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Robinson: Ike Taylor says to watch for this receiver in Steelers’ draft

Martavis BryantIke Taylor is one Steelers player who doesn’t mind discussing team personnel matters, and he made an interesting comment Tuesday on his TribLiveRadio show.

Asked about the upcoming draft, Taylor said he thinks the Steelers will go for a cornerback in the first round — Bradley Roby, Darqueze Dennard or Justin Gilbert are the most-likely targets — then grab Clemson wide receiver Martavis Bryant (above) in a later round — which would probably be the second round.

Bryant is 6-foot-4 with secondary-shedding speed and exceptional leaping ability — or exactly the kind of receiver with size the Steelers are seeking. But he isn’t nearly as polished, and wasn’t nearly as proficient, as the upper-tier receivers in the draft — namely his Clemson teammate, Sammy Watkins, and 6-5 Mike Evans of Texas A&M.

Of course with Watkins on the field, he is always going to be a quarterback’s  No. 1 option, as he was last season for Tajh Boyd — as evidenced by his 101 catches for 1,464 yards, 12 touchdowns (one of 96 yards) and 14.5 average. It’s pretty evident Watkins will be the first receiver taken in the draft.

But Bryant wasn’t exactly a bit player in Clemson’s offense; he had 42 catches for 828 yards and seven touchdowns, and his 19.7 yards per catch average was nearly five yards higher than Watkins’ average. The 2013 season was the only one in which Bryant was a starter; he made 11 starts and was chosen as honorable mention All-ACC.

Bryant was timed at 4.42 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, tying him for the fifth-fastest time among wide receivers, although his 16 weightlifting reps of 225 pounds were seven fewer than for Miami, Fla. punter Pat O’Donnell. But here are a couple of Bryant’s numbers that, er, jump out — 39 inches in the vertical jump and 124 inches in the broad jump.

And nearly a quarter of his catches last season were for 20 yards or longer, though he also dropped 12.5 percent of passes thrown his way.

A scouting report on Bryant: He’s long, tall and possesses elite speed. Good at making back-shoulder catches, but drops some passes he should catch. Not an especially adept route runner. Needs time to make it in the NFL; he declared early for the NFL Draft in part because some of Clemson’s younger receivers were pushing him for playing time. But he is explosively fast after catching the ball, and he could be the proverbial take-the-top-off-the-defense receiver the Steelers are looking for. (They signed free agent Darrius Heyward-Bey to audition for the same role.)

Career stats: 61 catches, 1,354 yards, 13 touchdowns in 27 career games. Also returned 14 kickoffs for a 20.8 average.

Taylor’s job as a cornerback is to closely watch wide receivers. Now we’ll find out if he is just as proficient in watching them off the field.

 

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