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Last Look At Steelers' Draft Options

Jon Ledyard takes Pittsburgh Steelers fans through the maze of the team's draft options.

Today's the day, Draft Day 2017, so here’s one final look at the Pittsburgh Steelers' options in each of the first three rounds, focusing on their positions of need.

Outside Linebacker

Will an edge rusher even contribute with James Harrison and Bud Dupree set to man the starting spots this season? Yes. One hundred percent, yes. Let me explain.

In today’s NFL, pass-rushing is absolutely essential to success. Interior pass rushers and outside pass rushers. The Steelers are set on the inside, with Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt leading a group that finally has a solid depth rotation thanks to Javon Hargrave, Tyson Alualu and L.T. Walton.

But at outside linebacker, we like to fondly recall Harrison’s sacks in big moments, but the reality is that he’s produced back-to-back five-sack seasons, and that number is going down before it goes up. Harrison is a fun player for Steelers fans to see produce because of his history here, which is great until you watch the team unsuccessfully try and generate pressure with a four-man rush over and over again. Dupree flashed down the stretch last year, but he’s still an unproven threat that missed most of his second season due to injury. Given how raw he was coming out, it’s unrealistic to expect a dominant leap in his third season.

I’m of the belief that every NFL team needs at least three strong edge rushers. Regardless of how you’d classify Harrison and Dupree, the Steelers are clearly in need of much better production from the spot if they are to avoid sacrificing coverage for blitzes to get to opposing quarterbacks.

Names you can expect to be off the board by the time the Steelers pick at No. 30? Myles Garrett, Derek Barnett, Charles Harris, and perhaps Jordan Willis and Taco Charlton. All of those edge rushers are better fits as 4-3 defensive ends than 3-4 outside linebackers who can drop into coverage and rush from a two-point stance. As much as I love Derek Rivers and Carl Lawson, I don’t believe the Steelers will consider them in the first round. Lawson’s arm length doesn’t meet anyone's preferred threshold and his injury history is too vast, while the Steelers almost never take small school prospects of Rivers’ ilk in the first round.

Names to consider:

Round 1: T.J. Watt, Takkarist McKinley

Round 2: Carl Lawson, Derek Rivers, Tim Williams, Daeshon Hall

Round 3: Dawuane Smoot, Carroll Phillips, Ryan Anderson, Vince Biegel

Cornerback

It’s a little bit unusual that this is a need given how well Ross Cockrell played last year and the first round-promise that Artie Burns holds, but the Steelers could actually draft two corners at the position. If the franchise isn’t confident that Cockrell is a long-term answer, and the desire is to transition to more man coverage and pattern-matching as a defense, a greater level of talent must be acquired.

Then there is the uncertainty at the nickel corner position, where William Gay’s play began to deteriorate last season and Senquez Golson will not have played in a football game in almost three years. There is zero depth behind those four players, so don’t be surprised if the team chooses to double-dip at the position looking for eventual or immediate replacements for Cockrell and Gay.

Names to consider:

Round 1: Marlon Humphrey, Tre’Davious White, Kevin King

Round 2: Codrea Tankersly, Quincy Wilson, Fabian Moreau

Round 3: Cameron Sutton, Rasul Douglas, Corn Elder

Safety

I’ve written a lot about how the Steelers would view adding a third safety to the lineup, using him almost as a dime linebacker to replace Vince Williams on obvious passing downs. There won’t be a lot of safeties that fit the bill however, and if Pittsburgh selects one in the first two rounds, it’ll likely be because that prospect was the clear best player available on their board. It’s more of a luxury than a crying need, and the argument can certainly be made that a player can be found in the third round or later who would fill this role adequately. Personally, my target would be Miami’s Rayshawn Jenkins in round 3 or 4 if cornerback and outside linebacker are their round 1 and 2 acquisitions.

Another interesting prospect to consider is Washington safety Budda Baker, who would play a bigger role by becoming the team’s starting nickel corner sooner rather than later. Baker was brought in for an official visit, and the team has shown the ability to overlook size and length thresholds for nickel corners as they did with Senquez Golson and even William Gay. Considering Baker’s ball skills, toughness, instincts and prowess against the run, he fits a lot of the traits and intangibles the Steelers desire at the position.

Names to consider: 

Round 1: Obi Melifonwu, Budda Baker, Jabrill Peppers

Round 2: Marcus Maye, Josh Jones

Round 3: Rayshawn Jenkins

Linebacker

I’m on record as saying this isn’t a major need for Pittsburgh in my opinion, as Vince Williams is more than ready to step into a starting role. Yes, better players than him will be available in the draft, but the Steelers have bigger needs at other positions of more importance. Having said that, here’s who you should keep an eye on in each of the top three rounds.

Names to consider:

Round 1: Jarrad Davis

Round 2: Zach Cunningham

Round 3: Alex Anzalone

Wide Receiver

Even with Martavis Bryant back in the fold, in my opinon the organization isn’t going to trust him off the field, or Sammie Coates on it. I feel confident the Steelers will spend one of their first four picks on a wide receiver, and in a class without a lot of high-end talent at the position, don’t be surprised if they target one in Round 2. Pittsburgh brought in Kenny Golladay, Josh Reynolds, Chris Godwin and Mack Hollins for visits, all big, athletic targets with the long speed to get over the top and a catch radius to go up and win the ball in the air. That’s Pittsburgh’s type, and I doubt they’ll stray from that at any point in the draft.

Names to consider:

Round 1: Corey Davis (long shot)

Round 2: Chris Godwin, Josh Reynolds

Round 3: Mack Hollins, ArDarius Stewart

Tight End

If Ladarius Green doesn’t return to the fold this season, or if the team has serious doubts about his ability to stay healthy, I think a move tight end could be a target in place of a wide receiver. There are several options that fit the bill, but Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram is by far the most intriguing option. I think he’ll get strong consideration if he’s on the board at 30 and he’d complete the Steelers' search for another offensive weapon

Names to consider:

Round 1: Evan Engram

Round 2: N/A

Round 3: Gerald Everett, Jonnu Smith


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