Steelers Prospect Watch: Vonn Bell

Could the Steelers select a safety in the early rounds of this year’s draft?

Since the start of free agency last week, the Steelers have been quite busy reshaping their roster.  The Black & Gold have brought back some valuable pieces from 2015 especially in the secondary.

So far, the Steelers have resigned cornerback Willie Gay and safety Robert Golden to multi-year contracts.  Many fans were hoping former Chargers safety Eric Weddle would sign with the Steelers.  Alas, the team never gave Weddle a formal offer and he inked a deal with the Ravens.

Missing out on Weddle leaves the Steelers still looking for a safety.  The team already announced Will Allen will not return next season.   Mike Mitchell, Shamarko Thomas and Golden are the most experienced safeties on the roster.

Do the Steelers look to the draft to add depth at safety? A name that has been linked to the Black & Gold is Ohio State safety Vonn Bell.

Bell burst onto the scene for the Buckeyes during their National Championship run of 2014.  He technically was a safety, but lined up in as single high and nickel, playing mostly man coverage.   Playing this hybrid role turned Bell into a playmaker on a defense already boasting elite talent.

He led the Big Ten in interceptions in 2014 with six while also breaking up six passes.   His biggest pick of the season came when he picked Alabama quarterback Blake Sims in the fourth quarter of their National Semifinal game.  Bell was second on the Buckeyes with 92 tackles, the most for a safety since Mike Doss in 2002.  Despite these impressive numbers, Bell was only named honorable mention Big Ten.

Entering 2015, there was much hype around Bell and the Buckeyes to repeat as National Champions.  Though those plans fell through after their loss to Michigan State, Bell was still a key player on one of the country’s best defenses.  His stats did take a hit (65 tackles, 2 picks, 9 pass breakups), but Bell showed again why he is a top playmaker. 

Bell scored two defensive touchdowns in 2015, a fumble return versus Hawaii and a pick six versus Minnesota.  Even with his stats down from the previous year, Bell earned first and second All-Big Ten depending on what media outlet you looked at.  He was also a Jim Thorpe semi-finalist and made several All-American lists.

Over the past few seasons, the Steelers secondary has struggled when it comes to man coverage.  For Bell, being on an island in man coverage is his specialty.  Bell is rarely distracted by what is going on in the backfield, making him able to plant and go quickly and react to the receiver he’s reading.

He is undersized, however, standing 5’11 and weighing 199.  Many scouts were questioning how big he actually was on film and had to see for themselves during his Pro Day.  One scout even said his lack of size will prevent him from playing near the line of scrimmage in the NFL.

Still, the Steelers would benefit greatly by adding a safety with the coverage skills of Bell.  The Steelers already have a head hunting safety in Mitchell and Bell has the sheriff mentality to become a leader in the secondary.

There is time for the Steelers to add a safety through free agency this off-season.  But adding a guy like Bell in the draft could help the Black & Gold for years to come.