It’s that time of the year again, and I’m back at it once again trying to predict what the Steelers will do when the 2018 NFL Draft rolls around. Last season I was correct in diagnosing the Steelers were going to be targeting an EDGE rusher and a WR high in the draft. This year it’s pretty clear what positions the Steelers will be looking to address, and that is linebacker and safety.
Something I’m watching closely is what type of safety archetype the Steelers take. Mitchell was a Free Safety and got the majority of the single high looks for the Steelers, while Davis played strong safety, more towards the box and lined up in the slot.
What is apparent to me about Sean Davis is that he has the physical range to play on the back end, it is his eyes though that have me questioning a switch to free safetey. I personally believe Davis is a great athlete, but I’ve lost faith that he has the acumen to be able to match guys in man coverage.
His best fit might be to play free safety and according to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, “They will consider a position switch for Sean Davis — moving him from strong safety to free safety — because they feel his range is better suited to that position.”
With all these things in mind, it’s time to get to the mock draft. I will only be doing 3 rounds for this first addition.
1st Round: Justin Reid, Safety, Stanford
It’s going to be very interesting to see which position the Steelers take first, but I think safety is the one that makes a lot of sense when looking at the LB depth, compared to the safety depth.
Justin Reid is quite a fascinating study as I didn’t think he would forego his senior season and declare for this draft. Reid enjoyed his best season this year recording 5 INTs and 94 total tackles. He’s had a lot of responsibility on that Stanford defense where he’s lined up all over the field, whether it be single high, in the box, in the slot, or even along the boundary at CB. He’s an integral part of that Stanford defense.
From the film I watched, he covered a decent amount of ground in run support when working downhill, looked fluid covering in man coverage from the slot, explosive when going vertical as he high pointed many of his interceptions and he diagnosed plays quickly along with showing good instincts to key in on what the offense was doing.
He’s a very smart player and one that David Shaw called a “great communicator.” The youngest brother of Eric Reid is a very good player that takes after his older counterpart, and one that I expect the Steelers to have on their radar.
Justin Reid takes after his brother, he's not as physical, but he ain't no pushover. pic.twitter.com/Vvq0zOZrxa— The Mick Nartin™ (@themicknartin) February 16, 2018
2nd Round: Darius Leonard, LB, South Carolina State
The school name should be familiar to the Steelers, where they have acquired such players like Donnie Shell and Javon Hargrave. I expect the Steelers to be heavily interested in the South Carolina State prospect, as he’s a very similar prospect to Ryan Shazier, in the sense that he possess very good athletic ability (not as freaky of course) and can make a difference in coverage.
He ran 4.56 in spring. He will run same or faster in Indy. Those guys go early— Lance Zierlein (@LanceZierlein) January 27, 2018
Leonard has an obscene wingspan for someone who’s only 6-feet 2-inches, but his arm length is around 34 inches which can be a really good asset to help him get off blocks. He has a problem getting off blocks, but a lot of that is due to his WR like frame which lacks some bulk. As he gets into an NFL weight room over his career, his ability to get off blocks will likely improve.
What I also like about him is his knack for being around the ball and making plays. He had 6 interceptions throughout his career and 114 total tackles on the season. He made quite a name for himself at the Senior bowl during practices and had 14 tackles during the game.
Look at the speed by Darius Leonard! pic.twitter.com/RreqkqWCtK— The Mick Nartin™ (@themicknartin) January 24, 2018
3rd Round: Shaun Dion Hamilton, LB, Alabama
Dion Hamilton has dealt with an injury riddled career at Alabama, but when he was healthy, he made a clear difference for the Crimson Tide. When I watched Rashaan Evans, Hamilton was constantly in the right spot and always flashing. His speed allows him to cover a lot of ground and gives him good range to stop plays off the edge.
Shaun Dion Hamilton is going to be so good if he stays healthy. pic.twitter.com/kSWLT0HBUS— The Mick Nartin™ (@themicknartin) February 16, 2018
Of course the injury history is a real concern as he’s suffered two knee injuries to the same knee over the course of two seasons. He suffered an ACL injury in 2016 and in 2017, and also sustained a broken patella to that same right knee.
His history is concerning, but with him being the 2nd linebacker selected for the Steelers, this makes a lot of sense. Take a chance on a prospect who’s clearly talented, but has some concerns that will drop him to the third round. This is the type of prospect I hope the Steelers take behind the first linebacker in this class.
It’s a deep linebacker class, but if SDH were healthy, he could’ve been among the top 5 in this class. He was that good.