The Steelers hold the 30th pick in the first round of the NFL Draft. The needs of this team are fairly clear, but it has been hard to project what exactly the Steelers will do with their first round pick. The biggest needs are at EDGE rusher, inside linebacker, cornerback, and safety. In my Draft Previews of the Steelers Offense and Defense I detailed the other positions of need. I also created a First Round Draft Board that was weighted based on the Steelers team needs. As I discussed in other articles, the Steelers were in their nickel defense over 70% of the time last season (and over 60% in each of the last three seasons). The time has come to start thinking of the nickel defense as the base package (whether that be a 2-4-5 or a 4-2-5 alignment) rather than thinking of the 3-4 as the base. This diminishes the necessity of a true nose tackle and increases the necessity for #3 CBs and for linebackers and safeties that can hold their own in coverage. Here are a list
QB – Texas Tech
Why the Steelers Will Draft Him: He is arguably the third best quarterback in the draft and has a massive arm and gunslinging mentality. His game needs some work that would benefit from being able to sit behind an established NFL starter for a year or two before taking over.
Why the Steelers Won’t Draft Him: First round is a bit too much of a premium for a position that is not an immediate need. Additionally, there’s a good chance Mahomes is taken in the Top 20 and doesn’t even get close to the Steelers at 30.
QB – Notre Dame
Why the Steelers Will Draft Him: Walter Football “reported” that the Steelers were gauging interest in Kizer.
Why the Steelers Won’t Draft Him: This feels like a smokescreen more than anything else. There are plenty of teams at the top of the draft that may pass on a QB who are looking at Kizer in the top of the second round. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Steelers trade down a few spots to allow someone to jump into the late first to grab him.
WR – Western Michigan
Why the Steelers Will Draft Him: Davis is the best all-around receiver in the draft. If he falls because of his ankle injury or because of the level of competition he faced, he could be there for the taking at 30.
Why the Steelers Won’t Draft Him: The Steelers don’t have any reported connections with Davis. He is still recovering from an ankle injury and didn’t work out at his Pro Day.
WR – Washington
Why the Steelers Will Draft Him: Ross set a Combine record by running a 4.22 40-yard dash. The Steelers love guys with speed. The Steelers have spent this offseason focusing on Wide Receivers that can be deep threats and take the top off the coverage. Ross doesn’t have the size but has the speed to break down a defense.
Why the Steelers Won’t Draft Him: There’s a chance Ross is the first or second receiver off the board and won’t even make it to 30. Teams still put a lot of weight in the 40 and his record speed put him solidly in the first round.
EDGE – Tennessee
Why the Steelers Will Draft Him: Barnett was an incredibly productive college player. The Steelers sent a heavy contingent to Tennessee’s Pro Day.
Why the Steelers Won’t Draft Him: As mentioned in my Steelers Draft Board post, the debate between “collegiate production” and “athleticism” is still strong in NFL circles. The Steelers tried their hand with “highly productive college player that didn’t test well athletically” in Jarvis Jones and tried their hand in “moderately productive college player that was an athletic freak” in Bud Dupree. I think you know where I’m going with this. Barnett is more of the former – a productive college player who did not test well at the Combine.
EDGE – Michigan
Why the Steelers Will Draft Him: The Steelers sent a heavy contingent to Michigan’s Pro Day and have been in touch with him throughout the scouting process. He is an above-average athlete
Why the Steelers Won’t Draft Him: He is capable of bending the edge and turning the corner but doesn’t have an overly quick first step or play with a lot of power.
EDGE – Missouri
Why the Steelers Will Draft Him: He was a very productive college player. The Steelers were linked with him throughout the draft process, including sending Joey Porter to Missouri’s Pro Day.
Why the Steelers Won’t Draft Him: Like Barnett, Harris was a productive college player who did not score well in athletic metrics like SPARQ and RAS.
EDGE – Auburn
Why the Steelers Will Draft Him: Lawson is one of the more refined pass rushers in the class and checks almost all of the boxes athletically.
Why the Steelers Won’t Draft Him: Lawson’s draft stock is all over the place currently, ranging anywhere from the mid-1st to mid-3rd. It is hard to get a solid read on where he will go. Based on research by Steelers Depot, Lawson also does not meet all of the baseline measurables to Steelers EDGE rusher draft picks during the Colbert/Tomlin era.
EDGE – UCLA
Why the Steelers Will Draft Him: McKinley is an above-average athlete who the Steelers had a lot of contact with during the pre-draft process.
Why the Steelers Won’t Draft Him: McKinley is still recovering from a shoulder injury and may be limited during offseason workouts which could delay his progress and availability at the start of the season.
EDGE – Youngstown State
Why the Steelers Will Draft Him: Rivers is one of the most athletic pass rushers in the draft and he explodes on screen in his college tape. The Steelers have touched base with him at every point in the draft process from the Senior Bowl, to the Combine, to his Pro Day, to having him in Pittsburgh for a pre-draft visit.
Why the Steelers Won’t Draft Him: Playing at Youngstown State, Rivers may get knocked for his level of competition. Some projections even have him falling all the way to the Steelers in the second round which would be an absolute steal.
EDGE – Wisconsin
Why the Steelers Will Draft Him: Watt tested through the roof athletically at the Combine. He was a stalwart on Wisconsin’s defense and was all over the field against both the run and the pass.
Why the Steelers Won’t Draft Him: He is athletic but raw and his game will need some refinement before being able to step into an every-down role in the NFL.
EDGE – Alabama
Why the Steelers Will Draft Him: Williams is fast off the ball and was a very productive EDGE rusher at Alabama.
Why the Steelers Won’t Draft Him: Williams has had injury problems and off-the-field issues. He also tested below-average athletically which doesn’t add up to a lot of confidence for a first round pick.
EDGE – Kansas State
Why the Steelers Will Draft Him: Willis shocked the world with his Combine performance, testing above the 90th percentile in the 3-cone drill, broad jump, vertical jump, and 40-yard dash. As discussed above, it seems safer to spend picks on athletic pass rushers that can be molded into NFL players.
Why the Steelers Won’t Draft Him: His tape did not match his testing at all. On the field, Willis was not very productive and didn’t flash as much as he did at the Combine. It is hard to get a read on his draft stock but he is likely in the lower half of the “next 9” EDGE rushers that will be taken after Garrett and Thomas are off the board.
LB – Houston
Why the Steelers Will Draft Him: He is an athletic freak who could put on a few pounds and play on the edge or shed a few pounds and play in the middle. He has the speed, versatility, and athleticism the Steelers love in their linebackers.
Why the Steelers Won’t Draft Him: His game needs some refinement and he was more of a rover in Houston’s defense than playing within a defined role or structure.
LB – Vanderbilt
Why the Steelers Will Draft Him: Cunningham is a solid inside linebacker that plays with tenacity and a nose for the ball. He came to Pittsburgh for a pre-draft visit.
Why the Steelers Won’t Draft Him: He isn’t the surest tackler in the linebacking class. When you have trouble wrapping up college players, things aren’t going to get easier in the pros.
LB – Florida
Why the Steelers Will Draft Him: The Steelers sent a heavy contingent to Florida’s Pro Day and have been in touch with the athletic linebacker throughout the process. Besides his 40, his measurables are similar to Ryan Shazier. If you have time, watch Davis in that video above where he put up 15 tackles and 3 passes defended. He was everywhere.
Why the Steelers Won’t Draft Him: Honestly if he is still on the board at 30 I think there’s a very good chance the Steelers take him. Therefore, the only way they don’t is if someone ahead of them takes Davis.
LB – Alabama
Why the Steelers Will Draft Him: Foster is the best inside linebacker prospect on film in the draft.
Why the Steelers Won’t Draft Him: Foster has had some medical issues, including still recovering from a shoulder injury. Additionally, he has some off-field concerns including a failed drug test. These may be too many red flags for the Steelers to take a risk on.
LB – Temple
Why the Steelers Will Draft Him: Reddick is another super-athletic inside linebacker in the mold the Steelers covet.
Why the Steelers Won’t Draft Him: Reddick has been flying up the draft boards this season. Coming into the year he wasn’t on anyone’s radar but impressed throughout the year, at the Senior Bowl, at the Combine, and in private workouts. It is very possible he goes in the Top 20.
CB – Alabama
Why the Steelers Will Draft Him: NFL teams essentially need 3 starting cornerbacks these days. He is one of the best tacklers (both in space and against the run) in the CB class.
Why the Steelers Won’t Draft Him: He needs some work in coverage but is still the #2 corner in this draft class. With the question marks around Gaeron Conley, it is possible Humphrey goes in the Top 20.
CB – LSU
Why the Steelers Will Draft Him: His athletic profile is very similar to Artie Burns who the Steelers took last year. He has quick feet and can match up in the slot or on the outside.
Why the Steelers Won’t Draft Him: He may be the third corner off the board and gone before the Steelers pick. He also needs some work on his tackling, especially his willingness in run support.
S – Washington
Why the Steelers Will Draft Him: As Eric from Steel City Underground said, “Baker is everything that people (falsely) think Jabrill Peppers can be.” Baker is a physical safety capable of playing down in the box but also has the speed and range to be capable in coverage. Think former Colts safety Bob Sanders.
Why the Steelers Won’t Draft Him: Baker is slightly undersized but is explosive athletically. He is one of the Top 3 safeties in the draft and could be gone before the Steelers pick at 30.
S – UConn
Why the Steelers Will Draft Him: The Steelers have placed an increasing amount of weight on athletic metrics like SPARQ in recent years and Melifonwu is a SPARQ all-star. He tested with other-worldly athleticism.
Why the Steelers Won’t Draft Him: On tape, he is much better in space than he is in short areas where he shies away from contact and struggles to track the ball in traffic.
S – Michigan
Why the Steelers Will Draft Him: Peppers was an all-around star at Michigan, excelling on kick and punt returns and making big plays in spot packages on offense while also playing linebacker in the middle of the defense. The Steelers may believe the hype over the tape. Also they want to make bloggers commit seppuku.
Why the Steelers Won’t Draft Him: They watched tape of him play defense.
Why the Steelers Will Trade Up: The Steelers have two third round picks with the awarding of a comp pick. In the past, they have been willing to trade a pick in a round where they also had a comp pick. The Steelers could package a first and third to move up to the mid-20s if a player they really like is falling.
Why the Steelers Won’t Trade Up: The Steelers have enough team needs, their 4 picks in the first 3 rounds will be valuable and not worth moving up. The Tomlin/Colbert tandem has never moved up in the first round.
Why the Steelers Will Trade Down: If there are a number of players the Steelers are high on remaining at their pick, they may look to move down if a team from the early 2nd wants to move up for a quarterback. The report of the Steelers “gauging interest” in DeShone Kizer seems to imply more of a trade bait than them picking him.
Why the Steelers Won’t Trade Down: The Tomlin/Colbert tandem has never traded down in the first round or moved out of the first round entirely.
Why the Steelers Will Draft Someone Else: I listed 23 prospects here. With the 30th pick, it is possible (though unlikely) that all 23 are gone. It is also possible that the Steelers know more about some of these players than the general public, including medical information or off-the-field information and have other players rated higher.
Why the Steelers Won’t Draft Someone Else: I could probably list 10 prospects that I did not name that will go off the board in the first 20 picks. This should mean that at least a handful of these players listed will still be available when the Steelers pick at 30th.