Steelers rumored to be interested in RB Andre Williams

Boston College RB Andre Williams

Boston College RB Andre Williams

It doesn’t take a lot during pre-draft talk for rumors about who NFL teams may be interested in to get started, and in this case Boston College running back Andre Williams is a topic of speculation in regards to being a prospect the Pittsburgh Steelers are interested in.  Once an article was posted by a self-claimed Baltimore Ravens insider on The National Football Post, Steelers-related sites were abuzz.  There is a case that the Steelers need depth behind Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrett Blount, as we looked at the running backs on the current roster earlier this week.  Whether Williams is truly on Pittsburgh’s radar is something one can only speculate about.

Interest in Williams by any NFL team should be apparent.  The winner of the Doak Walker Award in 2013, Williams gained over 2,000 yards on the ground and scored 17 touchdowns.  Williams shattered the Boston College school record and the conference record for rushing yards in a season.  He was preceded in that category by only four former Heisman Trophy winners – Barry Sanders, Marcus Allen, Mike Rozier and Ricky Williams.  Considered a long-shot, Williams was considered for the Heisman Trophy in 2013 – a campaign that was bolstered by All-Pro Clinton Portis.  Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston ran away with the vote in a Heisman final that included three quarterbacks.

The Steelers have a tradition of looking at local kids and Williams is a Schnecksville, Pennsylvania native who only led the nation in yards (2,102), rushing attempts (329), yards per game (175.2), five 200-yard games and four 250-yard games; only.  Against North Carolina State, Williams had the top single game rushing performance of 339 yards.  Williams also accounted for 51.7 percent of the Eagles’ total offense.  All rumors aside, the 5 foot 11, 230 pound rusher looks more than promising.

Williams is projected to go as early as the second round in the 2014 NFL Draft.  That could put him out of the reach of the Steelers.  That is, out of reach unless the Steelers opt to forgo addressing defensive line and defensive backfield with their first two picks.  Although Williams looks to be a player that could make an immediate impact in the NFL, it has been suggested that his stock could fall to the third round in the draft.  That is perplexing considering his stats seem to point at a better ranking.

It could be argued that the Steelers haven’t had such a dominating, in-your-face, stiff-arming bulldozer on their roster since Jerome “the Bus” Bettis – as Williams appears to be on tape.  Williams ran behind one of the best offensive lines in college.  I’d love to be a fly on the wall come draft day, sitting close to Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin as they analyze their board.  Williams is an exciting back.

According to a report from the Baltimore Sun, Williams has drawn the “most interest from the New England Patriots, Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Jets, according to league sources.”  That the Patriots would be interested isn’t  surprising considering they lost Blount to Pittsburgh in free agency.  The Browns could use a boost in nearly every category of play.  The question remains whether the Steelers will take a chance or wait and see if Williams falls into their lap in the third round after they address more pressing needs.

A Look At Steelers Roster Ahead of 2014 NFL Draft: Running Backs

Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell #26 - Photo: Patrick Smith

Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell #26 – Photo: Patrick Smith

The Pittsburgh Steelers parted ways with Rashard Mendenhall, Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman – all in favor of moving second-year running back Le’Veon Bell to the top of their depth chart.  Bell showed incremental improvement over his rookie season.  Despite a slow start and injury, Bell was able to rumble for 860 yards on 244 attempts and eight touchdowns.  His longest rush was a 43-yarder.  Bell’s best game came against the Green Bay Packers in week 16 – rushing for 124 yards and a touchdown.  Add to that 45 receptions for 399 yards and you’ve got a star in the making.

The Steelers went a step further in creating a setup for rushing explosiveness by going out and getting free agent running back LeGarrett Blount who spent his 2013 season with the New England Patriots.  Blount’s most successful season was 2010, where he rushed for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 201 times for 1,007 yards and six touchdowns.  In 2013, Blount rushed 153 times for the Patriots and added 772 more yards and seven touchdowns to his career total.

The Steelers have added other players to their roster, many as futures-contracts.  To get a better look of what the roster looks like ahead of the 2014 NFL Draft, we begin with the running backs.

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How Much Is At Stake For The Pittsburgh Steelers In The Draft?

Pittsburgh Steelers v Oakland Raiders

NFL Media senior analyst Gil Brandt, a longtime Vice President of player personnel for the Cowboys, has written a good article about the upcoming NFL Draft that includes some good thoughts about the Steelers.

The article, on NFL.com, is entitled 2014 NFL Draft: Steelers, Bears among teams with tons at stake.

Here’s a portion of what Brandt says about the Steelers:

Ben Roethlisberger is 32. Troy Polamalu is about to turn 33. Ike Taylor will be 34 in May. Heath Miller is 31. Pittsburgh’s core players are clearly getting up there in age — and unfortunately for the Steelers, they don’t have a ton of young talent waiting in the wings. Aside from Le’Veon Bell, a second-round pick last year, Pittsburgh hasn’t drafted especially well recently.

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Pittsburgh Steelers host Hageman, Blanchflower and Gaines

TE Phillip Gaines of Rice Univeristy - Photo: Michael Conroy

CB Phillip Gaines of Rice Univeristy – Photo: Michael Conroy

The Pittsburgh Steelers hosted three more college prospects today for looks before the 2014 NFL Draft, according to Bob Labriola of Steelers Digest.  The list includes Ra’Shede Hageman (DT- Minnesota), Rob Blanchflower (TE-UMass) and Phillip Gaines (CB-Rice).

 

While visits from a defensive tackle and cornerback aren’t surprising considering the Steelers have actively been seeking depth and young blood on that side of the ball, another visit from a tight end has some wondering if earlier visit from Eric Ebron indicates that the Steelers are interested in tight ends as well.  Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth are currently the Steelers’ only real options at the position, despite the current roster.  Tight end may well be a selection for the Steelers in the middle of their draft board.

Hageman

During Minnesota’s Pro Days: “The star attraction was Ra’shede Hageman, the No. 26 overall prospect and No. 4 defensive tackle in this year’s class (according to NFLDraftScout.com).” – The Sports XChange

Blanchflower

Predicted to go in the seventh round by NFLDraftScout.com,  Rob Blanchflower is coming off of a hernia repair.  The 6 foot 4 inch, 256 pound tight end earned the nickname “Gronkflower” from UMass fans, an homage to Rob Gronkowski, NFL tight end.

Gaines

Phillip Gaines is, “A natural cover corner with fluid hips and light feet to match up with speedy playmakers…like Sidney Rice (Seattle Seahawks) and Tavon Austin (St. Louis Rams)…The two-time All-Conference USA pick was particularly impressive as a senior allowing just 13 receptions in 40 targeted throws during the [2013] year.” – Rob Rang, NFLDraftScout.com

 

Video: Fox’s NFL Draft 2014 Team Needs – Pittsburgh Steelers

Miami Dolphins v Pittsburgh Steelers

Peter Schrager breaks down what the Steelers need from the 2014 NFL Draft.

Pittsburgh Steelers Try And Address Punting Issues Signing Adam Podlesh

Chicago Bears v San Francisco 49ers

The Steelers have had issues finding a guy that can stay healthy and can be an effective punter, and Tuesday again tried their luck with the signing of punter Adam Podlesh to a one-year contract.

Podlesh (5-11, 200, 8) was originally drafted by the Jacksonville Jaguars in the fourth round (101st overall) of the 2007 NFL Draft. He spent the 2007-2010 seasons with Jacksonville and the 2011-2013 seasons with the Chicago Bears.

He has punted in 107 regular-season contests, recording 467 punts for 19,816 yards with a long punt of 76 yards. Podlesh has averaged 40.0 yards per punt in every single season of his career and has 157 career punts downed inside the opponent’s 20-yard line in the regular season.

Last season the team started the year with Zoltan Mesko handling the punting duties, this after the club dumped Drew Butler after he had handled the punting duties in all 16 games of the 2012 season.

Mat McBriar was brought in after the Mesko disaster. For now, Podlesh joins Brad Wing, who has never punted in a regular season game, on the Steelers roster at the punting spot.

Steelers Gab 2014 NFL Draft Scouting Report: Oregon State DE Scott Crichton

Oregon State DE Scott Crichton (#95) - Photo: Steve Dykes

Oregon State DE Scott Crichton (#95) – Photo: Steve Dykes

The latest visit to the South Side facility on Monday was made by Oregon State standout defensive end Scott Crichton.  The Pittsburgh Steelers have been seeking players to bolster their defense, and Crichton’s visit indicates more than just a casual look at another college player.

While Jadeveon Clowney (South Carolina) and Kony Ealy (Missouri) have been garnering most of the attention as pass rushers, Crichton has slowly been inching higher on the prospects board as the 2014 NFL Draft approaches.  Most scouts feel Crichton would benefit more in a 4-3 offsense, but while he played with the Beavers, he was moved up and down the defensive line.  Against the Oregon Ducks, Crichton played nose tackle to contain an explosive Duck offense.

Crichton became a focal point for every offensive coach that opposed him, setting up double team blocking schemes.  Despite those efforts, Crichton was able to record 7.5 sacks during the 2013 season, earning Second Team All-Pac 12 honors.  In 2012, Crichton had a career-high nine sacks.

What makes Crichton such a promising prospect is his impressive ability to burst off of the snap and good speed.  When looking for the next step-up player, teams typically want a mature college athlete that is ready to go in the NFL as soon as possible.  Crichton appears to have that capability.  In three years with Oregon State, Crichton recorded 165 total tackles (51 for a loss) and 22.5 sacks.

Defensive wizard Dick LeBeau may be interested in Crichton’s off-the-edge ability as Jason Worilds enters his last contract year.  Crichton is well built and able to time snaps in able to quickly get off the ball.  With great core strength, Crichton has illustrated both a bull-rush ability but also the power to anchor against the run.  His agility to keep sideline plays from getting downfield is also a plus.

NFLDraftScout.com compared Crichton to Brian Robison of the Minnesota Vikings.  They pointed out that his build doesn’t show physical flexibility, but that Crichton uses anticipation and initial bursts to get the job done.

Frank Cooney of The Sports Xchange listed Crichton at 42 in the Top 64 Prospects in his 2014 NFL Draft Scout Pre-Combine report.  Cooney said of the 6 foot 3, 265 pound Crichton, “Take-charge team player who leads verbally and by example.  He started 37 of the 38 games in which he played for [the] Beavers…Has good core strength, decent leverage, powerful hands and should be a DLE in an NFL 4-3 setup.”

There is enough interest in Crichton’s play that he will be visiting with the Cincinnati Bengals and New York Jets next, according to this Twitter post:

Crichton is expected to be a possible second- to third-round selection, making him a solid target should the Steelers opt to go cornerback and wide receiver in the early part of the draft.  Selecting him may come down to what the Steelers saw from the young man on Monday and whether they believe he can move from a 4-3 defensive scheme to the Steelers’ 3-4.

Steelers Gab 2014 NFL Draft Scouting Report: Pitt QB Tom Savage

PITT Panthers QB Tom Savage - Photo: Heather Ainsworth

PITT Panthers QB Tom Savage

Pittsburgh Panthers quarterback Tom Savage is getting a lot of new attention as of late.  Interestingly, the Pittsburgh Steelers featured an NFL Combine video from NFL.com on their official website – leading some to wonder if the Steelers are interested in him.  While that is pure speculation, the Steelers drafted Landry Jones in 2013 and he has yet to show significant progress in the Steelers’ system.  Ben Roethlisberger also has no real backup in Bruce Gradkowski either.

While highly unlikely that the Steelers are going after Savage, the Pitt quarterback has some intriguing qualities that could see him selected higher in the 2014 NFL Draft than many predicted.  He will not make it anywhere near the first round and is mainly seen as a developmental candidate.

The interest in Savage grew following the March 3 Pro Day at Pitt.  A fifth-year senior in 2013, Savage has been somewhat of a college journeyman, but has the arm to get laterally downfield.  At 6 feet 4 inches and 228 pounds, Savage is considered a prototypical-sized NFL pocket passer.  Savage has played in a pro-style system, throwing from under center and in the shotgun, but has the ability to roll – mainly to his right.

Savage was a consensus national top-15 quarterback prospect (2009) out of Springfield Cardinal O’Hara High (PA).  Savage was recruited to play at Rutgers by then coach Greg Schiano.  As a true freshman, Savage had 14 touchdowns, 2,211 passing yards, but was only able to complete 52.3 percent of his passes.  In 2010, Savage had a hand injury that resulted in him being moved behind Chas Dodd and an eventual transfer to Arizona.

Due to NCAA rules, Savage did not play during the 2011 season and did not fit into Rich Rodriguez’ offense at Arizona.  That resulted in Savage once again transferring, to Pitt, and another NCAA restriction on playing time.  He returned as Pitt’s starter in 2013, throwing for 2,958 yards, 21 touchdowns and nine interceptions – completing 61.9 percent of his throws.  In a 59-56 victory over Duke, Savage threw six touchdown passes.

BLESTO and other scouting services gave Savage no draft grade due to what they felt was a lack of experience.  That being said, Savage has garnered new attention from NFL scouts due to his ability to get the ball deep down the field.  A prospect for sure, but an unlikely starter in any organization.  Savage most recently visited with the quarterback hungry Oakland Raiders.

Despite his never having played for Pitt before the 2013 season, Savage was named the team captain.  Behind a struggling offensive line, Savage was sacked but also showed an ability to get loose, scramble,  go through checkdowns and keep his eyes downfield when the pocket collapsed.  Size and arm strength could make quarterback coaches around the league see Savage as a player they can mold into a veteran.  Some may simply see that he needs more work than they are willing to invest.

The Steelers have not visited Pitt according to NFL pro day reports (NFL.com), but were present at the 2014 NFL Combine.  During Combine workouts, Savage posted a 4.97 second 40-yard dash time, a 1.72 second 10-yard split, a 27 inch vertical leap, and 8 foot 9 inch broad jump, posted a 7.33 second time in the three-cone drill and a 4.36 second shuttle time.

As for how rumors go, it is a curious thing to see the Steelers post such a video of Savage.  The probability is that they were simply adding content related to the Pittsburgh area – but then again, maybe they were sending a message yet to be decoded.  Savage wore the number ’7′ at Pitt and in the video below, he does sort of remind you of another quarterback well-known to Steelers fans.  You decide.

Kevin Colbert visits to Pro Days (thus far): LSU, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma State, Texas A&M

Mike Tomlin visits to Pro Days (thus far): LSU, Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Oklahoma State, Penn State

Workouts/Visits with the Steelers:  Anthony Barr, OLB, UCLA; Odell Beckham, Jr., WR, LSU; Scott Chrichton, DE-OLB, Oregon State; Darqueze Dennard, CB, Michigan State; Bruce Ellington, WR, South Carolina; Donte Moncrief, WR, Mississippi; Calvin Pryor, FS, Louisville; Shaqulle Richardson, CB, Arizona; Bradley Roby, CB, Ohio State; Lache Seastrunk, RB, Baylor; Stephon Tuitt, DE, Notre Dame; Brock Vereen, S, Minnesota; Jason Verrett, CB, TCU.

(Source: NFL.com)