With the 2018 NFL draft only weeks away, it's time for me to post my first Steelers mock draft of the season! This was a tough mock for me, primarily because I kept going back and forth between safety and linebacker for the first round pick. However, after much deliberation I was able to settle on a player I'm sure most fans would be happy with.
I'm sure when I post my final mock draft prior to the draft this my picks will have changed a lot. By then all of the pro days will be finished, pre-draft visits will have been concluded, and there will be a surplus of rumors floating around the internet. For now I feel my picks make sense given the Steelers team needs and their pre-draft activity we've seen so far.
Round One: Justin Reid (FS) - Stanford
The Pittsburgh Steelers are in a great spot for round one. Thanks to the acquisitions of safety Morgan Burnett and linebacker Jon Bostic via free agency, the Steelers aren't in desperate need of any one position and can draft the best player available at positions of need. I think Justin Reid is the right player to take in the first round. The Steelers love drafting great athletes in the first round (evident by T.J. Watt, Artie Burns, and Bud Dupree), and Reid fits that archetype perfectly. With him the Steelers would have three versatile safeties on their roster, giving them the most-complete secondary they've had in years.
Reid will slide right into the free safety spot left absent by Mike Mitchell and he will thrive. At the end of Mitchell's career in Pittsburgh, you could see him losing speed and slowly become a liability in the center of the field. Reid will bring new energy to the secondary and his athleticism will make him an instant upgrade at the position. He is also praised for his intelligence and communication skills, two areas the defense struggled with in 2017, and he will be on the fast track to be the leader of the secondary.
Round Two: James Washington (WR) - Oklahoma State
At first glance, wide receiver isn't a huge need for Pittsburgh. But a closer look shows a group in need of help. Yes, you have Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, and Martavis Bryant as your starters - a great group. However, what happens if there's an injury? Do you trust end-around specialist Darrius Heyward-Bey to step up or do you bank on Marcus Tucker making the leap from the practice squad? Add in the likelihood that Bryant leaves in free agency in 2019 and wide receiver quickly becomes a need.
James Washington is an interesting player. He isn't the biggest, he isn't the fastest, but he produces. In college he proved he excels as a deep threat, which we all know the Steelers love. Unlike Smith-Schuster last year, who was thrust into a major role, the Steelers will be able to use Washington in a limited role and allow him to develop. Yes the Steelers could take an inside linebacker here, but like we've seen before, you never know who will be on the board.
Round Three: Genard Avery (ILB) - Memphis
Kevin Colbert mentioned previously in an interview that he doesn't love this year's inside linebacker class. Whether that's true or a smokescreen; it's hard to tell. It's feasible that the Steelers wait to grab a linebacker. In the third round, the Steelers can get a lesser-known player named Genard Avery.
Avery reminds me of the Steelers selection of Javon Hargrave - an athletic player from a smaller school who produced. He would bring some much-needed speed and athleticism that this linebacker group severely lacked once they lost Ryan Shazier to injury. Thanks to the addition of Bostic, the Steelers could allow Avery time to develop and wouldn't be pressured into playing him immediately. Somewhere in this draft, the Steelers must take an athletic linebacker, and although the third round is later than many are hoping for, Avery fits exactly what the Steelers need.
Round Five (A): Durham Smythe (TE) - Notre Dame
As we enter the mid-rounds of the draft, things really open up for the Steelers. The Steelers' biggest holes have all been plugged and at this point, the Steelers can draft based on value. The Steelers would benefit from getting some depth at the tight end position. Though the team has their starters locked in with Vance McDonald and Jesse James, beyond them is iffy. Xavier Grimble is still around, and while he has shown flashes in his career, he has yet to prove to be capable of "starting". McDonald also had trouble staying healthy on the field in 2017, and James will be a free agent in 2019.
It's not an urgent need, but drafting a player like Durham Smythe would give the Steelers some needed depth at the position. He is more of a blocking tight end than a threat in the passing game, but that's still a need for the team. The Steelers lost Chris Hubbard in free agency; he often came on the field as a sixth offensive lineman/tight end last season. Smythe may not be a future number one tight end, but he provides valuable depth and his blocking ability would help him stick around for awhile.
Round Five (B): Jermaine Carter, Jr. (ILB) - Maryland
The Steelers love double-dipping at positions of need, and they certainly may do it again with the inside linebacker position. Yes, the group is already pretty full with Vince Williams, Bostic, Avery (if he is selected), and Tyler Matakevich but you can never have too much depth. The Steelers love having linebackers on their roster. Jermaine Carter, Jr., would help round out this depth chart to assure the Steelers will not need to sign Sean Spence ever again. Carter is a player who could contribute to the defense down the road but will be able to immediately contribute on special teams.
Round Seven (A): Josh Frazier (DT) - Alabama
The Steelers don't have a big need at defensive line, but that doesn't mean they can't try and round out their depth chart. Josh Frazier is a true nose tackle. You won't see him on passing downs and he moved all around the line in college, but there's still value in a player like him. Currently, the Steelers' sixth defensive lineman is big Dan McCullers, who has yet to prove he can put his size and weight to use. The Steelers can bring in Frazier to compete and push McCullers for the starting spot. The selection also makes sense because Pittsburgh's new defensive line coach, Karl Dunbar, coached Frazier at Alabama.
Round Seven (B): Rick Leonard (OT) - Florida State
With the final pick in the draft, I'm giving the Steelers a pure project player. Rick Leonard is a 6'7 offensive tackle who converted from being a defensive end. Sound familiar? We've seen offensive line coach Mike Munchak work his magic with players like Alejandro Villaneuva. Leonard would be a giant piece of clay for Munchak to try and mold. He's a long-term project, and he may not even get drafted, but Leonard has the measurables and athleticism for the Steelers to take a chance on him.