The Pittsburgh Steelers have a proclivity for finding excellent players in the second and third rounds of the NFL Draft, including LaMarr Woodley, Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, Marcus Gilbert, Le’Veon Bell and Stephon Tuitt. Last year, the Steelers picked Sean Davis and Javon Hargrave on the second day of the draft. Both players have entrenched themselves as starters, indicating that Pittsburgh has once again made the right picks. Here are four players who could achieve similar success:
Iowa CB/S Desmond King
King was the best cornerback in the country in 2015, earning recognition as a unanimous All-American and winning the Jim Thorpe Award in a landslide. Had King declared for the 2016 Draft, he likely would’ve been among the top-ranked defensive backs in a class that included Jalen Ramsey, Artie Burns, Eli Apple and Vernon Hargreaves III.
As is wont to happen to good cornerbacks, King’s statistics regressed in 2016 after opposing quarterbacks wisely decided not to throw the ball in his direction. Despite this, King was still a first-team All-Big 10 selection.
King doesn’t have the size and speed of some of the other top cornerback prospects in the draft, which has led to questions regarding his best positional fit at the next level. A transition to safety would make sense, though King’s ball-tracking abilities (14 career interceptions) and instincts would make him a great fit as a zone cornerback. The Steelers could use some depth at either position, so drafting King would give them some flexibility.
He fits what the Steelers are trying to build on defense, which makes him worthy of second-round consideration.
Washington CB Sidney Jones
After tearing his Achilles tendon during a workout, Jones, a former first-round prospect, is going to wind up on everyone’s “day two prospects to watch” list. Jones is a shutdown cornerback who scouts and coaches have likened to former teammate Marcus Peters, a Pro Bowler in each of his first two professional seasons.
The only knock on Jones thus far has been his relatively slight 186-pound frame. He could always pack on more muscle once he finds his way into an NFL weight room, but putting on weight could impede what promises to be a burdensome recovery period.
Jones’ injury will probably push him out of the first round. If he is still available in the second round, the Steelers would be silly not to take him.
Villanova DE Tanoh Kpassagnon
The Steelers definitely gambled on Hargrave last season. The dude was among the most productive players in the NCAA in 2015, but he accrued his monster numbers against FCS competition and didn’t exactly fit Pittsburgh’s base scheme. Fortunately, everything worked out. Now, I’m advocating for the Steelers to double-down and find themselves another uber-productive defensive linemen from the FCS ranks.
Kpassagnon was a FCS All-American last season after finishing sixth in the country with 11 sacks and 22 tackles for loss. He is undeniably a project (his motor runs too high at times, with numerous scouts pointing to his reputation for overrunning plays or guessing wrong on option plays), but his size (six-foot-seven, 290 pounds) and athleticism (4.83 second 40-yard dash, 128 inch broad jump, 23 bench reps) will make numerous coaching staffs more than willing to take on that challenge.
Pittsburgh has plenty of front-end talent along its defensive line, but could certainly use some more depth. Kpassagnon is kind of a tweener in terms of position (ideally I think he is a 4-3 end, but might be too slow to play 3-4 OLB and too lean to be a 3-4 end), but good teams find a way to utilize unique players.
Alabama DE Ryan Anderson
It’s funny how “safe” has become somewhat of a pejorative term in regards to draft picks. Productive guys with limited athletic upside are typically deemed “low-ceiling” or “safe,” which in turn causes their draft stock to plummet. Such is the case with Anderson, who spent the majority of the 2016 season in the first round of numerous mock drafts.
While Anderson does not have athletic traits comparable to those of Myles Garrett or Solomon Thomas, he was one of the best, most consistent players on one of best defenses in the country last season. Although Anderson played on a team full of future draft selections, he posted noteworthy statistics and was a first-team All-SEC pick by the media. He isn’t the best at anything, but he is pretty good at everything. The Steelers would absolutely benefit from adding a guy like Anderson to the defense.