It’s no secret the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense was their Achilles heel in 2019. With Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger out for the season, the revolving door of Mason Rudolph and undrafted free agent Devlin (Duck) Hodges was deployed at the most important position in football. The Steelers were the only team in the NFL who did not score 30 points in a single game all season and should be the focal point of the Steelers’ off-season. If the Steelers were to shock the world and go with a defensive selection at pick 49 who could be a possibility at that juncture that was too good to pass up?
An edge rusher could be the pick at 49 if the Steelers want to sure up the position post-Bud Dupree. Depth is also needed at the position with Anthony Chickillo on his way out and outside of the preseason, Ola Adeniyi and Tuzar Skipper are virtual unknowns.
Julian Okwara, EDGE, Notre Dame – Okwara had an impressive 2018 campaign but couldn’t improve on that as he was injured nine games into his senior season with a broken fibula. Okwara is 6’4”, 252lbs and looks like he could build upon that frame. His brother, Romeo, plays defensive end for the Detroit Lions and if Julian is headed for that frame, we’re in good shape. Okwara is athletic and possesses the tools to build upon to reach his potential. The former Notre Dame product can run the arc and flatten with ease, making it difficult to contain him, but he still lacks a counter move to keep tackles on their toes. There is a lot to build upon here and learning behind Dupree for a season would be super beneficial.
Joshua Uche, EDGE, Michigan – Uche has impressive production as far as tackles for loss and sacks go the past two seasons, totaling 18.5 TFL and 14.5 sacks. Uche was not even a starter last season when he produced 7 sacks. Uche has experience as an edge rusher and as an off-ball linebacker, his versatility making him that much more attractive as a prospect. Uche is an athletic prospect with a quick get off and can get around the corner very naturally, making him a problem when rushing the passer. If that’s not enough, Uche has a diversified pass rush arsenal to keep tackles guessing. As an outside linebacker he would be tasked to cover, and the former Wolverine is up to the task.
With the impending departure of Javon Hargrave, a pass rushing nose tackle who can also serve as depth at the position is needed. There are a few prospects that would be very tough to bypass if available at 49.
Ross Blacklock, IDL, TCU – Blacklock would be an absolute stud of an addition to this defense. He wreaks havoc at the point of attack, splitting blockers and exploiting gaps quickly to get into the laps of opposing quarterbacks. His athleticism is a very attractive trait as well, with his lateral quickness coming in handy against the run. Blacklock needs to work on holding his own at the point of attack and against the run. The former Horned Frog did miss the entire 2018 season with an Achilles injury, but rebounded very strong. Blacklock would be an instant starter at nose tackle and would be my pick to be the top backup at both defensive end spots.
Justin Madubuike, IDL, Texas A&M – A productive player in every facet of the game. The past two seasons combined, 22 tackles for loss and 11 sacks, 4 forced fumbles and a blocked kick. The former Aggie is frequently in the backfield and uses his athleticism to use a variety of pass rush moves to penetrate. There is a ton of traits to build off of to mold into an excellent one gapping nose tackle, but he will need to add to his frame. Needs to work on his get –off and explosion off the snap, but that can be coached up.
Only two positions mentioned here, with three being left out. Safety depth is surely needed, but with two starting safeties already at the helm, it would be absolutely earth shattering to see a player taken in round two that isn’t given a clear path to start. Cornerback was also left off this list with Joe Haden and Steven Nelson slotted as the outside starters and Mike Hilton and Cameron Sutton competing for the slot. Cornerback, for once it seems, isn’t a huge need, especially with Justin Layne selected in round three of last year’s NFL Draft. I’d be hard pressed to see a linebacker taken so early with other needs so apparent. This linebacker class is pretty deep, so I could see the Steelers waiting a while if they choose to draft one.
Let me know in the comments if there was a defensive player not mentioned that you’d like to see drafted at 49!