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2020 NFL Draft

Farabaugh: 2020 Steelers Mock Draft



The Steelers have been on the road and on their phones for the past few months putting together a big board in an effort to come out with the best draft possible. After all, with Ben Roethlisberger returning, they want to push for a Super Bowl before Roethlisberger walks off into the sunset for good. With that said, these projections are hard to make. There are not a lot of cues to follow this year, so it is hard to predict. Nonetheless, here is a seven-round mock draft that could get the Steelers back atop the NFL.

Round 2, Pick 49: Ashtyn Davis, S, California

Throughout the process, as more holes have been filled on the Steelers, safety has crept up the needs list surely and slowly. Now, it is on red alert with no depth behind Terrell Edmunds and Minkah Fitzpatrick. With the loss of Mark Barron, the Steelers also lost their dimebacker and a sub-package defender in the middle of the field.

Enter Ashtyn Davis, who steps in and fills multiple needs at once. Davis has experience in the box, slot, and as a single-high safety. That will make him a chess piece that would give the Steelers a ton of flexibility on the back end of the defense that they desperately need. Davis allows the Steelers to move Edmunds into a hybrid dimebacker role where Barron once was in in 2019.

A track star, Davis is an elite athlete for the position and brings playmaking upside with great hit power and ball skills. He can be used in man-to-man coverage out of the slot as well. Davis is a plus special teamer, which will excite Mike Tomlin. As a whole, Davis gives the Steelers so much flexibility in the secondary that if he is there and Antoine Winfield is gone, this pick is a slam dunk.

Round 3, Pick 102: Alex Highsmith, OLB, Charlotte

This is one that just makes a lot of sense. The Steelers do not show a lot of interest in small-school guys and when they do, it means something. Brandon Hunt and Dan Colbert are two guys that usually handle some under the radar guys like this, and they have shown they have a lot of pull in the draft room.

When watching Highsmith, it becomes apparent that he is very much like a Steelers outside linebacker. His first step off the line is great and the man has some of the best bend in the entire draft class. Granted, that is mainly all he is right now, but that is a heck of a baseline to work with coming into the NFL.

The Steelers will have to mold his hand usage, pass rush plan, and counters, but the natural quickness, burst, and bendiness with get Highsmith on the field from day one regardless. With so many meetings with some pass rushers, it seems the Steelers hold this as a higher need than most do, and they address it here with Highsmith.

Round 4, Pick 124: Darrynton Evans, RB, Appalachian State

Here is another guy that the Steelers have met with virtually over the course of this process. Evans is another small-school guy that most certainly is connected to Hunt and it is not hard to see why. In terms of speed backs, Evans fits the Steelers mold about as well as anyone does in this draft.

With electric punt and kick return experience, Evans is the exact type of running that the Steelers look for when they take a look at home run hitters. The Steelers need speed on the offensive side of the football anyways, and Evans certainly would add that and more with good vision and contact balance.

Best fit in a running back by committee, Evans has receiving ability and will flourish as being a change of pace for James Conner and Benny Snell in the offense.

Round 4, Pick 135: John Simpson, IOL, Clemson

With Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert at Clemson Pro Day, it feels like there is inevitably going to be a Clemson player selected somewhere in the draft class. It could be at safety with K’Von Wallace or Tanner Muse, but here the Steelers go out and add a mauler at offensive line to fill out the interior offensive line depth that they need to address.

Stefen Wisniewski joining the team is a nice boon with center and guard capability, but a guy for the future and another option would be helpful. Simpson has some of the strongest punches in this class and great lower body strength and hand usage. The issues with him are some athleticism concerns, but in the Steelers gap scheme, he can work through it just fine.

In pass protection, Simpson is a high IQ football player who passes off twists. As a communicator, Simpson is seen pointing things out pre-snap. Stuff like that is exactly what Tomlin looks for in his players. As such, the Steelers shore up the key depth along the offensive line with a potential starter down the road in Simpson.

Round 6, Pick 198: Quez Watkins, WR, Southern Mississppi

Wide receiver has to be addressed somewhere in this draft. The Steelers might have three quality young receivers, but they lack speed and could always use another good depth option on the roster. Watkins is unlike any receiver they have currently on the roster and has experience being a gunner, so there are early special teams returns here.

With good hands, elite speed, ability to win after the catch, and the size to still win above the rim, Watkins will go later than he should go off the board in a deep receiver class. That is the Steelers opportunity to steal him in the sixth round as a late day three Z-receiver who can stretch the field.

Watkins would enter the receiving room as the fastest receiver on the roster immediately and would fight it out for a roster spot. With his skillset, I would count on him winning that battle and if he can grow his game to beat press, Watkins can have meaningful playing time in the NFL.

Round 7, Pick 232: Shaun Bradley, ILB, Temple

Another player that the Steelers have had a virtual meeting with is Shaun Bradley out of Temple. Bradley ran a 4.51 40-yard dash at the Combine and the athleticism shows up on tape. He is fluid, rangy, and explosive out there in the middle of the defense. That fluidity gives him a lot of coverage upside and he has some really nice quickness to also do nice work in zone coverage.

The biggest issue with Bradley is his instincts. His processing is as raw as sushi on the field. Bradley struggles to go through his keys and make the correct reads, which often leaves him out of position and mitigates his athletic ability as a whole due to his gaffes in that area. He also needs to learn how to get off blocks better.

Those issues are why Bradley is a seventh-round prospect in the first place. He can be a nice special teamer and depth right off the bat with some developmental upside, which is all the Steelers can ask for in a seventh-round pick.


2020 NFL Draft

Chase Claypool Signs Steelers Contract



Steelers top draft pick Chase Claypool has signed his rookie contract. Claypool posted to his personal Twitter account a photo of him signing the contract on Wednesday night.

According to Tom Loy of 247 Sports, Claypool signed a four-year contract worth $6.6 million, including a $2.4 million signing bonus.

The Steelers drafted Claypool out of Notre Dame with the 49th overall pick in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. A 6-foot-4, 238-pound receiver from British Columbia, Claypool caught 150 passes for 2,159 yards and 19 touchdowns with the Fighting Irish.

With Pittsburgh, he’s expected to immediately contribute, joining Juju Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson and James Washington at the top of the Steelers’ wide receiver corps.

Claypool is the third member of the Steelers’ 2020 draft class to sign his contract, joining third-round outside linebacker Alex Highsmith and fourth-round running back Anthony McFarland, Jr.
The Steelers rookies are in the process of reporting to training camp, which will begin fully at Heinz Field on July 28.

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2020 NFL Draft

Film Study: Alex Highsmith Brings Juice to Steelers Pass Rush



The Steelers surprised more than a few people by taking an outside linebacker in the third round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Coming into the draft, it was a position that could be addressed due to the looming contract of Bud Dupree, who is on a one-year rental contract on the franchise tag. Seeing as the Steelers have a plethora of contracts to take care of in the next year, Dupree may be on his way out. Even then, with Anthony Chickillo gone, the Steelers needed to address the depth and get a rotational pass rusher.

All of that is taken care of now as they selected Charlotte’s Alex Highsmith, who was an uber-productive pass rusher who was a standout all week at the East-West Shrine Game in Tampa. Given what he has put on tape, his selection is not a surprise and the Steelers hit a home run with the pick of Highsmith, who put up quality tape not just against teams in the Conference USA, but also against a top team such as Clemson.

Highsmith’s Tape

The one developing area of Highsmith’s game is his counters and pass rush moves. There are a few moves that he employs to win and starting last season, a spin move was one of the ways he won inside as offensive tackles overset for his speed rush. Highsmith has a few defining traits to his game, but there is no doubt that his explosive first step is a key one. He gets off the line and up the arc in a hurry because of his explosive first step. The good thing is that he is not simply a speed rusher. While that is how he wins most of the time, he can pull off nifty moves like this. Clemson tackle Jackson Carman oversets expecting the speed rush from Highsmith, but instead, he takes his pass rush angle up the arc and bends it back inside on that spin move.

One thing that was telling on the Clemson tape was just how much they prepared for Highsmith. Carman is a good tackle and a potential first-round pick in 2021, but Highsmith gave him fits all day long. They chipped Highsmith with tight ends and kept running backs in just in an effort to try and stop him. This play above shows off his first step. He has rocket shoes on his feet on this play as he beats Carman to his spot. If not for a quick three-step drop and throw from Trevor Lawrence, this may have been a sack for Highsmith off his explosiveness alone.

Run defense is a part of Highsmith’s game that is inconsistent, but as his hand usage has improved, so has his run defense. This play is one where he shows he can take advantage of a tackle’s mistakes. Carman is flat-footed and lunges towards Highsmith rather than driving through his chest, allowing Highsmith to be nifty and zoom right on by here. That is part of the reason his explosiveness causes so many problems. However, he does a nice job of executing a chop-rip to slice down the line to make a tackle. Based on the film, the chop-rip combination is Highsmith’s go-to move.

Here is the chop-rip again, this time for a sack. Highsmith does a great job of nailing his hand right inside the tackle’s pad, which is almost always certain death for a tackle. The ability to rip around the edge and make this arc tight is something that Highsmith is really good at doing. Still, this is more about his burst and hand usage combination that allows him to win.

This is exactly how Highsmith recorded most of his sacks, however. When the Steelers drafted him, they likely bet not just on his improvement as a strategist with his counters and moves, but his combination of burst and bend to destroy set angles and win around the edge with his speed rush. He does that extremely well here as he sets his pass rush angle up as if he was going to come here with some power move such as bull rush. However, his lateral agility allows him to cut back outside and use his explosiveness to get the angle. After that, it is all flexibility in his ankles. The ankle flexion he gets is really great on that lead leg. It bends and leads under his shoulders and hip to allow him to dip and reduce his surface area on his way to getting this sack.

Highsmith’s Overview

The Steelers’ selection of Highsmith may have been their best pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. His combination of burst and bend makes him a perfect fit for the 3-4 outside linebacker scheme. With the Steelers rushing their outside linebackers more than ever, Highsmith is a great fit to provide more pass rush upside in the rotation than anyone since Jason Worilds. With his improvement in his pass rush plan and hand usage, HIghsmith could be a starter in 2021 if Dupree walks after the 2020 season.

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2020 NFL Draft

Colbert Explains Why He Wanted Three Rounds Added to 2020 Draft



Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert is offering an explanation as to why he wanted three rounds added to the 2020 NFL Draft.

Speaking with NBC Sport’s Mike Florio on the PFT PM podcast Tuesday, Colbert took the opportunity to clarify his suggestion.

“The reasoning was, part of it was selfish,” Colbert said. “You wanted to have a safety net because we’re dealing with less information, and the more picks you have, maybe you’ll have a little bit of a safety net again.”

With the league’s self-implemented travel restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, clubs were unable to conduct their normal scouting activities prior to the Draft. This included Pro Days, private workouts and in-person interviews.

Less opportunities to watch and speak with prospects results in a larger margin for error.

Colbert went on to say that it also would have benefited some of the fringe prospects in the Draft that never had the chance to showcase themselves at a Pro Day or other setting.

“The other thing was it would give the marginal player that didn’t get his opportunity to go to a Pro Day and to perform. Maybe there will be more players drafted and then those players will then again have the chance they might not get.”

Now without rookie minicamps, the challenges are mounting for clubs and NFL hopefuls.

“Every year a team might stumble upon a tryout player,” Colbert said. “Maybe if we ever get on the field, we can think of a way to help those because there’s a big group of players that aren’t getting opportunities because of the situation.”

Colbert reminded Florio that the Steelers discovered Devlin “Duck” Hodges as a tryout in camp last year.

It is unclear when teams will be allowed to return to the practice field for their offseason programs, with clubs currently conducting theirs entirely from home.

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