The Steelers traded their first round draft pick to Miami in exchange for All-Pro Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick. With Ben Roethlisberger returning to the helm of the offense, the Steelers do not have many needs for starters. However, a number of positions are in need of additional depth. On offense, the Steelers could use additional depth at running back, wide receiver, and along the offensive line. Signing Eric Ebron in free agency filled a need at tight end. Despite the national media hype, the Steelers do not need to spend a high pick on a quarterback.
Defensively, even though Bud Dupree signed the franchise tag and they used a first round pick last year on Devin Bush, they still need additional depth at both outside linebacker and inside linebacker. The Steelers drafted Terrell Edmunds in the first round in 2018 and traded this year’s first round pick for Minkah Fitzpatrick but still need safety depth. Cornerback and defensive line are the deepest positions on the defense, even with Javon Hargrave’s departure.
Earlier this week we published our Top 50 Prospects for the Steelers in the 2020 Draft. Of those 50 players, 29 were selected in the first round last night. The only 3 first round picks that we did not have in our Top 50 were Damon Arnette, Noah Igbinoghene, and Jordyn Brooks. Our highest-ranked remaining prospects are: Xavier McKinney (S-Alabama), DeAndre Swift (RB-Georgia), Grant Delpit (S-LSU), Antoine Winfield Jr (S-Minnesota), and Jonathan Taylor (RB-Wisconsin).
Here is a look at ten potential prospects we think have a legitimate shot of being the Steelers pick at 49th overall.
D’Andre Swift (RB-Georgia)
Why the Steelers Will Draft Him: One of the Steelers biggest needs is for a consistent all-around running back. Last year’s slew of injuries left the Steelers having to adopt a running back by committee approach. Swift is in the top tier of backs in this class. Swift is on the smaller end, but he he has great short-area quickness and is strong and capable of navigating through traffic on inside runs. He is a capable receiver and blocker and can be used in every phase of an offensive attack.
Why the Steelers Won’t Draft Him: Given that some think Swift is the top back in this class and his all-around abilities, it is very possible he is taken before the Steelers get on the clock. Swift is a bit under-sized and had a few issues with ball security at Georgia.
Jonathan Taylor (RB-Wisconsin)
Why the Steelers Will Draft Him: Taylor is a big, fast, explosive running back. He was the only running back at the Combine to run a sub-4.4 40 yard dash, coming in at a blistering 4.39 seconds. At 5’10” 226 pounds, he has ideal size and great speed for an NFL back. His college tape is filled with him just blowing away from defenders.
Why the Steelers Won’t Draft Him: The knock on Taylor is twofold. He has battled fumbling issues, losing the ball 18 times in 41 career games. The 18 fumbles is a high number, but they came on 968 career touches. Taylor has averaged 309 carries per season over the last 3 years, which is an incredibly high number of touches and there could be some concerns about the wear and tear on his body.
JK Dobbins (RB-Ohio St)
Why the Steelers Will Draft Him: Anyone who watched Ohio State play this season knows what Dobbins can do in the open field. With the ball in his hands in space, he is incredibly difficult to bring down. He has speed to burn and can run away from defenders, both around the outside and gashing the defense up the middle. Dobbins is an adept inside runner, capable of finding the holes and exploding through them. He is a capable receiver and pass blocker, though both could use a little work. He battled through an injury against Clemson in the CFP semifinal that limited his effectiveness, but overall he is a well-rounded running back prospect at a position where the Steelers need a consistent player.
Why the Steelers Won’t Draft Him: If there is a run on backs in the early second round, Dobbins should come off the board fairly quickly. He did not do drills at the combine so he may be one of the 70-some players referenced by Kevin Colbert for which the team did not have a 40-time. That said, his speed stands out on tape and is an attractive back. He does not have the lateral agility of some of the other backs in the class but makes up for it with raw speed.
Cam Akers (RB-Florida St)
Why the Steelers Will Draft Him: Akers might be the most well-rounded back in this draft class. He is a three-down back who can hold his own as a blocker and did a nice job in the receiving game with 69 career receptions. Akers is adept at finding the end zone and has a nose for the goal line, picking out the right gaps in short-yardage situations. He has more long speed (4.47 40-yard dash) than short area quickness but is capable of running away from defenders once he gets rolling. Akers just turned 21 years old and has tremendous upside as an all-around back.
Why the Steelers Won’t Draft Him: Akers is considered a step below the “top four” backs (Edwards-Helaire, Taylor, Swift, Dobbins). That said, there is a fairly sizeable dropoff after Akers in this class. He should be available for the Steelers at 49, but the Steelers may have other players rated higher on their board that are still available.
Michael Pittman Jr (WR-USC)
Why the Steelers Will Draft Him: Pittman is one of the best route-runners in this class. He does not have elite explosiveness or long speed, but he is fast enough to get deep and get separation from defenders. Pittman is a smart, heady player capable of finding holes in zones and continuing to work to stay open for his quarterbacks. He has excellent size and makes great leaping catches and over the shoulder grabs, using his frame to shield away the defender. Pittman can run the entire route tree and is a willing blocker in both the run game and passing game. He would fit the Steelers mold almost perfectly and be a tremendous asset all over the field.
Why the Steelers Won’t Draft Him: Six wide receivers went off the board in the first round. There are teams picking ahead of the Steelers that need additional help at wide receiver. Pittman’s all-around game is incredibly impressive. While he did not post an elite 40 time in the 4.4s that would have vaulted him into the first round, he may be one of the first receivers taken tonight.
Laviska Shenault Jr (WR-Colorado)
Why the Steelers Will Draft Him: Shenault is a big, strong wide receiver who lined up all over Colorado’s offense. He has expereince both out wide, in the slot, and in the backfield both as a running back and a wildcat quarterback. He is not an extremely sharp route runner but is very good when he can go in a straight line, either on 9-routes or on jet sweeps. With the ball in his hands, he acts more like a running back and welcomes contact. At just 21 years old, he has tremendous upside to improve the finer points of his game.
Why the Steelers Won’t Draft Him: Shenault was recovering from a core muscle injury and only did a handful of drills at the Combine. At his pre-draft press conference Kevin Colbert mentioned there were 70+ players they did not have complete medical evaluations on. If Shenault is one of those players, it could potentially scare the Steelers away from selecting him.
Lloyd Cushenberry III (C/G-LSU)
Why the Steelers Will Draft Him: Cushenberry anchored the middle of LSU’s line and is a quality interior line prospect. He displays good athleticism from the center position and is strong enough the handle defenders at the point of attack. He uses his hands very well and has the burst to get out to the linebackers when run blocking. Cushenberry could be an immediate answer at guard and his versatility to also play center is an added bonus to his game.
Why the Steelers Won’t Draft Him: This is not a great draft class for interior linemen. Cesar Ruiz, the draft’s top center, went to New Orleans at 24th overall. Cushenberry is the second-best center, and there are other teams (Dallas in particular) that do need help at center. There is a fairly sizeable dropoff after Cushenberry at the interior line positions.
Zach Baun (LB-Wisconsin)
Why the Steelers Will Draft Him: Baun is a bit of a hybrid linebacker who played on the edge at Wisconsin but may be better suited for the inside. He does not meet the size thresholds for an early-impact pass rusher (he is just 6’2? and 238 pounds), but tested fairly well athletically. At his size and with his speed, he could be a Chad Brown type that can move around in the defense between an edge rusher and inside backer. He can cover tight ends over the middle.
Why the Steelers Won’t Draft Him: There was a concern raised about his drug testing sample being diluted at the Combine. Baun seems like the type of player who would be a perfect fit in the Patriots defense (as an Adalius Thomas/Kyle Van Noy type player that could be moved around schematically). After the Patriots traded down yesterday, Baun to New England is a scary yet realistic possibility.
Antoine Winfield Jr (S-Minnesota)
Why the Steelers Will Draft Him: Penn State fans still have nightmares of Winfield roving the middle of the field for Minnesota. The son of former Bills and Vikings CB, Winfield has great instincts and ball skills. He had 7 interceptions this past season and is at his best as a single-high “free” safety. When he can attack the play in front of him, he is fast to the ball and capable of undercutting routes. He also spent time covering the slot and recorded 3 sacks coming on blitzes. He is a strong and solid tackler who would be an ideal fit next to Minkah Fitzpatrick in the Steelers secondary.
Why the Steelers Won’t Draft Him: With no safeties taken in the first round, there could be a run on safeties early in the second round. Winfield is thought by some to be the top safety in this draft class. He has range, ball skills, and NFL bloodlines. The Steelers have invested heavily in the safety position lately so they may not see it as a big need for their first pick.
Grant Delpit (S-LSU)
Why the Steelers Will Draft Him: They watched his 2018 tape. Entering this season, Delpit was thought of as the top safety prospect. He is a capable middle of the field defender as a single-high free safety and has the speed and range to attack the ball all over the field. If needed, he has the athleticism to cover tight ends or slot receivers, but he is at his best from the centerfield position when he can see the play develop in front of him then fly to attack the ball.
Why the Steelers Won’t Draft Him: They watched his 2019 tape. Delpit had an inconsistent 2019 where he battled through injuries and missed a number of tackles. From the centerfield position he comes down towards the ball in a hurry but is often out of control which causes him to whiff on tackles. With no safeties being taken in the first round, it is possible there is a run on safeties in the early part of the second round.
The Steelers have gone “off the board” with some of their picks in recent years. No one predicted Artie Burns or Terrell Edmunds would be selected by Pittsburgh in the first round. Their second round picks have more often been a talented player that has slipped to them. That said, this year’s sleeper player is….
Jeremy Chinn (LB/S-Southern Illinois)
Why the Steelers Will Draft Him: Playing at the FCS level, Chinn dominated on defense. He did not have a consistent position and played all over the field for the Salukis. In the NFL, he may be best suited for an inside linebackers role in the “dimebacker” hybrid that the Steelers have coveted for a few years. He is an outstanding athlete who topped the safety rankings in SPARQ and has the speed to cover sideline to sideline. In Year One he could step in as a sub package defender and potentially be a long-term starter next to Devin Bush in the middle.
Why the Steelers Won’t Draft Him: It is rare that the Steelers go outside of the FBS level in the first two rounds of the Draft. Since Kevin Colbert took the helm in 2000, the only non-FBS player taken in the first round was Ben Roethlisberger. In fact, Ben is the only player from a non-Power 5/6 (counting the Big East) conference Colbert has taken in the first round. In the second round, the trend is very similar. The only non-FBS player taken by Colbert in the second round was Ricardo Colclough (also in 2004). Coming from an FCS school, while Chinn has the athleticism and versatility to match the Steelers historical trends, he does not have the competitive pedigree Colbert typically looks for in early rounds.
Why the Steelers Will Trade Up: The Steelers have been very aggressive with draft picks over the last year. They made a massive move last year to move up and take Devin Bush. They traded away this year’s first round pick in exchange for Minkah Fitzpatrick. When they see a player they want, they have not been shy about aggressive moves to get him. If a player they have highly-rated becomes available within a certain range, they could pull the trigger and move up.
Why the Steelers Won’t Trade Up: With only 6 picks in this year’s draft, the Steelers don’t have a lot of ammunition to deal with. They currently lack a 5th round pick (though they do have two fourths). In all likelihood, trading up is the least plausible scenario.
Why the Steelers Will Trade Down: The Steelers only have 6 picks in this year’s draft. After their selection at 49th they do not pick again until the 102nd overall pick at the end of the third round. They do have 2 fourth round picks but then do not pick again until the 6th round. If the opportunity presented itself to acquire additional mid-round picks to move down a few spots, it would certainly be worth considering.
Why the Steelers Won’t Trade Down: There have not been as many trades as anticipated so far in the draft. The virtual format may have teams out of their comfort zones and they seem to be more interested in staying put and making their picks. The Steelers may not get much interest in a team moving up to 49.
Why the Steelers Will Draft Someone Else
The Steelers have had success using their second round picks to nab highly-rated players that have fallen to them. Players like JuJu Smith-Schuster, Stephon Tuitt, and Le’Veon Bell arguably were borderline first round talents that the Steelers selected in the middle of the second. It is possible that a player like Josh Jones (OT-Houston) or Xavier McKinney (S-Alabama) tumbles to 49. If the Steelers want to address the offensive line, players in the third tier include Lucas Niang (OT-TCU), Ezra Cleveland (OT-Boise St), Prince Tega Wanogho (OT-Auburn), Tyler Biadasz (C/G-Wisconsin). While it is likely Denzel Mims (WR-Baylor) goes off the board early in the second round, other receivers they could consider include Donovan Peoples-Jones (WR-Michigan), KJ Hamler (WR-Penn St), Tee Higgins (WR-Clemson). Despite adding Eric Ebron in free agency, it’s likely the Steelers could have their choice of any tight end in this class, of which Cole Kmet (TE-Notre Dame) and Adam Trautman (TE-Dayton) are the top two.
This draft did not have an elite tier of edge rushers, only two were taken in the first round. This dropped a number of players into the second round (and some may fall into the third). The top tier of remaining edge rushers includes AJ Epenesa (Iowa), Yetur Gross-Matos (Penn St), Josh Uche (Michigan), Terrell Lewis (Alabama), and Jonathan Greenard (Florida). The Steelers seem to have their 6 defensive linemen relatively set, but if they wanted to address the loss of Javon Hargrave, some options they could consider are Ross Blacklock (TCU), Justin Madubuike (Texas A&M), and Neville Gallimore (Oklahoma).
Why the Steelers Won’t Draft Someone Else
The Steelers have the 17th pick of the second round. We listed 10 possible players above (plus an additional sleeper). Some of the biggest surprises of the first round were the 6 corners that were taken. Okudah and Henderson were considered first round locks and AJ Terrell a strong possibility. Beyond them, 3 more corners went off the board with Damon Arnette to Oakland, Noah Igbinoghene to Miami, and Jeff Gladney to Minnesota. If the run on corners continues with players like Jaylon Johnson (Utah), Trevon Diggs (Alabama), Bryce Hall (Virginia), or Cam Dantzler (Mississippi State) that will help push the other above players down the board. Any offensive tackles, defensive linemen, edge rushers or cornerbacks taken will push those players into the Steelers range. The players above are also at the highest positions of need (RB, WR, interior OL, LB, S) and fit the Steelers drafting trends of athletic players that come from Power 5 conferences.