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Top-heavy class of wide receivers gives Steelers some options

| Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 11:54 p.m.
Tribune-Review
West Virginia Mountaineers wide receiver Tavon Austin (1) hurdles Baylor Bears cornerback Josh Wilson (21) after a catch at Milan Puskar Stadium in Morgantown, W.Va. on September 29, 2012. West Virginia opened their inaugural Big 12 Conference game by defeating Baylor, 70-63. Barry Reeger | Tribune-Review

Cordarrelle Patterson of Tennessee is a “height, weight, speed freak,” according to NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock. Patterson is a natural talent at wide receiver who probably won't last much past the midpoint of the first round.

The Steelers, at No. 17, fit right there.

Patterson, at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, is a couple of inches taller than Mike Wallace and a few pounds heavier, even if he isn't as fast — who is? Asked at the NFL Scouting Combine to name his three biggest strengths, Patterson said, “Speed, catching and scoring.”

For a wide receiver, it's hard to argue with that.

Patterson is talented enough to have rushed for more than 300 yards last season in addition to catching 46 passes, and he has the look of a game-changing offensive talent who could make Ben Roethlisberger miss Wallace a whole lot less.

But Patterson played only one season at Tennessee after transferring from Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College, and questions persist about him making the jump from junior college football to the NFL with only a year in between. He is not a polished route runner.

“I didn't expect to be a one-year-and-done, but we had the coaching change, and everything was getting a little crazy, so I wanted to get out of there,” Patterson said. “I expect to come in as a rookie and be a good rookie and be a Pro Bowler.”

There also are questions whether Patterson is even the best receiver coming out of Tennessee. Teammate Justin Hunter is more of a raw talent, but some scouts wonder if he might have a better NFL career.

Keenan Allen of California has been projected as a first-rounder, but there are worries about his speed. He ran a reported 4.7 in the 40-yard dash at his personal pro day, a concern in a sport where cornerbacks can run considerably faster.

“I know people have been doubting me on my speed, but I don't feel like I'm a slow guy,” Allen said.

The first receiver likely to be drafted — even if he projects mostly as a slot receiver — is West Virginia offensive dynamo Tavon Austin. He is only 5-foot-8 but might possess the best offensive skill set of any player in the draft.

“He's a man among boys,” ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. said. “He's just tremendously electrifying, great quickness. He doesn't break tackles, yet try to get a handle on him to tackle him. The first thing you have to do is corral him.”

The Steelers must decide if their need for a wide receiver — and it is great — outweighs that for a pass rusher, running back, cornerback and safety, among their many needs.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at arobinson@tribweb.com or via Twitter @arobinson_Trib.

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