It’s that time of year, when the Super Bowl contenders bolster their roster and the non-contenders build for the future. Draft season is upon us and as usual, the Steelers will be looking to add critical pieces to a lineup that is poised to make a run at the Super Bowl.
This offseason, the Steelers have signed a couple of players to fill key positions. Inside Linebacker Jon Bostic was signed away from Indianapolis and safety Morgan Burnett was swayed away from Green Bay.
Burnett will have a far bigger impact than Bostic, as Burnett can play both safety positions and corner.
Bostic is a nice addition to an inside linebacker corps that suffered greatly after the devastating injury to Ryan Shazier but he does not possess the skills to be the full-time answer.
The Steelers will look to fill the huge void Shazier’s injury left via the draft in the first round and then they’ll look to add another talented safety to the mix in round two.
There are solid inside linebackers available in this year’s class but the top ones will be gone before the Steelers pick at number 28. Some say the team will trade up to grab one of the top two guys; I don’t think they have the assets to do it and will stand pat. Either way, I think they’ll be happy with whomever they end up with.
Here are the candidates and my rankings for each:
Roquan Smith—Georgia: Smith is the clear number one ILB prospect. He’s fast and has the ability to go sideline to sideline. He’s a very solid run-stopper and can be a strong contributor in pass coverage as well. He’d be the ideal replacement for Shazier but he will be long gone before the Steelers ever sniff him.
Leighton Vander Esch—Boise State: Vander Esch has climbed up the draft boards with a solid offseason. I rank him higher than others but he possesses all of the fundamentals you want at inside linebacker and can play vs. the run and the pass.
Rashaan Evans—Alabama: Evans possesses both size and speed and is a very solid player who has done a lot for coach Nick Saban at Alabama. I believe he is a mid-to-late first round guy and the Steelers may have an opportunity to snag him at number 28.
Malik Jefferson—Texas: The drop off begins with Jefferson. He’s my fourth-best prospect but there is a big difference between him and the first three guys. He’s solid against the run but he’s not a good pass coverage guy and is a second day selection.
Josey Jewell—Iowa: Jewell amassed over 100 tackles last season and penetrates the backfield with power. He can be an impact player but he’s not an every-down player.
I think the Steelers will end up faring well and be able to grab Evans from Alabama in the first round with their 28th pick. It’s a pick that will begin the replacement of Shazier and Evans may find himself on the field in 2018 early and often.
The Steelers will also need to take a look at the class of safeties coming out this year and they may even consider one of them at pick 28 instead of the linebackers if the first three guys are gone, though I suspect they’ll grab one of the following guys in round two.
Here are the top safeties based on my rankings:
Minkah Fitzpatrick—Alabama: Fitzpatrick is the cream of the crop in this year’s safety class. He can cover receivers, tight ends, play corner, play at the line or drop back in deep center field. He’s a game-changing safety that, if he’s still available at pick 28, the Steelers will take. Unfortunately, I don’t see him being there.
Derwin James—Florida State: James is another game-changing safety with skills. He can play man against the tight ends and may not cover center field like Fitzpatrick but is still an impact guy that would be an upgrade on most teams. He’s another guy the Steelers would take in round one but he won’t be available.
Ronnie Harrison—Alabama: Harrison is a physical safety who can play on the line and stuff the run but has some issues when he needs to play man-to man. He won’t be a first-round pick but he’ll be gone by the time the Steelers draft in the second round.
Terell Edmunds—Virginia Tech: This is a guy who I think the Steelers could land in the second round. He’s physical and can play vs. the run and the pass.
Jessie Bates—Wake Forest: Bates is another candidate for the Steelers on day two. He’s very smart and makes good decisions on the field.
The Steelers will most certainly fill these two holes in the first two rounds and I believe it will be Evans of Alabama in round one and Edmunds of Virginia Tech in round two.
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