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2018 NFL Draft: Final prediction for the Pittsburgh Steelers at pick No. 28

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The NFL Draft is just days away...so who will the Steelers take when it is their turn to pick?

NCAA Football: UCLA at Stanford Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

At pick No. 28, the Steelers have one of the toughest positions in the draft. They are an enticing trade back option for many teams who want to trade back into the first round to grab a prospect they have their eye on. However, there are a plethora of talented players who should be sitting there for the Steelers to pounce on. While they are talented, they also largely fit the two biggest needs of the team in Safety and Inside Linebacker. However, due to the signings of Morgan Burnett and Jon Bostic, the Steelers now have more flexibility than ever, which could open the door for some prospect at another position who does not fit that mold entirely. As such, I believe the Steelers have five true targets at 28 that they could draft. They are as follows:

Boise State ILB Leighton Vander Esch

Alabama ILB Rashaan Evans

Stanford S Justin Reid

Wake Forest S Jessie Bates

LSU RB Derrius Guice

These five have all been shown extensive interest from the Steelers, and, in addition, have been heavily mocked and speculated by fans. At this point, it really does seem incredibly likely that one of these players gets their named called when the Pittsburgh Steelers are on the clock at 28, but which one is most likely, and more importantly, who is the best pick to help the super aspirations of the Steelers?

Boise State ILB Leighton Vander Esch

The man known as LVE has been a favorite of many here as the draft process has gone on, and is the most popular mock to the Steelers among analysts. Here is why LVE is so enticing to the Steelers.

At 6’4” and 256 pounds, this man blew the combine out of the water and showed why he is such an incredible athlete for his size. His athleticism combined with size shows a scary sideline to sideline player who can not only fly around the field, but with his size can simply engulf guys in tackles. LVE has already shown he is a tackling machine and a leader at Boise State. Yet, for his size, he is so impressive in coverage. If you want a guy to play next to Bostic and Williams, LVE is a perfectly ideal pick.

He is incredibly quick laterally and his hips are fluid. He moves very well for his size and simply is smooth everywhere. On tape, he drops in coverage smoothly, changes direction smoothly, and comes crashing down on the gap so hard nosed and disciplined. LVE has that Steelers mold in him no doubt, and uses his athleticism everywhere and I love it.

The measurements speak for themselves. A 4.65 40-yard dash at 256 is absurd, you slim him down a bit and he gets a 4.6 rather easily. He does need to work on strength and one of my big points with him is his issue with getting off of blocks. He can do it at times, but at other times, he gets stuck and pushed out of the play. Agility wise, you can see the smooth hips and lateral quickness come out on the combine numbers, but I do question how disciplined he is in pursuit of the ball carrier. He over-pursues, but Bostic, who may be playing opposite of him, is disciplined here. This makes LVE an even stronger fit overall.

I find this a true example of when he can slide off his blocks and really show that range he has. Great recognition and purely dominates the play as a whole. I love smart and savvy plays like this one, he shows physicality and athleticism to truly make a tackle that not every ILB can make. The Steelers missed a guy like this once Ryan Shazier was lost for the season. The big issue with LVE is I do not think he will be there. The Cowboys, Bills, Patriots, Titans, and Saints all have extensive interest in him and I do not think he will be there unfortunately, he would be a great fit.

Alabama ILB Rashaan Evans

I have not been too sure of my thoughts on Evans until recently, but I see a talented player who, while he still has more learning to do than LVE, could possibly have a higher ceiling with the special abilities he brings to the defense.

I do not think there is any ILB that is more ‘Steeler’ in the draft than Evans. He would fit right in here and frankly his college tape reminds me of former Steelers LB, Larry Foote. His range and sideline-to-sideline range are incredibly insane for the position, and he shows he is incredibly athletic. He is a more athletic version of Larry Foote, but his game and smarts of the game play similarly.

Unlike Vander Esch, Evans slips blocks quite easily and can blow up plays right at the line of scrimmage due to his overall ability. I believe he is also a more advanced processor than LVE, once the play begins, you can see Evans diagnose the play incredibly fast. Like any Steelers LB, Evans is tough and rough, and plays the game with an absolute physicality that makes you scream Steelers LB. His wrap up and discipline make him enticing to me, and he can wrap up the shiftiest backs in the league, just ask Derrius Guice.

Here is an incredible compilation of Evans, and his athleticism is on full display. You can see the range and the explosiveness when coming downhill. However, something I have not even mentioned is how Evans can also play EDGE. OLB is a need for the Steelers and with LB depth in Jon Bostic and Vince Williams, Evans will be awarded with reps at EDGE should he become a Pittsburgh Steeler. He actually has some decent bend and a solid spin move to get around tackles. He knows how to use his hands well and maintain an edge too, so this is an interesting prospect that the Steelers could jump all over, and I believe he will be there at pick No. 28.

Stanford S Justin Reid

This draft I had three safeties with Round one grades: Derwin James, Minkah Fitzpatrick, and Justin Reid. I am higher on Reid than most, and I really believe he should be talked about up there with Derwin and Minkah. I have him as the 20th best prospect in the draft, and you can bet I am fully aboard the Reid to Pittsburgh train. He is incredibly versatile and would give the Steelers that all so important sixth DB they have been searching for at this point. He can play center field, in the slot, down in the box, and anywhere you want the guy to play. A sure tackler and most importantly, good in coverage, can play both zone and man as well. Another physical and smart player, Reid finishes every play, and I love the tenacity he brings to the field. This guy is so slippery on blocks and often messes up RBs in the play easily. His athleticism is a big attribute to these big positives, as his numbers are impressive.

Enjoy these numbers, they are extremely impressive for Reid, and he really does play a lot like his brother, but he is a much more advanced center fielder than Eric. His physicality and range in coverage make his versatility apparent, but in zone I love how disciplined he is to his assignments.

I love how he simply makes such smart plays like this, and you will not see him miss tackles on plays like this either, the guy will make sure he plays smart and wraps up well. He uses his range often, especially vs. the run, and shows incredible range. My biggest gripe with Reid is how he bites on fakes from play action, a weakness of Sean Davis and Artie Burns, and as such, I question how great the fit is for the Steelers.

Do they want to compound that weakness? I am not so sure they do.

Wake Forest S Jessie Bates

You could call this the Artie Burns pick of the 2018 draft for the Steelers, except I believe Bates is more valuable than Burns was back when the Steelers picked him. It is not like Bates is all that much of an athlete, although he is a better athlete than he tested. Bates is simply an incredibly smart player and the best pure center fielder in the draft. He is smart and disciplined in coverage, man and zone, all of which compiles to me to signal a player the Steelers have hot on their radar.

If the team passes on him in the first, he won’t be there in the second.

Bates has a slim frame, and needs to bulk up no doubt, but that never stops him from laying the boom. He is an incredibly willing tackler and will hit hard when necessary. The more I look at fit and scheme, the more I want Bates over Reid. Bates does not bite on fakes in play action, and that might be the most important thing. It allows Sean Davis to be moved around more freely and allows Bates to play the strict center fielder role on the team. The guy will track a receiver well in zone and his ball skills are ever so prevalent in coverage, and he is always physical at the point of attack. The guy is not a box safety, but do not think he cannot come down field and just be a physical player. He can be that all and more. As per usual with targets of the Steelers this season, his change of direction and hips are loose and smooth.

This is one of my favorite Jessie Bates plays. He comes over and makes an absolute gem of a play on the ball. Quick reaction time, smooth hips, and aggressive ball skills allow him to get that key deflection. He makes more than one of these plays too, and it is why so many people have fallen in love with him as a prospect. I would not be opposed to Jessie Bates being the team’s 1st round draft pick, and neither should you — the kid is legit.

LSU RB Derrius Guice

If you told me this was a possibility a month ago, I would have laughed at you. And yet, with all of the cloudiness regarding Le’veon Bell’s contract situation, the Steelers have shown clear, hard interest in Derrius Guice.

Guice is a Top 10 talent in the draft to me, and of incredible value at 28, and yet, do the Steelers really want to spend a first round pick on a future need?

It is possible this happens, and if it does you should be happy. Guice is not very far behind Barkley in terms of how good he is as a whole. I love his power running style, and he not only runs with power and speed, but incredible balance. He can bounce off people at times and just keep plays going. His elusiveness and vision rival that of Barkley, and he frankly has better vision. He is also a great receiver and a capable blocker. Guice checks all boxes for a star NFL RB, and could very well replace Bell next season, should he walk. Guice also has the home run hitter ability, which Bell simply does not possess. Guice hits the hole with an authority and purpose, but he does have a subtle patience to let the hole develop before he speeds right into contact. The guy can create yards by himself and makes himself useful in all areas of the field.

The one thing that could even be more enticing is a back field comprising of Bell and Guice. Although only a one year experience, that would be the best backfield in the NFL, and it is not even close. His explosion and decision making as a whole will make you love him as a player should he come to the 412 area code.

Just great burst and athleticism here. His power is not shown off, but that home run ability that the Steelers are missing at RB is and don’t you question the Guice fit either. In all honesty, I do not believe there is a better fit for Guice than the Steelers. The scheme plays just to him, and he would be magic for the Steelers.

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Overall, I think the Steelers have quite the enjoyable dilemma here. I am of opinion that the likely rankings go as this:

  1. Rashaan Evans
  2. Jessie Bates
  3. Justin Reid
  4. Derrius Guice
  5. Leighton Vander Esch

All five of these players would improve the team in drastically different ways, and would have substantial impact in year 1.

Steelers fans, we should be happy the team has this great dilemma. I think this is almost a can’t lose situation. I like all 5 prospects, and so should you. Should it not be one of these 5, Georgia EDGE Lorenzo Carter will be the name, but he feels a lot like Bud Dupree, and I do not trust Joey Porter to develop him.

Rather, I believe the Steelers will get an extremely quality impact player at 28, who can help propel them to the Super Bowl. Who will they take?

My money is on Rashaan Evans, but who is your pick for the team’s top draft pick? Let us know in the comment section below!