An awful lot of the off-season high drama centered around this staid old franchise. Suddenly, after decades of stability and multiple championships, players seem to be running away from the Steelers and the ROONEY family. ANTONIO BROWN, LE’VEON BELL, MORGAN BURNETT, JESSE JAMES, and more wanted out of Pittsburgh. Despite protestations that all is solid with the good ship Steelers, from MIKE TOMLIN and team upper brass, it is clear that this year’s Draft is a big deal for a team needing to replace a lot of departed talent. So let’s get right to it, and draft some players to help keep this team in Play-Off contention.
Round 1, Pick 20
CODY FORD OG/T OKLAHOMA 6’4/329 PP#23
The Steelers OL might not seem like a big need for the team, but FORD is that good, and age has become a factor along that OL. Many see FORD as an OG, but I think he’ll get a shot at replacing RT/MARCUS GILBERT, who recently moved on. FORD is big, strong, and nasty, to sum him up in a nutshell. He has the potential to be a plug and play guy, even with their returning quality. Despite being a tad short for an NFL OT, his 34″ arms and dancing bear feet make him a solid option to compete with MATT FEILER for the RT spot. My gut says this guy is starting somewhere along their OL by December, at the latest.
Round 2, Pick 52
JERRY TILLERY DL NOTRE DAME 6’7/295 PP#52
TILLERY looks like just the type of long, lean athlete that the Steelers have employed in their 3-4 scheme for decades now. Think back to KEISEL/AARON SMITH, who both manned those DE slots for a decade plus. Add him to HEYWARD and TUITT, (another Domer), and their DL depth is considerably improved. Many folks questioned TLLERY’s passion last season for the Irish, but then he underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum that he played through most of last year. He’s a quality athlete with great length, who should fit their style and play very well.
Round 3, Pick 66
KHALEN SAUNDERS DT WESTERN ILLINOIS 6’1/320 PP#65
Let’s really beef up their defensive front with the small school darling of the post-season. SAUNDERS rolled into Mobile for Senior Bowl week and stole the show, for much of the week. He stole the show in interviews and with discussion of his charitable youth work. Then he celebrated the birth of his daughter, while sticking to business in Mobile. Finally, he played strong and hard, with high energy all the way through practices and on into the game. He should provide the girth and thickness for the Nose, which they currently do not have on the roster. These last two Picks fortify the quality and depth of the DL troops. Now maybe TOMLIN/BUTLER will rotate their DL slots and be stouter and fresher in the 4th Quarter of games.
Round 3, Pick
DAMIEN HARRIS RB ALABAMA 5’10/216 PP#83
HARRIS isn’t as pretty as some RB’s, but he is dependable and versatile. If they can’t replace all of BELL’s departed skills in one player, maybe a trio of CONNER/SAMUELS/HARRIS is the way to go. HARRIS has some power and good field vision. He also has developed dependable hands while toiling for Saban, and he can, and will, block in pass-pro. Even though he has been listed as the Tide’s No. 1 RB for 3 seasons, he has not been overworked, and should thrive in a joint RB group like the Steelers appear to have.
Round 4, Pick 122
DAWSON KNOX TE OLE MISS 6’4/254 PP#122
KNOX has been rising up Draft Boards ever since declaring for early entry into this Draft. He had limited targets at Ole Miss, primarily because of a trio of METCALF/BROWN/LODGE in the receiver group. However, his workouts this post-season have garnered quite a bit of attention from personnel people. His 9 3/4″ hands attached to 33 1/2″ arms give him a large target area for his QB. Very importantly, his 7.12 second 3-Cone number at the Combine was 4th best among the quality TE group. However, he will have to work on his blocking to see a lot of playing time in Pittsburgh. Clearly, the Steelers feel that they can work with him on that. Long term, he looks like a solid replacement for the departed JAMES.
Round 5, Pick 141
MECOLE HARDMAN WR/RS GEORGIA 5’10/187 PP#138
Ladies and gentlemen, please meet the replacement piece for ANTONIO BROWN. First off, he does not have a reputation for off-field chirpiness coming out of Athens. That may be a very happy scenario for just about everyone in the Steelers organization and locker room. HARDMAN has the combination of speed and quickness to replace BROWN. His 4.26/40 tied for the fastest 40-time in the WR group at the Combine. If you have watched a few UGA games, then you know already that his acceleration is second to none. BROWN leaves big shoes for HARDMAN to fill, but don’t bet against him as the season progresses. He joins a talented, and fairly deep young group of receivers to blend in with.
Round 6, Pick 175
JORDAN JONES LB KENTUCKY 6’2/234 PP#175
JONES is an often overlooked prospect, who added some weight for the 2018 college season, and looks the part of a solid modern-day NFL LB. His 4.62/40 from the Combine clearly indicates that he can handle the 10 lbs+ that he gained, and still cover a lot of ground as a LB, including in pass coverage assignments. I would also expect that he should make a very useful Special Teams player, especially on coverage units.
Round 6, Pick 192
TREVON WESCO TE/FB WEST VIRGINIA 6’4/267 PP#190
I like this Pick a lot because of WESCO’s size and versatility. He was invited to the Senior Bowl primarily for his FB work. He’s a big body who likes to throw his weight around and mix it up a bit. He has nice big hands, (9 1/2″), and long arms, (34 3/4″), which make him a large target when used as a receiving threat. By Round 6, players who have potential at multiple spots get a plus-mark on their evaluation sheet. He’s got a toughness to him that fits the Steelers historical persona. He could easily become a fan favorite in the Steel City.
Round 7, Pick 219
ANDREW VAN GINKEL OB WISCONSIN 6’4/241 PP#211
This guy could be a nice value for Round 7. It really cost him, that he got banged up late in the season and had to bow out of the Shrine venue. But he was at the Combine and had some eye catching numbers. The majority of the LB group in Indy did not run sub-7 second 3-Cones like his 6.89. His 38″ vertical was also above average for his group. About the only disappointing number of his was 32 1/2″ arms, which is not terrible, but not ideal either. We have seen his ability to pursue and chase down runners, as well as pressure the pocket. Once again, I would say a nice value Pick for Round 7. He has some serious pro qualities to his game.
This group of draftees doesn’t fix everything in Pittsburgh, but I think it would clearly upgrade the overall roster talent.