Steelers top draft needs and possible 1st round selections
We haven’t even reached the NFL Combine yet, but it’s never too early to try to look ahead to the NFL Draft. The Steelers failed to make the playoffs this year and possess the 20th pick in the first round – the highest they’ve had since 2014 when they selected Ryan Shazier with the 15th overall pick.
In recent years, the Steelers have swung and missed on first round players Artie Burns, Jarvis Jones, and in my opinion, Bud Dupree. Because of this, there are a number of holes that need filled. To make things worse from a talent perspective, Antonio Brown may be traded this off-season – leaving impossible shoes to fill at wide receiver in addition to fixing their defensive needs.
With a Super Bowl window soon to close shut, the Steelers need to restock their talent fast. Here are my biggest draft needs and possible first round selections for each.
1. Inside Linebacker
Linebacker is a huge area of need for the Steelers. If it were up to me, Jon Bostic would be a cut this off-season to save cap space, while Vince Williams is best suited as a backup. Pittsburgh should strongly consider linebacker in the first round.
Devin White is an athletic freak that will likely be off the board. Fortunately, I like Devin Bush just as much. Though he’s a little short, Bush is as tough and athletic as they come. The Steelers could plug him into the Mack position from day one, and he would be a massive upgrade over Jon Bostic/L.J. Fort. Mack Wilson should be a day 2 pick, but the Steelers reached for positional need when drafting Artie Burns. He will probably be in contention at pick 20.
2. EDGE/Outside Linebacker
Bud Dupree will play this season on the fifth year option, but he’s not the answer they were looking for on the edge. Behind him, rookie Ola Adeniyi shows some promise, but they desperately lack depth at the position and need a good edge rusher to pair with T.J. Watt.
The 2019 draft is loaded with 1st round edge players – some of which would be perfect for the Steelers 3-4 defense. It’s hard to predict the order in which these pass rushers will be drafted. Montez Sweat should fly up draft boards with his incredible length and athletic ability, and Jachai Polite is a 20-year old with immense pass rush ability and upside. I’ve even heard whispers of Brian Burns going high in the first round. I would guess that at least 1 of the 3 will be available at pick 20. Good edge players are incredibly hard to find, so the Steelers must consider this position if these players are available.
The Steelers have really never been good at drafting cornerbacks, and recently they have been dreadful. In 2016, they spent a 1st round pick on Artie Burns. One year prior, they selected Senquez Golson in the 2nd round. The Steelers need a answer to play opposite of Joe Haden. Though I would prefer to fill this need in free agency, the Steelers will no doubt have their eyes on the top cornerbacks in the 2019 draft.
Greedy Williams will be long gone. Byron Murphy and Deandre Baker are both solid options if available at pick 20, and Trayvon Mullen is a bit of a reach for me. If they choose to go this direction in round one of the draft, I think Deandre Baker is their pick. Baker comes in a little short, and is probably just an average athlete, but he’s a physical outside corner who would fit well in Tomlin’s defense. Cornerbacks Rock Ya-Sin and Amani Oruwariye may also earn some first round consideration.
4. Wide Receiver
Taking a wide receiver in round one probably isn’t the most popular selection with pressing needs on defense. However, expect the Steelers to look this direction in the first 2 or 3 rounds of the draft if Antonio Brown is traded. James Washington improved as the season went on, but if Brown is gone, the Steelers don’t have a lot of talent outside of JuJu Smith-Schuster.
There are a plethora of talented receivers in in this draft class, and the Steelers are guaranteed to have their choice of some good ones at pick 20. N’Keal Harry is physical and reminds me a lot of JuJu, Metcalf has a rare combination of size and speed, and A.J. Brown is just a good football player. Marquise Brown is very interesting with great speed and agility, however, he’s the cousin of Antonio Brown (which I guess can be good or bad, depending on how you look at it).
5. Tight End
|3||Irv Smith Jr.||Jr||6’4”||241|
Tight end may not have crossed your mind as a top-5 need for the Steelers. However, Jesse James is a free agent and Vance McDonald has never played a 16-game season. If James is not retained, tight end will be a huge position of need for the Steelers.
Although tight end would be deemed a luxury pick in the first round, there is some incredible talent available. We have never seen two tights ends on the same team in college as good as T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant. Both could be stars at the next level. Even Irv Smith Jr. may have been considered the number one tight end had he entered in a different year. The talent at tight end is elite in the first round this year. One of these players would make an excellent addition to the Steelers and help soften the blow of trading Antonio Brown (if that indeed comes into fruition).