When the NFL Draft begins selections in Arlington, Tex., April 26, the Pittsburgh Steelers have the No. 28 pick in the first round.
Here is an in-depth look at the team’s needs, offseason changes, potential best fit and the selections by NFLDraftScout.com’s experts.
Who would you pick and why?
TOP 5 NEEDS
- Inside linebacker: Yes, the Steelers signed Jon Bostic in free agency, but they lack depth and an impact player at the position. The Steelers could easily select an inside linebacker with their first-round pick and insert him into the starting lineup alongside either Bostic or Vince Williams. If Bostic ends up being the top reserve at inside linebacker, it’s still a good signing for them given his small price tag. The Steelers need a three-down linebacker who can play the run and the pass. Williams is not that type of player, and it remains to be seen if Bostic can fill that role. If one of the top inside linebackers is available at No. 28, the Steelers are likely to select him.
- Safety: Morgan Burnett is 29, and while he will start next season alongside Sean Davis, the Steelers are still in the market for a long-term starter at safety. If Burnett can play at a high level into his 30s, that’s great for the Steelers, but they have to get a younger player into the system who could be groomed for a bigger role in future years. That player could come as soon as the second day of the draft. The Steelers are in desperate need of a playmaker in their secondary. This defense hasn’t had a ball-hawking defensive back for years.
- Wide receiver: The Steelers are set with starters Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster and Martavis Bryant as the third receiver, but there is not a lot of depth behind them. Eli Rogers was the fourth receiver last season, but he remains unsigned after undergoing offseason knee surgery. The Steelers could use a player to develop because Bryant is entering the final year of his rookie contract and is unlikely to be re-signed. Don’t be surprised if the Steelers take another receiver fairly early in the draft. They want to keep quarterback Ben Roethlisberger surrounded by quality skill players.
- Defensive line: Steelers president Art Rooney II called the run defense “soft” shortly after the Steelers were eliminated from the playoffs by Jacksonville. And while the Steelers are set with All-Pro Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt at defensive end, they could use a run stuffer to compete with third-year nose tackle Javon Hargrave. The Steelers were 27th in the NFL in 2017 in rushing yards per attempt. They have to fix that if they want to contend in the AFC.
- Running back: All-Pro Le’Veon Bell might not show up until a week before the regular season starts (he still has not signed his $14.544 million franchise tender) and his backup James Conner was injury prone as a rookie last season. With Bell likely playing his final season with the Steelers – he can become an unrestricted free agent next year – the Steelers could select a running back this year and groom him for a larger role in 2019. With Conner’s injury history, a rookie could get a chance to compete for playing time early.
–BEST FIT: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State. Vander Esch projects as a three-down linebacker and can fill the gaping hole in the middle of the Steelers’ defense that was created when Ryan Shazier was injured last season. Vander Esch only had one good college season, but he performed well at the Combine and has the necessary speed to play in pass coverage in the 3-4, something the Steelers seek in their replacement for Ryan Shazier.
–Rob Rang: Derrius Guice, RB, LSU. Every draft has a surprise and the Steelers could be in position to provide this year’s shocker. As expected, Le’Veon Bell opted not to attend the Steelers’ voluntary minicamp. While the issue likely will be resolved in plenty of time for Bell to star again for Pittsburgh in 2018, general manager Kevin Colbert may opt to have his Super Bowl contender prepared with a powerful and determined backup option, just in case.
–Dane Brugler: Justin Reid, FS, Stanford. Legitimate free safety prospects are a hot commodity in this draft class because there is much more demand than supply. Reid might not have any elite traits, but he is well rounded and reliable across the board.
FANS ON THE CLOCK, ON THE RECORD
OK, it’s your turn. Tell us in the comments section who you would pick and why. Check out top 1,000 players rated by NFLDraftScout.com, including combine and pro day workouts, biographies, scouting reports.