2014 NFL Draft Prospects to Watch in National Championship
Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
As most of you already know, Auburn Tigers and the Florida State Seminoles will face each other tonight in the BCS National Championship Game at 8:30 PM.
Since the top two teams in college football are set to meet, there will be plenty of potential 2014 NFL Draft prospects on display this evening. With that in mind, I thought that I would highlight some players to watch on both teams who could interest the Steelers during draft season.
Personally, I think that the Steelers should head into the 2014 regular season with Kelvin Beachum as their starting left tackle. Although he has some physical limitations, his technique and grittiness helped him develop into a capable option for the team down the stretch.
Nevertheless, if the Steelers want to keep Beachum as a jack-of-all-trades next fall, they could target a left tackle in the first round of May’s draft.
The draft stocks of the two left tackles in this game could see the same type of meteoric rises Lane Johnson’s did last fall. Although both players are underclassmen and relatively inexperienced compared to some of their projected first round peers, their athleticism and potential ceilings for Greg Robinson of Auburn and Cameron Erving of Florida State are hard to overlook.
A defensive tackle during his freshman year with the Seminoles, Erving (6’5″ 320 lbs) has been a rock at left tackle for the Seminoles the last two seasons. Erving has started 27 consecutive games for Florida State and possesses the agility and strength to be a viable blind-side protector at the professional level.
Robinson is only a redshirt sophomore, but the massive (6’3″ 320 lbs.) Auburn Tiger has steadily climbed up draft boards with his play this fall. The Tiger left tackle started 11 games at the position as a redshirt freshman, and has quickly developed into one of the best blind-side protectors in the SEC this fall. Robinson has started all 13 of Auburn’s game and has the type of athletic ability and quickness which scouts love to see out of a tackle with his size.
Like Erving, Robinson is still raw with some of his technique. Yet both players could very well hear their names called in the early stages of the first round if they both declare for the 2014 NFL Draft.
Wide Receivers and Running Backs
Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery, Jonathan Dwyer, LaRod Stephens-Howling and Felix Jones will all be unrestricted free agents. Even if some of those guys stay, the Steelers could still be in the market for a wide receiver, running back or both during the upcoming draft.
After a solid sophomore campaign (1,002 yards rushing), Tre Mason (5’9″ 205 lbs.) broke out in a big way for Auburn this fall. Maosn rushed for 1,621 yards and 22 touchdowns for the Tigers, and he was the main cog in their lethal ground attack. The Heisman finalist would be a perfect running back to pair with Bell, and his shiftiness would give opposing defenses fits if Pittsburgh used him in spread formations.
Also keep an eye on James Wilder, Jr. and Devonta Freeman of Florida State as well. Wilder, Jr. (6’1″ 229 lbs.) could be a short-yardage specialist at the pro level, and a potential replacement for Dwyer if he leaves.
Wilder, Jr. finished second on his team in rushing yards (705 yards and 11 touchdowns) behind the quicker and smaller Freeman (943 yards and 13 touchdowns) this fall. Although Freeman (5’8″ 208 lbs.) has yet to declare, the true junior could be inclined to leave school if he wishes to cash in on his successful 2013 campaign.
As far as receivers to watch are concerned, keep an eye on Florida State’s talented trio of Kelvin Benjamin, Rashad Greene and Kenny Shaw. Although Greene (67) and Shaw (52) are leading the Seminoles in receptions, Benjamin could be the prospect which Pittsburgh covets.
Only a redshirt sophomore, Benjamin lit up college football this fall with Jameis Winston and has recorded 52 catches, 957 receiving yards and a team-leading 14 touchdowns! A big-bodied (6’5″ 235 lbs.) pass-catcher, Benjamin could give the Steelers the large-framed pass-catcher which their receiving corps currently lacks.
The Steelers could be thin at linebacker by the time the free agency period ends, and the team’s brass could have their eyes on a couple of Seminoles come draft weekend.
Christian Jones is an intriguing and versatile prospect who the Steelers could have their eyes on this May. After spending the first three years of his successful college career as a strongside and weakside linebacker, Jones (6’3″ 232 lbs.) has been playing both linebacker and defensive end (2013: 49 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks and team-leading six quarterback hurries) in Florida State’s defensive scheme under Jeremy Pruitt.
With his unique skill-set and pass-rushing ability, Jones could be a prime candidate to move to inside linebacker at the professional level in a defensive scheme like Pittsburgh’s.
Although he is shorter and lighter (6’2″ 218 lbs.) than Jones, Telvin Smith could be just the type of athletic specimen the Steelers could add to their roster as an inside linebacker. Smith started all 13 of Florida State’s games this fall and showed a knack for getting to the football.
The linebacker not only led his team in tackles (75), he recorded 9.5 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks and two fumble recoveries. An adept pass-defender to boot, Smith snatched three interceptions and logged seven passes defensed during his senior campaign too.
Due to age, declining play and an overall lack of depth, Pittsburgh’s front office must address their secondary during the coming months. Lamarcus Joyner could be one member of the Seminoles who might peak the interests of some of the Steelers’ coaches and scouts this spring.
Joyner is an intriguing prospect to say the least. In spite of his height (5’8″), the well-built defensive back (190 lbs.) has done a variety of things for the Seminoles in the secondary during his collegiate career. Armed with experience at both the cornerback and safety spots, Joyner has been one of Florida State’s most productive defenders this fall.
In addition to this team-leading 5.0 sacks, Joyner ranks second in tackles with 64, has already posted 6.5 tackles for loss, recorded two interceptions and forced three fumbles as well. Although Pittsburgh’s brass have generally targeted larger-framed defensive backs, it did not stop them from taking the similar-framed Shamarko Thomas in the fourth round last April.
Stats & Contract Info. Provided By: ESPN.com, Steelers.com, Spotrac and Pro Football Reference
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