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National media grades for Steelers 2019 draft class range from A to C

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We take a look at the various grades given to the Steelers 2019 NFL Draft class by the experts in the national media

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Minnesota v Michigan Photo by Dave Reginek/Getty Images

Of all the aspects of the annual draft process that make the least sense, it is hard to challenge the absurdity of grading a draft seconds after it has happened. Reports invariably written by the same media experts who assigned their own personal rankings to the prospects before they were picked, then go on to use those same evaluations when assessing the job done by the various teams, regardless of how inaccurate their projections were in the first place.

If the expert had a player ranked in the first-round and he then slides to round five, the team that picked him got a steal and they are graded according, totally overlooking that fact that the evaluation clearly did not match with that of the 32 professional NFL teams who have done far more research. That being said, this has never stopped me from reading them, even if I do approach them with a degree of contempt.

In general, the Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 NFL Draft class seems to have been relatively well received by the national media, with the move up for Devin Bush meeting with the approval of most experts. And by comparison to some fans who appear to be slightly disappointed with the team’s overall haul, it would be fair to say that the media might be more impressed with the draft class than some sections of SteelerNation.

Listed from best to worst based on grade:

Steve Silverman, Bleacher Report: A

“The Steelers know how to use the draft to replenish their team, and their first piece of business was to move up so they could pick inside linebacker Devin Bush. He has explosive speed and he can go sideline-to sideline to make key plays. Michigan State cornerback Justin Layne has size, speed and a willingness to tackle.”

“Best Day 3 selection: Outside linebacker Sutton Smith may have a difficult finding the field on defense, but he will be an outstanding special-teams contributor.”

Chad Reuter, NFL.com: A-

“I was so happy to see two inside linebackers go in the top 10 picks. Bush is worthy of that investment, as he moves like a safety and pounds ball-carriers with impunity. The picks they parted with to move up in the deal with the Broncos -- Pittsburgh sent them a 2019 second-round pick (No. 52) and 2020 third-rounder -- isn’t a ridiculous price to pay, but the Steelers could have found a much-needed corner had they stayed at No. 20 and a starting inside ‘backer in the second round (or later).”

“Pittsburgh hopes it found another steal at receiver by picking up Johnson, who has the toughness, hands and quickness to excel. He may have been available later in the draft, but honestly, how can I doubt GM Kevin Colbert’s call on a receiver? Layne was a typical Colbert-like value in the third round, and he’ll quickly earn playing time.”

“Snell is another powerful runner who will continue to pound defenses when James Conner and Jaylen Samuels aren’t in the game. Gentry could become a player in time, though there were four or five other tight ends available with higher grades. The team hopes Gray can eventually take over the right tackle spot.”

Day 1 grade: A-, Day 2 grade: A-, Day 3 grade: B, Overall grade: A-

Albert Breer, MMQB: A-

“You may have heard: the Pittsburgh Steelers rarely trade up. (The last time was 2003 for some soft-spoken safety named Troy Polamalu.) But Devin Bush is worth making an exception for given that the team had reason to believe their division-rival Bengals wanted him, but even more so because the Steelers badly needed him. Bush is a modern day run-and-chase linebacker. He decisively fires his gun and has superb closing speed. In other words, he’s another Ryan Shazier, whose tragic injury in 2017 dropped this defense down an entire level.”

“The Antonio Brown trade wound up yielding third-round receiver Diontae Johnson and fifth-round tight end Zach Gentry. It’s realistic to think that together, they might provide half the production that Brown would have, at least in these first couple of years. But on the plus side, they’re much cheaper than Brown and, presumably, not despicable teammates.”

“It will be interesting to see if third-round corner Justin Layne gets on the field. The Steelers, with so many complex matchup zones and disguised pressures, don’t love playing young defensive backs, but with inconsistent ex-Chief Steven Nelson as their starting right corner, they could be tempted to give Layne, a plus-sized bump-and-run defender, a close look.”

Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News: A-

“The Steelers know what kind of players fit their offensive and defensive systems, and GM Kevin Colbert went right for them. Johnson and Snell made sense after the departures of Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. Gentry is a good replacement for Jesse James. Watch out for Buggs being a big steal.”

Walter Football: A-

“The Steelers may have hoped that Devin Bush would drop to them, but they were realistic about it. They were well aware that they had to trade up to obtain a new defensive leader, and that’s exactly what they did. Trading up for players is often unwise, but it was completely necessary in this instance. Pittsburgh’s defense has been a shell of its former self ever since Ryan Shazier suffered his horrible spinal injury. Now, the Steelers can return to their former glory with Bush as a replacement.”

“While Bush earned an “A” grade, another selection of Pittsburgh’s was marked even higher. Justin Layne at No. 83 could’ve been constituted as grand larceny, as there was some speculation that he could be chosen late in the opening frame. The Steelers obtained a major steal with Layne, who figures to solve the problems his new team had at cornerback. Conversely, Pittsburgh was guilty of some minor reaches when it took wide receiver Dionate Johnson and tight end Zach Gentry too early.”

“Aside from the two reaches, the Steelers had a great weekend. They filled several needs with talented prospects for the most part, and as a result, Pittsburgh could be back in playoff contention after being absent from the postseason last year.”

Mel Kiper Jr., ESPN: B+

“In January, in my Mock Draft 1.0, I slotted in Devin Bush to the Steelers at No. 20. It was an easy decision -- yes, I’m patting myself on the back -- as Pittsburgh has struggled to replace the production of star inside linebacker Ryan Shazier. But then Bush ran a 4.43-second 40-yard dash and tested off the charts at the combine. He also killed his interviews with teams. There was no way he was going to be available in the 20s.”

“That’s why I like GM Kevin Colbert moving up 10 spots to get a potential superstar in Bush at No. 10. Yes, it cost a lot -- they gave up pick 20 and 52 plus a third-rounder in next year’s draft -- but Bush can be an impact player and leader in Pittsburgh. And oh, yeah: The last time Pittsburgh traded up in the first round to take a defender? It was 2003, when they moved up 11 spots for safety Troy Polamalu.”

“Elsewhere, Pittsburgh added a wide receiver with the pick it got in the Antonio Brown trade. Diontae Johnson (No. 66) actually reminds me a little bit of Brown on tape, but he’s not an elite athlete. We obviously can’t expect him to be close to Brown, but if he gets into the rotation as a rookie, that’s a win. The Steelers really like second-year wideout James Washington, a second-rounder a year ago. Cornerback Justin Layne (No. 83), a converted receiver, could be a starter as a rookie. I thought he had a chance to go in the top 40 picks. Sutton Smith (No. 175) is a little undersized, but he landed in a good spot with a 3-4 team.”

“My affection for Bush is well-known, obviously, and I think he can be a superstar lynchpin for this team. Layne, too, is a great value pick at a need position. Now, can Pittsburgh overtake Cleveland in the AFC North?”

Mark Maske, Washington Post: B+

“The Steelers are not known for making bold trades to move up, but they acted decisively in the first round to climb 10 spots for LB Devin Bush. He fits in well. The Steelers needed WR help after trading Antonio Brown and used a third-rounder gained in that deal on Diontae Johnson. The Steelers have had great success getting productive wideouts later than the first round.”

Pro Football Focus: Above Average

Day 1: The Steelers had to give up picks Nos. 20 and 52 in the 2019 NFL Draft and a third-rounder in the 2020 NFL Draft to get him, but former Michigan off-ball linebacker Devin Bush has a very good chance to be worth the extra draft capital if he can bring his play in Ann Arbor to Pittsburgh. He is a freakishly athletic linebacker with outstanding coverage and pass-rushing ability compared to his peers in this year’s class. He’s also a tone-setter on the defensive side of the ball who craves contact and knows how to lay the boom. He also earned 90.2 and 85.0 overall grades in 2017 and 2018, respectively.”

“I think Bush is perfect for what the Steelers want from the linebacker position.” – Pro Football Focus’ Lead Draft Analyst Mike Renner”

Day 2: A favorite of practically everyone at the PFF offices, Toledo wide receiver Diontae Johnson is a superb route runner that will be a nightmare for opposing defensive backs to match and mirror at the next level. Pro Football Focus’ Lead Draft Analyst Mike Renner says it best in that “Johnson just moves differently.” Production fell off a bit for Johnson when AAF superstar Logan Woodside left Toledo after the 2017 season, but Big Ben should help DJ return to form in Pittsburgh.”

“Michigan State cornerback Justin Layne’s 89.5 coverage grade last year was ninth-best among Power-5 corners in the nation. Pegged as PFF’s No. 39 overall player in the class, Layne is quite the steal for the Steelers at pick No. 83.”

Day 3: Likely too small to play edge defender at the next level, the 6-foot, 233-pound Sutton Smith should make the transition to off-ball linebacker and bring pass-rush upside in the NFL. He recorded 65 total pressures as an edge defender with Northern Illinois in 2018, good for the second-most pressures in the FBS. He finished the pre-draft process ranked 199th in the class.”

“After earning a 78.0 overall grade and an 89.2 run-defense grade in 2017, Alabama’s Isaiah Buggs regressed in a larger role in 2018. Predominantly playing edge defender, he earned a 71.6 overall grade and a 74.7 run-defense grade across 747 defensive snaps this past season.”

Pete Prisco, CBS Sports: B

“Best pick: I think third-round corner Justin Layne has a chance to be a good starter. He is long and can cover. The Steelers need that.”

“Worst pick: Third-round receiver Diontae Johnson is a smallish MAC receiver, which makes him a little bit of a risk. But who are we to argue with the Steelers when it comes to smallish receivers in the draft?”

“The skinny: They made a bold move to move up to land linebacker Devin Bush with the 10th overall pick, a move I like. The rest of their draft was solid as well. Not flashy, but solid.”

Dan Kadar, SB Nation: B-

“No team made a bigger jump in the first round. They gave up a lot to get linebacker Devin Bush of Michigan. The need was obvious. The value not as much.”

“In a pick from the Antonio Brown trade, the Steelers got another small Mid-American Conference wide receiver in Diontae Johnson. The similarity to Brown feels kinda troll-ish. At the least, Johnson can be a good return man. He was picked 66th overall, though Pittsburgh viewed him as a first-round player, which was surprising.”

“On Day 3, the Steelers took several very Steelers players. Cornerback Justin Layne is the big outside corner they needed. Benny Snell, a brilliant pickup, is a power back who fits the offense. If James Conner struggles, Snell could be a star. Zach Gentry was this draft’s version of Jesse James as a big, unrefined tight end with some athleticism.”

Nate Davis, USA Today: C

“Admire GM Kevin Colbert deviating from his tendencies to trade up for LB Devin Bush — the first man this organization ever dealt into the top 10 for — particularly in light of this defense’s ongoing struggles since Ryan Shazier went down in 2017. But it was a hefty gamble at the cost of a first-, second- and future third-rounder. Third-round CB Justin Layne and fourth-round RB Benny Snell seem like solid choices, but will Colbert regret not tabbing an alternative to Matt Feiler, the new starting right tackle? And, after further consideration, this just doesn’t feel like enough for Antonio Brown.”