In any given draft, I take the spot at which the Steelers are drafting, and make a list of that same number of “possible” players that could be drafted, up to and including when the Steelers pick. This year, the Steelers draft 22nd, so I have created a list of twenty-two prospects. Furthermore, for those twenty-two candidates, I have divided them out into different categories.
CATEGORY 1: Players who the Steelers will not take, but their selection by another team pushes a player that the Steelers do indeed want, down the board:
1. Jameis Winston, quarterback, Florida State
2. Marcus Mariota, quarterback, Oregon
3. Amari Cooper, wide receiver, Alabama
4. Kevin White, wide receiver, West Virginia
5. DeVante Parker, wide receiver, Louisville
6. Todd Gurley, running back, Georgia
The Steelers are set at wide receiver, running back, and quarterback (despite what I said earlier this month: Steelers Mockery). Hence, the more players at these three positions that get drafted, the better that it is for the Steelers. The two quarterbacks are absolutely a done deal. Along with the three aforementioned wide receivers, I predict that there will actually be two more wide receivers drafted by the time that the Steelers pick, although only those first three are locks to be drafted in the top twenty-two. Add in Gurley, and that it is at least six players who will not be drafted by the Steelers, which will push the positions of need (cornerback and outside linebacker) down the draft boards… right into the Steelers’ awaiting arms.
CATEGORY 2: Players who the Steelers could possibly take, but realistically, the odds are that these players are long gone by 22nd:
7. Leonard Williams, defensive line, USC
8. Dante Fowler, Jr., outside linebacker, Florida
9. Danny Shelton, nose tackle, Washington
10. Brandon Scherff, left guard, Iowa
11. Andrus Peat, left tackle, Stanford
12. La’el Collins, left tackle, LSU
13. Trae Waynes, cornerback, Michigan State
Fowler and Shelton would be huge upgrades, at two key positions in any defense; ergo, that is why they will go in the top ten. Likewise, Williams may not be a position of need (the Steelers already have Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward at defensive end), but Williams is so talented that if he were available at twenty-two, you draft him now and worry about where to play him later. Scherff would be an upgrade over Ramon Foster, and while I like Kelvin Beachum, if Peat or Collins were available, maybe the Steelers simply slide Beachum over to guard. Lastly, Waynes’ second-best forty time at the combine launched him far, far out of Pittsburgh’s reach.
WILD CARDS: The players who are insanely talented, but have major character flaws.
Randy Gregory, outside linebacker, Nebraska
Marcus Peters, cornerback, Washington
These two players are arguably top ten talents, who for various reasons, could be drafted anywhere from five to forty-five. In fact, some teams have taken these two completely off of their draft boards. In other words, even if these two were available at twenty-two, I am not certain that the Steelers would draft them; ergo, I am not assigning them to a category. That said, if they are indeed drafted early, it would push one of the “safer” players down to the Steelers.
Speaking of which, that leaves us with only ten or so players who the Steelers need to evaluate.
CATEGORY 3: Players who the Steelers might realistically draft
14. Landon Collins, safety, Alabama
15. Vic Beasley, outside linebacker, Clemson
16. Shane Ray, outside linebacker, Missouri
17. Alvin Dupree, outside linebacker Kentucky
18. Eli Harold, outside linebacker, Virginia
19. Kevin Johnson, cornerback, Wake Forest
20. Jalen Collins, cornerback, LSU
21. Alex Carter, cornerback, Stanford
22. Malcolm Brown, nose tackle, Texas
23. Owamagbe Odighizuwa, outside linebacker, UCLA
24. Cam Erving, left guard, Florida State
Saying that the secondary needs help is an understatement; that would be akin to saying that southern California needs some water. In order to improve the secondary, the immediate choice is Landon Collins, because after him, there is a drastic drop-off in the level of safety play. Maybe Shamarko Thomas is ready, but maybe he is not. What we do know is that Shark is seemingly always injured. Likewise, Cortez Allen is also a huge question mark, so a cornerback is a legitimate need, as well. The Steelers had dinner with Jalen Collins and met with Kevin Johnson’s family. The dark horse is Alex Carter, whom the Steelers also met with. He also happens to be my favorite cornerback in this draft: safe, smart, big, fast, athletic… you know, perfect.
If the secondary is the primary need, then the outside linebacker position is 1-A. The Steelers are in love with Vic Beasley, but he likely will not be there at twenty-two. Shane Ray was a top ten pick who has fallen in recent weeks. Bud Dupree seems to be like cranberry sorbet: some people love him, and others do not; hence he might be drafted very early in round one… or, very late in round one. Eli Harold is the player to take note of. At twenty-two, he would appear to be a “reach”, but the Steelers have been heavily linked to this kid (dinners, meetings). Lastly, there is Owa Odighizuwa, who is a more risky prospect because he has suffered two significant injuries. I would feel much better about drafting him later in round one, but that would involve trading down (the probability of which I am not even trying to pretend to discuss).
The final two players to keep an eye on are Malcolm Brown and Cam Erving. Brown is a high-character, high-production type of player. But, if Steve McClendon can stay healthy and if Daniel McCullers can continue to develop, then there is no need for another nose tackle. Still, a guy like Brown is a great asset to just about any team. Similarly, Cam Erving was a defensive tackle, who was asked to play left tackle, who was then asked to play center… and, he fared very well at all three positions. Erving has the versatility and athleticism to make the offensive line instantly better.
In other words, the Steelers are looking at Brown, Erving, and a bunch of cornerbacks and outside linebackers. That is logical, because they have almost zero pass-rush. While those two positions (cornerback and outside linebacker) compliment each other, some people believe that you create a pass-rush by improving the secondary: when the quarterback has nowhere to throw, it leads to sacks. Other people feel that you do not need as strong of secondary play if the outside linebackers are constantly harassing the quarterback. The answer to which philosophy is correct is “both”. So whether the Steelers go secondary followed by outside linebacker, or whether they go outside linebacker followed by secondary, I do not really care either way, as long as both of those positions are addressed early. That is, unless a player from “Category 2” somehow drops. One can only dream.