The NFL Draft is in like four weeks, so I feel like I ought to write something about it. Below, in no particular order, is a compilation of draft prospects who I would very much enjoy seeing on the Steelers. First, though, some important considerations:
- I am not a Draft Knower or Tape Watcher so I won’t waste a second of your time pretending to be. As such, this blog will be devoid of cutesy scouting vernacular, which at times borders on pornographic (Strengths: “He is gifted with velvety, pliable hips and a thick lower half, which enables him to aggressively penetrate the offensive front, compromising their protection; Large, firm, and active hands dangle from his veiny upper musculature; Impressive burst.”)
- I am an avid fan of college football, but my familiarity with specific players is virtually confined to those who attended Power Five schools. Thus, while I am aware that Delaware safety Nasir Adderley and Louisiana Tech edge rusher Jaylon Ferguson are highly regarded prospects, I’ve never seen either one play, so I’m not gonna assemble a piecemeal “scouting report” based on recycled intel from Mel Kiper Jr.
Having said all that, if you haven’t already fallen headlong into the violent tornado of pre-draft conjecture, I invite you throw on a light jacket, festoon your desktop in tulips, and inject these forthcoming sports takes intravenously.
Devin Bush, inside linebacker, Michigan
Context free statistic: In 25 games as a starter for the Wolverines, Bush notched 10 sacks. That’s solid production from an inside linebacker who was asked to play myriad roles within Jim Harbaugh’s vaunted defense.
Most impressive physical metric: Bush’s 4.43 40-yard dash jumps off the page, but notable, too, is his insane 40-inch vertical. At 5-foot-11, Devin Bush can almost certainly dunk a basketball with ease; I, who am likewise 5-foot-11, touched the rim one time back in college.
Why the Steelers need him: Last offseason, the Steelers signed Jon Bostic not only to solidify the molecule-thin linebacking corps, but to play meaningful snaps opposite the incumbent Vince Williams. This transaction was confounding at the time—Bostic, despite a productive campaign with the Colts in 2017, is essentially a Vince Williams clone, which is to say that he’s a decent enough run defender but represents a non-entity in coverage—and it looks even worse in retrospect given that Bostic spent much of the second act of the 2018 season parked on the bench, specifically because of the aforementioned coverage liabilities. Williams is a sufficient two-down thumper and is a good early-down pass rusher, but the Steelers need an speedy linebacker who can fly around solo on nickel downs, chase down runners and receivers short of the line to gain, and break up passes downfield. Bush’s physical capabilities make him an ideal candidate to be this linebacker. Ideally, Bush would split time with newly-minted Steeler Mark Barron with an eye on assuming this role full-time in the near future.
Deandre Baker, defensive back, Georgia
Fun fact that carries major significance: Baker played in 36 games for the Bulldogs during his career; from his tenth game onward, opposing receivers matched up against Baker scored precisely zero touchdowns. During the two-year stretch in which Baker held Division 1 competition scoreless, he faced off against some of the most formidable receivers in the NCAA, including potential first-rounder Marquise Brown, future first-rounder Jerry Jeudy, and current Falcons star Calvin Ridley. I’m spitballing, but Baker’s collegiate dominance should plainly demonstrate that he possesses the necessary technical proficiency to improve the prospects of whatever team is lucky enough to draft him.
Obvious “weaknesses” that will unfailingly tank Baker’s draft stock: Scouts, much like choosey suburban mean girls, will undoubtedly check Baker’s measurements and think “Ugh, I wish he was six-feet.” Baker I suppose can be considered kinda small (he’s 5-foot-11 and a double protein Chipotle bowl shy of 200 pounds), especially for a player destined to ply his trade as an outside cornerback, but that should not overshadow the fact that he held opposing receivers scoreless for two years. My take: Had Baker ran a better 40 (he 4.52 at the combine), he’d be the consensus top cornerback prospect.
Why the Steelers need him: Because Artie Burns still plays for the Steelers.
Marquise Brown, receiver, Oklahoma
Fact of which you are almost certainly apprised by now: Brown is the cousin of erstwhile Steeler (and forever my GOAT) Antonio Brown.
Weight: 166 pounds.
166 pounds?: 166 pounds.
My god. And he’s a presumed first-round prospect?: Indeed he is. Statistics for receivers playing in the Big 12 should always be taken with a grain of salt, but Brown posted back-to-back 1,000-yard campaigns in 2017 and 2018 and averaged a hilariously prolific 18.2 yards per reception in his career. He has immediate upside as a downfield vertical threat, and going to an organization with a proven infrastructure for cultivating receiving talent should enable him to develop into a more complete receiver. You can teach a receiver to run correct routes; the innate game-breaking aptitude that earns one the moniker “Hollywood” cannot be learned.
Why the Steelers need him: What’s great about JuJu Smith-Schuster is that he’s good at basically everything: he can make difficult catches along the sideline and in traffic, he’s sturdy enough to break tackles and set blocks, and he’s a crafty route runner. He feasted last season, catching 111 passes for 1,426 yards and seven touchdowns, which, when considered in a vacuum, affirms his preeminence. But its worth bearing in mind that, last season, Smith-Schuster played opposite Antonio Brown, one of the four or five offensive skill position players in the NFL who are impossible to game plan against. This is all a roundabout way of saying that, yes, JuJu Smith-Schuster rules very hard, but it is downright irresponsible to overlook the manifold ways in which the mere presence of Antonio Brown worked to his benefit. None of this is to suggest that Marquise Brown will be the next Antonio Brown or that he’ll even be a fitting proxy (Marquise reminds me of Desean Jackson, who is a marvelous receiver but bears not even a passing resemblance to Antonio Brown); however, I think someone like Brown—in other words, a deep-threat and open-field virtuoso—will help alleviate any added defensive pressure Smith-Schuster stands to endure as a result of AB’s departure. Correspondingly, the presence of Smith-Schuster should divert attention from Brown, allowing Brown to fill his plate and eat, too. Because, of course, if there’s one area in which the Steelers thrive, it’s maintaining a harmonious workplace...
Clear 10 minutes from your schedule and watch this clip of Brown utterly jugulating opposing secondaries:
Mack Wilson, inside linebacker, Alabama
So, wait, one of your favorite players is an inside linebacker who is almost unanimously decried in scouting circles for missing too many tackles?: This is correct.
And you have watched the Steelers over, I don’t know, the past five seasons?: Yes, indeed I have.
Why the Steelers need him: Because Mack checks all the boxes for what teams look for in a prototypical modern linebacker: he can run sideline-to-sideline; he can cover running backs and tight ends; he’s demonstrated an innate aptitude for creating turnovers (he picked off six passes over the course of his career); he’s an eager tackler. The concerns about the missed tackles are valid, because Mack does oftentimes try to rip ballcarriers in half as opposed to simply wrapping them up, but he should be able to improve his technique and relearn tendencies with rigorous coaching and a not insignificant amount of trial and error.
Amani Oruwariye, defensive back, Penn State
I am a despicable Penn State fan, so I am actually somewhat qualified to offer a baseline analysis by dint of my familiarity with watching him play on Saturdays.
Positives: Oruwariye is big (6-foot-1, 205 pounds), agile (6.82 three-cone and 4.16 20-yard shuttle—those marks ranked highly among defensive backs tested at the scouting combine), and knows how to find the ball once it’s in the air. He was absurdly productive during his career at Penn State, intercepting nine passes and defending another 20, which also highlights his plus ball skills and and playmaking acumen. Although Oruwariye isn’t, like, an amazing tackler, he usually wraps his man up and he’s particularly effective in run support, closing off edges on the outside and blasting through open gaps to suss out ballcarriers and prevent chunk rushing plays (that sounded kinda scout-y; my bad).
Negatives: He got beat a lot on vertical and deep crossing routes, which is not the kind of report you wanna see attached to a prospective Steelers corner and is also the sort of thing that might indicate Oruwariye’s success at the next level may be somewhat dependent on the scheme in which he’s deployed.
Why the Steelers need him: The Steelers frequently utilize zone defense, and Oruwariye, in my opinion, is the best zone corner available. This, from Penn State’s game against Iowa last season. Specifically, watch how Oruwariye drops into coverage, anticipates this throw, and breaks on the ball.
This is a great play! The Steelers need to enlist cornerbacks who can make plays like this.
What do you think of this prospect list? Who did I leave off? Who shouldn’t be on the list? Feel free to comment in the comment section below!