Based on formal reports, the Steelers have interviewed over 100 prospects throughout the 2018 NFL Draft process from the collegiate All-Star Games, the NFL Combine, Pro Days, Private Workouts, and pre-draft visits. The Steelers full draft board will likely have over 200 players. Even if the Steelers do not have a major need at the position, the player will still appear on their board, because at some point they would likely become a value pick (for instance, top offensive linemen might be ranked in the 20s on the Steelers board because at that point in the draft they would be the best prospects remaining). The only things that could take a player off the Steelers draft board would be scheme fits, injuries, or off-field issues where the team simply has too many concerns to even consider drafting the player.
You can find a million mock drafts and draft boards through any number of sites. The staff at SCB got together over the last week to do our best to put together a Steelers-specific Draft Board. As we have detailed in both our Draft Podcasts (Episode 67 – QBs, TEs, DL, Episode 68 – OL, CB, S, Episode 69 – RB and WR, Episode 70 – EDGE and ILB) and positional draft previews, the Steelers have the heaviest needs at inside linebacker, safety, running back, and cornerback. They have spent some time on depth defensive linemen and wide receivers. They have also scouted the second tier of quarterbacks (specifically Mason Rudolph and Lamar Jackson). The Steelers have spent very little time scouting edge rushers and tight ends while almost completely ignoring offensive line prospects.
To create this Steelers Draft board, the SCB staff got together in the war room and asked “If we could add any player in this draft class to the Steelers (i.e. if we had the #1 overall pick), which player would we take?” Then, “If that player is gone and we had the #2 overall pick, which player would we take?” …and so on and so forth. By going through this exercise, we created a Steelers Draft Board that ranks players based on both abilities and team need.
The Steelers Draft Board
1. Derwin James (S – Florida State)
We discussed 4 potential players in the top spot. In the end, we decided if there was 1 player from this draft class we would like to add to the Pittsburgh Steelers it would be Florida State safety Derwin James. While safety isn’t the biggest immediate need, game-changing safety talent is hard to pass up and the secondary has severely lacked a player capable of creating turnovers since Troy Polamalu retired. James is a high-character guy and capable of playing either safety spot.
2. Roquan Smith (ILB – Georgia)
Inside Linebacker is the Steelers biggest need in the draft and Roquan Smith has the size, athleticism, and reads the game as well as any linebacker in this draft class. He absolutely jumped off the screen at Georgia and was all over the field for the Bulldogs defense.
3. Saquon Barkley (RB – Penn State)
Barkley was in the conversation for our top overall pick in this exercise. He is the best running back in a loaded class of backs and has the ability to be an all-around 3-down threat. He displayed a rare combination of speed and power at Penn State and was a threat as a runner, receiver, and kick returner.
4. Bradley Chubb (EDGE – NC State)
In a relatively thin class of pass rushers, Chubb stands out as the best. He may be more suited for a 4-3 DE role than a 3-4 OLB, but given the amount of nickel defense that the Steelers play, they essentially function with 4 defensive linemen anyway.
5. Tremaine Edmunds (ILB – Virginia Tech)
Edmunds wasn’t considered a first round pick coming into the 2017 season, but an impressive year followed by elite athletic testing skyrocketed his stock. He isn’t far behind Roquan Smith in terms of speed and agility and would absolutely fill the Mack linebacker role that the Steelers need.
6. Minkah Fitzpatrick (S – Alabama)
There are some mixed opinions on Minkah Fitzpatrick and he has been called a “Jack of all trades / Master of None.” His best role might be as a slot cornerback, but he can also play on the outside or in any safety role.
7. Quenton Nelson (G – Notre Dame)
This may be a bit of a surprise to see an offensive lineman this high. The SCB crew debated it thoroughly and while the Steelers appear to be set at guard in 2018 with DeCastro and Foster, this would provide stability after Foster’s contract expires at the end of this season. Nelson might be the best overall prospect in the draft and his talent was too great to pass up.
8. Derrius Guice (RB – LSU)
Guice was a do-it-all back for LSU whom the Steelers have shown significant interest in during the pre-draft process. He has the ability as a runner and receiver to be a 3-down back in the NFL and would make it easier for the Steelers to move on from Le’Veon Bell in 2019.
9. Harold Landry (EDGE – Boston College)
Landry is the second-best pass rusher in the class. While the Steelers just picked up Bud Dupree’s 5th year option, adding Landry would give them depth in the immediacy and a potential edge rusher of the future if they decide to move on from Dupree.
10. Denzel Ward (CB – Ohio State)
The top CB prospect in the draft would add depth to the Steelers on the outside. Joe Haden is nearing 30 (the age when CBs typically show they have lost a step) and Artie Burns is still a bit of an unknown. Ward may be slightly undersized but has a lot of Jason Verrett in his game and looks to be an effective outside corner. Furthermore, since we play nickel at least 70% of the time, we should view 3 corners as “starters” and can never have enough depth at the position.
11. Josh Rosen (QB – UCLA)
You might be surprised to see a quarterback this high on the board. The Steelers currently have 3 QBs on the roster with Ben, Landry Jones, and Josh Dobbs. We view Rosen as the best QB prospect in this draft class and if the Steelers had a chance to nab him would absolutely support it. Kevin Colbert has spoken about wanting to be able to draft a successor to Ben before Ben retires, much like how San Francisco and Green Bay were able to pass the torch from Montana and Favre to Young and Rodgers.
12. Leighton Vander Esch (LB – Boise State)
If the Steelers miss out on the top two inside linebackers, Vander Esch would be the next best option. He has a blend of size, speed and athleticism that makes him a great candidate for filling the Mack linebacker role. He did not play at a “Power 5” school, which would break from Steelers draft tradition (at least in the first round), but he has the talent and ability to be a very good NFL player and solidify the middle of the defense.
13. Baker Mayfield (QB – Oklahoma)
At this point, the value of QBs was too good to pass up. The Steelers don’t have an immediate need for a quarterback but with Ben’s contract having two years left and Landry entering the last year of his deal, quarterback isn’t completely out of the question for this draft class. Mayfield got a slight edge over Darnold in our rankings based on his accuracy and ball protection.
14. Sam Darnold (QB – USC)
In the real draft, Sam Darnold may very well be the #1 overall pick. For the Steelers purposes, we ranked him as the third best quarterback because of his penchant for panic-induced turnovers. Darnold has flashed the tools of a capable NFL quarterback, and would be best suited to sit and learn for a year or two before being inserted into the lineup.
15. Justin Reid (S – Stanford)
Outside of Derwin James, the Stanford safety might be the best all-around safety in the draft. He is a physical player and a strong hitter at the point of attack, but also rangy enough on the back end to track down and contest deep balls. He has good ball skills and can generate turnovers from the back end.
16. Rashaan Evans (ILB – Alabama)
Evans is the fourth of the “big four” inside linebacker prospects. There is some disparity between his tape (which shows a linebacker capable of making plays in coverage and against the run) and his athletic testing, which came out below the elite level. Evans was a productive player for Alabama’s defense and if he can maintain that level of play in the NFL he can be a very good player for a long time.
17. Lorenzo Carter (EDGE/LB – Georgia)
Carter is somewhat of a “tweener” prospect. While he mostly played on the edge at Georgia, he has the size, speed, and athleticism to move inside and play the Mack linebacker role. The Steelers could use him either as an outside linebacker or an inside linebacker, depending on the situation. It is not unheard of for a player to make this transition as Lawrence Timmons was originally drafted to be a pass rusher but moved inside.
18. Josh Jackson (CB – Iowa)
After Denzel Ward, there was a lot of discussion about which corner best fit the Steelers scheme. We settled on Josh Jackson, who profiles as a better zone corner than man corner. Jackson is tall and physical with great ball skills. He does not shy away from contact and willingly goes after ball carriers – a trait the Steelers love.
19. Jaire Alexander (CB – Louisville)
While Jackson looks like the better zone corner, Alexander looks like the better man-to-man corner. He has the speed to stick with speedy receivers deep down the field and the short-area quickness to cover underneath routes.
20. Ronnie Harrison (S – Alabama)
The Steelers do have a need at safety and adding depth to the position is a must in this draft. Harrison profiles more as a strong safety than a free safety, and is at his best when the play is in front of him and he can attack downhill towards the ball. He does have a bit of Mike Mitchell in his game where he will go for the big hit rather than the sure tackle.
21. Sony Michel (RB – Georgia)
There has been some talk this week that Michel may be the second running back off the board. While in the real draft this is possible, we like Guice more to fit what the Steelers need. Michel is a very good back in his own right with breakaway speed and decent hands out of the backfield.
22. Dallas Goedert (TE – South Dakota St)
The top tight end in a draft that is relatively thin at the position. While the Steelers have a solid top two tight ends, adding Goedert would upgrade the third tight end spot and allow them to move on from Vance McDonald’s contract in the future. Goedert is the best all-around TE in the draft, displaying both receiving and blocking abilities.
23. Vita Vea (DT – Washington)
The first defensive lineman off the board. There is some debate as to who the best defensive line prospect in this draft is (between Vea, Tavon Bryan, DaRon Payne, and Maurice Hurst). For the Steelers purposes, we viewed Bryan and Hurst as 3-4 DE prospects, and the Steelers are already set at that position. Vea has the size and ability to play the 1-technique spot on the inside and can be the run-stuffers in the middle that the Steelers have lacked since Casey Hampton’s retirement.
24. Isaiah Wynn (OG – Georgia)
The Steelers have not paid much attention to offensive line prospects during the draft process, but Wynn’s talent and status as the best player available on the board at this point makes him next on our list. As we discussed with Nelson, this would give the Steelers a solid starter in 2019 after Ramon Foster’s contract expires.
25. Mike Hughes (CB – Central Florida)
Hughes overcame a rocky start to his collegiate career to develop into one of the top cornerback prospects in the draft. After leaving UNC, Hughes played a year at the junior college level before transferring to UCF in 2017. He had a monster season for the National Champions with 4 INTs (including a pick-6) and 11 passes defended. Additionally, Hughes was a standout kick returner, taking back two kickoffs and a punt for a touchdown.
26. Mike McGlinchey (OT – Notre Dame)
McGlinchey is the best offensive tackle prospect in the draft class. Like with guard, while the Steelers do not have an immediate need at the position, there is a potential future need. Alejandro Villanueva did not live up to contractual expectations last season and while the Steelers do have Jerald Hawkins on the roster, he is largely unproven against NFL competition. McGlinchey would solidify the left tackle position.
27. Ronald Jones (RB – USC)
RoJo is in the second tier of running backs and had a very productive career at USC. He has great explosiveness out of his cuts and is very good at finding the hole and blowing through to the second level. He may lack some core strength which could be an issue in pass protection and make it harder to break tackles, but he is a relatively young player with upside to be a 3-down back in the NFL.
28. Jessie Bates III (S – Wake Forest)
Behind James and Reid, Bates is the next best true “free” safety prospect in the Draft. The Steelers have shown significant interest, including taking him out to dinner after Wake Forest’s Pro Day. Bates is smooth in coverage and will miss some tackles, but was also an effective kick returner for the Demon Deacons.
29. DJ Moore (WR – Maryland)
Our first wide receiver on the Steelers board. The Steelers don’t have an immediate need at WR but 2018 figures to be Martavis Bryant’s last season on the team. With only AB and JuJu under contract for 2019, we fully expect the Steelers to take a WR in the draft, but there is not an elite receiver at the top of the WR class.
30. Calvin Ridley (WR – Alabama)
There isn’t much separating the top two receivers in the class. Ridley was a very productive receiver for the Crimson Tide but his age caused him to drop down the board. The Steelers tend to prefer selecting younger prospects in the first few rounds in order to maximize their NFL careers.
31. Josh Sweat (EDGE – Florida St)
Even though the Steelers picked up Bud Dupree’s 5th year option, the need is still there to add depth to the outside linebacker group. Sweat was our favorite of the second tier of EDGE rushers, displaying great explosiveness and posting the second-highest SPARQ score of any EDGE prospect. The Steelers have shown in the past they are willing to gamble on athletic upside rather that college production for pass rushing prospects.
32. Marcus Davenport (EDGE – UTSA)
Slightly less athletic than Sweat, Davenport is a massive human being (6’6″ 265 lbs) who played as a stand-up pass rusher the last two years at UTSA. Despite his overwhelming size and good athleticism, he did not dominate games at the “Group of Five” level the way one would expect. He had 6.5 sacks his junior year and 8.5 his senior season. He is more of a project pass rusher than a finished product, but the baseline athleticism is there for him to be a solid NFL player.
Next Best Players Available
QB: Josh Allen (Wyoming), Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State), Lamar Jackson (Louisville)
RB: Nick Chubb (Georgia), Rashaad Penny (San Diego St), Kerryon Johnson (Auburn)
WR: Christian Kirk (Texas A&M), James Washington (Oklahoma St), Courtland Sutton (SMU), DJ Chark (LSU), Dante Pettis (Washington), DaeSean Hamilton (Penn St)
TE: Mike Gesicki (Penn St), Hayden Hurst (South Carolina), Mark Andrews (Oklahoma)
OT: Connor Williams (Texas), Tyrell Crosby (Oregon)
OG: Will Hernandez (UTEP)
OC: James Daniels (Iowa), Billy Price (Ohio St)
DL: DaRon Payne (Alabama), Maurice Hurst (Michigan), Harrison Phillips (Stanford), Taven Bryan (Florida), BJ Hill (NC State)
EDGE: Rasheem Green (USC), Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (Oklahoma), Arden Key (LSU)
ILB: Malik Jefferson (Texas), Josey Jewell (Iowa), Dorian O’Daniel (Clemson), Darius Leonard (South Carolina St), Jerome Baker (Ohio St)
CB: Isaiah Oliver (Colorado), Carlton Davis (Auburn), Anthony Averett (Alabama), Duke Dawson (Florida), MJ Stewart (UNC)
S: Terrell Edmunds (Virginia Tech), Kyzir White (West Virginia), Marcus Allen (Penn St)