by Mike Pelaia, For New Pittsburgh Courier
With the coronavirus pandemic sweeping across the world and sports coming to a screeching halt over the last few weeks, it’s easy to forget the NFL is about to host their annual rookie draft from April 23-25.
The draft is an event that brings a lot of excitement, with thousands of fans flocking to the host city annually to get a taste of NFL football in April.
Yet this year, there will be no fans attending the event. In fact, there is no venue for the event, nor should there be. In lieu of the normal chaotic, fast-paced atmosphere at a highly populated venue, this year’s draft will be held virtually. A first for sports.
All NFL team personnel will be working from their homes and will need to communicate and work with each other the same as any of the rest of us do; via video calls, texts, emails and screenshares. They’ll need to find a way to do what they normally do on an annual basis sitting together, but this time, sitting apart. Players that are drafted will be allowed to host draft parties, yet with different rules. They may not have more than 10 people in their homes and they must be six feet apart at all times.
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Despite the necessary changes to this year’s event, with all of the technology available to us, the draft will go on as planned, the teams will make their selections, the players will be available and the fans will still be able to watch on TV from the comfort of their own homes.
What this all means for the Steelers is quite simply this…They now need to put all of the scouting, film watching, meetings and analyzations they’ve done since the season ended four months ago to good use to prepare for the 2020 NFL season due to kick off Sept. 10, presuming the end or massive slowdown to this pandemic.
The Steelers have needs, as every team does, yet they are in a fortunate position that most teams are not. They are coming off a season in which they went 8-8, touting a top-five defense in the league and are bringing back their franchise quarterback, having had to deal with second- and third-string guys for 15 of last year’s 16 games.
They are an early favorite to make the playoffs (expanded to seven teams per conference this upcoming season) and expectations are high for them to advance deep into the postseason.
I see this draft being more of an offensive-focused draft for the Steelers. The defense is getting better and since the team gave the franchise tag to Bud Dupree, the only glaring need on the defense that I see is filling in the nose tackle position vacated by the departure of JaVon Hargrave. They probably should add an edge rusher as well, to provide depth to go along with Dupree and T.J. Watt and they could consider more depth at safety, especially if they are leaning towards giving up on Terrell Edmunds (which I think would be too soon).
Their greatest need, in my opinion, is offensive line. Ramon Foster retired (though he would have been released) and the rest of the offensive line is aging. You could see the decline in Maurkice Pouncey and Alejandro Villanueva last season. Both are still very solid players but the unit needs an injection of youth.
With limited picks, the Steelers will also need to try to pick and choose what areas they feel they need to fill between running back, wide receiver, tight end and a developmental quarterback.
I think the team will ignore running back and give James Conner and Benny Snell the 2020 season to prove they are capable backs. With the signing of Eric Ebron, they will probably also shy away from tight end in this draft, unless a guy like Thaddeus Moss falls to them in the middle rounds.
The Steelers only have six picks in this year’s draft and will not draft in rounds one or five, having two picks in round four.
How they choose to approach the draft is typically the same, by best player available on their big board, filling a need when applicable. Taking that into account, here’s how I believe the 2020 draft will fall for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Round 2, Pick 49: Marlon Davidson, DL Auburn
Despite offensive line being the biggest need, there won’t be a viable option here. Davidson is a guy who can help fill the void of Hargrave’s departure. He’s solid against both the run and the pass and can play on the outside or inside if needed.
Round 3, pick 102: Saahdiq Charles, OT LSU
Charles injects youth to an ailing unit that desperately needs it. He’s a good run-blocker, he’s quick and mobile. He had some disciplinary issues at LSU which could be a red flag but if he’s available, he’s worth the risk here.
Round 4, pick 124: Kenny Willekes, EDGE Michigan State
Willekes is the classic Steelers pick here. A high motor Edge rusher with solid play vs. both run and pass coming out of a power five school. He’s a guy that can make an impact immediately and will be a steal at this pick if the team can nab him here.
Round 4, pick 135: John Simpson, OL Clemson
Pittsburgh continues to add depth and youth on the offensive line with John Simpson. Simpson is big and strong and has played high level football at a national powerhouse as a starter for the last two seasons. He can turn into an eventual starter for the Steelers as well.
Round 6, pick 198: Jauan Jennings, WR Tennessee
The Steelers continue their annual drafting of a wide receiver with Jennings. He’s a tough guy to bring down once he has the football and is a good possession receiver. He’ll be brought in to add depth to a young corps that can use it.
Round 7, pick 232: Steven Montez, QB Colorado
Montez is brought in as a developmental quarterback. He’s hardly the future replacement for Big Ben but he’s a guy that can compete for the third spot on the roster and replace Duck Hodges.
If the draft plays out for the Steelers as I project above, they should be in good shape to fill in gaps for the upcoming season as well as find some future starters for years to come.
(ABOUT THE TOP PHOTO: SAAHDIQ CHARLES)