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Is a former “consolation prize” the Steelers best option for 2023?

Sometimes a player who seems like they might be simply settling for the next best ends up having the better career.

Cleveland Browns v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

The 2018 NFL draft was quite intriguing for Pittsburgh Steelers fans. With the team in need to have an answer at inside linebacker, there were two main prospects both named Devin in Devin White from LSU and Devin Bush from Michigan who seemed to be head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. The only question was if the Steelers could land one of the Devins, and if they would have to trade up from the 20th pick in order to do so.

As any Steelers fan should realize, they did ultimately trade up 10 spots for Devin Bush in 2019 which cost the Steelers their original first-round pick, their 2019 second-round pick, and their 2020 third-round pick. It was a steep price, but Devin Bush was supposed to be the answer at the position the Steelers were looking for after the career-ending injury to Ryan Shazier.

Fast forward four years and Steelers fans realize this trade did not turn out well for Pittsburgh. Not picking up Bush’s fifth-year option, there is a little hope that Bush remains with the Steelers and it is difficult to find someone in the fan base who would want him to stay. It simply hasn’t worked out.

I think back to this draft because it was my first with Behind The Steel Curtain. Leading up to the draft, I was asked to make a guest appearance on what I recall was still called the Steelers Hangover podcast with Bryan Anthony Davis and Tony Defeo. It was back in the BlogTalkRadio days, so it was very different from what we have with our podcasts today. But each of us did a round one mock draft through pick a number 20 to see who the Steelers would select.

Both Bryan and Tony had the Steelers trading up to draft Devin Bush, but I don’t think either one of them had it as high as pick a number 10. As for me, I stayed pat at pick 20 and let the draft come to the Steelers. I picked the player who I had falling in the draft where the Steelers would not pass up in edge rusher Clelin Ferrell who ultimately was selected (unwisely) at the fourth overall position by the Oakland Raiders. Ferrell has not had a career worthy of a fourth overall pick as he has only started four games in the last two seasons. Although I gave this detail, this was not ultimately what I’m covering here today.

When Tony and Brian both selected Devin Bush and I did not address the inside linebacker position, they wanted to know what my plan was for the Steelers. I told them that I thought the Steelers could get a nice “consolation prize” in the second tier of linebackers in either the second or third round. When they asked who, I told him I wished the Steelers would draft linebacker Germaine Pratt out of NC State in the second round of the draft. I felt that was the best consolation prize the Steelers could get if they missed out on the top two prospects.

The point of this exercise was not for me to talk about how it would have been the right call to do what I did. Looking at things, the Steelers would have had a lot of options at the 20th overall pick to go in a different direction and still would have been able to draft Pratt with their second-round selection which they surrendered to the Denver Broncos who ultimately traded to pick to the Cincinnati Bengals. Instead, the Bengals drafted Pratt, but not until the third round at pick 72.

In his four seasons in Cincinnati, Germaine Pratt continues to improve season after season. Starting 54 of 62 games during the regular season, Pratt has 355 tackles with 20 being for loss, 1.5 sacks, three fumble recoveries, three forced fumbles, 14 passes defensed, and three interceptions. In the postseason, Pratt has started all seven games for the Bengals in the last two seasons with 49 tackles and four passes defensed as well as an interception. When it comes to player rankings by Pro Football Focus, Pratt was the number 11 overall linebacker in 2022 and was ranked third when it came to pass coverage.

Once again, this is not about what would have happened if the Steelers would have stayed put and selected Germaine Pratt in the second round in 2019. The bigger question is if the Steeler should pursue Germaine Pratt in free agency in 2023.

Many Steelers fans are in love with the idea of picking up Bills’ free agent linebacker Tremaine Edmunds, brother of Terrell Edmunds. Ranked the fifth-best linebacker in 2022 and the best when it came to pass coverage, Steelers fans would love to see general manager Omar Khan pull the strings to reunite the brothers who were drafted in the same year in 2018. But will the Steelers be able to pull off such an expensive contract?

If not, once again Germaine Pratt could be another “consolation prize” for the Steelers if they couldn’t land the top linebacker in free agency. Still, I don’t know if the Steelers will be in the market for such an expensive inside linebacker, or if Pratt will stay unsigned by the Bengals until the legal tampering period begins on March 13. But if the Steelers could pull off such a signing, fans should not overlook Germaine Pratt once again as someone who could be a key contributor to their defense.