As a general disclaimer, this is my first post on a thread that I should have been a part of for years now. I have seen some great content on these pages, and wanted to contribute some of my thoughts and observations on the matter of the Draft. I listen (too much) to podcasts, scour the internet for (reputable) articles, and tend to devote just the right amount (again, too much) of my time to Steelers football. Here's a few things that I have heard and read this off-season:
Most importantly, teams tend to try to keep strengths, well, strengths. It seems intuitive, but with all the off-season click bait and rumor-mongering, it is surprisingly easy to forget. The Steelers are a great passing team, so expect the draft picks that aren't defensive to at least contribute in that aspect.
Speaking of the picks that are defensive, in Round 1 the Steelers have selected a defensive player 7 out of the last 10 times, including the last 4 straight years.
Round 1 picks in the tenure of Colbert and Tomlin tend to have met and/or been observed by both GM and Coach. If a prospect hasn't met with both, then don't bank on hearing their name Day 1.
Steelers place a higher premium on interviews than some other teams, so off field issues don't necessarily exclude a prospect from the Steelers' draft board, but they'd better have had a satisfactory discussion on the matter.
The 2017 Draft class is deeper than most at many positions, to the point where the term 'historic' has been bandied about. In addition, the Steelers do not execute many Draft day trades, especially in the higher rounds. Having 4 picks in the first 3 Rounds further indicates to me that the Steelers will most likely stay put at 30, not trade back. Teams won't pay a King's ransom for 30, most likely. Cleveland is mentioned here quite a bit, but it bears pointing out that the Browns have so much draft capitol because they wanted that draft capitol. They probably won't trade away the future for one more 1st Round pick.
Now I used to try to predict in a single guess which prospect Colbert and Tomlin would select, but that has started to seem a great exercise in frustration to me. As much as I read, and as much as I listen, I do not understand all 31 other teams as well as I understand (or at least follow) the Pittsburgh Steelers. There is little to no way to truly project the Draft, which is part of the beauty and intrigue of the event. Instead, I now try to find names I wouldn't mind hearing at different points in the Draft. Before we get in to my names, I feel it prudent to point out that while the Steelers have needs, and pressing ones at that, they are also in a luxury draft for two main reasons. First, the incumbents are all locked down for 2017 following a few straight postseason appearances, so unlike last year, there are no starting gigs up for grabs as easily as last year. Second, as previously mentioned, this draft class is very deep, and potential presents itself throughout the draft. Now, here are some of those names I like:
Pick 30 - QB: Deshone Kizer; WR: Chris Godwin; TE: Bucky Hodges, David Njoku; EDGE: Hasaan Redick, Jordan Willis, Charles Harris, Carl Lawson, Takkarist McKinley, TJ Watt; ILB: Zach Cunningham, Jarrad Davis; CB: Tre White, Kevin King, Marlon Humphrey; Safety: Jabrill Peppers, Obi Melifonwu
Pick 62 - WR: Curtis Samuel; TE: Evan Engram; DL: Jaleel Johnson, EDGE: Derek Rivers, Ryan Anderson, Tim Williams, Tarell Basham; ILB: Raekwon McMillan; CB: Chidobe Awuzie, Cordrea Tankersly; Safety: Eddie Jackson
Pick 94/Pick 105 - QB: Nate Peterman, Brad Kaaya, Josh Dobbs RB: Marlon Mack, Jamaal Williams, Joe Mixon; WR: ArDarius Stewart, Cooper Kupp, Isaiah Ford, Kenny Golliday; TE: Jake Butt; DL: Carlos Watkins, Tanoh Kpassagnon, Eddie Vanderdoes; ILB: Duke Riley, Vince Biegel; CB: Cameron Sutton, Rasul Douglas, Corn Elder; Safety: Marcus Maye, Josh Jones
Again, these are names that I like, not necessarily ones that are scheme perfect. I do stand by the assessment that any reasonable combination of these outcomes for the first two days of the NFL Draft would spell success for the Steelers. If any of the names above fell to the rounds below where they were listed, I'd be ecstatic. Each player, excluding quarterbacks, listed above would be a potentially impactful player for the Steelers in 2017. In Round 1, I stand by Kizer as someone who has all the markers, including his brash self-assessments. I lived in Charlotte, NC for a long time, and I can assure you that Cam Newton has no lack of confidence, and Brady's Uggs campaign suggests he's comfortable, too. As an exceptional and exceptionally young player, giving him time to mature and learn in an organization that does it right (thanks, Mr. Rooney) could bring out the best in Kizer. If he doesn't, Colbert and Tomlin are forgiven, in my book, as we currently have a 2-time Super Bowl Champion out there. I know he talks retirement, but if the Steelers nail the draft and make another legitimate run at a Super Bowl, I'd wager Ben stays on the hook for another couple of years, especially if he is kept as clean as he was in 2017. I also elected to name Bucky Hodges, because I honestly believe he is one of the top 2 tight ends in this class. O.J. Howard will be gone before 30, so Bucky is the best tight end in this class for the Steelers. I really like his mean streak, and think that the perceived weaknesses in his game won't be a liability with the Steelers, and will develop with time, as most pundits believe it will. I listed the most EDGE rushers because I feel that is the biggest need and a position we have seen targeted before by Colbert and Tomlin in the first round. I really do think the Steelers have a shot at double dipping, and early, in this EDGE class. Bud Dupree came on strong at the end of last year, but if you think 2 years ahead, he is the only reliable (if you consider him that) prediction for the starting OLB position, as Chickillo is not an NFL starter, nor does he seem to have the potential to be. Vince Williams could be at the ILB position, but imagine adding Cunningham, Davis, or McMillan to that group. Anchoring the second level of the box next to perennial playmaker Shazier could mask issues in front of, behind, or on the sides of that group.
If I could dream up what I think the best possible outcome of the draft for the Steelers, I would say:
Deshone Kizer, QB
Chris Godwin, WR
In either order,
Derek Rivers, EDGE
Bucky Hodges, TE
Cordrea Tankersly, CB
Eddie Jackson, S
James Connor, RB
Keion Adams, EDGE
Again, I think this is the best possible outcome. Obviously, I've had wilder dreams than that, and I doubt very much that this is what the final draft result will be for the Steelers, but they sure would grade out favorably if it is. Deshone just felt right for this, and his name keeps popping into my mind unbidden. Having time to study under Ben, and having an offense that is almost QB proof at the moment could really bring out the elite in Kizer. Godwin is easily my favorite receiver in the whole draft. He is 6'1" and 209 lbs, runs a 4.42 and had a top five 20 yd shuttle performance, combined with a higher contested catch rate than Mike Williams. Those aren't even my favorite reasons to love Godwin. After missing a block in a game where he was electric, that missed block was his number one concern. To me his character and effort, combined with his talent warrant even a first-round selection. Imagine if Coates was the bottom of the Steelers' WR corps, and tell me that doesn't excite you. Add Bucky Hodges for good measure and watch as the Steelers field Bell, Brown, Bryant, and two of our suddenly unfairly deep TE corps, and watch as defenses run pell mell trying to cover each weapon. Rivers in the 3rd seems to me to be the best possible choice for the first EDGE selection. Lawson, Watt, McKinley, Charlton, and Harris all have what I view as higher risk per reward scores than truthfully necessary at 30, and will likely not be there at 62. Other players, like one of my favorites, Jordan Willis, haven't met with or visited the Steelers, which I feel precludes them from consideration for the pick at 30. Cordrea Tankersly checks boxes for the Steelers, with longer size to possibly oust Cockrell from opposite Burns, who needs to have a better sophomore season. Tankersly is 6'1" and runs a 4.4 flat at 200 lbs, and has the demonstrated production that supports taking a shot on him to bolster the secondary, making Golson a luxury if he ever pans out, pushing Cockrell into the nickelback role and freeing Sean Davis to stay home at safety where he was much more comfortable and productive in 2016. Eddie Jackson in the 5th is an absolute steal. A torn ACL and broken leg (separate injuries) will make some teams hesitant, but Jackson is a player who contributed in Tuscaloosa from year one, and ended with 9 INT, returning some for touchdowns, two forced fumbles, and can contribute in the return game, with 2 career return touchdowns to his name. All that comes from two abbreviated seasons, one of which was an All-SEC, third team AP All-American season. Where Jackson really needs help is in the tackle game, and Carnell Lake should be able to help there, especially with a mean streak like Mike Mitchell available as a mentor. James Connor feels like the pick that Steeler Nation wants as much as anyone in this draft, and here he fits a need at a great value. I've watched James Connor play, and he has a strength and agility to him that will flourish in relief of Bell. He is a sturdy option who can run inside, while having the athleticism to bounce outside, and hands to threaten in the passing game. His character represents an immediate upgrade to any locker room as well. Keion Adams is a depth pick with extreme athletic upside who may have been gone by the 7th round in drafts that aren't as deep as this, but considering his NFL comp is Arthur Moats, doesn't it make sense for him to study under Moats?
These are just the musings of one man, but I enjoy the discourse, so let me know your thoughts. All we can really do is guess, right? All I really know for sure is this: the next 50 or so hours cannot pass quickly enough!
HERE WE GO!