The big need for the Pittsburgh Steelers, going back to the end of the 2017 season, has been inside linebacker, as the team has yet to be able to find someone capable of replacing the injured Ryan Shazier in the middle of their defense.
But ESPN analysts Mel Kiper and Todd McShay, who cover the NFL Draft, don’t believe a top-round insider linebacker is in the cards for the Steelers this week.
The top two inside linebackers are Devin White from LSU and Devin Bush from Michigan. Kiper believe those two will be long gone by the time the Steelers make their choice with the No. 20 overall pick.
Kiper thinks White will be taken by Tampa Bay at No. 5 overall.
“They need him,” Kiper said on a conference call with reporters on Monday. “That’s a big need area for them, linebacker. Obviously, with Kwon Alexander moving on, they took some hits there. That’s what they need. … He could be the leader, the real cornerstone of that defense.”
Bush has been projected to go lower in the draft, and some think he could potentially be available for the Steelers, but Kiper isn’t in that group, at least not anymore.
“I had thought he might get to 20 to Pittsburgh, I had it several times during the process, but everybody is so positive on Devin Bush” Kiper said. “The consistency on tape, game-to-game consistency, love of the game, today’s NFL fits him perfectly. There’s not that much separating him from Devin White. If Devin White is going to go (at) five to Tampa … they’re both very similar. I can’t see him getting past (Cincinnati at No.) 11.”
McShay agrees that both of the top inside backers will be gone by the time the Steelers choose, and added that there isn’t a realistic third choice to be taken at No. 20.
“I think they could both be off the board in the first 10 picks,” McShay said. “They’re that good. It would be nice (if they were there). Obviously, it’s a position of need. … After the Devin’s, White and Bush, there’s really not an off-the-ball linebacker that you want to draft, probably until late second, third-round range.”
So which direction will the Steelers go instead? McShay thinks the best position groups are defensive end and cornerback, with Clemson end Clelin Ferrell and Washington corner Byron Murphy standing out.
“We talked about Clelin Ferrell from Clemson,” McShay said. “I also think, the cornerback position, that’s kind of where the corners start to come off the board. I think Byron Murphy would be a really good pick coming out of Washington. He’s not the fastest guy. He’s not the best man-to-man cover corner. He’s basically 5-foot-11, 190. He ran a 4.55 at the combine. But I’d say he’s the most instinctive in terms of his ability to play zone coverage and play off the ball and do different things. I think Mike Tomlin in that defense, would appreciate what he can do and be able to utilize him properly and allow him to become a playmaker in their system.”