The 2020 NFL Draft is now less than a two weeks away. This year’s Draft will be like nothing we have ever experienced. Due to precautionary measures around the global pandemic of the coronavirus, the NFL will hold a virtual draft. Teams are not permitted to have their brass congregate in war rooms and most of the footage will be done through video and teleconferencing. The 2020 Draft was supposed to be a giant display of showmanship in Las Vegas, but instead will look like a high-end production of your beer league fantasy draft. As we have done the last few years, in the weeks leading up to the Draft we will be taking a position-by-position look at the Steelers roster and where their biggest needs lie in the Draft. After looking at the offense, we turn to the defense which had a re-emergence last year as one of the best units in the league. The Steelers don’t have a first round pick in this year’s draft because they traded it to Miami for All-Pro safety Minkah Fitzpatrick who had an immediate impact on the defense last year.
Also check out our Prospect Profiles for a more detailed look at a number of draft prospects.
Returning Players: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds, Jordan Dangerfield, Marcus Allen
New Arrivals: John Battle, Tyree Kinnel, Tray Matthews
The Departed: Sean Davis
Draft Need: Medium
After spending a first round pick on Terrell Edmunds in 2018, the Steelers traded their 2020 first rounder for Minkah Fitzpatrick in Week 3 last season. Fitzpatrick, who had been the #11 overall pick by the Dolphins, came in and revolutionized the defense. He produced 5 interceptions, including a 96-yarder for a touchdown against the Colts, and was selected as a first team All-Pro. Minkah’s 5 interceptions was the most by any Steelers defender since Troy Polamalu had 7 in 2010. While Minkah seemed like a magnet to the ball (5 picks and 9 passes defended), Terrell Edmunds couldn’t find the ball if there were Kennywood arrows pointing out the way. Edmunds finished the year with just 3 passes defended and had blown coverages (particularly against Buffalo) that proved detrimental.
While the starters at safety are set, there is a lack of depth behind them. Jordan Dangerfield is like a cat of nine lives on the Steelers roster and was signed to yet another extension this offseason, an impressive feat for someone who primarily plays special teams. Sean Davis missed nearly all of last season with injuries and left for Washington in free agency. Former 5th round pick Marcus Allen is still on the roster as well. Allen was part of the Steelers 2018 reimagination of the safety position where they signed Morgan Burnett in free agency and drafted Edmunds and Allen. It seemed that the Steelers wanted to deploy an extra safety in a “dime backer” role to fill the void left by Ryan Shazier, but that plan never panned out and left them with Jon Bostic covering Keenan Allen. The Steelers could explore that tactic again this year as they have needs for depth at both inside linebacker and safety, and a player capable of playing at both levels could fill two roles. Ideally, this player could be a backup strong safety as well as an in-the-box type that could fill in for a linebacker’s role in passing situations.
Likelihood of Drafting: Medium-Low
As discussed in the preview of inside linebackers, both positions need depth and with only 6 draft picks, a hybrid type player may make the most sense here. Nevertheless, given that the Steelers have two starters entrenched, this is not a high priority position to address in the draft. There are other positions that have greater need of an infusion of young talent. That said, this is a fairly deep safety class and the Steelers can likely find a player who would suit their needs anywhere in the draft.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the top safety prospect in the draft hails from Alabama. This year, it’s the Tide’s Xavier McKinney who is the only clear-cut first rounder of the safety class. Coming into the 2019 season, LSU’s Grant Delphit was considered one of the top safeties of the group but he had an inconsistent season and now could go anywhere from the mid 1st to mid 2nd round. Minnesota’s Antoine Winfield Jr, son of former Viking Antoine Winfield played his way into the late first round conversation and might be the best true “free” safety in the class. Penn State fans may still have nightmares of Winfield ballhawking to lead the Gophers upset of the Nittany Lions. It is possible that either Delphit or Winfield falls to the Steelers at 49th overall, at which point the value may be too high for them to pass up.
More likely, those three players will be gone, but that does not mean this class is bereft of talent. Southern Illinois’ Jeremy Chinn has generated significant buzz after his impressive display at the Combine. Chinn is the highest-rated safety in the SPARQ rankings, which measure athleticism. Last year, we did some research on how the Steelers have targeted high-SPARQ players in the past. Another potential target is California’s Ashtyn Davis who started as a track star at Cal then walked on to the football team. Davis has some outstanding athletic traits but is still a little raw in his game.
In the pre-draft process (what little of it there was), the Steelers had a Combine interview with Texas’ Brandon Jones. Additionally, the only Pro Day the Steelers brass actually attended this year was at Clemson where they dined with safety Tanner Muse, who could potentially fit as a hybrid “safety/linebacker.” Muse is supremely athletic and is a bit oversized for a safety at 6’2″ 227 pounds. By contrast, Devin Bush (who is 5’11”) weighed in at 234 pounds at the Combine last year. Muse and Clemson teammate K’Von Wallace both are among the top 5 safeties in SPARQ.
Two local prospects that could garner some consideration are Iowa’s Geno Stone who was part of a New Castle High School team that made a run to the WPIAL Championship Game. Stone and Marcus Hooker (younger brother of Colts safety Malik Hooker) anchored that Red Hurricanes team on both sides of the ball. In college, Marcus followed his brother’s footsteps and went to Ohio State while Geno Stone went to Iowa and became a force as a strong safety, capable of stepping up into the box and lowering the boom. Kenny Robinson started his high school career at University Prep in the City League then transferred to Imani Christian High School after his junior year. From playing in small Class 1A, Robinson saw a number of D1 offers and committed to West Virginia where he played for two seasons before leaving college early to pursue a career in the XFL. He had 7 picks in his WVU career and followed it up with 2 interceptions in the virus-shortened XFL season.