Duel Opinions™ Who Do The Steelers Choose With Their Top Draft Pick?

In this edition of Duel Opinions™ Joe from Steel City Underground joins Eric from Steelers Grind, to discuss:

With the 25th pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, The Pittsburgh Steelers select… who do The Steelers take with their first selection?

What position will The Steelers target in the first round? (Pick one.)

Joe Kuzma (Steel City Underground)

Safety for sure. The Steelers have visited with 9 safeties, virtually every top prospect at the position in this year’s draft, including Vonn Bell (Ohio State) Karl Joseph (West Virginia) Darian Thompson (Boise State) Jeremy Cash (Duke) and Keanu Neal (Florida) who many have, give or take, in their top 5.

Outside of some top 10’s, they’ve also visited with T.J. Green (Clemson) Justin Simmons (Boston College) Deon Bush (Miami,  Florida) and Trae Elston (Ole Miss.)

Compared with the other positions (which I’ll note below) I can’t see them passing on one of these names early.

Eric Herrmann (Steelers Grind)

I agree with you on this one Joe, safety seems like the position the Steelers will be targeting.

I did a study on the positions of pre-draft visitors on my own website and over the past 3 years, our first round pick has been either our first or second most visited player. This year, those positions are safety & cornerback.

As you said, they’ve visited with a very large amount of safeties, and the two players who I feel are the top contenders were both brought in for visits, and the Steelers attended their pro days: Keanu Neal & Karl Joseph. Although they do currently have Golden, he is more of a high-quality backup/spot-starter. As for Shamarko Thomas… moving on.

If they don’t pick your choice, what position might they take?

Joe

Defensive Tackle, specifically a swing tackle who can also play end. They need someone that can plug the middle, but with their hybrid nickel package using only 2 down linemen, I think Keith Butler would like a player who can also spell Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, rather than a true nose tackle who will find themselves on the sidelines for portions of the game.

Robert Nkemdiche (Ole Miss) A’Shawn Robinson (Alabama) Javon Hargrave (South Carolina State) and Quinton Jefferson (Maryland) have all had visits with the Steelers, which would suggest if they feel one of the safeties they want can be acquired in the second round, they may pass on the secondary and go with a big guy upfront.

Eric

Cornerback. As I stated earlier about my study, the Steelers over the past 3 years have drafted players they visit the most, and cornerback is their #2 most visited position year. Now, I understand entirely why people think they won’t draft a corner. My study showed it has been in the top 2 most visited positions for 3 consecutive years, yet the positions been basically ignored every year up until last year. But hey, call me an optimist.

Although they haven’t brought in any of the top corners for visits, they have shown interest in them. They attended the pro days for William Jackson III, Mackensie Alexander, Eli Apple, and Vernon Hargreaves. I believe the two guys they could realistically draft are William Jackson III & Mackensie Alexander. For WJIII, they not only attended his pro day, but dined with him. For Alexander, they had a private meeting with him as well as attended his pro day.

Which position will they avoid?

Joe

Cornerback. Yes, roast me now.

This has been a recurring theme for me over the last few years, and this year will be no different. Kevin Colbert has been avoiding the position for years (the team hasn’t taken a #1 at the position since Chad Scott in 1997, or in the 2nd round since Bryant McFadden in 2005.) The Steelers probably feel they already have their corners in place (Gay, Cockrell, Golson, and Grant – 2 from last year’s draft) and they won’t burn a high pick on one this year either. They will opt for the best available player, regardless of position.

Also consider, Vernon Hargreaves (Florida) Eli Apple (Ohio State) Artie Burns (Miami, Florida) William Jackson III (Houston) Jalen Ramsey (Florida State) and Mackensie Alexander (Clemson) are this year’s top prospects at the position: none of them have visited the Steelers to date. (Not to say they didn’t gather enough info with the various Pro Days or the individual “dinner” with WJIII.)

Eric

This is a polarizing selection, but: Defensive Line. I guess we can call this a dual roast.

Let me say a few things first. I respect the talent of guys like Andrew Billings, I know the Steelers have shown interest in him, and I understand that he could sub-in for Cam/Tuitt in the nickel as well as play 3-4 NT. However, I just don’t see the Steelers spending a first round pick on a part-time starter.

I don’t have a quote, but Colbert has said in the past that he likes first round picks to be starters as well as special talents. Not saying Billings isn’t a special talent, but I think the Steelers want a special talent that will be on the field more than half the game. This draft is also very deep at defensive line this year.

I’m fully onboard with taking a 2nd round d-lineman; we could certainly wait and get a guy like Jihad Ward, Javon Hargrave, or Chris Jones.

Which position might surprise fans?

Joe

Wide Receiver.

The 2 names linked to pre-draft visits aren’t top 10 overall picks, but they are top 10 prospects at the position. I wouldn’t put it past Kevin Colbert to really overload the offense with another dynamic playmaker.

Eric

Edge rusher.

Although the position is full at the moment, things will change quickly next year. James Harrison will for sure be gone for the 2017 season and its likely Jarvis Jones will leave for another city after his 4 years, leaving a giant gap at edge rusher. (Author note: See Will Steelers Continue Streak of Drafting Linebackers?)

Two candidates are Noah Spence and Kamalei Correa. There’s nothing official for Spence, but the Steelers were reported to have interest in him. As for Correa not only have there been rumors of interest, but the Steelers attended his pro day and had supposedly dined with him.

Considering how this defense is built upon having a pass-rush, I’m sure the Steelers have been eyeing edge rushers. This year’s draft class is also very thin at edge rusher, so if they don’t take a guy early then they may leave the draft without one at all.

Closing Statements

Joe

Do the Steelers have a trick up their sleeve by visiting with corners who don’t appear to be off the shelf in the first round? Their history doesn’t appear that way, however, they did surprise us by visiting Bud Dupree awful late this same time last year, bypassing the corner position for yet another LB. (That’s why this time of year is so fun!)

I do agree with your edge rusher statement, as the coffers look thin next year, but Jones could be back on a 5th year option. Similarly, my facetious WR pick would be a replacement for a departing Markus Wheaton.

Ultimately, I agree that taking someone like Karl Joseph in the first round would be my preference, even over a talent like Billings. Javon Hargrave would be one heck of a pickup in rounds 2 or 3, depending on where he lands. I would not be the least upset with a S, DT, CB mix in the top 3 rounds.

Eric

“It’s really hard arguing for a corner to be honest. I’m not banging the table screaming “OUR SECONDARY SUCKS! WE NEED A CORNER!”, I’m actually content with Gay/Cockrell/Golson, I’m simply saying I believe it’s a possibility depending on how the board falls.

I’m personally very against taking a WR in the first round. The Steelers don’t have an immediate need at the position and I think the best course of action for addressing the position would be drafting a mid-late round guy who will be ready in a year. This same logic applies to edge rushers. It would almost be a waste to draft either of these positions high when the player would likely sit for a year. This isn’t LeBeau’s defense anymore, high-round picks are expected to contribute immediately. In addition, the Steelers have excelled at taking mid-round wide WR’s.

As Joe said, a safety ultimately seems like the best option in the first round. Though it’s impossible to predict if a player will fall like Dupree did last year, I would put my money on safety being our pick. The Steelers are tough to mock this year because they could take their 3 primary needs – S, CB, DL – in basically any order in the top 3/4 rounds, with that 4th position being a wildcard. Nevertheless, I know Colbert & Tomlin are much smarter me than I am, and I trust them to build a Super Bowl-winning roster.

Follow Eric Herrmann and Steelers Grind on Twitter.

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