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A breakdown of why the Steelers draft has been solid through two days

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The Pittsburgh Steelers have gone in an incredibly odd direction, but it is one that sets the team up well.

NFL: NFL Draft Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

I remember not too long ago when I was cursing the Pittsburgh Steelers for taking Terrell Edmunds, and also being rather upset at the selection of Mason Rudolph.

Let’s be honest, none of us called Edmunds in the 1st, and none of us thought Pittsburgh would draft all offense on Day 2. Many fans have called this panic by the Steelers, and misguided decision making overall, and I fell into this group at first. However, a closer look and correlation between their picks and the fits they display show the Steelers are carefully planning out this process.

We can all rue the day the Steelers passed on Justin Reid or Ronnie Harrison, especially because it appears we could have had one of them in the second round, but the pick of Terrell Edmunds was that of schematic fit and need. Similarly, James Washington, Mason Rudolph, and Okorafor similarly fit this vein of reasoning. Experts have been mixed, many experts, like NDT’s Jon Ledyard, have questioned the process, while others are very much in the middle.

You can classify me somewhere in the middle, I do lean to liking it, but it does not mean this is exceptional, or without flaws — as you will see.

Terrell Edmunds

Edmunds, at his core, is a strong safety who has the capabilities to absolutely play down in the box and be the Dime Linebacker the Steelers need so desperately. In sub packages, that role was used by an assortment of individuals including William Gay last season, but it was never truly sorted out. Edmunds gives the team a true 6th Defensive Back to attribute to that package. Fans must realize once Leighton Vander Esch went to the Cowboys and Rashaan Evans to the Titans, there had to be a backup solution to replacing Ryan Shazier. Justin Reid could not do that, Ronnie Harrison could not do that, and neither could Jessie Bates. Darius Leonard would have been a reach in the 1st, and Jerome Baker and Malik Jefferson are too raw to fully help fill that void from Day 1.

Consider Edmunds the perfect at this point. He and Bates were the two safeties who would have gone in Round 2 should we have passed on his talents. In other words, there is no guarantee the Steelers would get him early in the 2nd, since he was reportedly drawing lots of top 40 interest.

I emphasized how one of the main things the Steelers were keen on addressing were tackling issues, communication issues, and players with high character. Edmunds checks all three of those boxes with flying colors. He is an extremely sure tackler, a strong communicator, and has a high sense of character. In addition, I love the guy’s motor. He really does fly and use his athleticism well all over the field. He fills the Shazier role in sub packages better than anyone on roster, and in the draft at that particular point. This signals the likelihood of Sean Davis sliding to Free Safety, and Morgan Burnett playing more Strong Safety, as Davis is the real only true Free Safety, with the range to do it, on the roster. Edmunds and Burnett may get chances to play there, but you will likely see Davis in that role.

Edmunds adds value in sub packages as well as fills out Safety depth. Make it certain Edmunds will cover Tight Ends well too, a criminal weakness of the Steelers for a long time. Already, he is someone who can be a true impact player in the run game and naturally be maneuvered into positions where his physical and athletic style really comes out.

Do not doubt how well Edmunds can play when he comes in, and I am sure Mike Tomlin and crew will put him into that dime backer role to comfortably put him into the scheme. Obviously, he gets to learn from Burnett and new DB Coach Tom Bradley. This was not a panic move, but a well thought out plan. Do not think this doesn’t signal a player without weaknesses though. Edmunds takes bad angles, is extremely raw as a processor, and bites on moves in man coverage, but this pick still makes sense. I believe this is somewhat of a reach if I had to perfectly place it, I had Edmunds with a mid 3rd round grade, but he can absolutely help the biggest need, which was a dimebacker in sub packages.

James Washington

The first of the duo from Stillwater was James Washington. I looked at my board and pretty easily pointed to the player I wanted, and it was Washington. Once Pettis and Miller were gone, this pick made a ton of sense. He is a great value at 60 and fills a need which was left after the Martavis Bryant trade. Many have called Washington the “ideal slot receiver”, but he is not really that at all. That is more of the Miller, Kirk, and Hamilton route. Washington, in Fichtner’s scheme, will likely play at the Z WR position. Antonio Brown is obviously the X but JuJu Smith-Schuster will be the Y in the slot. I prefer JuJu stays in the slot, in the role where he can comfortably get a release and work more on the possession aspect than be a deep threat.

Washington, first and foremost is a vertical threat. He has a way with double moves that allows him to easily just sprint past WRs. He is around JuJu’s speed, and burns guys constantly due to a great release, precise vertical route running, and some really solid footwork. He also plays faster than the 4.5 speed tag, and has some pretty strong acceleration which can take you by surprise if you’re not careful. I really love how smoothly the transition is on his deep balls, and just how great his hands are. For reference, Washington was my WR5 overall in the draft.

His exposure to a route tree is somewhat limited, but every time I watch him cut and run other routes they seem smoother, and more well run, than they should be for a novice. With AB to learn from, I really do not think Washington will have that hard of a time adjusting to the offense, and you should see some big plays from him and Ben Roethlisberger this year. Pittsburgh will not lose their vertical threat at all, and even more so, I prefer Washington to Bryant in the fact I think Washington will have more effect on other routes and plays, meaning less pressure on Antonio Brown.

Overall, my favorite pick of the Steelers’ draft so far.

Mason Rudolph

The Browns and Ravens got Baker Mayfield and Lamar Jackson on Day 1 of the draft, respectively. They have, by their visions, secured the future of their franchises with those picks. The Steelers seemingly did the same here. This is not the Josh Dobbs or Landry Jones pick, this is the heir apparent to Ben Roethlisberger.

I do not mind this either.

Rudolph, in my mind, is going to be a starter at the NFL level, and I originally called him the Kirk Cousins of this draft, and I stand by that. I had him ranked ahead of Josh Allen for reference, and he was the No. 5 QB on my board. I love this value at 3:76. I would have been against Rudolph in the 2nd purely because there are bigger fish to fry there, but I think this is solid. Kevin Colbert has said that he wants to secure the future of this team and this does it pretty darn well. Learning behind Roethlisberger for 2-3 years will help him really develop into a solid QB and this has prepared the team for life after Ben.

You have to think, once Ben leaves, hopefully the defense is stout by that point, and if it is so, the team now has a franchise QB to pair with it.

The argument of course is that Pittsburgh is in win now mode, and should have drafted an EDGE or ILB with their first 3rd round pick, but I think this is a case where Rudoph was just too good to pass up. The value, and the prospect of attaining your franchise QB, which I believe they have done, in the 3rd round plus spiting the Bengals of the possibility to get him as well was too good to pass up. Rudolph can carry on the scheme as well, as he is probably the best pure deep passer in the class. He and Washington are going to be fun to watch for years to come.

I love Rudolph’s anticipation and precision when he slings the rock. He will need to learn to read the field better, but he is not a bad processor. He knows how to diagnose pre and post snap. His biggest knock will be his pocket presence, because he can get antsy, rush throws, and he really will not extend a play for you. He does need to work on his timing, but the key is he is already throwing with anticipation.

I do feel he needs to go through his progressions and he can stop being antsy, which in addition will make him more accurate, although he is already a precise, anticipatory player. Do not fear, Rudolph is a future franchise QB in my eyes, and getting him in the 3rd is a really nice value pick for him. How high is the ceiling will be the question. Either way, he fits what the Steelers want perfectly, and prepares the team for the future.

Chukwuma Okorafor

Of all the picks, this one is the most head scratching, and overall the one I could argue could have waited. I also think there were better players on the board at OT in Tyrell Crosby and Jamarco Jones. Crosby and Jones are more polished and more plug in right away type of players, but Okorafor follows the Jerald Hawkins blueprint. From what we have seen, Hawkins has had a somewhat rough go at things. I think Okorafor is more polished than Hawkins was coming out though. Obviously, the question is should the Steelers have gotten an EDGE such as Josh Sweat, or an ILB like Josey Jewell. I am going to be honest, I do not think that ILB and EDGE at this point are all that appealing. I am not as high on Jewell as everyone else because I do not think he fills the more athletic, high motor, sideline to sideline type player Pittsburgh needs. Obviously, it seems teams are worrying about Sweat’s knee, and that is why he has been dropping down boards.

Most importantly, I think that swing tackle was a huge need. Should Marcus Gilbert or Alejandro Villanueva get injured who can assume the Chris Hubbard role? Okorafor is a great swing tackle, and that is who they specifically targeted. He is the heir to either Villanueva or Gilbert on either side of the line, and one should not discount that if he pans out, he is a Pro Bowl level Tackle.

Mike Munchak is a wizard, and I have full faith he will help develop Okorafor. I do not love Okorafor’s tape, but when he flashes it shows the massive potential he has. He is a great run blocker for one and will drive people down. That much I do love, and his feet are nimble enough to defeat guys around the edge. His hands aren’t all that bad for how raw he is, and that is a key start. However, he puts far too much weight forward, and when you see his stance you see that right away. I do not love how he plays so upright, he will need to get lower, but that was also a key issue of Hubbard’s coming out, and it was obviously fixed. Okorafor also gets to the second level effectively, so it is overall a mixed bag, but he has massive potential.

I think he is raw, but not raw to the point where he cannot be viable should an injury occur. Okorafor will likely have a shot to a starter a few years down the line, and will be project, but for now, he fills the huge need of swing tackle the Steelers so desperately needed, although it was not talked about. Due to the thin nature of ILB and EDGE there, I get why the Steelers went for an OL here.

What Happens on Day 3

The Steelers shown extensive interest in Day 3 ILBs. Colbert and company clearly did not like anyone once Vander Esch and Evans were gone, but showed interest for these late picks. On Day 3, I think ILB will be the first pick regardless, unless someone of great value falls at EDGE, or somewhere around there, it should be addressed. Look for Maryland ILB Jermaine Carter Jr. to be a prime target. He not only visited the Steelers facility, but also is right on the natural pipeline. I like the kid a lot, and think he is going to be a starter in the future, so this is a great pick should Pittsburgh make it.

Watch out for DL, the Steelers showed extensive interest here as well. Bilal Nicholas from Delaware is a key player to watch, and with impressive explosion and solid run stuffing ability, he would push Daniel McCullers. They could also take a shot on Michigan DL Mo Hurst. Although he has a heart issue, they could deem the talent level is that good in that they must grab him.

RB could be addressed as well and with players like Nyheim Hines and Ryan Nall still out there, they could try for that big play threat RB. I do believe had Guice not been picked by Washington, the Steelers very well may have picked him. A shifty player like Boston Scott, who reminds me of Tarik Cohen, could be in play as well.

EDGE could obviously be addressed in the 5th for depth purposes. I for one, am looking at Devin Bellamy, Josh Sweat, and Genard Avery. Avery especially is one of my favorite players that the Steelers could grab on Day 3.

Lastly, TE has been an area where the Steelers have shown activism in exploring. Ian Thomas, Durham Smythe, Will Dissly, Chris Herndon, Troy Fumagalli, and Cam Serigne are all there and have attracted interest from the Steelers. I think it is likely to be the 7th round pick if anything, but if they do pick it, look for the Steelers to either look for a vertical threat or a blocking oriented guy.

...

I like the Steelers and how they expanded upon their versatility and invested into the future of this team while still keeping the team now solid. Edmunds and Washington will contribute from Day 1 and be key cogs this season. We can complain all we want, but so far, this has been a solid, and smart plan by the organization

Poll

What grade would you give the Steelers draft up to this point?

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  • 16%
    A
    (317 votes)
  • 57%
    B
    (1124 votes)
  • 18%
    C
    (359 votes)
  • 4%
    D
    (91 votes)
  • 2%
    F
    (47 votes)
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