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Pittsburgh Steelers Draft Predictions

Steel City Insider's 7-round prediction of who the Pittsburgh Steelers will draft Thursday night.

After all these years of setting draft odds, I should know better than to make a mistake.

But I did. And I got swamped. Money began pouring in on one player immediately.

I was careless with the odds, but not with the player I expected.

If you recall, I thought Charles Harris at 7-1 odds was a bit risky. I even thought I might like to plunk a little down on the Missouri pass-rusher myself. 

But he isn't the problem.

No, the guy who drew just about all the money, on who'll be the Pittsburgh Steelers' first-round pick tonight, is the guy I like, Jabrill Peppers. 

The money just poured in on the Michigan hybrid defensive back at 6-1 odds. 

"I think that diluted test sample at the NFL Combine seals the deal," said one gleeful punter. "I didn't think he would fall to the Steelers until that happened. But I think he falls now. It's just going to be up to them to draft him."

Hmmm. I hadn't considered that. 

Not all of the bettors were as gleeful.

"I love the Steelers but that pick would make me vomit," said a fan, whom I believe to be an Ohio State alumnus. 

I asked him why he bet on Peppers.

"If I'm going to be sick, I may as well make some money," he said with a sneer.

It's a good thing I'm able to lay it all off because I like Peppers myself. In fact, all of this "smart money" has convinced me that the Steelers are going to draft Peppers tonight with their first pick.

I've been writing about Peppers for a couple of weeks now, so you know my speil. I like him to eventually replace Will Gay in the slot and give the Steelers three safeties on the field at least 75 percent of the time. And while Peppers is learning that position, he immediately helps as a punt and kickoff return specialist and also plays dime linebacker on third-and-long.

So that's the main prediction. 

The rest? That's for entertainment purposes only, of course.

First Round: Jabrill Peppers, S/CB/LB/RS, Michigan

In the second round, I'm thinking rangy ILB Zach Cunningham falls to pick 62. But I'm passing. 

With Peppers already a quasi-linebacker in the slot, the need to replace ILB Vince Williams on passing downs isn't quite as urgent.

I'm also skipping the pass-rusher here. 

Yes, the Steelers need to develop an edge behind James Harrison, but the game is evolving and the more important hybrid now is that third safety.

Also, with Cameron Heyward back, and Javon Hargrave a tough pull because of his interior rush, I'm playing a hunch that the old edge 3-4 OLB/DE isn't such an urgent need anymore. So I'm taking my man-coverage cornerback here, and there are two sleepers I like. 

One, Shaquill Griffin, is 6-0, 194 and ran a 4.38 40 at the NFL Combine. He led his conference with 19 passes defensed and intercepted four passes. He's not as well known as some others, but I learned he was one of the four unreported visitors to the South Side. Gotta love that subterfuge.

My other option is Howard Wilson, the 6-1, 184 corner from Houston. He timed at 4.57 in the 40, but is quicker than fast, as his blazing 3.94 shuttle attests. And I'm on a shuttle kick at this position right now, so ...

Second Round: Howard Wilson, CB, Houston

Sorry, pass-rushers, but it's time to turn to offense right now.

Prior to the draft, it would've been hard to believe someone such as Chris Godwin, the star Penn State wide receiver, would be available at pick 94. But the mantra of this draft has been "100 players in the top 60." That means the third round should still have second-round value, and I'm hoping one is a receiver.

My favorite is Zay Jones of East Carolina, but he'll be gone. The other beauties are Carlos Henderson of Nevada and Josh Reynolds of Texas A&M.

Third Round: Chris Godwin, WR, Penn State

With the compensatory pick, I'm addressing a huge weakness: blocking tight end. 

It'll take all of my might to pass on the big guy, Adam Shaheen of Ashland. He's 6-6 1/2, 278 and looks every bit as fast with the ball as his 4.79 40. You would also expect someone his size to learn how to block like a pro eventually.

But I'm going with the guy who already knows how to block like a pro, my Mark Bruener lookalike.

Third Round Compensatory: George Kittle, TE, Iowa

Still with the offense, it's time to draft Le'Veon Bell's backup. My guess is the Steelers have bigger plans for free-agent signee Knile Davis than most of us had supposed when he signed. The Steelers brought in only one running back for a visit, and he's the choice here. He needs no introduction.

Fourth Round: James Conner, RB, Pitt

I'm wishing I had traded down out of the first round for an extra pick because I still have two spots to fill. I would like to take one of those small-school, speedball, pass-rush specialists the Steelers brought in for a visit -- Keion Adams or Samson Ebukam. But I don't think I can get my defensive tackle in the sixth round. In a weak DL class such as this one, it's wise to jump a round early, so give me the Penn Hills kid.

Fifth Round: Treyvon Hester, DT, Toledo

I'm down to my last strike with pass-rushers so it's a good thing I have an ace up my sleeve.

Speaking of Bruener, the Steelers scout is based in Seattle and has the inside track at his old school. He was able to keep an eye on the kid who was injured, didn't work at the Combine and returned for his personal pro day out of shape.

These are all good things for a team that needs a diamond in the rough right now, because this player will either have to get in shape soon or learn how to drive a truck.

I'm guessing he'll choose the former. 

Sixth Round: JoJo Mathis, DE, Washington

Let's wrap this up with a special-teamer who'll give us depth in the backfield and play a little H-back if needed.

Seventh Round: Sam Rogers, FB/TE, Virginia Tech

Predicted 2017 Steelers Draft Class

Jabrill Peppers, S/CB, Michigan

Howard Wilson, CB, Houston

Chris Godwin, WR, Penn State

George Kittle, TE, Iowa

James Conner, RB, Pitt

Treyvon Hester, DT, Toledo

JoJo Mathis, DE, Washington

Sam Rogers, FB/TE, Virginia Tech

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