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2018 NFL Draft Steelers Preview

April 24, 2018 by Steel Haven

The NFL draft will be held from Thursday April 26 through Saturday April 28 in Arlington TX. Expect the Steelers to again focus on defense, although free agent signings mean they have the option to consider the best athlete/player available on the first two days a bit more than in the recent past. Below is a list of team needs, most desperate first. Players the Steelers talked to at a post season all star bowl, the combine, their pro day and/or took an official visit to Pittsburgh are listed roughly in order of their perceived value. When there is overlap a prospect is listed only once, official visits and then the pro day/combine taking precedence in that order. A rough estimate of expected draft round proceeds each prospect. These are not necessarily exhaustive lists, someone could have been missed. Some of the visits were likely just the Steelers doing their due diligence on players that have some question-mark, on and/or off the field. Just because someone was not specifically talked to or asked to visit is far from a reason to think they will not be strongly considered in the draft.

Immediate Needs

ILB:The defense collapsed last season after the injury to Ryan Shazier. Free agent signee Jon Bostic is in no way a competent replacement for the versatile Shazier. Bostic is basically an undersized version of run stuffer Vince Williams. Backups Tyler Matakevich and LJ Fort also play a similar game. Adding athleticism and pass coverage ability in the absence of Shazier is an absolute necessity.
  • Official Visit:
    (1) Leighton Vander Esch - Boise St
    (2) Malik Jefferson - Texas
    (3) Darius Leonard - South Carolina St
    (4) Dorian O'Daniel - Clemson
    (4) Joel Iyiegbuniwe - Western Kentucky
    (7) Matt Thomas - Florida St
    (7) Chris Worley - Ohio St
    (7) Jermaine Carter - Maryland
  • Combine:
    (1) Rashaan Evans - Alabama
    (7) Shaun Dion-Hamilton - Alabama
  • Pro Day:
    (3) Jerome Baker (OLB/S)
  • Senior Bowl:
    (3) Fred Warner - BYU (OLB)

S:Cap casualties Mike Mitchell and Robert Golden will not be missed. Versatile free agent signee Morgan Burnett is currently best suited as a strong safety after having played free safety and slot corner in the past. Sean Davis actually has a similar skill set to Burnett, appearing to be best utilized in the short term as a backup and dime safety. A pure coverage free safety is still a need despite not having been a priority under Mike Tomlin in the past. Cameron Sutton converting from corner is another option.
  • Official Visit:
    (2) Ronnie Harrison - Alabama
    (2) Justin Reid - Stanford
    (3) Marcus Allen - Penn St
    (4) Tarvarius Moore - Southern Mississippi
    (4) Kyzir White - West Virginia
    (5) Trey Apke - Penn St
  • Combine:
    (1) Minkah Fitzpatrick - Alabama
  • Pro Day:
    (2) Jessie Bates - Wake Forest
    (4) Terrell Edmunds - Virginia Tech
    (7) Tre Flowers - Oklahoma St

OLB:Aging veteran depth James Harrison and Arthur Moats are gone. Even with the success of last year's first rounder TJ Watt the rest of the depth chart is not awe inspiring. The fifth year option on former first rounder Bud Dupree was somewhat surprisingly recently exercised. Dupree has been a bitter disappointment. He did show some flashes as a pass rusher down the stretch last season. He remains over matched against the run. Should he regress or get injured like in his first two seasons the Steelers are in big trouble. Backups Anthony Chickillo and Keion Adams don't engender much confidence. For some unknown reason the front office and coaching staff spent almost no time publicly evaluating edge rushers in the pre-draft process.
  • Pro Day:
    (7) Macklin Weaver - Eastern Illinois

CB:William Gay was mercifully released. Artie Burns and Joe Haden are the starters. Mike Hilton was a revelation in the slot. Coty Sensabaugh and Sutton provide depth. Five corners are no longer enough in the league's current environment. Haden's injury history suggest a long term replacement will be needed sooner rather than later. That could be Sutton or he might end up at free safety. Sensabaugh is more short term stopgap.
  • Official Visit:
    (3) Duke Dawson - Florida
    (4) MJ Stewart - North Carolina
  • Pro Day:
    (1) Jaire Alexander - Louisville
    (FA) Trey Johnson - Villanova

Depth/Future Needs

WR:The top three of Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Martavis Bryant are set for next season. Bryant bitterly complained returning from a year long suspension after losing his starting job to Smith-Schuster. He is highly unlikely to be back at the expiration of his rookie contract after next season. Slot receiver Eli Rogers will try to return from a torn ACL suffered in last year's playoffs. He lacked athleticism and explosiveness before the injury. Former second round bust Justin Hunter gets another opportunity after signing as a free agent last off season. Darius Heyward Bey remains as a veteran stopgap, his real value is as a gunner on special teams. GM Kevin Colbert has done a solid job of finding receiver talent in the third round or later.
  • Official Visit:
    (2) Christian Kirk - Texas A&M
    (6) Justin Watson - Penn
    (6) Quadree Henderson - Pitt
    (7) Richie James - Middle Tennessee
    (7) Russell Gage Jr - LSU
  • Pro Day:
    (2) James Washington - Oklahoma St
    (7) Devin Gray - Cincinnatti

NT/DE:Undersized Javon Hargrave won the starting NT job as a rookie and for the last two seasons has provided defensive coordinator Keith Butler with an active, athletic interior presence. Resigned backup Daniel McCullers is a big body that at least takes up space when on the field. Like last off season finding a more dynamic backup that could share time with Hargrave and help provide more pressure in the middle in sub-packages isn't the worst idea. Again it's also not a priority. DE starters Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt are both Pro Bowl caliber. Tyson Alualu was better than expected as a depth signing last season. Laterrius Walton has shown some flashes, proving adequate in base sets when needed. Only four defensive ends are traditionally kept on the active roster. The last two off seasons the Steelers have shown a bit more interest in sub-package edge rushers that would not fit into the traditional outside linebacker role because of an inability to drop into coverage.
  • Official Visit:
    (2) BJ Hill - North Carolina St (NT)
    (6) Bilal Nichols - Delaware (DE)
    (7) Greg Gilmore - LSU (DE)
  • Combine:
    (1) Da'Ron Payne - Alabama (NT)
    (2) Harrison Philips - Stanford (DE)
    (3) Derrick Nnadi - Florida St (NT/DT)
    (3) Deadrin Senat - South Florida (NT/DT)
    (5) Kendrick Norton - Miami FL (NT)
  • Pro Day:
    (7) Joshua Frazier - Alabama (NT)
    (7) Curtis Cothran - Penn St (DE)

RB/FB:LeVeon Bell appears again to be on pace to sit out the entire preseason and sign his franchise tender right before the start of the regular season. Long term contract talks are again going nowhere and currently on hold. James Conner tore an MCL and missed the end of the season. Counting on Bell to return in '19 or Conners to stay healthy does not seem wise. A long term starter appears to be a future need just like last April.
  • Official Visit:
    (7) Reggie Bonnafon - Louisville (WR/QB)
    (FA) JD Moore - LSU (FB/TE)
  • Combine:
    (2) Kerryon Johnson - Auburn
    (7) Ryan Nall - Oregon St (FB)
  • Pro Day:
    (1) Derrius Guice - LSU

QB:Ben Roethlisberger is 36 years old. Landry Jones returns as the primary backup, at least the front office and coaching staff seem to realize he is a backup at best. Josh Dobbs showed nothing last preseason despite getting major playing time thanks in part to an injury to Jones. Giving up quickly on last year's fifth rounder is far from out of the question. A quarterback to groom for the future has quickly become a priority. Like last off season interest has been shown toward borderline day one and two prospects.
  • Official Visit:
    (FA) Brogan Roback - Eastern Michigan
  • Combine:
    (1) Lamar Jackson - Louisville
  • Pro Day:
    (2) Mason Rudolph - Oklahoma St

OT:Alejandro Villanueva has developed into an asset on the left side, kudos to exceptional line coach Mike Munchak. Chris Hubbard performed well filling in for Marcus Gilbert when he missed time due to injury and suspension. Hubbard then left for more money in Cleveland. Jerald Hawkins right now is the top backup, not particularly good. Mailata is an interesting project for Munchak. The Steelers attended the huge framed, ultra-athletic Samoan pro rugby player's pro day and invited him for a visit. He has no football experience.
  • Official Visit:
    (3) Brian O'Neil - Pitt
    (7) Jordan Mailata - None
  • Pro Day:
    (FA) RJ Prince - North Carolina (OG)

G/C:Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro and Ramon Foster all return. Backup BJ Finney has held up OK when on the field the last two seasons. Matt Feiler also provides depth. Since Hawkins should be able to slide inside the obligatory third day offensive line pick seems more likely to be used on a tackle.
  • Pro Day:
    (6) Tony Adams - North Carolina St (C)

TE:Lack a dynamic playmaker at the position. The decision not to release Vance McDonald for further cap relief makes a day one or two pick being used on a tight end seem unlikely. McDonald, Jesse James and Xavier Grimble provide a decent enough depth chart for a team with so many other passing game weapons. Dissly as a pure blocking TE does provide an interesting late option.
  • Combine:
    (1) Mike Gesicki - Penn St
    (3) Ian Thomas - Indiana
    (5) Troy Fumagalli - Wisconsin
    (6) Will Dissly - Washington
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