With Super Bowl LII in the books, it’s now officially draft season!
The season didn’t end the way any Steelers fan wanted it to, but the NFL draft annually brings hope to all fans in form of new lifeblood that comes with the latest crop of rookies. Will the Steelers find those hidden gems that will help get them to the top of the mountain?
1. Cleveland Browns - Saquon Barkley RB, Penn State
2017 draft:Myles Garrett, Jabrill Peppers, David Njoku, DeShone Kizer, Larry Ogunjobi, Howard Wilson, Zane Gonzalez
2018 free agents: Isaiah Crowell
Team needs: QB/OT/RB/LB/S/CB
With Sashi Brown no longer with the organization, who employed an analytics-driven, “MoneyBall” type of philosophy, and replaced with former Chiefs GM John Dorsey, it greatly decreases the likelihood that the Browns will trade out of this pick for more draft assets.
Head coach Hue Jackson has been non-committal to DeShone Kizer as the future starter, and was the rumored driving force to acquire A.J. McCarron at the trade deadline, which was also rumored to be intentionally fumbled by Sashi Brown because he didn’t want to give up a second round pick for McCarron. McCarron’s free agent status will come into play here, as he’s set to become a restricted free agent this offseason but has filled a grievance against the Bengals to become an unrestricted free agent. Regardless, the Browns ability to acquire McCarron(or any other quarterback) will shape this draft dramatically. It’s rumored that Cleveland tried to get Alex Smith from K.C. before he was dealt to Washington, which only reinforces the notion that Cleveland will try to go with either the trade or free agent route to fill it’s quarterback need.
2. New York Giants - Josh Rosen QB, UCLA
2017 draft:Evan Engram, Dalvin Tomlinson, Davis Webb, Wayne Gallman, Adam Bisnowaty
2018 free agents:Justin Pugh, Weston Richburg, Keenan Robinson, Devon Kennard, Mark Herzlich, Shane Vereen, Geno Smith
Team needs: QB/OT/LB/RB
With Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold both having declared for the 2017 NFL draft, it now seems like a forgone conclusion that the Giants will take 37 year old Eli Manning’s successor with this pick.
After taking a QB, the Giants will need to figure out what to do with Erik Flowers and the left tackle position as well as upgrading the RB position. Defensively new GM Dave Gettleman will need to rebuild the LB corps, something his predecessor Jerry Reese seemed to willfully ignore.
At this point in the draft season it appears to be a two-horse race between Rosen and Darnold to be the first quarterback taken, with Josh Allen and Baker Mayfield in the next tier of QB prospects. Darnold appears to have that “it” factor but Rosen will likely have a better start to his professional career due to having better overall physical traits at the QB position. He is very comfortable in the pocket and can make every throw with relative ease, but will have to answer questions about his maturity.
3. Indianapolis Colts - Bradley Chubb DE, North Carolina State
2017 draft: Malik Hooker, Quincy Wilson, Tarell Basham, Zach Banner, Marlon Mack
2018 free agents: Frank Gore, Darius Butler, Jack Mewhort, Adam Vinatieri
Team needs: OT/OG/CB/ILB/OLB/RB
The Colts pick may come down to Saquon Barkley(if he’s available) or Bradley Chubb, with an outside chance of Quenton Nelson. Colts GM Chris Ballard eschewed need in the 2017 draft class and simply went with the best player available which was Malik Hooker. Saquon Barkley is the best player in the 2018 draft class, and Frank Gore is a 34 year old free agent, but the Colts are rumored to really like the potential of 2017 fourth round pick Marlon Mack. Bradley Chubb is the top edge-rusher and an elite talent, and would go a long way towards revamping their anemic pass-rush when paired with 2017 third round pick Tarell Basham.
4. Cleveland Browns (via HOU)- Connor Williams OT, Texas
2017 draft:Myles Garrett, Jabrill Peppers, David Njoku, DeShone Kizer, Larry Ogunjobi, Howard Wilson, Zane Gonzalez
2018 free agents: Isaiah Crowell
Team needs: QB/OT/RB/LB/S/CB
Sashi Brown may be gone but if the Browns solve their QB issues in free agency and draft a generational RB talent with the first overall pick, the Browns may auction this pick off to any team(maybe the Jets) trying to jump the Broncos(and the Jets) to take the best available QB. Washington traded for Alex Smith but the Bills, armed with two first-round picks and no apparent confidence in Tyrod Taylor, and the Cardinals are the likely suitors for a trade up.
If the Browns stay here they will likely continue to rebuild their offense. New GM John Dorsey doesn’t have any loyalty to Cleveland’s young WR corps, including 2016 first round pick Corey Coleman, but they do offer cheap, long-term potential. Plus there isn’t an elite WR talent in this draft class to take with this pick.
The Browns need to give serious consideration about the future of the left tackle position. 33 year old Joe Thomas was very close to considering retirement after he tore his bicep in October, but the Browns gave him a 2-year/$26 million dollar extension in November, that pushes his free agency until 2019, to keep him from doing so.
Having Connor Williams in the top 10 is pure projection at this point. After a stellar sophomore season, where he was being hailed as “the nest Joe Thomas”, Williams’ junior season was cut short with a torn meniscus and MCL in his knee, although neither of which are expected to have any long-term ramifications. Because of the injury and overall disappointing season, perhaps no other prospect in this draft class will have more on the line at the scouting combine.
5. Denver Broncos - Denzel Ward CB, Ohio State
2017 draft:Garett Bolles, Demarcus Walker, Carlos Henderson, Brendan Langley, Jake Butt
2018 free agents:Virgil Green, Jared Crick, Donald Stephenson, Todd Davis
Team needs: QB/OG/ILB/DE/NT/TE
The Broncos are rumored to be heavily scouting the 2018 QB draft class, despite having spent a 2016 first round pick on Paxton Lynch. Broncos VP of football operations John Elway has been frustrated with the teams inability to develop a quarterback(Oseweiler/Lynch/Siemian). After the Broncos lost badly to the Seahawks in Super Bowl XLVIII, Elway went out and signed Demarcus Ware, Aqib Talib, and T.J. Ward in free agency. After such an abysmal season with horrid QB play, it’s likely that Elway could resolve his QB issues in a similar fashion with Kirk Cousins, whom they are planning to go “all in’ with during free agency.
If the Broncos do sign Kirk Cousins it will free them up to ransom this pick to any team looking to jump in front of the Jets to take the QB of their choice, likely either Buffalo or Arizona. After trading back, the Broncos could look to find a replacement for Aqib Talib, whom they are rumored to be shopping in trade or may outright release since it’s been leaked that he’s becoming a locker room distraction.
6. New York Jets - Josh Allen QB, Wyoming
2017 draft:Jamal Adams, Marcus Maye, ArDarius Stewart, Chad Hansen, Jordan Leggett
2018 free agents:Josh McCown, Demario Davis, Wesley Johnson, Austin Seferian-Jenkins
Team needs: QB/OC/OT/RB/CB/OLB/ILB
The Jets were surprisingly competitive this season, despite having seemingly the worst roster in the NFL. So competitive in fact that it almost cost them a shot at one of the top QB prospects. Unless the Jets sign Kirk Cousins in free agency it is highly unlikely that they would use this pick for anything other than a QB as long as one of Rosen, Darnold, Allen, and possibly Baker Mayfield are available. Rumor has it that they love Allen, and would likely be able to get him here without having to trade up.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Quenton Nelson OG, Notre Dame
2017 draft:O.J. Howard, Justin Evans, Chris Godwin, Kendell Beckwith
2018 free agents:Brent Grimes, Evan Smith, Clinton McDonald, T.J. Ward
Team needs: DE/CB/S/OG
Tampa’s biggest issue would appear to be their lack of a pass-rush. Robert Ayers is a pending 33-year old free agent who needs to be replaced anyway, and 2016 second round pick Noah Spence missed 10 games on injured reserve in 2017, and played through the pain in his rookie season, enduring a torn labrum in his shoulder in consecutive seasons. Unless Bradley Chubb falls Tampa may have to wait until the second round to fill this need.
Tampa is rumored to have taken a liking to Notre Dame’s Quenton Nelson, thought by many to be one of the top three players in this draft class along with perhaps being the safest pick of the class as well.
8. Chicago Bears - Joshua Jackson CB, Iowa
2017 draft:Mitchell Trubisky, Adam Shaheen, Eddie Jackson
2018 free agents:Prince Amukamara, Zach Miller, Kyle Fuller, Kendall Wright
Team needs: WR/CB/OT
The Bears have issues at WR and CB, and could go with either Alabama teammates Calvin Ridley or Minkah Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick is the superior prospect but the pressure is on young GM Ryan Pace to make sure that Mitchell Trubisky develops into a franchise cornerstone. After spending a 2016 first round pick on bust WR Kevin White and opting not to re-sign Alshon Jeffery in free agency last year, Chicago has a serious lack of weapons for their young QB.
Although Fitzpatrick is the best player available, he’s more of a free safety prospect who can come down into the slot occasionally, and Chicago will likely need to replace Prince Amukamara and Kyle Fuller with a full time starter at the position.
9. San Francisco 49ers - Minkah Fitzpatrick CB/S, Alabama
2017 draft: Solomon Thomas, Reuben Foster, Ahkello Witherspoon, George Kittle
2018 free agents:Jimmy Garoppolo, Tank Carradine, Eric Reid, Carlos Hyde, Aaron Lynch
Team needs: WR/OG/CB/S/RB
Not that he would ever fall this far but this is definitely the floor for Saquon Barkley, who would be a massive upgrade/replacement for pending free agent Carlos Hyde. It’s too early however for any of the best available RB’s. Defensively the 49ers will likely lose Eric Reid in free agency, so the easy choice would be to replace him with Minkah Fitzpatrick.
10. Oakland Raiders - Roquan Smith LB, Georgia
2017 draft:Gareon Conley, Obi Melifonwu, Eddie Vanderdoes, David Sharp, Marquel Lee
2018 free agents:Reggie Nelson, Justin Ellis, Sebastian Janikowski, Navorro Bowman
Team needs: RB/LB/DT/CB3/OT
The Raiders will focus on defense early in the draft, especially at tackle and linebacker after having addressed the secondary in the 2017 draft. Eddie Vanderdoes will likely get the opportunity to replace free agent Justin Ellis as will Obi Melifonwu with Reggie Nelson, but the middle linebacker position has been an issue even before the pending free agency of Navorro Bowman.
11. Miami Dolphins - Tremaine Edmunds LB, Virginia Tech
2017 draft:Charles Harris, Raekwon McMillan, Cordera Tankersley, Isaac Asiata, Davon Godchaux
2018 free agents:Jarvis Landry, William Hayes, Koa Misi, Nate Allen, Jermon Bushrod, Anthony Fasano
Team needs: OG/TE/LB/RB/WR
If Quenton Nelson makes it this far it’ll be a perfect match-up as the Dolphins have a huge hole at guard and Nelson is one of the top talents in the entire draft class. It sounds likely that the Dolphins will not re-sign Jarvis Landry and could be in a market for a replacement given how disappointing the injury-prone 2015 first round DeVante Parker has been, and Miami must decide whether or not to exercise his 5th year option for 2019. On defense the Dolphins biggest issues by far are at linebacker. Koa Misi is a free agent, Kiko Alonzo has a long injury history, and disappointing 2017 free agent addition Lawrence Timmons may be released. With Quenton Nelson and Roquan Smith gone, this pick should come down to Calvin Ridley and Tremaine Edmunds. Edmunds gets the nod as he is currently the higher rated of the two.
12. Cincinnati Bengals - Mike McGlinchy OT, Notre Dame
2017 draft:John Ross, Joe Mixon, Jordan Willis, Carl Lawson, Jordan Evans
2018 free agents: Kevin Minter, Andre Smith, Tyler Eifert, Jeremy Hill, Russell Bodine
Team needs: OT/OC/LB/S/TE
The Bengals made a critical error in judgement way back in 2015. Not wanting to pay big time money to 2017 free agents Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler, Cincinnati spent their first two picks of the 2015 draft on Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher. Since then, Ogbuehi and Fisher have been complete busts while Whitworth and Zeitler have enjoyed solid careers with their new teams, with Whitworth being named to this seasons Pro Bowl. Fisher’s career may be in doubt due to an irregular heartbeat, and both he and Ogbuehi are due for free agency in 2019 provided that the Bengals decline to pickup Ogbuehi’s 5th-year option.
13. Washington Redskins - Da’Ron Payne DT, Alabama
2017 draft:Jonathan Allen, Ryan Anderson, Fabian Moreau, Samaje Perine, Montae Nicholson
2018 free agents:Kirk Cousins, Terrelle Pryor, DeAngelo Hall, Shawn Lauvao, Zach Brown, Trent Murphy, Bashaud Breeland
Team needs: DT/ILB/OG/WR/RB
After replacing Kirk Cousins with Alex Smith, Washington’s next biggest needs are along the defensive front seven as well as nickel CB after losing Kendall Fuller in the Smith trade. They need another pass-rushing 3-4 defensive lineman to pair with 2017 first round pick Jonathan Allen.
14. Green Bay Packers - Vita Vea NT, Washington
2017 draft:Kevin King, Josh Jones, Montravius Adams, Vince Biegel, Jamaal Williams, Malachi Dupre
2018 free agents:Morgan Burnett, Davon House, Richard Rodgers
Team needs: OLB/ILB/RB/TE
With the exception of Mike McCarthy, the entire Packers organization has been shaken up. Even long-time DC Dom Capers got the axe. New DC Mike Pettine will also employ a 3-4 blitzing defense with press-man coverage so there shouldn’t be many wholesale changes.
One area that needs to be improved is the pass-rush. Losing Julius Peppers last offseason wasn’t seen to be a big blow at the time but the pass-rush suffered as a result. Clay Matthews has been slowed by injuries over the last several seasons, and the Packers will need a long-term replacement to pair with Nick Perry. The Packers could also use an upgrade at ILB with someone who can cover as well as spy mobile QB’s like Russell Wilson, who have given this defense problems in the past. Unfortunately there isn’t an edge-rusher worthy of this pick. The Packers would love to get one of Roquan Smith or Tremaine Edmunds here, and possibly Rashaan Evans but he would be a reach right now. The defensive line is fairly set with Mike Daniels and Kenny Clark, but while Dean Lowry is a solid starter for a 2016 4th round pick he could be upgraded, and the mammoth Vita Vea does fit the mold of the D-linemen that the Packers prefer.
15. Arizona Cardinals - Sam Darnold QB, USC
2017 draft: Haason Reddick, Budda Baker, Chad Williams, Dorian Johnson, Will Holden
2018 free agents: Tyvon Branch, Justin Bethel, Karlos Dansby, John Brown, Troy Niklas
Team needs: QB/WR/CB/DE/OG
With Carson Palmer retiring the Cardinals top need will be for a quarterback, especially with a new coaching staff in place. Out of all of the teams outside of the top 10, the Cardinals seem the most likely to trade into the top 10. This is especially true if they find a willing participant like Denver, if Denver gets Kirk Cousins in free agency, and one of either Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold are available.
A trade similar to the one between Kansas City and Buffalo in the first round of the 2017 draft should provide a good framework for a deal here. The Chiefs included their third round pick, and their first round pick the following year for the right to move up from 27th to 10th to draft Patrick Mahomes. To move up and into the top 5 Arizona will likely have to include their second round pick instead of their third round pick.
16. Baltimore Ravens - Calvin Ridley WR, Alabama
2017 draft:Marlon Humphrey, Tyus Bowser, Chris Wormley, Tim Williams, Nico Siragusa
2018 free agents:Mike Wallace, Ben Watson, James Hurst, Brent Urban, Ryan Jensen
Team needs: WR/CB/RT/LG/OC
Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome loves to scout players from his alma mater and this draft class is full of quality players from the National Championship Alabama squad. Baltimore’s inability to find and develop talent at the wide receiver position has been a detriment to their offense. Depending on what happen with James Hurst and Ryan Jensen in free agency the Ravens could see a high turnover of their offensive line.
17. Los Angeles Chargers - Derwin James S, FSU
2017 draft:Mike Williams, Forrest Lamp, Dan Feeney, Rayshawn Jenkins, Desmond King
2018 free agents:Antonio Gates, Matt Slauson, Jeremiah Attaochu, Tre Boston
Team needs: OT/S/DT/CB
The Chargers have become draft ninjas, impossible to predict. No one called the Joey Bosa pick in 2016, and most pegged Malik Hooker, Solomon Thomas, or Jonathan Allen to them in 2017 before they took Mike Williams. Despite spending two early 2017 draft picks on offensive linemen, the Chargers still do not have a long-term solution at LT. Defensively it’s rumored that they are targeting tackle and safety. At DT, 33-year old Brandon Mebane is a quality run-stuffer who doesn’t provide much of a pass-rush and will be coming back from a torn biceps. The Chargers have never adequately replaced Eric Weddle and Tre Boston is a free agent. Vita Vea, Da’Ron Payne, and Derwin James should all be high on the Chargers draft board.
18. Seattle Seahawks - Arden Key DE, LSU
2017 draft:Malik McDowell, Ethan Pocic, Shaq Griffin, Delano Hill, Nazair Jones, Amara Darboh
2018 free agents:Jimmy Graham, Paul Richardson, Luke Joeckel, Sheldon Richardson
Team needs: OT/OG/CB/DE/SS
The Seahawks and Pete Carroll love drafting athletic freaks with high SPARQ ratings. Aside from the long standing most obvious need for offensive line help, Seattle’s once vaunted defense is starting to crumble. Stalwarts like Cliff Avril and Kam Chancellor may not play again due to neck injuries, and Richard Sherman will be coming back from a torn Achilles. Those 3 along with other starters are becoming too pricey to keep the defense intact as is, and Seattle will need to start replacing them with younger, cheaper options. If both are available the Seahawks will have a tough time choosing between Arden Key and Derwin James to replace either Avril or Chancellor.
19. Dallas Cowboys - Orlando Brown OT, Oklahoma
2017 draft:Taco Charlton, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Ryan Switzer, Xavier Woods
2018 free agents: Demarcus Lawrence, Byron Bell, Jonathan Cooper, Alfred Morris
Team needs: RT/DE/LB/WR
Dallas’ top priority is to protect their franchise QB Dak Prescott and opens lanes for stud running back Zeke Elliot. With Jonathan Cooper hitting free agency, La’el Collins should shift back to his more natural spot at guard, Dallas will need to upgrade over Chaz Green at right tackle. If the Cowboys keep Collins at right tackle then the next option would be OSU’s Billy Price to fill the vacated LG spot.
20. Detroit Lions - Billy Price OC/OG, Ohio State
2017 draft: Jarrad Davis, Jalen Tabor, Kenny Golladay, Jalen Reeves-Maybin, Brad Kaaya
2018 free agents:Ezekiel Ansah, Haloti Ngata, Tahir Whitehead, Nevin Lawson, Travis Swanson
Team needs: DT/OLB/DE/RB/OC
Defensively the Lions may have to spend an early pick on an outside rusher if they cannot re-sign Ziggy Ansah. Soon-to-be 34 year old Haloti Ngata is a pending free agent who will be returning from a torn biceps. On offense the weak link is at center where Travis Swanson is a free agent.
21. Buffalo Bills - Courtland Sutton WR, SMU
2017 draft: Tre’Davious White, Zay Jones, Dion Dawkins, Nathan Peterman, Tanner Vallejo
2018 free agents:Kyle Williams, Jordan Matthews, E.J. Gaines, Preston Brown
Team needs: QB/WR/DT/LB/CB/RT
The Bills restructured Tyrod Taylor’s contract, now a free agent in 2019, but he is likely not in the team’s long-term plans. They jettisoned draft bust Sammy Watkins to the Rams, and likely won’t re-sign short-term fix Jordan Matthews, so WR will be a need despite spending a 2017 second round pick on the underwhelming Zay Jones. Plus, the very underwhelming Kelvin Benjamin can be released without penalty. Given Eric Wood’s sudden retirement due to a neck injury Billy Price will get some consideration if he’s available.
Defensively, the Bills traded Marcell Dareus to the Jaguars and 34-year old Kyle Williams is a pending free agent considering retirement, so they will need a DT to pair with Adolphus Washington, who himself was not drafted by current GM Brandon Beane, if Williams does retire. At linebacker, Buffalo needs upgrades who fit into DC Leslie Frazier’s Tampa-2 scheme. If the Bills fail to re-sign E.J. Gaines they’ll need to draft his replacement after trading Ronald Darby to the Eagles.
22. Buffalo Bills (via KC) - Baker Mayfield QB, Oklahoma
2017 draft: Tre’Davious White, Zay Jones, Dion Dawkins, Nathan Peterman, Tanner Vallejo
2018 free agents:Kyle Williams, Jordan Matthews, E.J. Gaines, Preston Brown
Team needs: QB/WR/DT/LB/CB/RT
A QB like Baker Mayfield likely doesn’t fit into the mold of what the Bills need at QB. Despite having deep accuracy Mayfield has average arm strength that won’t play well when the weather gets bad in Buffalo. Despite this though, Baker Mayfield has that “it” factor that every team loves to have in its leader.
23. Los Angeles Rams - Isaiah Oliver CB, Colorado
2017 draft:Gerald Everett, Cooper Kupp, John Johnson, Josh Reynolds, Sam Rogers
2018 free agents: Trumaine Johnson, Sammy Watkins, Connor Barwin, LaMarcus Joyner, John Sullivan
Team needs: CB/OC/OLB/S/WR
Even if the Rams manage to re-sign Trumaine Johnson they still need an upgrade across from him at CB. They’ll also need a replacement at free safety if they cannot re-sign Lamarcus Joyner. Offensively the Rams will need to replace free agent John Sullivan.
24. Carolina Panthers - Sam Hubbard DE, Ohio State
2017 draft:Christian McCaffrey, Curtis Samuel, Taylor Moton, Daeshon Hall, Corn Elder
2018 free agents:Thomas Davis, Julius Peppers, Andrew Norwell, Star Lotulelei, Amini Silatolu
Team needs: OG/OT/DE/WLB/CB/S
Aside from their long standing and mostly neglected need for offensive line help to protect Cam Newton, the Panthers need to get younger at defensive end. 38-year old Julius Peppers is a free agent expected to retire and it is also expected that the Panthers will release 32-year old Charles Johnson.
25. Tennessee Titans - Ronnie Harrison S, Alabama
2017 draft:Corey Davis, Adoree Jackson, Taywan Taylor, Jonnu Smith, Jaylon Brown
2018 free agents: Eric Decker, DaQuan Jones, Avery Williamson
Team needs: DE/OLB/OG/OC/RB2
Tennessee’s two biggest needs are to upgrade the pass-rush and the interior of the offensive line. Derrick Morgan and Brian Orakpo are both headed for free agency in 2019, and 2016 second round pick Kevin Dodd has been a bust so far because he is a poor fit for a 3-4 defense. The Titans could replace Jonathan Cyprien, rumored to be a potential cap casualty in the offseason that would save Tennessee $4.5 million dollars. DaQuan Jones and Avery Williamson will have to be replaced if they aren’t re-signed. On offense the interior of the line will have to be addressed as Josh Kline and Brian Schwenke are both free agents, Quinton Spain is a restricted free agent, and Ben Jones could be a cap casualty. Plus the Titans will likely release Demarco Murray and look for a younger, cheaper option to backup Derrick Henry.
26. Atlanta Falcons - Tavan Bryan DT, Florida
2017 draft: Tak McKinley, Duke Riley, Sean Harlow, Damontae Kazee, Brian Hill
2018 free agents: Dontari Poe, Adrian Clayborn, Matt Bryant
Team needs: OG/DT/SS/CB3
Without any big needs the Falcons could go with the best player available here. They could upgrade at guard, and will need to replace Dontari Poe at defensive tackle, but could also look to upgrade over restricted free agent Ricardo Allen at strong safety. Rumor has it that they really want to upgrade at tackle next to Grady Jarrett, and will be targeting Vita Vea, Da’Ron Payne, and Tavan Bryan. If all of those three are gone, look for Atlanta to shift gears and target one of Billy Price, Isaiah Wynn, or Will Hernandez to fill their need at OG.
27. New Orleans Saints - Rashaan Evans ILB, Alabama
2017 draft: Marshon Lattimore, Ryan Ramczyk, Marcus Williams, Alvin Kamara, Alex Anzalone, Trey Hendrickson
2018 free agents:Drew Brees, Kenny Vaccaro, Alex Okafor, Senio Kelemete
Team needs: LB/DE/DT/WR/S/QB
Unless the Saints can find a successor to Drew Brees they are likely to continue to overhaul their defense with this pick. For all of the strides their defense has made during the 2017 season the only player who could produce a consistent pass-rush is Cameron Jordan. At linebacker the Saints have been unable to find true three-down player who can cover.
28. Pittsburgh Steelers - Tim Settle DT, Virginia Tech
2017 draft:T.J. Watt, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Cam Sutton, James Conner, Joshua Dobbs, Brian Allen, Keion Adams
2018 free agents: Le’Veon Bell, Arthur Moats, Daniel McCullers, Chris Hubbard
Team needs: ILB/S/RB/TE/QB/NT/OT2
First off, I want to quickly go through a couple of my own hot takes with regards to the recent developments in the state of the Steelers. I’m just the draft guy, not one of the commentary guys, but like everyone else here on BTSC the events of the last few weeks combined with things that have come to light I feel I’ve got to vent.
1. Le’Veon Bell is one of the top three running backs in the NFL(that’s not the hot take but general knowledge I know), but I don’t think the Steelers should re-sign him. Our own Bryan Anthony Davis broke already astutely broke down the issues with re-signing Bell and I am inclined to agree. On the field he is an amazing rare talent, but off the field he is not without his warts. Add that to the price tag and the overall devaluing of the RB position as a whole, and the Steelers are better off getting his replacement in a deep draft at the position. Having said that though I do expect the two sides to come to some soft of compromise on a new contract.
2. Now former OC Todd Haley did a lot of things right, namely devising an offense that keeps our QB upright a lot better than his predecessor, but how do you not call for a QB sneak on 4th and about 2 inches when your QB is 6-foot-5, 250 pounds and two of his interior linemen are Pro Bowlers. Then, later on in the same game, you have an opportunity to redeem yourself on 4th and about a foot, and again call something other than a QB sneak?
3. If it weren’t for a report also coming out that mentioned Tomlin himself being very hands-on with the defense, I’d be one of those calling for coordinator changes on that side of the ball as well. I’m still a fan of Tomlin, but the defensive issues seem to be more of a product of scheme rather than talent. Tomlin should be safe...for now, but if the 2018 season mirrors that of 2017 this will be a different conversation.
Now onto the draft:
Ben Roethlisberger already answered the biggest question facing the Steelers by announcing that he plans to return next season, instead of riding off into the retirement sunset as had been discussed at great length prior to the start of the 2017 season. It’s also come out that he told his fellow teammates at the Pro Bowl that he plans to play another three seasons. I guess he really didn’t like Todd Haley. But even if he had decided to retire, the Steelers are unlikely to burn the future draft capitol that would be required to trade up for a quality QB prospect anyway.
The next biggest question facing the Steelers is with the free agency status of Le’Veon Bell. It’s been rumored in the media that the Steelers do in fact plan to franchise tag the All-Pro running back, which came out after Bell told the media that he would rather retire than play out the franchise tag for another season. It feels like the star RB and the Steelers front office could spend another offseason largely in a stare down. Maybe the Steelers will up their offer from last offseason, Bell has already stated that contract negotiations are already going better this time around, so it’s likely that the two sides will come to some sort of agreement.
Although if Kevin Colbert and company are tired of the demands, public attention, and brewing toxicity that comes with the contract negotiations of Le’Veon Bell and decide to part ways with him, there is a plethora of replacements to choose from in this draft class. Despite some injury issues, LSU’s Derrius Guice has shown up in the top 20 of many national mock drafts. Auburn’s Kerryon Johnson was routinely compared to Le’Veon Bell this past college season due to his size and patient running style. Georgia’s Sony Michel is a one-cut speedster with surprising power and one of the few college running backs to have had success against Alabama’s vaunted defense.
The Steelers roster doesn’t have many holes that aren’t filled by promising young talent, and the front office should be looking for player who can come in and make an immediate impact towards the goal of a Super Bowl while Big Ben is still at the helm.
Despite a slow and injury-plagued start to his Steelers career, 2017 trade acquisition Vance McDonald really came on to end the year and became a dependable favorite target for Ben. This includes a 10 catches for 112 yards performance in the playoff loss to Jacksonville. But injuries and inconsistency have been the hallmark of McDonald’s career. Even though it would be a reach to take a tight end here, the Steelers would have their pick of the litter which includes Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews, small-school stud Dallas Goedert from South Dakota State, and the highly athletic but already 24 years old Hayden Hurst from South Carolina.
Sean Davis has had some dramatic peaks and valleys in his two-year career, but it’s too early to give up on the 2016 second round pick. Mike Mitchell on the other hand..... While players like Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell can sometimes bring unwanted negative attention to the team with the things they say to the press and on social media, it can be forgiven because they are otherworldly talents that would be extremely difficult to replace. Mike Mitchell’s comments are not so easily forgiven, at least not by Steelers Nation, as the 2019 free agent will be 31 year old this coming season, and has become a liability in coverage when he’s not dealing with a myriad of injuries. Mitchell, who only has four interceptions in his Steelers career, has a cap hit of $8.1 million dollars in the final year of his contract and the team could save $6 million by releasing him.
Outside of Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick there really isn’t a lot to get excited about from the current crop of safeties in the first round of this draft class. FSU’s Derwin James is uber-athletic but was never able to build on his promising sophomore season. Fitzpatrick’s teammate Ronnie Harrison is more in the vein of a traditional strong safety. He’s an in-the-box thumper-type who is limited in coverage, especially in man-coverage out of the slot. A fringe first round prospect the Steelers would consider is Stanford’s Justin Reid, the younger brother of the San Francisco 49ers and former first round pick Eric Reid. He’s a jack-of-all trades but master-of-none type but has drawn comparisons to Green Bay’s HaHa Clinton-Dix.
One position of need not thought of at first sight when going over the depth chart is the defensive line. Whether it’s scheme or talent, the Steelers defense has been terrible against the run. Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt are justifiably, and monetarily, entrenched at both end positions but 2016 third round pick Javon Hargrave has been just average as the starting nose tackle. With as often as the Steelers line up in a 4-man front on early downs, it may behoove them to invest in a truer, stouter nose tackle prospect so that Hargrave can play more of an under-tackle position as the defense seems to shift more towards a hybrid 3-4/4-3 defense.
Should he be available, the perfect nose tackle prospect would be Washington’s Vita Vea. The 6-foot-4, 335 pounds behemoth is drawing comparisons to the likes of Haloti Ngata and Linval Joseph. He’s a powerful, immovable object in the center of any defense with an underrated first-step burst off of the line of scrimmage.
A running joke that I’ve seen in different comment threads here on BTSC is that the first day of the draft isn’t simply known as “draft day” to the Steelers faithful but is in fact “new linebacker day” given that four out of their last five first round picks have all been linebackers. Most wouldn’t think with that sort of recent history it wouldn’t be feasible that the Steelers could spend yet another first round pick at the position, but given the injury to Ryan Shazier and uncertainty with Bud Dupree’s 5th-year option and the Steelers could be looking to take yet another linebacker.
As painful as it is to say and to think of, the Steelers need to start imagining a life without Ryan Shazier. Since the seemingly innocuous hit that injured Shazier’s spine, the Steelers defense became increasingly inept at stopping opposing offenses on third downs. Not having an athlete of his caliber at the inside linebacker position completely exposed the Steelers defense. Even if he returns, and that’s a big “if” at this point, it likely wouldn’t be until the 2019 season at the earliest and the Steelers simply cannot take a wait-and-see approach when they are ready to compete for a championship now. The front office signed retread Sean Spence off of the scrap heap but he was ill-suited to even attempt to fill Shazier’s void. In a draft class that features several rangy coverage linebackers with first and second round grades, the Steelers will need to do as much due diligence on this crop of ILB prospects as they will on every other position.
The cream of this years crop is clearly the 2017 Butkus Award winner for the best linebacker in college football, Georgia’s Roquan Smith. Similar to the new breed of linebacker prospects who are smaller, lighter, can still hit like a truck but can also cover like a safety, Smith draws comparisons to our own Ryan Shazier and the Falcons’ Deion Jones. If Smith is number one in this group than Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds is 1a. The long, lean, 6-foot-5 Edmunds has been compared to the likes of Chicago’s Leonard Floyd, Minnesota’s Anthony Barr, and Jacksonville’s Telvin Smith. Behind that duo but still worthy of a first round pick, Alabama’s Rashaan Evans is closer to the mold of a more traditional inside linebacker. While not quite as athletic as his former alum C.J. Mosley, he’s not at all a liability in coverage and can still lay the wood like his other Bama brethren Reggie Ragland.
Should he be available, and it’s realistic at this point to think that he might be, Rashaan Evans would be the likely pick. The 6-foot-3, 234 pounds Evans played both inside as well as outside linebacker in Alabama’s 3-4 defense. He finished the 2017 season with 74 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. I don’t normally agree with ESPN’s Mel Kiper, but in his latest mock draft he also predicts that the Steelers will draft Evans given the talent available at the back half of the first round.
With Evans off of the board one pick earlier, at this point there Steelers would likely have to reach on an under-the-radar type of prospect, either Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch or Virginia Tech DT Tim Settle. Our own Nicolas Martin is a big fan of LVE, giving us this brief breakdown of him, but right now I’m leaning more towards an upgrade at the nose tackle position. The reason being is that, while none of the ILB’s currently on the roster can do what Ryan Shazier does, the combination of Sean Spence, Tyler Matakevich, and L.J. Fort can somewhat get the job done. Plus with the absence of a true playmaker at the position the Steelers can scheme around the issue by running more nickel and dime packages, subbing a DB for a LB. Also there is the issue of optics. Using a first round pick on an ILB is showing the world, and Shazier himself, that the team doesn’t have any faith in his recovery. It would just look bad to the team, whereas using a later pick would be viewed simply “hedging” their bets and building depth. If however the Steelers did use this pick on Evans or LVE, but please not on the highly overrated Malik Jefferson, I would welcome it.
Redshirt sophomore Tim Settle was a surprise entrant to the 2018 draft class. The former 5 star recruit, and 17th ranked overall high school player in the nation in 2015, tallied 36 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks in his lone starting season. An underrated version of Vita Vea with a shorter track record, the 6-foot-3, 335 pounds DT has the size of a true nose tackle but the quickness to be a true threat as a gap-penetrator. Given how nose tackles have been downgraded in the draft in recent years, Settle is currently garnering mid-2nd to early-3rd round grades. With only one year of impactful starting experience, the combine, interviews, and his pro day are going to have a big impact on how high Tim Settle gets drafted.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars - Christian Kirk WR, Texas A&M
2017 draft:Leonard Fournette, Cam Robinson, Dawuane Smoot, Dede Westbrook
2018 free agents:Paul Posluszny, Marqise Lee, Allen Robinson, Aaron Colvin
Team needs: OG/WR/ILB/QB/CB3
The Jaguars couldn't be anymore loaded on defense so this pick will likely be used at wide receiver or on the offensive line. Marqise Lee has largely been a disappointment and Allen Robinson will be coming back from a torn ACL, and both players are pending free agents.
30. Minnesota Vikings - Carlton Davis CB, Auburn
2017 draft: Dalvon Cook, Pat Elfein, Jaleel Johnson, Ben Gedeon, Danny Isidora, Bucky Hodges
2018 free agents: Sam Bradford, Case Keenum, Teddy Bridgewater, Terence Newman, Tom Johnson
Team needs: QB/OG/DT/WR
Minnesota will have to make a decision on which free agent QB they want to re-sign, Teddy Bridgewater, Sam Bradford, or most likely at this point is Case Keenum. Defensively Mike Zimmer will want to replace free agents Terence Newman and Tom Johnson, the latter of whom is likely going to retire.
31. New England Patriots - Maurice Hurst DT/DE, Michigan
2017 draft:Derek Rivers, Antonio Garcia, Deatrich Wise, Conor McDermott
2018 free agents: Nate Solder, Julian Edelman, Malcolm Butler, Danny Amendola, Dion Lewis
Team needs: CB/LB/DE/DT/WR
Head coach Bill Belichick has shown a penchant for using early draft picks on front-seven defensive players in recent years, and loves versatility. Because of age, injury, trades, and free agent losses over the last several years the Patriots find themselves having to reload on edge-rushers and linebackers.
32. Philadelphia Eagles - Kolton Miller OT, UCLA
2017 draft:Derek Barnett, Sidney Jones, Rasul Douglas, Mack Hollins, Shelton Gibson, Elijah Qualls
2018 free agents:Darren Sproles, Nigel Bradham, Patrick Robinson
Team needs: LT/LB
The Super Bowl Champs don’t have a lot of needs to address. The only pressing needs is that soon-to-be 36 year old left tackle Jason Peters will be coming back from a torn ACL. On defense they could have issues at linebacker as Jordan Hicks will be coming back from a torn Achilles’, and Dannell Ellerbe, Nigel Bradham, and Najee Goode are all free agents.
33. Cleveland Browns - Mike Hughes CB, UCF
Cleveland’s secondary got predictably worse after they released Joe Haden.
34. New York Giants - Sony Michel RB, Georgia
After going QB in the 1st the Giants have to get him some help, either at OT or RB.
35. Cleveland Browns (via HOU) - Equanimeous St. Brown WR, Notre Dame
Josh Gordon is one misstep away from being banned for life.
36. Indianapolis Colts - Derrius Guice RB, LSU
Frank Gore is a 34 year old free agent.
37. New York Jets - Kerryon Johnson RB, Auburn
Matt Forte is a likely cap casualty and the Jets need help for their 1st round QB.
38. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Duke Ejiofor DE, Wake Forest
Robert Ayers is a 33-year old free agent, and 2016 2nd round pick Noah Spence missed 10 games on injured reserve in 2017.
39. Chicago Bears - Simmie Cobbs jr. WR, Indiana
Depending on free agency Chicago may have to go CB and WR with their first two picks.
40. Denver Broncos - Brian O’Neill OT, Pittsburgh
Donald Stephenson is a free agent who needs to be replaced.
41. Oakland Raiders - Marcus Davenport DE, UTSA
Oakland needs to upgrade their pass-rush across from Khalil Mack.
42. Miami Dolphins - Isaiah Wynn OT/OG, Georgia
The Dolphins have a huge hole at RG, and could take Quenton Nelson in the first round.
43. New England Patriots (via SF) - Leighton Vander Esch LB, Boise State
N.E. will likely spend several early picks on edge-rushers and linebackers.
44. Washington Redskins - James Washington WR, Oklahoma State
Terrelle Pryor was a bust one-year rental.
45. Green Bay Packers - Dallas Goedert TE, South Dakota State
Richard Rodgers is a free agent who could be upgraded.
46. Cincinnati Bengals - James Daniels OC, Iowa
Russell Bodine is a free agent.
47. *** Denver Broncos (via ARI) - Malik Jefferson LB, Texas
This pick is likely to be part of the compensation from the Cardinals.
Todd Davis is a free agent.
48. Los Angeles Chargers - Derrick Nnadi DT, Florida State
The Chargers are looking to upgrade at DT.
49. New York Jets (via SEA) - Dorance Armstrong DE/OLB, Kansas
After spending their first 2 picks on the offense, the Jets should take a CB or a pass-rusher to replace Morris Claiborne or Kony Ealy.
50. Dallas Cowboys - D.J. Moore WR, Maryland
Even if Dallas doesn’t release Dez Bryant they need another WR to pair with him.
51. Detroit Lions - Jerome Baker OLB, Ohio State
Tahir Whitehead and Paul Worrilow are both free agents.
52. Baltimore Ravens - Will Hernandez OG, UTEP
Baltimore needs O-line help even if the re-sign James Hurst and Ryan Jensen.
53. Buffalo Bills - Jaire Alexander CB, Louisville
Buffalo traded Ronald Darby to Philly and E.J. Gaines is a free agent.
54. Kansas City Chiefs - D.J. Chark WR, LSU
2017 Draft:Pat Mahomes, Tanoh Kpassagnon, Kareem Hunt, Jehu Chesson
2018 free agents: Phillip Gaines, Bennie Logan, Jarvis Jenkins, Zach Fulton
Albert Wilson is a free agent and K.C. needs a dependable threat at WR besides Tyreek Hill.
55. Carolina Panthers - Justin Reid S, Stanford
Mike Adams will be 37 years old before the 2018 NFL draft.
56. Buffalo Bills (via LAR) - Chukwuma Okorafor OT, Western Michigan
Injury-plagued Cordy Glenn may be cut or traded at some point.
57. Tennessee Titans - Harrison Phillips DT, Stanford
DaQuan Jones is a free agent.
58. Atlanta Falcons - Braden Smith OG, Auburn
Atlanta is looking to upgrade at OG and DT with their first two picks.
59. San Francisco 49ers (via NO) - Ronald Jones RB, USC
Carlos Hyde is a free agent with injury issues.
60. Pittsburgh Steelers - Terrell Edmunds S, Virginia Tech
Regardless of whether or not the Steelers release the 31-year old Mike Mitchell from the final year of his contract, saving $6 million dollars in the process that could be used to help re-sign Le’Veon Bell or add elsewhere to a disappointing defense, his time with team will be coming to an end by the following offseason at the latest. After spending a 2016 second round pick on Sean Davis, the Steelers will need to dip into the second round safety pool yet again.
Terrell Edmunds isn’t going to get the insane hype that his freak athlete brother Tremaine will get during the draft process but he is a quality player in his own right. The 6-foot-2, 220 pounds strong safety has good size and is solid in coverage. He finished the 2017 season with 59 tackles, 4 pass break-ups, and two interceptions, with six total interceptions in his two-year starting career for the Hokies. So make that two Hokies in the first two picks.
Another option could by OU’s Mark Andrews but it seemed like Big Ben was building a rapport with preseason trade acquisition Vance McDonald towards the end of the season.
61. Jacksonville Jaguars - Mark Andrews TE, Oklahoma
Marcedes Lewis is a 2019 free agent who could be a cap casualty.
62. Minnesota Vikings - Trent Thompson DT, Georgia
Tom Johnson is a 33-year old free agent who is contemplating retirement.
63. New England Patriots - Jamarco Jones OT, Ohio State
Nate Solder is an injury-plagued free agent.
64. Cleveland Browns (via PHI) - Rasheem Green DT/DE, USC
Cleveland needs a DE to pair with Myles Garrett.
65. Cleveland Browns - Josey Jewell LB, Iowa
Cleveland needs a cheaper option to replace Jamie Collins, who was a disappointment even before he tore his MCL this season.
66. New York Giants - Harold Landry DE/OLB, Boston College
New DC James Bettcher will run a hybrid scheme with some 3-4 looks.
67. Indianapolis Colts - Nick Nelson CB, Wisconsin
Indy needs another CB to pair with Quincy Wilson.
68. Houston Texans - Da’Shawn Hand DT, Alabama
2017 Draft picks: Deshaun Watson, Zach Cunningham, D-Onta Foreman, Julie’n Davenport, Carlos Watkins
2018 Free agents: Tom Savage, Johnathan Joseph, Breno Giacomini, Chris Clark, Xavier Su’a-filo, Marcus Gilchrist
Despite a disappointing 2017 season the Texans have a good outlook going forward thanks to rookie phenom Deshaun Watson’s emergence. What they will need to focus on this offseason is rebuilding an offensive line devoid of talent. Defensively the Texans have some holes to fill in the secondary and also need to continue to rebuild their line as well as adding depth because of J.J. Watt’s injury issues.
69. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Mark Walton RB, Miami
The Bucs get a replacement for the disappointing Doug Martin.
70. San Francisco 49ers (via CHI) - Uchenna Nwosu DE/OLB, USC
S.F. needs competition for Eli Harold at SLB.
71. Denver Broncos - Michael Gallup WR, Colorado State
It’s possible that Demaryius Thomas and/or Emmanuel Sanders could be released.
72. New York Jets - Frank Ragnow OC, Arkansas
Wesley Johnson is a free agent who needs to be replaced.
73. Miami Dolphins - Hayden Hurst TE, South Carolina
Anthony Fasano is a 33 year old free agent.
74. San Francisco 49ers - Alex Cappa OT/OG, Humboldt State
S.F. needs upgrades at OC and RG.
75. Oakland Raiders - Nick Chubb RB, Georgia
Oakland needs a long-term replacement for soon-to-be 32 year old Marshawn Lynch.
76. Green Bay Packers - Lorenzo Carter OLB, Georgia
G.B. needs an edge-rusher to rotate with and groom behind Clay Matthews.
77. Cincinnati Bengals - Mike Gesicki TE, Penn State
Tyler Eifert is an injury-plagued free agent.
78. Kansas City Chiefs (via WAS) - B.J. Hill DT, North Carolina State
Bennie Logan is a free agent.
79. Arizona Cardinals - DaeSean Hamilton WR, Penn State
Arizona needs long-term options at WR.
80. Houston Texans (via SEA) - Desmond Harrison OT, West Georgia
Houston needs to completely rebuild their O-line.
81. Dallas Cowboys - Chad Thomas DE, Miami
Even if he’s re-signed Damarcus Lawrence has off-the-field issues.
82. Detroit Lions - Josh Sweat DE, Florida State
Even if injury-plagued Ziggy Ansah is re-signed, rotational depth is needed.
83. Baltimore Ravens - Tarvarus McFadden CB/S, Florida State
The Ravens always seem to catch a falling prospect.
84. Los Angeles Chargers - Lamar Jackson QB, Louisville
The Chargers need a QB to develop behind Philip Rivers.
85. Carolina Panthers (via BUF) - M.J. Stewart CB, North Carolina
James Bradberry is the only dependable starter at CB.
86. Kansas City Chiefs - Jeff Holland DE/OLB, Auburn
K.C. has a lot of injury issues at OLB.
87. Los Angeles Rams - Donte Jackson CB, LSU
The Rams could easily double-up at CB.
88. Carolina Panthers - Will Clapp OG, LSU
Andrew Norwell and Amini Silatolu are both free agents.
89. Tennessee Titans - Martinas Rankin OT/OG, Mississippi State
Josh Kline and Brian Schwenke are both free agents.
90. Atlanta Falcons - Kyzir White S, West Virginia
Ricardo Allen is a restricted free agent.
91. New Orleans Saints - Mason Rudolph QB, Oklahoma State
N.O. needs a QB to develop behind 39 year old Drew Brees.
92. Pittsburgh Steelers - Darius Leonard LB, South Carolina State
While the Steelers can keep their fingers crossed that Ryan Shazier makes a full recovery from his spinal injury and decides to continue his football career, they need be also be realistic and plan for a life without him on the field. Vincenzo “Bince” Williams is a solid thumper on first and second downs, but he and the gaggle of linebackers behind him on the depth chart have proven to be inadequate in coverage.
The 6-foot-2, 229 pounds Darius Leonard finished the 2017 season with 114 tackles, 8.5 sacks, and two interceptions on his was to earning the MEAC Defensive Player of the Year award for the second consecutive season. He was also named to the FCS All-America team. Coming off of a solid week of practices as well as having a game high 14 tackles at the Senior Bowl , Leonard is starting to show up in the 2nd round of some prominent mock drafts. However, Leonard has some size limitations and clearly needs to get better at shedding blocks. The Steelers found a solid player from South Carolina State at the end of the third round in the 2016 draft with Javon Hargrave and could do so again here with Darius Leonard.
93. Jacksonville Jaguars - Anthony Averett CB, Alabama
Aaron Colvin is a free agent.
94. Minnesota Vikings - Anthony Miller WR, Memphis
Laquon Treadwell has been a complete bust.
95. New England Patriots - Luke Falk QB, Washington State
N.E. needs the next QB to develop behind Tom Brady.
96. Buffalo Bills (via PHI) - R.J. McIntosh DT, Miami
34 year old Kyle Williams is a free agent who may retire.