In spite of the AFC Championship’s final score, the Pittsburgh Steelers are not as far from from the New England Patriots as it seems. The full stable of offensive weapons and a defensive playmaker or two should close the gap. Here’s the draft that can get them there:
- Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU. His NFL Draft profile lists him as “Experienced island corner with slot reps over last two seasons. Best suited for all forms of man coverage. Should compete as special teams performer.” Sound like someone who Pittsburgh could have used last season? Yeah. Punt/kick return ability a bonus, as Steelers were pedestrian there in 2016.
- Carl Lawson, OLB, Auburn. Strong, sets the edge. Thick frame currently weighing in at 261 lbs. Sounds like the perfect protege’ for James Harrison. Should make some splash plays while learning from and spelling “The Ageless One.”
- Marcus Williams, S, Utah. Long, strong, and fast (6’1″/202lbs/4.56 40). 5 Ints and 5 pass break ups show coverage chops. Could be used in sub packages while groomed as the safety of the future behind Mike Mitchell. 3B (Compensatory pick). Jake Butt, TE, Michigan. A first-round talent that blew out his knee in the Senior Bowl. Tight end is not an immediate need so no need to rush him on the field. It looks like the Steelers are giving Ladarius Green another year to prove he can stay healthy and Jesse James was solid in his absence. Interesting to see what project Xavier Grimble can do after getting his feet wet in the NFL last season, when he made impressive contact catches. Butt can maybe make some plays as a rookie. If not, he still solidifies the position’s future.
- Cooper Kupp, WR, Eastern Washington: Highly productive player from a smaller school who’s draft stock tumbled due to a disappointing 40 time. Remind you of anyone?
- James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh. A well-rounded “thumper” that will get the yinzers excited. Looks like a good complement to give Bell some rest and step in if injured. Possible starter down the road if he impresses and Steelers can’t come to terms with Bell long term.
- Jerod Evans, QB, Virginia Tech: “Burly frame that can absorb punishment and hand it out if necessary.” If there’s one team that would lick its chops at that QB description, its the Steelers. Great season in one year as starter for Hokies. Young, some were surprised he didn’t come back for another year. Another trait Steelers look for in draft prospects.
- Darius English, DE, South Carolina. The Steelers like to swing for freaks late in the draft and see what they can do with them. They also like tall DEs that can get into passing lanes. At 6’6″ with a 4.63 40, English fits the bill. Steelers will have to decide if they want him to add bulk to his lean frame (238lbs.) or develop him as an OLB. A perfect practice squad candidate.
Pittsburgh Steelers “Dream” Draft
What a Steelers draft would look like with a couple of unlikely but not inconceivable draft day slides.
- Tre’Davious White, CB, LSU. See above. With OLB being the deepest position in the draft, it seems like Steelers will lean toward best man corner available, unless there’s an OLB on the board that they have rated much higher than best CB.
- Jabrill Peppers, S/LB, Michigan. I’d seen some mocks that already had Peppers sliding to the early-to-mid second round. That was before his diluted urine sample. If the Steelers can get an athlete like this in the 2nd, they’ll get D Coordinator Keith Butler his shiny new toy to play with. A sub package Deone Buchanan-type, Pittsburgh will hope the splash plays he makes with his athleticism counter the ones he’s bound to give up while learning a new position in the NFL. He also doubles as a safety of the future behind Mike Mitchell. And of course, they’ll have to hope that the diluted sample was an aberration. The ultimate boom or bust pick.
- Derek Rivers, OLB, Youngstown State. Rivers is a bit of an enigma, as he shot up draft boards after his combine numbers. The expectations are of course tampered by his small school background at Youngstown. I’ve seen him mocked anywhere from 1-4. Great protege’ to the former Kent State project, James Harrison. (3B Comp pick) TE Jake Butt. See above.
- Noah Brown, WR, Ohio State. 6’2″/222lbs./4.49 40. All of the measurables, not all of the production. Pittsburgh reaches back into the undergrad Ohio State well (Ryan Shazier, Cam Heyward) and hopes to find gold again. Another guy mocked anywhere from rds 2-4, teams will have to decide if they value production or combine numbers/potential more.
- James Conner. See above. This one just makes too much sense, seems like a lock.
- Jerod Evans. See above. Again, seems to make sense. But not as much of a lock as Conner.
- Demetrius Cox, S, Michigan State. While they find a way to get Peppers on the field and groom him for a long-term position, the Steelers could use some true safety depth in the backfield. Great measurables—6’1″/198/4.53 40—another rangy athlete to throw into the secondary mix. Cox had one pick in his lone season at safety. The year before he had three ints as a starting cornerback. The experience at corner points to coverage skills, something Pittsburgh needs in spades.