Are you feeling it now, Mr. Krabbs? The excitement, the anticipation, the uncertainty! There's magic in the air, and thy name is the NFL Draft. We are but DAYS away from one of sports greatest moments, for both fans and players alike. The annual selection of 200 something young athletes realizing their dreams, and the very real potential of improving your favorite football team is a recipe for all diets; even the vegans.
And with the NFL Draft comes what?! Mock drafts. A whole lot of mock drafts. I get the backlash that these exercises receive from fans for not being "realistic enough" or "stupid" but who doesn't love the idea of running your favorite team (even if it's only for a few minutes) and doing whatever it takes and PICKING whoever it takes to bring home a championship? People who hate fun, that's who.
In today's day and age there's multiple websites and apps you can use to simulate the draft and pick your players, and I used The Draft Network's. There are others, but I enjoyed the easy navigation and the player profiles they have available during your simulation. Everyone mock drafts in their own way, some prefer only to do the first 3 rounds, others more. Here at The Steel City Underground though, we don't short the people and we don't lack #content.
I ran five simulations for the Pittsburgh Steelers, all seven rounds, and I picked the one that I think not only is realistic, but also very very good. We are trying to build a champion here, after all.
Round 1 pick #20: Devin Bush, LB - Michigan
Before anybody whips out their "he won't be there's!" let's work through the teams in front of Pittsburgh who has been linked to the athletic linebacker, Bush.
First, the Denver Broncos have been a pretty popular landing spot, assuming Devin White (LSU) goes before that. But what if White doesn't go before that? Hm. Crazier things have happened. Devin White is the consensus top linebacker in this class and in order for Devin Bush to go, Devin White needs to go first. The farther Devin White falls hypothetically, the farther Devin Bush falls, and hopefully right into Pittsburgh's lap.
Even if Devin White goes top 10, Denver has a lot more needs than linebacker chief. They could take a quarterback to eventually take over for the newly acquired Joe Flacco (perhaps Drew Lock?). Denver also has a new hole at cornerback with the departure of Bradly Rody via free agency, and Chris Harris Jr. obviously not happy with his current contract because that's a headline every other day.
The next threat to the Steelers and Devin Bush tying the knot is our old "friend" the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals have screwed the Steelers in the past on draft night (William Jackson III) and they've seemingly targeted players that have been connected to Pittsburgh (Carl Lawson, Andrew Billings, Malik Jefferson) in the past. Whether that's coincidence or not, they're serious contenders for Bush. However, quarterback, much like the Denver Broncos, has also been a popular position mocked to Cincinnati. Apparently, they're very high on Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins if he's there at pick 11. Tight end and offensive line could be addressed too, despite the re-signing of Tyler Eifert, who can't stay healthy.
That leaves only the Green Bay Packers (12) and New York Giants (17) as possible landing spots for Devin Bush, and as the former mentioned, both teams have arguably larger needs than linebacker on their current rosters. The Packers need weapons for what's left of Aaron Rodgers' career, and the Giants need a successor to Eli Manning (the sooner the better), and their starting corners are Janoris Jenkins and Sam Beal. Jenkins could be a camp cap casualty, after putting up mediocre numbers last season on a high price tag, and Beal is a supplemental draft selection with little experience to go on.
If Devin Bush slides past those four teams, I expect the Steelers to sprint to the podium. If Bush doesn't fall, I expect Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin to stick to their board and turn their attention to best player available, which in all likelihood would be a cornerback or edge.
Round 2 pick #52: Darnell Savage, S - Maryland
Range, speed, ball skills, nasty, explosive, and of course swaggy. These are all key terms you look for when searching for a good safety. Maryland's Darnell Savage has it all. Practically a 4-year starter, Savage has the smarts to go along with the skill. One thing Steelers fans have grown tired of and understandably so, is lack of communication and mental mistakes in the secondary. With Sean Davis and Terrell Edmunds sharpied in as your starters, Savage would be heavily rotated in almost immediately. It's a passing league, and nowadays you need three good safeties ready to go and the potential of putting them all on the field at once is high. And with Sean Davis in the final year of his rookie deal, all the more reason to draft his possible successor.
Savage has been praised throughout the draft process for his ability to cover slot receivers/running backs and tight ends, sound like a problem the Steelers have had? With Edmunds and Davis on the field in their assumed positions, the role of covering tight ends and slot receivers could be Savage's area of expertise as a rookie.
With 8 interceptions and 13 pass breakups on his resume, and after absolutely demolishing the combine (4.36 forty yard dash/39.5 verticle jump/10.5 ft broad jump), Savage might not make it to pick 52. But that's what the simulator gave me so cry me a river. You would have to be a blind man to pass up the opportunity to add such a playmaker to the back-end of Pittsburgh's secondary.
Savage was one of the Steelers 30 allowed visits, obviously displaying interest, and his freaky athletic testing matches what they've targeted in recent drafts.
Round 3 pick #66: Jace Sternberger, TE - Texas A&M
Maybe not the most popular name the people want to see, but if you don't know this kid by now, you will soon. A consensus All-American and First-Team SEC at Texas A&M, Sternberger is the best route-runner of the class, including the Iowa guys, with soft hands to match. The dude catches everything thrown his way and found the endzone 10 times his final year at school.
Sternberger "fits the mold" of not only the player the Steelers love, but also the person. The 22 year old comes from a family of successful athletes (sound familiar? cough, cough Terrell Edmunds and TJ Watt cough, cough) and has battled his way through adversity to be where he's at today. Sternberger originally went to Kansas but quickly transferred to a junior college for a year before A&M when he realized he wasn't going to be used the way he thought was best. That decision proved to be a good one after being declared nationally as a top 5 tight end prospect in this year's class.
Jace Sternberger would slide right into Pittsburgh's number two tight end spot, and in all honesty would probably get a chance to start or two with Vance McDonald (although a good player) having yet to play a full 16 game season. I don't think any of us want Xavier Grimble starting, even if it's for a game or two.
Round 3 pick #83: Jachai Polite, EDGE - Florida
When the draft process started this year, Jachai Polite was thought to be a sure-fire first round pick. Since then, Florida's sack artist has done all he humanly can to tank his stock. He hasn't been arrested or failed any drug tests, but his interviews with teams at the NFL scouting combine were the worst reported since Reuben Foster got kicked out of it for fighting with a doctor or whatever.
Polite was reportedly very short with his answers and came off defensive and almost annoyed to even be asked questions about his flaws. You have to have thicker skin than that, especially going through a process such as the NFL draft, the biggest interview of your life.
But if there's one thing Jachai Polite knows, it's how to get to the quarterback. 11 sacks and 6 (yes SIX) forced fumbles speak for themselves. Steelers head coach, Mike Tomlin, is known for his approach to players with question marks attached to the end of their name, as long as he feels like said player can overcome the concern (Martavis Bryant/Mike Vick come to mind). With Bud Dupree all but certainly playing his last season in Pittsburgh, drafting his replacement now might not be such a bad idea.
Character concerns aside and going off of skill alone, Polite would be a steal at 83 and would be able to contribute on defense right away. I would take the risk with Pittsburgh's fourth selection.
Round 4 pick #122: Antoine Wesley, WR - Texas Tech
If you know anything about me whatsoever outside of this mock draft, you're probably stunned it took me this long to take a wide receiver. Especially in a year where receiver is an actual need for the first time in a dog's age. But if anything, this speaks more to how I feel about who the Steelers have in-house, as opposed to how I feel about this year's receiver class. JuJu Smith-Schuster is entering his 3rd year as a pro, and year 3 for wide receivers is supposed to be their break-out year (imagine if we haven't seen the best of Juju yet). It's much, much too early to give up on James Washington, last year's 2nd round selection who started to gain traction towards the end of the season. 5-year pro Donte Moncrief was added during the second wave of free agency this year, and is supposed to play a big role in the offense as a potential deep threat, possibly more. Those three plus Ryan Switzer, who proved to be a reliable target for Ben Roethlisberger in his first season as a Steeler, makes the "need" for receiver not as glaring as some may think.
There are some talented names for sure; D.K Metcalf, Hakeem Butler, Deebo Samuel, A.J Brown, and N'Keal Harry all come to mind as potential fits for Pittsburgh. However, none of those names were available at when I felt was an appropriate time for the Steelers to draft them. That's a very real possibility Pittsburgh needs to be ready for. Juju and Washington being selected each in the 2nd round of their respective drafts was exciting, but it's not really the norm for Pittsburgh. Kevin Colbert and company have made an art out of picking wideouts in the 3-5 round range, and this year's diamond in the rough could very well be Antoine Wesley from Texas Tech.
The 6"4 pass catcher with 34 inch arms, and 37 inch vertical jump sound enticing enough as it is. Being big and explosive doesn't necessarily mean you're just going to be good in the NFL if you don't know how to use those attributes, but Wesley does. His route running is impressive for a receiver of his stature and he's a NATURAL HANDS CATCHER! Just think if Martavis Bryant or Sammie Coates had natural hands, that's what Wesley can bring to an offense. Ben Roethlisberger would approve, I'm sure.
Round 5 pick #141: David Long, LB - West Virginia
Double-dipper! You don't want to be caught double-dipping at a party or family gathering, but in this case the Steelers can't have too much dip on their chip. If you're reading this far, you already know the Steelers took linebacker, Devin Bush in the first round. But are you really going to tell me you're fine with the depth behind Bush and Vince Williams? Because I'm not.
Long fits the mold of today's NFL linebacker, meaning he can run (4.45! forty yard dash) and cover (13! pass breakups in 2018), and was voted defensive MVP of The Big 12 conference in 2018. You would think with such accolades that Long won't last this, um, long. But The Big 12 isn't exactly known for defense, so some could view the award as not as big of a deal as it sounds. The truth of the matter is Long would be a steal at this point in the draft, and he's too good of a player to pass up because the Steelers have Tyler Matakevich and Jon Bostic on the roster. Best case scenario, Long surpasses Williams in a year or two and starts with Bush. Worst case scenario, Long's a special teams demon and above average depth.
Round 6 pick #175: Mark Fields, CB - Clemson
A former top-100 recruit out of high school, Fields has been snake-bitten by injuries, but he's worth a shot in the 6th round. Like my former picks, Fields checks the boxes of what the Steelers like: sure tackling, plays like his hair's on fire, son of a former NFL player, and a whole lot of speed. Although a little bit on the short side at 5"10, Fields was one of the fastest players at this year's combine posting a 4.37 forty yard dash.
I think if Fields falls to this point in the draft, the Steelers would pounce on him.
Round 6 pick #192: Gary Jennings Jr., WR - West Virginia
Oops, I did it again. I double-dipped. The mainstream media and draft twitter alike are all over the map on Jennings. Some see the WVU prospect as a potential mid-round guy, while others have him going in more so this range. The Steelers were heavily represented at WVU's pro day and were seen talking to both Jennings and his partner in crime on the outside, David Sills. The two proved to be a deadly combination for quarterback Will Greier, as Jennings caught 13 touchdowns for the young signal caller in 2018.
Jennings also had an impressive Senior Bowl performance standing out in both practice and the game itself. He's got size and speed and could fit nicely in the Steelers system.
Round 6 pick #207: Bryce Love, RB - Stanford
Just a year removed from being in the Heisman trophy race, arguably the front runner, Love suffered a knee injury (torn ACL) that tanked his draft stock and has teams questioning his longevity. But in the later rounds of the draft you take risks like this.
Love has a smaller frame at just 5"9, but he weighed in at the combine at 200 pounds even. He's thick with one c. A lot of people have the Steelers going after a running back earlier, but I just don't see that and I haven't all draft season. James Conner is a dog and just made his first Pro Bowl. Jaylen Samuels came in when Conner went down and the offense didn't miss a beat. I think those two are the unquestioned 1-2 punch leading the Steelers backfield, but the depth isn't as impressive.
If Love can return and even be 3/4 the player he was at Stanford, he's well worth a late 6th round pick.
Round 7 pick #219: Hamp Cheevers, CB - Boston College
Cheevers won't wow anyone with his size or speed. But his 7 interceptions in 2018 are hard to ignore. That tied for the best in college football, not to mention his 7 pass break-ups. Those stats tell me Cheevers has a nose for the football and above average ball skills.
Hamp's 4.52 forty isn't desirable for what the Steelers look for in cornerbacks as of late, but his ability to create turnovers is another story.
There's about a 6% chance the Steelers use all ten of their draft picks like I just did, but I told you we don't lack #content #here
Happy Draft Week everyone!