The NFL Draft is right around the corner, and it feels like we are no closer to understanding what teams will do in round one. Unlike most years where the first 10 or so picks are already set in stone, this year’s draft is seemingly unpredictable and that starts all the way at the top with the Jacksonville Jaguars at pick number one. There is no consensus top prospect and specifically no top quarterback prospect and because of that this draft has been one of the hardest to forecast when compared to the last few years.
One team in the first round that is very hard to predict is the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers did a good job in free agency to address some of their needs but there is still plenty of work to be done if this team is going to get back to competing in what is now an absolutely loaded AFC. The team currently has pick No. 20 at their disposal and could go a ton of ways depending on how the board falls. Let’s look at the Steelers top needs in order and what players may be available for their first pick.
Possible Targets: Liberty’s Malik Willis, Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett, Ole Miss’ Matt Corral
It’s no secret that the Steelers are in desperate need of a franchise signal caller. With the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers will now have to face the reality that it is hard to find said franchise quarterback in the NFL. The team is currently set to roll out Mitch Trubisky as the under center after they signed the former number two overall pick to an inexpensive deal earlier this offseason. Trubisky projects as a serviceable bridge quarterback who, if surrounded by a strong supporting cast, could win some games next season but not someone the Steelers intend to build around long term. As a matter of fact, Head Coach Mike Tomlin has shown us with his actions that he is very much still in the quarterback market as he has been a familiar face among the top quarterbacks’ pro days. The issue here is if the quarterback the Steelers like signal caller that ends up falling to them at 20.
The answer to that question is likely no. My two highest graded quarterbacks are Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett and Liberty's Malik Willis, and both will likely be long gone by the time the Steelers are on the clock. Pittsburgh could very well trade up into the top ten for one of these signal callers but I would advise against that given how I value these quarterbacks relative to the other positional players that could be there at 20. Another option is sticking at 20 and selecting a quarterback like Matt Corral, who offers the playmaking ability and athleticism to open up the playbook in Pittsburgh.
Possible Targets: Michigan’s Daxton Hill, Georgia’s Lewis Cine, Penn State’s Jaquan Brisker
The Steelers have a very good free safety in Minkah Fitzpatrick but are severely in need of a running mate at strong safety. Former 2018 first round pick Terrell Edmunds has failed to live up to his early round selection and is currently a free agent, leaving Miles Killebrew atop the depth chart, which is very uninspiring. Luckily for Pittsburgh, this is a very strong safety class and they should have their pick of the litter sitting at No. 20. The team could target players like Georgia’s Lewis Cine or Penn State’s Jaquan Brisker, both of which project very well to a traditional box safety to pair with Fitzpatrick. Both Cine and Brisker have excellent size, athleticism and are outstanding tacklers. Their physical style of play will blend in very nicely with the Pittsburgh culture, too.
Another name which could be interesting to the team is Daxton Hill out of Michigan. While Hill doesn’t project as a fit at strong safety, his versatility to play both single high and in the nickel could be appealing. He is an outstanding athlete with instincts, ball skills and plays the game with a feisty temperament.
Possible Targets: Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning, Mississippi State’s Charles Cross
Pittsburgh has needed additional offensive line help for the last few years and yet they still are in a position where their offensive line is among the league’s worst. The team did do well in free agency, adding veterans James Daniels and Mason Cole to help solidify the interior of their offensive line but the team could stand to improve at left tackle where Dan Moore showed promise as a fourth round pick last year but not enough to feel great about him as the uncontested starter. Sitting at pick 20, there is a chance that a top tackle falls to them in which case they would have to pounce, in my opinion. Northern Iowa’s Trevor Penning or Mississippi's State’s Charles Cross would give the team an athletic pass protector to block for whoever is under center for the black and yellow.
Possible Targets: Clemson’s Andrew Booth, Washington’s Trent McDuffie, Florida’s Kaiir Elam
For the first time in five years the Steelers secondary will be without Joe Haden who has been the team’s number one corner. The team and Haden split ways, failing to agree to a new contract and leaving a massive hole on the outside. Currently, the team’s top two corners are free agent acquisition Levi Wallace and Justin Layne - not quite the duo you want rolling out to face Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase. Like safety, the Steelers will likely be able to have their choice among some of the top corners in this year’s draft once they are on the clock at pick 20. Players such as Andrew Booth, Trent McDuffie and even Kaiir Elam could all make a ton of sense for this team and would greatly improve their corner room.