The Steelers finish out their 2015 class and defensive overhaul with one of the most Jekyll-and-Hyde players on the entire board – All-American Louisville safety Gerod Holliman, who won the Jim Thorpe Award in 2014 as the nation’s top defensive back after leading the NCAA with 14 interceptions.
So why did he go near the end of the 7th round? Heavy skepticism is being raised for his inexperience and other aspects of his play, including being contact averse.
Here’s the skinny on the redshirt sophomore Holliman (he’s only 20!), who started only one year and left school early despite advice to the contrary to help his struggling family back in Miami:
The theme with the Steelers' defensive back picks in this draft is instincts and ball skills. Holliman has plenty of both. Those are likely the two main reasons Pittsburgh took a chance on him late as he has considerable work to do as a tackler. --Mark Dulgerian
One-year starter at free safety, posting outrageous ball-production numbers. A feast or famine free safety whose lack of field discipline and willingness to tackle will be more heavily exploited in the NFL. Rumors of his lack of football character combined with absolutely terrible tape when it comes to tackling could sabotage his draft stock despite his enormous ball skills.
Most expected that the Louisville Cardinals would struggle replacing 2014 first-round pick Calvin Pryor at safety. Instead, Holliman exploded for an FBS-leading 14 interceptions, tying an NCAA record set 46 years ago and taking home the Thorpe Award as the nation's top defensive over the likes of Alabama's Landon Collins and Oregon's Ifo Ekpre-Olomu.
While Holliman's ball-hawking redshirt junior campaign deserves acknowledgment, it doesn't necessarily make him a highly regarded NFL prospect. Holliman possesses awareness, agility and hands - traits that certainly project well at safety in today's pass-happy NFL. He also sports a relatively slight frame, however, and shows questionable angles and technique as a tackler.
Back in March, Robert Klemko of Sports Illustrated’s MMQB team took an in-depth look at Holliman to see if he lived up to the stats:
"How does one get 14 picks in a season, a mark that tied the Division I single-season record? Bad quarterbacking, surely. And tipped balls, right?
"Wrong. Only two of the free safety’s interceptions were off redirected passes. And he had his best performances in tight games against conference foes, including a two-interception showcase against Florida State and presumed No. 1 overall pick Jameis Winston. (Louisville led that game in the fourth quarter before Winston brought the Noles back for a 42-31 victory.)
" ... To get 14 interceptions in 13 games in college football, you have to be seriously lucky or seriously intelligent. Holliman is one of only 10 FBS players with 10 or more interceptions in a season over the last 20 years. That list also includes Sean Taylor, Jim Leonhard and Rahim Moore."
PRO COMPARISON: Devin McCourty, New England Patriots
Holliman isn't as explosive athletically as McCourty, but they're similar in size, ball-hawking ability and the center fielder position they both excel at.
“A helluva a lot of value” Also, they quote both Drake and Wiz Khalifa in the accompanying video.