The Pittsburgh Steelers coveted an inside linebacker with their first-round pick, but the Tennessee Titans beat them to the punch. The Titans traded up from No. 25 to No. 22 to take Alabama linebacker Rashaan Evans, the player the Steelers wanted and might have traded up for themselves.
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert wouldn't confirm that, but his decision to trade receiver Martavis Bryant to Oakland for a third-round pick earlier in the evening Thursday fueled the speculation.
In the end, the Steelers settled on Virginia Tech safety Terrell Edmunds with the No. 28 overall pick. Edmunds was not considered a first-round pick by most of the draft analysts. In fact, some had him pegged as a third-round pick or later.
But the Steelers liked his athleticism and versatility enough to select him at the end of the first round.
"Terrell Edmunds is a very gifted, athletic, physical safety who has played free safety, strong safety," Colbert said. "He may rotate from one to the other in the same play."
While the critics screamed the Steelers could have landed Edmunds in the second or third round, Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin made it clear they valued him much more than the draft analysts. They said he was quite simply the best player available on their board.
"Anything you can imagine him doing, you saw him doing in Virginia Tech's defensive tape," Tomlin said. "That versatility was exciting. We got a sharp, young versatile guy. ... He checks all the boxes for us."
The Steelers gave up 45 points in their playoff loss to Jacksonville and need impact players to help solidify that unit. The Steelers have Sean Davis and Morgan Burnett already at safety. Edmunds can learn behind them, or if he progresses well, could challenge for a starting position.
The Steelers then surprised by picking offensive players with their next three selections. They took Oklahoma State receiver James Washington in the second round and Oklahoma State quarterback Mason Rudolph and Western Michigan tackle Chukes Okorafor in the third round.
Washington was selected to take over the deep-threat role that Bryant had in the offense. A unanimous All-America pick last season, Washington led the nation with 1,549 receiving yards.
"He's a tough guy, runs fast and scores touchdowns," offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner said. "If you look, you see a lot of long catches. He likes to go down the yard. That's the kind of a need we were looking for, so we are pretty excited about having him."
The surprise pick of the draft was Rudolph. With Ben Roethlisberger saying after last season ended that he wanted to play two or three more seasons, it's viewed as a luxury pick. However, Colbert said the Steelers had Rudolph ranked among the group of five quarterbacks who were drafted in the first round. He believes Rudolph was a great value pick at that point in the draft.
"It got to the point where it was an easy decision to add such a quality quarterback to the team," Colbert said. "When he was available in the third round it was a very easy decision to choose him."
Fichtner knows the Steelers won't keep four quarterbacks so either Josh Dobbs, last year's fourth-round pick, or current backup Landry Jones won't be on the 53-man roster when the season starts.
"I'm a competitive person," Rudolph said. "I'm competitive to the bone. I'm going to come in and work my butt off to learn the system as quick as I can, have a great rookie minicamp. I look forward to getting whatever reps I can, throws at OTAs and try to take strides. It's not Ben's job to teach me anything. It's my job to learn and that is the way I am going to look at it. Obviously, you're sitting behind an unbelievable player and a good dude, so we'll just kind of take it day by day and try to learn what I can each and every day."
When asked if he would be willing to sit behind Roethlisberger for several years, Rudolph said: "Listen, I'm just going to do whatever the coaching staff wants me to do. Like I said, I'm going to prepare like I'm the starter whether that's the case or not every single week, every single day, and put myself in the best position I can and let the chips fall where they may."
A closer look at the Steelers' picks:
Round 1/28 - Terrell Edmunds, S, 6-1, 220, Virginia Tech
Edmunds might have been the surprise pick of the first round as most draft analysts had him pegged as a second- or third-round pick. He started 31 games over three seasons and left school after his redshirt junior year. A shoulder injury hindered his performance last season, but the Steelers believe his athleticism and versatility will add another dimension to their defensive backfield.
Round 2/60 - James Washington, WR, 5-11, 213, Oklahoma State
Washington should be an immediate contributor as the replacement for Martavis Bryant, who was traded to the Raiders on the first night of the draft. He is a deep-route specialist who led the nation with 1,549 yards last season. Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner believes he is underrated as an intermediate and underneath route-runner as well.
Round 3/76 - Mason Rudolph, QB, 6-5, 235, Oklahoma State
The Steelers were going to take him in the second round, but settled on Washington there because he filled an immediate need. Rudolph will serve as the backup for Ben Roethlisberger for the foreseeable future as Roethlisberger said after the season that he would like to play two or three more years. He was considered the best deep-ball thrower in this draft, but he is not known for his ability to escape pressure.
Round 3/92 - Chukes Okoafor, T, 6-6, 320, Western Michigan
Okoafor, a native of Nigeria, is a developmental prospect who didn't start playing football until late in his teenage years. He played right and left tackle in college and will compete with 2016 fourth-round pick Jerald Hawkins to become the swing tackle next season. With Marcus Gilbert and Alejandro Villanueva approaching 30, Okoafor could become a future starter by 2020 if he develops.
Round 5/148 - Marcus Allen, S, 6-2, 215, Penn State
Allen is a hard-hitting defensive back who could transition to a hybrid role in the NFL. He started 46 games at Penn State and finished his career with 321 tackles, becoming one of only six players in school history to record more than 300 tackles. The Steelers were looking for third-level defenders that were sure tacklers and Allen fits the bill.
Round 5/165 - Jaylen Samuels, RB, 6-0, 225, North Carolina State
Samuels is listed as a running back, but he was better known for his pass-catching abilities in college. He set the North Carolina State record with 202 career receptions and finished fourth in touchdowns with 47. Running backs coach James Saxon said he's a versatile player who can create mismatches with linebackers in pass coverage.
Round 7/246 - Joshua Frazier, DT, 6-3, 321, Alabama
Frazier played for new Steelers defensive line coach Karl Dunbar for the past two seasons. He was a highly-touted high school recruit who lost his job to Da'Ron Payne, who was drafted in the first round Thursday night. The Steelers don't have a lot of depth along the defensive line so Frazier could challenge for a roster spot or place on the practice squad if he plays well during training camp.