- The biggest need, the hidden need and what else the Steelers should be looking for in the 2019 draft.
Two weeks ahead of the NFL draft, Andy Benoit and Gary Gramling are breaking down draft needs for all 32 teams. You can also see every team in a single post here.
Biggest Need: Pass-Catcher
James Conner and Jaylen Samuels, though far from Le’Veon Bell as receiving threats, can be productive enough in Pittsburgh’s spread passing game. At tight end, battering ram Vance McDonald remains the No. 1 and Xavier Grimble brings athleticism to No. 2, making the departure of Jesse James survivable. The freshly vacant spot that Pittsburgh is not equipped to readily fill in-house is Antonio Brown’s. Or, more accurately, JuJu Smith-Schuster’s, since Smith-Schuster himself appears ready to assume Brown’s role. The hope was 2018 second-rounder James Washignton could step into Smith-Schuster’s No. 2 spot, but aside from a flash or two down the stretch (the win over New England comes to mind), Washington had a depressing rookie season. Donte Moncrief was signed as insurance, but Moncrief is the Kit-Kat bar of receivers: average to the degree of disappointing. With Ryan Switzer purely a slot weapon, Pittsburgh needs a receiver who can win on the perimeter.
Hidden Need: Free Safety
Sean Davis has improved since moving to centerfield, but whether he’s worth re-signing long-term when his contract expires at the end of this season will be almost strictly a function of price. The Steelers can give themselves leverage by having a future starter already on the roster. Plus, they could use a contributing No. 3 safety for 2019 anyway. Depth behind Davis and last year’s first-rounder, Terrell Edmunds, is iffy, and the coaching staff wouldn’t mind having a safety to play in dime (Morgan Burnett did last year but, plagued by injuries, was released). The signing of former Rams linebacker Mark Barron (who, remember, was drafted in 2012 as a high first-round safety by the Bucs) could allow Pittsburgh to go back to playing nickel on third downs, but that would mean also relying on thumping blitzer Vince Williams, who can only be trusted as a downhill attacker, not a reactor in space. Plus, in L.A. Barron was not as sound in coverage as you’d expect a former safety to be.
Also Looking For: Outside Cornerback
Ex-Chief Steven Nelson was signed to stabilize Artie Burns’s rickety No. 2 corner spot. But Nelson himself has always been an up-and-down perimeter matchup corner (not to the degree of Burns, though). Burns, if he makes this team, will almost certainly be allowed to leave as a free agent when his rookie deal expires at the end of this season. And so in the very least, more depth is needed at outside corner.
Who They Can Get
Assuming D.K. Metcalf is off the board and they’re unlikely to tab Antonio Brown’s cousin—Oklahoma’s Marquise Brown—as his replacement, that leaves big-bodies catch-and-run threat A.J. Brown of Ole Miss and contested-catch specialist N’Keal Harry of Arizona State as the most likely targets in Round 1. The free safeties—Delaware’s Nasir Adderley, Florida’s Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and Alabama’s Deionte Thompson, all fringe first-rounders, are probably the best fits—are probably a reach at Pick 20, though many felt the same way about Edmunds last spring. If it’s an outside cornerback, LSU’s Greedy Williams might be tough to pass up at this spot (though his less-than-enthusiastic tackling might not play well with Mike Tomlin), and Georgia’s Deandre Baker seems like the kind of competitive and versatile corner who would appeal to the Steelers.
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