Apr. 23—In advance of the NFL Draft (April 29-May 1), “Breakfast With Benz” has spent this week publishing daily Pittsburgh Steelers previews and podcasts previewing next weekend’s event.
We have broken down the franchise’s needs into five sections. Former college and NFL scout Matt Williamson (Steelers radio contributor/”Peacock and Williamson NFL Show”) has been with me to analyze the prospective talent within a given position group.
We’ve also discussed potential Steelers targets, organizational needs and draft strategy.
The week concludes by examining the draft class in the secondary.
As free agency approached, we all expected that the Steelers would likely have to replace one cornerback heading into the NFL Draft. It was hoped that they wouldn’t need to replace two. But that has ended up being the case.
The organization lost Mike Hilton in free agency, and it decided to release Steven Nelson. So barring a Vince Williams-esque decision from Nelson to return at a reduced rate in sub packages, the Steelers will have to elevate Justin Layne to play outside or James Pierre to play in the slot.
Hey, Cameron Sutton is good. And he is worthy of a promotion. But he can’t play both positions on the same snap.
Plus, Joe Haden is now 32 years old and entering the last year of his contract. So the notion of the Steelers drafting a cornerback isn’t out of the question.
But who is the right prospect? And will he be on the board when the Steelers draft?
Williamson likes South Carolina’s Jaycee Horn.
“He had a phenomenal pro day,” Williamson said. “He has prototypical traits. Man coverage guy. He’s one of the few corners in this draft who would follow No. 1 receivers week after week.”
That said, Williamson thinks it would be a “pipe dream” to see Horn still on the board by the time the Steelers pick at No. 24 in the first round. He thinks Greg Newsome (Northwestern) and Caleb Farley (Virginia Tech) might be better options.
One of the most talked-about prospects is Florida State’s Asante Samuel Jr. Size-wise he looks like a natural fit to cover from the slot. But with the way the Steelers liked to deploy Hilton on blitzes from that position, Samuel may not have the physicality.
“Samuel is not for me,” Williamson said. “He’s a little small, a little finesse. More of a zone guy. He doesn’t mix it up like Hilton does. He’s more of an outside guy in a zone scheme.”
Safety, however, may not be very high on the agenda for the Steelers. Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds are back as starters. And even though fans may want some more depth at the position — and maybe even someone to push for Edmunds’ job — Williamson doesn’t see an early-round fit.
“It’s not a great class. They have needs elsewhere,” Williamson said. “But a safety that ends up being a potential big slot for you — that can line up against power receivers, that line up in the slot, or Evan Engram-Eric Ebron-type tight ends — those guys would be interesting.”
Jevon Holland from Oregon is a player Williamson identified. But he said the Steelers shouldn’t go that route before Day 2.
Elsewhere in our final pre-draft podcast, Williamson and I discuss Pitt safety Paris Ford, the impact of losing Nelson and Hilton, plus a big-picture look at the Steelers’ approach to next week’s festivities.
Listen: Tim Benz and Matt Williamson discuss what the Steelers might do at secondary in the NFL Draft
Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.