The NFL Combine is set to begin March 1st, but it's never too early to start looking ahead to the draft. Though we will get a much clearer picture of who the Steelers will be interested in after examining their Combine, Pro Day, and personal visits, I am going to take a shot at predicting Pittsburgh's most likely draft choices in round one.
The Steelers pick is almost certain to come on the defensive side of the ball, and they have not been shy about revealing the positions they are most interested in. Cornerback and inside linebacker are widely considered two of the Steelers biggest needs in this draft, and you better believe they will look to address these position early. This list is subject to change - depending on how the Steelers address these positions in free agency - but as of now, here are my top 5 most likely first round draft choices for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
1. DeAndre Baker, CB Georgia
The need for a serviceable cornerback to run opposite of Joe Haden cannot be overstated. The Steelers have swung and missed on players like Artie Burns and Senquez Golson early in the draft, and are still desperately searching for an answer at the position.
Enter DeAndre Baker - the Jim Thorpe Award winner for the nation's top defensive back. Baker may not have ideal size (5'11'' 180) or top end speed, but he makes up for it with sticky coverage skills and and a savvy football IQ. Baker can do it all - press, man, zone, and off coverage. He may not be the most impressive player at the NFL Combine, but he's got the makings of a solid pro.
2. Byron Murphy, CB Washington
Of the top cornerbacks in the 2019 draft class, it's hard to say who will be available to the Steelers. The buzz on Greedy Williams says that he will certainly be gone before pick 20, and chances are one of Baker of Murphy will be taken before the Steelers have a chance to pick between the two.
Like Baker, Murphy is a little undersized as an outside NFL corner (5'11'' 175). However, Murphy's area of expertise is zone coverage, awareness, and ball skills. Kevin Colbert wasn't afraid to fork up a 2nd round draft choice for a 5'9'' 176 pound corner in in Senquez Golson in 2015, who had 10 interceptions as a senior. One year later, he reached to grab Artie Burns who had 6 interceptions in his junior season. Murphy is instinctive and and dynamic with the ball in his hands. He could give the Steelers a serious upgrade at RCB.
3. Devin Bush, ILB Michigan
I have my doubts about how much interest the Steelers will have in 5'11'' linebacker, but they should have a lot. Pittsburgh's linebacker are the worst position on the team, as Jon Bostic and Vince Williams both need upgraded. This is where Bush comes in.
Despite his short stature, Devin Bush is one of my favorite draft prospects in the entire 2019 draft class. If you put on the tape, you will see a player with incredible instincts that flows effortlessly towards the ball at all time. Bush is a high energy, high intensity player with a motor that doesn't stop. He does enough to hold up against the run, though his size could limit his overall potential in this area. Bush shows great potential against the pass with silky smooth hips, and has Polamalu-like ability as a blitzer (which isn't something I throw around lightly). If available, the Steelers should pounce at the opportunity to land Devin Bush. They could immediately plug him at Mack LB and help fill the void left by Ryan Shazier.
4. Mack Wilson, LB Alabama
Again, the Steelers have a pressing need at inside linebacker. If you recall, the Steelers reportedly wanted Leighton Vander Esch a year ago, then tried desperately to trade up for Alabama's Rashaan Evans after Vander Esch was off the board. This is not a good class overall for linebackers outside of the top three guys, and the Steelers will recognize that.
Mack Wilson isn't my favorite draft prospect. He doesn't zip to the ball like a Devin White or a Devin Bush (which is evident by his mere 7 tackles for loss over a 3 year span). However, Wilson is a smooth athlete who possesses prototypical size for the position (6'2'' 239). His best trait is his coverage ability (which accounts for about 65 percent of the offense in today's NFL). Wilson had 6 interceptions over the past two seasons at inside linebacker for the Crimson Tide.
5. Trayvon Mullen, CB Clemson
As much as it pains me to say this, I think Mullen could be a possibility at this pick. The Steelers are no stranger to reaching for positional need in the first round (cue Artie Burns), and Mullen fits the bill - a big (6'2'' 190) corner from a Power 5 conference. In 2016, the Steelers wanted William Jackson III (who was selected one pick before them to the Cincinnati Bengals). They settled for Burns.
Mullen projects as a man coverage corner at the next level. Though he possesses prototype size for an outside cornerback, his footwork is a bit choppy and he doesn't have the smoothest hips. I would love to see the Steelers take the best player available, if that meant taking a different position entirely. Some names that could be on the board that fit another position of need (edge rusher) include Montez Sweat, Jachai Polite, Brian Burns.