4.37 40-yard dash at the combine, performed well in the other position drills there and might have vaulted himself into the first-round conversation.

“I liked the (Jackson’s) tape,” McShay said. “I thought he was a day 2 prospect on tape. We had his championship game at Temple. Temple’s top receiver had a lot of receptions in the first quarter of that game. Then they finally decided to have Jackson trail him. And he erased him from the game. He’s a willing tackler, really good instincts and he has the length to look for. He’s 6-1 and ran really well at the combine.”

McShay said he thought about mocking Arkansas tight end Hunter Henry to the Steelers at No. 25, but “maybe it’s just old school,” he said. “I think they’ll want someone who is more of a blocker.”

*If the Steelers wait until the second or third round to take a tight end South Carolina’s Jerrell Adams is McShay’s No. 2 prospect behind Henry.

“Of all the tight ends in this class he’s the best at separating from man to man coverage,” McShay said. “That’s because of his speed. He ran the fastest time of all the tight ends at the combine. He has subtle head fakes and crispness of his routes. Hunter Henry is the closest. Jerrell Adams might have the highest ceiling of all the TEs in this class.”

McShay has Nick Vannett of Ohio State and Austin Hooper of Stanford third and fourth on his list.

He also mentioned Ohio State safety Vonn Bell as a possibility for the Steelers at No. 25.

*I should note McShay said he hasn’t changed his grade on Apple. He still believes he has a late first-round grade, but he believed Apple might be pushed up some boards due to need. That’s why he had him going to the Raiders at No. 14. The Steelers aren’t alone in their secondary needs. Every team could use quality corners. 

“His tape is good at Ohio State,” McShay said. “It gets better. His best games were late, which is what you want to see. They play a technique when you play with your back to the all. They don’t often have their guys turn to find the ball in the air. I think he’ll continue to adjust and try to find the ball in the air. He has the length. He has the speed. What he does better than the cornerbacks in this class is he tackles. He supports the run.”

If the Steelers want to take multiple corners in the draft, something they’ve done three times in the past seven years, including last year, Virginia’s Maurice Canaday could be an option in the middle rounds.

“He had a good week at the Senior Bowl,” McShay said. “I was impressed with him. His tape is up and down. You like the measurable and the fact that he played so well that week. He ran a 4.49, 38 vertical [at the combine]. Everything is there physically. The ceiling on where he gets drafted is the third round, but he’s a player who has the physical tools to get to the league and get better and develop into a consistent sub-package type of player.”

*The Steelers don’t figure to select a quarterback, but they did meet with two at the combine and surprised four years ago when they used a fourth-round pick on Landry Jones. One of the quarterback prospects they met with at the combine fits in that range.

Vernon Adams transferred from Division I-AA Eastern Washington to Oregon to play his senior season and McShay called him his most intriguing quarterback prospect.

“I am struggling with him,” McShay said. “I like his tape. I wish there was more of it. He’s a leader. He’s a winner. I thought he had a great grasp of the system even though he wasn’t there that long. His East-West Shrine game was sensational. He has the leadership and character. Guys naturally gravitate toward him.

“He doesn’t have the size or the hand span. Vernon comes in just over nine inches with his hands. He’s just 5-11 and 200 pounds. He certainly has the athleticism and the arm. I think he’s one of the most intriguing prospects. Possibly Day 2 or more likely Day 3. I think he has a chance, much more so than when I initially sat down to watch his tape.”