I don’t follow college ball that much, but I’ll give you some guys that fit the on-field profile of what I think the Steelers could take.
If Ben Roethlisberger is back at a pre-2019 level of play the Steelers are Super Bowl contenders, if he’s a smart, veteran QB with somewhat diminished ability, the Steelers are a playoff team with a chance to get hot and make a run.
Mason Rudolph had a harsh learning curve, but he was improving, before Cleveland destroyed his season. We need to see him bounce back and grow from what he was last season. There is a good amount of potential there, and we saw real growth.
Devlin Hodges was the third string QB, in way over his head, but he showed he can read a defense and get rid of the ball quickly, and he showed moxie. He still has a big climb ahead of him, but if he can sort out his mechanical issues, and learn to read defenses at an NFL level, he could be a very good backup QB. That’s 2 very big ifs.
Draft outlook: The starter and franchise QB is still there, it doesn’t matter if you or I agree, the Rooney’s are all in on Ben Roethlisberger, so that’s how it is. The team has also shown it has no interest in trying to acquire a QB that could win in the playoffs if Big Ben is hurt. The standard is having a backup QB that could win a few games if forced into action, and they have 2 guys that did that. Rudolph went 4-2 with losses to teams that got first round byes in his first six games, and Hodges started 3-0 while outscoring the other team in two relief appearances. The problem the Steelers had was Roethlisberger was out for the whole season. If Ben had been able to come back in week 11 or even week 14 the Steelers likely make the playoffs and we would think very differently about the backup QBs.
My 2020 QB Picks: A healthy dose of the reality that the Steelers won’t draft a QB.
James Conner: his percentage of runs that fail to gain yards is too high, but he also breaks longer runs more than a lot of backs. Conner is also a good receiving back and usually a solid blocker. He is a far more valuable back in an offense that is built to pass and uses the run as a change-up.
Benny Snell Jr.: The anti-Conner. He gained reliable yards, but not a lot more than that. Not a pass catcher, solid pass blocker. He is the kind of back you want when it is time to run the clock out. He gained reliable yards while facing some of the most crowded boxes of any RB in the league.
Jaylen Samuels is a 3rd down back, and a solid ST contributor, nothing more.
Draft Outlook: It’s top shelf or nothing here. If there is an elite talent available, then Conner and Snell become rotation pieces. There is no room for a RB that is just a piece, because the Steelers have 3 good backup RBs. A RB that could take over as starter, move Conner to a more 3rd down guy and Snell to the bruising power guy would turn this position from a deep group with no real standout into a very strong, deep group. Look for a guy that is more dynamic, and can catch the ball. The Steelers run the offense through Ben, not the run game.
My 2020 RB Picks: J.K. Dobbins, Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Cam Akers
JuJu Smith-Schuster is the #1 WR still. He’s a possession receiver with big play possibility, he has a poor-but-sane-man’s Antonio Brown-esque shifty route runner with the ability to break big plays in Diontae Johnson and also James Washington, who isn’t really a deep threat, but who is great 1v1 on deep balls. James Washington needs to round out his game and the Steelers would have a solid top 3.
But there is clearly room to add talent. The Steelers could use a deep threat WR, and if they are a good one, they could step in front of Washington pretty easily. Washington led the team in receiving, but was only good for 4 highly productive games, before and after that stretch he was nobody.
Draft Outlook: If the Steelers draft a WR, expect a deep threat, because the other jobs are taken. This makes for an interesting situation where the Steelers could take a flyer on a super athletic, unproven commodity and rely on Smith-Schuster and Johnson to give him an easier rookie year. We have all seen what Ben can do with players that are athletic deep threats without much else to their game. This team is well positioned to use another one, whether they draft him early, or late.
My 2020 WR picks: Donovan Peoples-Jones (earlier), Chase Claypool (mid draft), Tyrie Cleveland (later).
Tight end and fullback.
There’s probably not room here. Gentry improved over the course of the 2019 season, Vance McDonald and Eric Ebron make this a dynamic position at the top. With Derek Watt on the team there’s no need for a #4 TE.
Draft Outlook: Any pick here would likely be a body to push Gentry or a lottery pick late. Steelers also like young athletic TEs, and there aren’t many out there this year.
My 2020 TE/FB Pick: Dalton Keene. With the Steelers signing a FB that plays H-Back and Wingback, a TE that is best in the slot and having Matt Canada on the staff, here’s a developmental athlete that played all over the place and could potentially add to that “you don’t even know what we are doing” dynamic.
This one is interesting, there is so much versatility on the line with Matt Feiler and Stefen Wisniewski that the team can draft any of the positions and it would work. The core of the line is getting older, new blood and depth is needed.
Draft Outlook: The Steelers should draft one in rounds 2-4, and a second one could have a spot as well, especially with the deeper rosters. Just don’t expect a power run blocking guard, as much as I’d love one, that’s not what the Steelers are about.
My 2020 OL Picks: I’m not going to even attempt to break down college lineman for their fit in the Steelers scheme. Feel free to inform me who you think the Steelers would be smart to pick.
Drafting offense for the Steelers
#49: I’d love to get Donovan People-Jones in the second round. He’s got the ball skills and deep speed to be absolutely great with Ben, and really that is what this draft is about for me, giving the team the best chance to send Ben out with a third Lombardi. Take the top off the offense and you open space for JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson, and when teams back LBs off to help with those slants and hooks the run game opens up more. And with Eric Ebron at TE. . . forget about it. I’d take a top tier RB or OL here as well, but WR is my personal pick.
After that: Dalton Keene is a player I’d love to have on the roster, with the extra roster spots a guy that can play all over, has great agility for his size, but doesn’t really fit a position is someone that could stick to the roster. Think Will Johnson.
Overall I want a lineman, a deep threat WR and one more skill player. Save the rest of those spots for the defense, which I covered in the previous article.