Steel City Underground

Pittsburgh Steelers RB James Conner's jersey
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There's not much to talk about during the bye week. So rather than reporting on the Steelers going to Dave & Buster's or JuJu Smith-Schuster's driving test, I decided to take "way-too-early" look at the 2018 NFL Draft.

The Steelers are in a unique position going into the draft. They don't have any immediate or urgent needs to fill like in past years with outside linebacker, cornerback, and safety. While some players are aging or replaceable, this is a very solid roster with no gaping holes.

While it may be far too early to start mocking players to teams, this is a good time to be watching for players that could be on the Steelers radar. We'll have a separate article detailing these players soon, but for now we will just give some names.

All that said, here are three draft needs for the Steelers for the 2018 draft.

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Safety

While not necessarily a humongous need for the team, I feel that safety will be the Steelers top priority for the 2018 draft for a few reasons.

My first reason is that the team showed interest in safety during the 2017 NFL draft, hosting players like Josh Jones, Budda Baker, and Obi Melifonwu for pre-draft visits. While interested, the Steelers never had a chance to draft any of these players because they didn't fall to them. Josh Jones came the closest to being a Steeler, being taken one pick before the team in the second round, and if he had been available it's possible he would be a Steeler right now.

Drafting a safety would be investing in the future. Mike Mitchell only has one year left on his contract and will be a free agent in 2019. Considering he will be 30 years old at that time and already seems to have lost a step, it seems unlikely the Steelers would re-sign him. The Steelers have always put a high value on safety play and drafting their future free safety in 2018 would allow the team to groom him to start for the 2019 season. He wouldn't be sitting on the bench during the entire 2018 season though.

Drafting a safety would also allow the Steelers to be more versatile on defense. They have shown interest in having a "dime backer" on defense, meaning a safety who plays like a safety/linebacker hybrid and drafting a safety would allow them to utilize this strategy. In this scenario, Vince Williams is pulled off the field in passing situations and the safety takes his place.

Potential Targets

Jordan Whitehead (Pittsburgh), Armani Watts (Texas A&M), Ronnie Harrison (Alabama), Quin Blanding (Virginia), Marcus Allen (Penn State)

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Tight End

While not a huge need, the Steelers will likely consider investing in a new tight end. This move would represent the train of thought mentioned earlier where the position is not necessarily a need but could be upgraded.

The Steelers currently don't have a true number one tight end. While Jesse James and Vance McDonald are both very solid players, both are primarily blocking tight ends at this juncture. They've both proven to be efficient in the passing game, but neither can really be considered a threat.

The Steelers clearly showed their interest in a big play tight end when they acquired Ladarius Green awhile back. Yes, that obviously didn't work out in the end, but Green proved to be a very dynamic threat when he did get to play. He had dangerous size and speed that is currently lacking among the Steelers tight ends. McDonald could be that player, if he adapts to the Steelers system.

Believe it or not, Jesse James only has one year left on his deal after this season, while Vance McDonald still has a couple years left on his deal. It is worth noting however McDonald has a "potential out" in his contract allowing the Steelers to cut him with no dead money after the 2017 season. The duo of James and McDonald likely won't be around for long.

I believe the Steelers long term plans will involve keeping one of these players as their number two tight end and investing in a tight end who can be the big play threat the Steelers have been seeking at tight end.

Potential Targets

Mark Andrews (Oklahoma), Hayden Hurst (South Carolina), Troy Fumagalli (Wisconsin), Mike Gesicki (Penn State), Adam Breneman (Massachusetts)

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Quarterback

It's not fun to talk about, but here we are.

I was hesitant about putting a quarterback on this list, but I couldn't really think of other needs for the team. The Steelers seem to have their linebackers and cornerbacks all locked down. Maybe if the team cuts Joe Haden after this season cornerback becomes a need, but for the time being, quarterback is one of the Steelers biggest needs.

I am going off the assumption that 2018 will be Ben Roethlisberger's final season as a Pittsburgh Steeler, that neither Landry Jones or Josh Dobbs are the future, and that they don't sign a free agent like Kirk Cousins. With that said, the Steelers have two primary options for addressing the position.

Option one is that the Steelers could draft a quarterback in 2018 to develop. We've seen this strategy used quite often, such as with Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay behind Brett Favre and most recently Patrick Mahomes going to Kansas City as an understudy to Alex Smith. Rather than throwing a rookie into the fire, the Steelers can allow him to be mentored by Roethlisberger and improve on his mechanics and knowledge of the playbook before being thrust into the starting role.

Option two is waiting for Roethlisberger to retire before addressing the position. While this option gives the Steelers a "win now" situation with Roethlisberger still at the helm, it puts the team at risk and adds a lot of pressure to draft someone.

Regardless of which option happens, drafting a quarterback will be tricky because the Steelers normally pick late in the first round. While it's possible a quarterback could fall like Derek Carr and Teddy Bridgewater did in 2014, the team may have to resort to trading up in the first round like the Texans did for DeShaun Watson and the Chiefs did for Patrick Mahomes. As we've seen with teams like the Texans and the Eagles this season, moving up in the draft is worth it to get your quarterback.

Potential Targets

Baker Mayfield (Oklahoma), Josh Allen (Wyoming), Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State), Luke Falk (Washington State), Jarrett Stidham (Auburn)





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