When the 2016 NFL Draft concluded, fans were stunned by the amount of defensive players who were selected. Artie Burns in the first round, Sean Davis in the second round, Javon Hargrave in the third, Travis Feeney in the 6th and Tyler Matakevich in the 7th.
In fact, the only offensive players selected in last year’s draft were fourth round pick Jerald Hawkins and 7th round selection Demarcus Ayers. Other than that, all defense.
That draft class produced three starters by season’s end in Burns, Davis and Hargrave, so one might think the team wouldn’t have to be so heavy-handed towards the defense in the upcoming 2017 NFL Draft. However, there are still holes that need filled.
Lawrence Timmons’ departure means there is gap alongside Ryan Shazier, James Harrison isn’t getting any younger, despite what the workout videos say, and the need for a cornerback(s) is evident.
When you look at it this way, you can see how the upcoming draft process could again be a very defensive focused event, and that is exactly what ESPN NFL Draft analyst Todd McShay sees in his latest 3-round mock draft released this week.
The Steelers have four draft picks in the first three rounds, thanks to a compensatory pick for Kelvin Beachum leaving via free agency, and McShay predicts the Steelers select three defenders with their first three picks, all before taking a wide receiver with their second pick in the third round.
Take a look at McShay’s mock draft, and his explanation for his picks:
Round 1 (30): T.J. Watt, DE/OLB, Wisconsin
Round 2 (62): Fabian Moreau, CB, UCLA
Round 3 (94): Alex Anzalone, ILB, Florida
Round 3 (105): KD Cannon, WR, Baylor
Watt continues to move up the board, despite having just one year of notable production at linebacker after suffering a season-ending knee injury in 2014 and undergoing a position change from tight end. He has the frame (6-4, 252) and athleticism (4.69 40, 10-8 broad jump) to continue to develop as a pass-rusher. Moreau needs to improve his ball skills, but he has top-tier coverage ability and physical tools. Anzalone played just one full season at Florida. I'm intrigued by his range against the run and in coverage, though. Cannon is an underdeveloped route-runner, but he has the toughness, quickness and top-end speed to develop into a productive slot receiver, which Pittsburgh needs.
The argument about specific prospects can be made, but ultimately the positions which are targeted by McShay are certainly warranted based on team needs. The draft is a very strenuous process, and one which always takes wild twists and turns before your favorite team makes their selection.
So, with that said, how would you grade the draft if it fell as McShay is predicting?