The burden of success is most evident around draft time. Teams like New England, Green Bay and Pittsburgh almost always hold first-round picks in the 20s or 30s, which amplifies the difficulty—at least practically speaking—of finding blue-chip prospects.
Of course, perennially talented teams find a way to stay successful, whether by way of luck (Aaron Rodgers falling in the draft; Antonio Brown and Tom Brady lasting until the sixth round) or by aggression (Steelers trading up to acquire Troy Polamalu; Bill Belichick making nearly 60 draft-day trades since 2000). The Steelers hold the draft’s 30th overall pick, which they will presumably use to select an outside linebacker. Or a defensive back. Maybe a running back or receive. Possibly a quarterback.
With so many plausible routes, the Steelers should consider doing something they haven’t done since 2006: trade up in the first round. That year, Pittsburgh shipped three picks to the Giants in order to select Santonio Holmes in the first round. It was a good move in hindsight, as Holmes gave Pittsburgh four productive seasons and a Super Bowl. Here are four players who could achieve similar success:
Sidenote: This list is constructed based somewhat on realism, so obvious blue-chip players like Solomon Thomas and Myles Garrett are not listed.
UCLA DE/LB Takk McKinley
McKinley is one of the draft’s high risers, which isn’t surprising given his solid Combine performance. He had a productive career at UCLA, but probably isn’t quite as polished as some of the other top prospects in this class. With James Harrison returning for his 46th professional season, the Steelers can afford to draft a dude who figures to be a bit of a project. The idea of McKinley and Bud Dupree screaming off the edges in next couple of seasons is certainly enticing.
Pass rusher is debatably second to only quarterback on the positional importance hierarchy, so Pittsburgh would probably have to move up a dozen or so picks to have a good shot at landing McKinley. Let’s say 18 or so just to be safe.
Temple LB Haason Reddick
Being a fan of Penn State’s football program, I was able to watch Reddick play a few times in college. Buddy is a crazy good football player.
I figured the small-school bias would impede his draft status, but then he ran a 4.5 40 and that was that. Reddick played defensive end in college, which is usually the first thing Pittsburgh’s brass looks for in pass rushers. As it stands, nobody is quite sure which position Reddick will play in the NFL, but with needs at outside linebacker and middle linebacker, the Steelers can kind of just play that by ear.
NFL teams love versatility, and Reddick is one of the best multi-talented players in the draft. Much like McKinley, I’m not sure if Reddick lasts beyond the teens.
Texas Tech QB Pat Mahomes
I must’ve been sick during the week in which every Steelers fan on the planet fell in love with this dude. The more I think about it, the more I’m on board, due in large part to the success of the Patriots.
Patrick Mahomes is basically Jimmy Garoppolo (this is actually strangely accurate based on their attributes). Ben Roethlisberger, much like Tom Brady, could play for another six years, if he wanted to. Or he could retire next offseason. Isn’t speculative thinking fun?!
The point is, Mahomes, like Garoppolo, could be multiple things for the Steelers. At worst, he looks like a solid backup. At best, he could be Ben’s replacement. If Ben decides that he wants to continue playing indefinitely, Mahomes could become a valuable trade chip.
Or he could be the next Landry Jones. Who knows. For now, it looks like whoever wants him may end up having to trade up to find out. A swap with Oakland (who holds the No. 24 pick) would make sense, as it would allow Pittsburgh to jump on Mahomes before Houston or Kansas City.
Alabama LB Reuben Foster
Foster is pretty clearly the best inside linebacker prospect in this class, but some shady off-field situation that unfolded during the Combine could harm his draft stock. He looked like a sure top-10 pick two months ago, but some evaluators have dropped him considerably in their rankings. With Lawrence Timmons in Miami, inside linebacker is quietly Pittsburgh’s most obvious need. If Foster begins to fall on draft day, moving into the low-20s in the first round could be good enough to get him.