I should preface this by saying that I’m not a draft expert; that is to say, I don’t watch tape religiously. If you are the type of person who legitimately enjoys watching game film and prefer a more personalized brand of draft takes, that’s great! I tend to be a little more reactionary. “Oooooo that guy runs so fast I hope the Steelers draft him!” Thank God I’m not a scout.
I am, however, a big fan of college football, and since the Steelers aren’t playing in that dumb, stupid game this weekend, I figured it would be a good time to do a post-Senior Bowl, pre-combine kind of draft article. I haven’t read any scouting reports and I refuse to renew my ESPN Insider subscription (if you do get a hankering to read draft insights from Mel Kiper Jr. or Todd McShay, my advice is to try Reddit), so I have no clue how highly the following players are regarded by draftnicks. That said, here are 10 guys who I’d really enjoy seeing play for the Steelers:
ILB Roquan Smith
Smith, an insanely explosive, yet traditionally undersized inside linebacker (remind you of anyone?), was among the most decorated players in the country last season. He was a consensus All-American, a Butkus Award recipient, and the best defensive player in a conference well known for its ability to produce world-eating defensive players. He anchored a Georgia defense that came one game and one Tua Tagovailoa away from claiming a national championship. He’s obviously a tremendous tackler (113 of them in 2017), and he has displayed proficiency in disrupting opposing quarterbacks (a team-leading 6.5 sacks last season). Furthermore, his top-tier athleticism and seemingly gentle learning curve should enable him to develop the kind of coverage capabilities befitting of a three-down linebacker.
(And, to tenderly acknowledge the elephant in the room, the uncertainty of Ryan Shazier’s prognosis likely makes inside linebacker Pittsburgh’s most pressing draft need.)
QB Lamar Jackson
Look at this:
And oh my God, this:
I promise you that, as the draft approaches, you’re gonna see scouts and armchair analysts alike throw out qualifiers like “raw,” “too lanky,” or “product of a system.” Reader, let me be clear when I say that Lamar Jackson was Louisville’s system. Please peruse these statistics at your leisure. In his 2017 campaign, one that represented a “drop-off” from his Heisman-winning season the year prior, Jackson threw for nearly 3,700 yards and 27 touchdowns and ran for an additional 1,600 yards and 18 touchdowns. Basically, he was a complete backfield encapsulated within a 200-pound frame.
As I write this, do I feel that Jackson has the same pedigree as, say, Tom Brady? No, I do not. Do I think that he boasts the same prodigious, blue-chip mastery of the quarterback position as Peyton Manning? Doubtful. But do I think that it is insane that some team (probably the Browns) is gonna pull the trigger on Josh Allen and his BIG ARM and his UPSIDE in the first 10 picks of the draft while insisting that Jackson is “too much of a project”? Yes, yes I do.
RB Saquon Barkley
I realize there’s little chance of this actually happening, but as a Penn State homer I’m compelled to at least mention the possibility.
S Minkah Fitzpatrick
Barring a catastrophic combine showing or a pre-draft trade, the Steelers are veritably guaranteed to be out of the running for the best defensive back prospect of the bunch. But given how bad Pittsburgh’s secondary was during the second half of the 2017 season, perhaps a trade would be prudent.
DB Denzel Ward
I was a shameless passenger on the Eli Apple hype train a few years ago, so you’ll forgive me for having been skeptical about the aptitude of Ohio State cornerbacks entering last year’s draft. Those doubts were quickly erased by Marshon Lattimore, who pretty much instantly established himself as one of the five best cornerbacks in the NFL. The Steelers need to get one of those. It’s time to dip your toes back in those Ohio State waters, Steelers.
RB Ito Smith
As a result of being sick, bored, or a combination of the two, I watched the Southern Miss-Florida State bowl game back in December. I, along with the 600 other people tuned in to the national telecast, bore witness to Southern Miss running back Ito Smith, whose multifaceted skill-set renders him a fitting Alvin Kamara proxy. Smith and the Hawks were summarily destroyed by an overmatched Florida State team, but I did take notice of Smith’s elusiveness, breakaway speed, and pass-catching ability. He’s a worthy draft candidate.
ILB Josey Jewell
He is basically Tyler Matakevich with a higher ceiling. This dude’s jersey would be back-ordered within five minutes of him being drafted.
WR Daesean Hamilton
MORE PENN STATE HOMERISM. The Steelers will probably wind up taking a flyer on a receiver in the later rounds of the draft, just in case Ken Griffey Jr.’s kid doesn’t work out, and Hamilton has the makings of a decent slot receiver.
Edge Ogbonnia Okoronkwo
Coolest name in the entire draft, by far (relatedly, how does Oklahoma manage to get an Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and a Baker Mayfield on the same roster?) I first became aware of Okoronkwo early last season when he terrorized Ohio State’s offensive line in their own house, which kicked off a stretch in which he amassed seven sacks over the course of his next eight games. Okornokwo cooled off a bit toward the end of the season, but it isn’t likely that a guy with 20 career sacks for a major program is gonna tumble too far on draft day, especially if he tests well at the combine.
QB Baker Mayfield
Hot take: Mayfield is absolutely going to fall out of the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, which is in many ways emblematic of the NFL’s intractable “quarterback culture.” Ironically, I think Mayfield’s best professional comparison is Russell Wilson, who is among the league’s most dynamic talents, but also perhaps its most prominent ad bot.
Like Lamar Jackson, Mayfield thrived within a system in which he was the system, which is the kind of system that good coaches construct to play to their quarterbacks’ strengths. Mayfield’s size, “leadership intangibles” (groan), and presumed lack of familiarity with pro-style offenses are legitimate—if not overblown—concerns, but I think he has the tools to be a very good NFL quarterback. (Also, there’s no doubt that Mayfield would contribute mightily to Pittsburgh’s touchdown celebrations, and I’m here for that action.)