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2017 Mock Draft: Steelers look to small school talent in Round 1

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Could the Pittsburgh Steelers take a pass rusher from a non-power conference in the first round? One projection suggests that is a possibility.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have shown a general pattern when selecting players in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft, and that pattern is where those prospects attended college.

You have to go back to the 2004 NFL Draft for the last time the Steelers spent a Top 2 draft pick on a prospect not from a major NCAA university. In 2004, it was Ben Roethlisberger from Miami (OH) and Ricardo Colclough from Tusculum who went in the first two rounds. Other than that, the Steelers draft picks have been from every major power conference in the NCAA.

Will the Steelers break this trend in the upcoming 2017 NFL Draft for the first time under Mike Tomlin? This is where the joy of mock drafts is truly beautiful. Only time will tell what the Steelers do, but one projection has Pittsburgh looking at Youngstown State EDGE rusher Derek Rivers.

NFL Draft guru Jon Ledyard from InsidethePylon has Rivers slotted to the Steelers in his mock draft, check out his reasoning behind the selection:

30. Pittsburgh Steelers – Derek Rivers, EDGE, Youngstown State

Huh? I know, Rivers is a small school prospect and this is admittedly a bit of a reach for him, but Joe Mathis’s foot injury and limited college production/availability are a concern, and Derek Barnett, Taco Charlton, and Malik McDowell don’t fit as 3-4 outside linebackers in the Steelers front. Cameron Sutton or Evan Engram could be options, but Rivers is far more NFL-ready than most realize, and his stock should soar if he lights up the combine next month. He’s an excellent athlete with the ability to play in space and set the edge against the run as well as provide a well-rounded pass rushing attack from a 2-point or 3-point stance.

You might not have heard much about Rivers throughout the college football season, and if that is the case, you wouldn’t be alone. However, Rivers is a player who turns heads when you watch him play, but this is when fans bring up the talent level of his competition, but the same was said about Javon Hargrave, coming from a smaller school, and Hargrave’s talent proved worthy of the NFL.

According to Rivers’ NFL.com Draft Profile, the talent is there, and even possibly in the first round.

Strengths

Consistent, high-level production as a starter. Plays the same way from snap to snap and plays with high football character. Strikes with quick upward punch under tackle's shoulders to stake a leverage claim on the edge. Good burst out of stance as pass rusher. Rushes with lean and dips low to propel himself around the edge at his fourth step. Creates speed-to-power push with a second gear into contract. Works to uncover outside shoulder and spill play-side runs to the boundary. Adequate power for stand-up linebacker on next level. Flashes disruptive qualities in gaps. Adequate pursuit speed.

Weaknesses

Needs to play with better gap awareness after setting edge. Plays with head down after contact and loses sight of the running backs. Slow to disengage and make plays on running backs darting into the B-gap. Has problems when matched up against length. Long arms can grind his pass rush into neutral and engulf him in run game. Will need to improve at the point of attack to play on the next level. Tight-hipped in his rush. Lacks fluidity to string moves together.