Steelers 2020 NFL Combine Preview

Noah Strackbein

The start 2020 season is nearly here and the Steelers are gearing up to overcome the leap back into the playoffs. After back-to-back finishes outside the top six, Pittsburgh is determined to use their limited assets to add the missing pieces to their puzzle this spring. 

As the NFL Combine approaches, Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert are working tirelessly to create the best approach to the team's 2020 draft plan. Heading into April with no first-round pick, the road won't be easy, but confidence remains strong that these two can find ways to add to their roster. 

After adding quarterback coach, Matt Canada, and wide receivers coach, Ike Hilliard, this offseason the Steelers are hoping to develop a younger crowd in 2020. Colbert's one-year contract extension guarantees he'll be with the team through the 2021 NFL Draft, making each one as important as it can be. 

With the hope that Ben Roethlisberger returns and names like Bud Dupree re-sign, the Steelers have put themselves in a promising spot for the upcoming year. They'll just need to fill in the remaining pieces during the draft. 

2019 Season in Review

The Steelers 2019 season started as bad as it finished. As they walked into the year with a blowout loss to the New England Patriots, followed by the loss of Ben Roethlisberger for the year, it appeared that the bad luck bug was taking full advantage of the city of Pittsburgh last season. 

Finishing 8-8 behind three different quarterbacks - one, an undrafted rookie - the team found more success than many believed possible but ultimately ended up missing the playoffs for the second consecutive year. 

After losing multiple starters like Roethlisberger, Stephon Tuitt, Sean Davis ,and for stretches, James Conner and JuJu Smith-Schuster, the Steelers struggled to find enough success to carry them into the postseason. 

Their biggest success of 2019 came from pulling the trigger on the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade. The safety totaled five interceptions and three fumble recoveries last season, proving he was well worth a first-round pick. 

Still, after turning the defense into the league's biggest turnover-creater, the Steelers found themselves watching the postseason from home, with plenty of questions to answer this offseason.

2020 Draft Position

After sending their first-round pick to Miami for Minkah Fitzpatrick and their third-round pick to Denver to move up to draft Devin Bush in 2019, the Steelers are left with one pick in the first three rounds. 

They'll start their draft with the 49th pick. With two fourth-rounders and picks in each of the sixth and seventh, they're sitting strong with five picks in the 2020 NFL Draft - right now. 

Pittsburgh is expected to receive a compensatory pick for Le'Veon Bell, landing them a third-round selection as well. It's unlikely they'll choose to move up in back-to-back drafts but if they believe a player is sitting somewhere they can utilize a later pick to climb the ladder, they might consider it. 

With 2020 being Kevin Colbert's second-last draft on his contract, anything is possible. 

Helped Wanted. Help Needed

The chance of the Steelers moving up aren't gone. General manager Kevin Colbert said earlier this month that he feels comfortable with the team's draft position, but as always, anything in possible.

“Can that change? Of course. We always talk about trading up, trading back, trade this, trade that,” Colbert said. “We never close that door.”

With the 49th pick in the draft, Pittsburgh's eyes seem to be pointed at three positions - tight end, running back or nose tackle. 

Colbert's remarks on James Conner's "acute" health problems building up in 2019 leaves room to believe the Steelers could feel better by adding another feature back. Not necessarily a replacement, but more a compliment for the fourth-year Connor. 

Signing a veteran is possible but their placement in the second round puts them in a nice place to add a rookie to the backfield. 

Tight end seems to be a favorite but won't be known until the team decides what they're going to do with Vance McDonald. 

Releasing the veteran tight end clears up roughly $7 million in cap space. As they try to find ways to sign - or at least franchise tag - Bud Dupree, moving on from McDonald could be the most sensible option. 

Depending on who’s selected in the opening round, this could be the position of choice at the middle of the second. It’s a talented class of tight ends, leaving the possibility of grabbing a first-round talent at No. 49.

And finally, at some point the Steelers need to find a way to replace Javon Hargrave. The UFA is going to find himself with a sweet payday but it won’t be in Pittsburgh. 

The Steelers may need to avoid drafting a defensive lineman in the second round because of the gap in talent. Unless a name like Justin Madubuike slides, they’d be overlooking an abundance of offensive talent to draft a position they simple need to fill. 

Five Players the Steelers Must Watch

With all eyes on three positions at the 49th pick, the Steelers draft board has these five names highlighted heading into April:

J.K. Dobbins, RB Ohio State

No one is certain of Dobbins’ draft position just yet. The Ohio State standout is one of the top runners in the 2020 draft class but without a major need for running backs this offseason, he could slide to the second-round. 

If he does, he’s top of the list of talent for the Steelers and a player who fills all the needs of their complimentary running back. A north and south runner who carriers a strong body and can turn small runs into breakout plays.

It’s hard to imagine letting Dobbins slide to the bottom of the second if he’s still available. 

Cole Kmet, TE Notre Dame

The Notre Dame product appears to be the perfect tight end. A Vance McDonald-type body with decent speed, reliable hands and the ability to make plays as a blocker and pass catcher. 

Kmet is another player that could find himself being a first-round pick but as may have to wait for a team like Pittsburgh. If he does slide, the Steelers will be thrilled to land the tight end. 

Brycen Hopkins, TE Purdue

Hopkins is a second-round talent who has all the potential to be an NFL star. Coming out of Purdue as one of the draft’s most athletic tight ends, he has the mold to help the position bounce back in Pittsburgh. 

He also brings strong blocking ability, but may not be an all-around product in his rookie year. If the team brings back Nick Vannett this could be the perfect duo. 

Justin Madubuike, DT Texas A&M

Justin Madubuike is a Javon Hargrave prototype that should find himself on the outside of the first-round looking in. The big-bodied interior lineman can stuff a running gap better than most and brings the athleticism to work outside gaps if needed. 

The Steelers don't want to rely on a rookie to be the only one replacing Hargrave this season but they may want to add the future of the position.

Zack Moss, RB Utah

Zack Moss is a tough call. The Steelers essentially have a Moss-type player in Benny Snell Jr., but Moss' talent certainly exceeds what Snell is able to do at this point in his career. 

The Utah back brings more speed and a better pass-catching ability, and is the favorite to be sitting there in the middle of the second round. 

Who Makes The Call and Recent Draft Hits and Misses

The draft day tandem of Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin has become one of the NFL’s greatest over the last decade. The two have spent offseason after offseason preparing for NFL Drafts and have proven unmatched time and time again. 

From names like Ryan Shazier, T.J. Watt and James Conner to guys heading into their second year, already making an impact, such as Devin Bush and Benny Snell Jr., the Steelers draft team has found gems on most occasions. 

This continues to be a team effort and one that has worked out well since Tomlin came to Pittsburgh. Outside of a Jarvis Jones and Artie Burns, there hasn’t been many mistakes in the two’s long resume of draft classes. 

Without a first-round pick, these two face a challenge they haven’t been presented with since teaming up. Still, there’s a sense of confidence that the Steelers will still find the pieces they need with Tomlin and Colbert running the show. 

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