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Talented players fall in the NFL Draft without reason, just ask the Steelers and David DeCastro

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Sometimes, players with histories of injury or off-field incidents who have top-five talent end up falling deep into the first round of the NFL Draft, or even into lower rounds. Even so, many years a player falls for what seems like absolutely no reason. Two of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ best players over the last quarter-century are exactly “that guy.”

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

In every NFL draft, there are players you just know will be drafted in the top five or ten positions. Until, of course, they aren’t.

In 2004, the Pittsburgh Steelers held the 11th pick in a draft in which three quarterbacks were considered near-consensus top-10 picks: Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger. In fact, many had Roethlisberger ranked ahead of Rivers, who ended up going as the fourth overall pick in one of the stranger openers to a draft, ever.

True, in the few days just before the draft, some were beginning to mock Roethlisberger to the Steelers. Still, there were enough teams in the top 10 that needed help at quarterback that it would likely be wishful thinking to believe a top quarterback would fall to Pittsburgh.

Until he did. And, after three Super Bowl appearances and two wins, he’s almost a sure-fire, first-ballot Hall of Famer.

Eight years later, Stanford guard David DeCastro was expected to be a possible top-five pick, and top-ten at worst. Despite guards not often being drafted in the top half of the first round, he was viewed as being just that good. And he has been exactly that, as he is an All-Pro who consistently grades out among experts as the very top of the top tier of NFL guards.

For the Steelers, who picked 24th in that draft.

Draft after draft, someone falls. And we aren’t talking about Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jalen Smith or the Steelers’ Stephon Tuitt, who were both top-ten talents whose drops out of the first round were clearly attributable to injuries. We’re talking about guys whose falls seemed inexplicable and exceedingly unlikely at the time, as they were passed up by teams who had clear needs at their positions.

Retrospect is sometimes useful in diagnosing, but predicting ahead of time is often an act of futility. For DeCastro, it’s possible that bias against guards in the top 15 to 20 picks played a role. For Roethlisberger, perhaps the drama that unfolded between Eli Manning and the Chargers had teams shying away from further quarterback picks, allowing the Steelers to draft Roethlisberger. Because we so rarely get a glimpse into the decision-making processes of various general managers, it’s hard to understand the past and, therefore, judge the future. But no one said we can’t try.

There are some candidates to fall in the 2018 NFL draft. Linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and Rashaan Evans could easily fall, especially if quarterbacks Lamar Jackson and Mason Rudolph end up being drafted earlier. It could also be affected by how much weight teams put on fellow linebacker Leighton Vander Esch’s combine performance, which could end up intriguing a team enough for Vander Esch to supplant, say, Evans, in particular. Or maybe those runs on quarterbacks and linebackers pushes cornerbacks Denzel Ward and Josh Jackson down, and some team views Jackson as the better fit. In that case, the bottom half of the draft order could see someone like Ward, who is expected to be off the board by the 15th pick.

Or, maybe, the questions about quarterback Josh Allen’s mechanics and accuracy simply drop him out of the top five to seven picks. If that happens, and he is viewed closer to Jackson in skill, we could even see Jackson leap-frog Allen as general managers get gun-shy when it comes time to actually pull the trigger. Cold feet during the draft isn’t exactly an unheard-of phenomenon.

In the end, mock drafts are rarely consistently correct beyond the first three to five picks. But we can typically peg a pick into a window of a handful of picks. Still, there is usually that one player who defies the odds and ends up falling to, or even through, the bottom of the first round without obvious reason. Who that may be in 2018 is, of course, anybody’s guess.