The Pittsburgh Steelers currently sit with the 20th overall selection in the 2019 NFL Draft. After accumulating ten picks for the entirety of the draft, the Steelers will most certainly be able to wheel and deal to find a player they’re in love with.
During the draft process, fans will begin to link names with their favorite teams. The Arizona Cardinals are the biggest propeller of the rumor mill, as heavy rumors surround Arizona taking Oklahoma QB Kyler Murray with the number one overall pick. The Denver Broncos have been linked with Missouri QB Drew Lock, and Florida State EDGE rusher Brian Burns has been linked with the Washington Redskins.
For the Steelers, two obvious names have emerged as dream targets, both playing the inside linebacker position: Michigan’s Devin Bush, and LSU’s Devin White. The two “Devin’s” fit the new modern style inside linebacker, providing a two-dimensional athletic play style to provide help in both run and pass scenarios.
Corner help would also be a welcome sight for Steelers fans, even with the signing of Steven Nelson in free agency. The consensus top two cornerbacks in this draft include LSU’s Greedy Williams, and Washington’s Byron Murphy.
Finding a permanent replacement for Antonio Brown will also be another goal for the Steelers. Donte Moncrief was brought in to temporarily fill the void, yet the team will ultimately look for another playmaker. The first receiver off the board will likely be Ole Miss’ D.K. Metcalf, yet Arizona State’s N’Keal Harry and Oklahoma’s Marquise Brown are among a long list of notable names to watch as well.
With such a long list of potential targets, the Steelers will have plenty of options to weigh come draft day. Not everybody will be there at pick no. 20, and if the Steelers fall in love with a player, they have the draft capital to make a move.
So who will the Steelers need to trade up for? If nobody of their liking is there, who can they trade back for? Using Big Boards (an overall ranking of each player entering the draft) from Bleacher Report’s Matt Miller and Sports Illustrated to go along with what NFL writers/insiders are saying, we’ll be able to get a better look at where potential players will end up.
Examining a wealth of players the Steelers have been linked to, and deciding if they need to trade up or down to land them in the first round:
Devin White, LB, LSU
Matt Miller’s Big Board Ranking: 4
Sports Illustrated’s Big Board Ranking: 5
What they’re saying: “White/Tampa is about the worst kept secret in this draft.”- Ben Allbright, NFL Insider.
Devin White is the prized possession in the upcoming draft in terms of linebackers, and rightfully so. White will undoubtedly be the first linebacker off the board thanks to his sideline to sideline speed, and overall play-making ability. The accelerated play of White along with his testing at the combine has supposedly all but secured his spot as not only a first round pick, but will go in the single digits on draft night. Tampa Bay is the perfect match for White, as the team recently waved goodbye to LB Kwon Alexander.
The Steelers will need to trade: Up, and move up significantly to secure White’s talents. If White somehow falls out of the top five, he will surely be taken shortly after. If Pittsburgh truly wants him, they will have to make a Godfather-like offer to move up more than 10 spots at the minimum. White to the Steelers was a nice dream before the combine, but it’s extremely unrealistic at this point.
Devin Bush, LB, Michigan
Matt Miller’s Big Board Ranking: 11
Sports Illustrated’s Big Board Ranking: 20
What they’re saying: “Michigan LB Devin Bush is visiting the Bengals today (4/1/19), per source. Bush then is visiting the Bucs after Cincinnati – two teams linked to both him and LSU LB Devin White.”- ESPN’s Adam Schefter.
If Devin White is 1A, Devin Bush is 1B. Bush entered draft talk as a late first round pick, but has shot up draft boards due to his coverage skills and overall command of the defense from the middle linebacker position. With White being projected as a top five pick, Bush has seen himself linked with the Cincinnati Bengals more often than not, and it makes perfect sense as the team recently released LB Vontaze Burfict. If Bush is not chosen at #11 where the Bengals currently sit, Pittsburgh may have to hold their breath and hope he falls to #20.
The Steelers will need to trade: Up to land Bush, as information around the league currently stands. It’s highly probable Bush is selected soon after White, and his probable landing destination is thought to be at Cincinnati at #11. Pittsburgh may not have to give as much to bargain with a team, especially if Bush slips into the mid-teens, but it’s commonly accepted now the Steelers cannot simply wait for Bush to land in their lap.
Greedy Williams, CB, LSU
Matt Miller’s Big Board Ranking: 19
Sports Illustrated’s Big Board Ranking: 13
What they’re saying: “I’ve read a few takes from scouts who are concerned with his ability to cover short and intermediate routes. He has the size and the athletic skills. He’s big and he’s fast. He would be enticing”- Ray Fittipaldo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Greedy Williams was once a consensus top ten pick by many in the draft community thanks to his speed and man coverage skills. Yet his stock has taken a hit as of late, as Williams has been shown to shy away from tackling and sometimes will take himself out of the play if it’s on the other side of the field. Williams’ stock may be the most intriguing out of the group of potential first-rounders, as he could easily still go top ten as much as he may fall into the 20’s.
The Steelers will need to trade: Up, but only a handful of picks if they didn’t trust any of the teams ahead of them. As previously stated, Williams is now being projected to fall into the later rounds of the draft. This would be a dream scenario for the Steelers, who oh-so desperately need a young, lock-down cornerback on their defense. Yet if the Steelers are set on Williams, exchanging a few of their ten draft choices to ensure Williams lands in Pittsburgh would be the best move.
Byron Murphy, CB, Washington
Matt Miller’s Big Board Ranking: 26
Sports Illustrated’s Big Board Ranking: 24
What they’re saying: “Along with the Panthers, the Arizona Cardinals, Los Angeles Rams, Saints, Raiders, Pittsburgh Steelers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have all expressed significant interest in Murphy, I was told.”- Rob Rang, who attended Washington’s Pro Day. Quote from his article per Football Maven.
Football is a world of yin/yang. For all good, there is bad, and vice-versa. For the supposed plummet of Greedy Williams, a Byron Murphy rises. Murphy has been getting a lot of hype for his physicality on and off the ball, and zone coverage abilities. Murphy almost appears to be the opposite of Williams in some ways, including where NFL teams may value him. Once thought to be available later in the first round, Murphy now finds himself in talks of potentially taking Williams’ spot of being the first cornerback taken off the board.
The Steelers will need to trade: Up, more than likely. This situation closely mirrors that of LB Devin Bush, a player who may go earlier than once thought. The Steelers would happily take either Williams/Murphy on their roster and mark the first round as a success, yet acquiring Murphy may take more ammunition than was once considered months ago. With teams such as Cardinals, Raiders, Buccaneers and Panthers all picking before the Steelers, Kevin Colbert may want to pick up the phone now to move up into a handful of picks.
Chase Winovich, EDGE/LB, Michigan
Matt Miller’s Big Board Ranking: Outside Top 32 (Not specified)
Sports Illustrated’s Big Board Ranking: 71
What they’re saying: “The Steelers would like to add depth at outside linebacker behind starters T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree. Winovich, who carried a second or third-round grade heading into the combine, could fit the bill.”- Joe Rutter, TribLive.com.
Playing besides Devin Bush may cause some teams to overlook you, and perhaps that was the case for Chase Winovich. Winovich plays with an extremely high motor, and is featured as one of the more underrated pass-rushers in this class. With Bud Dupree entering the final year of his deal, the Steelers may be enticed to drink the Winovich kool-aid. Yet where will they feel comfortable taking him?
The Steelers will need to trade: Down. Winovich appears to be a match made in heaven for Pittsburgh fans, yet the bill is not fit for the 20th overall selection. If the Steelers are enamored with Winovich, they should easily be able to trade down a handful of spots, if not to the top of the second round to fit Chase’s draft projections. Steelers fans weren’t pleased with the team reaching for Edmunds, 2019 shouldn’t repeat that feeling.
Rock Ya-Sin, CB, Temple
Matt Miller’s Big Board Ranking: 29
Sports Illustrated’s Big Board Ranking: 40
What they’re saying: “He has great athletic ability. He’s got the real good feet. He has smooth hits. He almost had a 40 [inch] vertical. He’ll support the run. He gets the interceptions. Rock Ya-Sin, to me, would be a perfect Oakland Raider for [Raiders’ coach Jon] Gruden.”- Mel Kiper, ESPN
Rock Ya-Sin has quietly (or maybe not, since I’m writing about him) climbed his way up draft boards after an impressive Senior Bowl outing. The big-framed cornerback is able to hang with the best of receivers, as Mel Kiper alluded to above. While not a big name cornerback, Ya-Sin continues to see his name mentioned in first round consideration. With the price tag on Ya-Sin lower than Murphy/Williams, would the Steelers opt to settle for the Temple product?
The Steelers will need to trade: Down, ideally only to around 25-28 range if possible. Taking Ya-Sin at the end of round one will address a need while hitting the mark on appropriate player value. Taking Ya-Sin at pick no. 20 may be considered a stretch, so it’d be ideal for the Steelers to gather more draft capital and move down if sights are set on Rock Ya-Sin.
Other Notable Players
D.K. Mecalf of Ole Miss is presumably the only receiver that will be taken in the top 10/15. Receivers in the likes of A.J. Brown (Ole Miss), N’Keal Harry (Arizona State) and Hakeem Butler (Iowa State) are favored to potentially land in the first round. Other guys such as Marquise Brown (Oklahoma), Kelvin Harmon (NC State) and Deebo Samuel (South Carolina) are in play for day two consideration.
Tight ends may also be in play for the Steelers. The top two TE’s in the draft hail from the same college, as T.J. Hockenson and Noah Fant (Iowa) will likely be the first two tight ends off the board. Hockenson is favored to go in the middle of the first round, as he is considered to be one of the best all around player at the position, while Fant is more tailored as a pass catcher. Alabama TE Irv Smith has also received some first round hype towards the latter stages.
On the defensive side of the ball, CB’s DeAndre Baker (Georgia) and Trayvon Mullen (Clemson) may find themselves taken past pick #20 should the demand for corners become high in the first. Safety Taylor Rapp (Washington) is the favored to be the first at his position off the board, while Deionte Thompson (Alabama) and Nasir Adderley (Delaware) are more likely to be taken with the final picks in the first round at the earliest.
After the two Devin’s, the top linebacker prospects will feature Alabama’s Mack Wilson as the next probable linebacker off the board. If Wilson isn’t selected in the first round, he will surely hear his name called on day two. Later LB options will include David Long (West Virginia), Khalil Hodge (Buffalo), and Te’Von Coney (Notre Dame) as potential day two picks.
Analysis: Steelers Must Develop Their Own Brand of Vertical Offense
The Steelers offensive identity has been built on efficiency. With Ben Roethlisberger coming off of elbow surgery, they wanted the veteran quarterback to reinvent himself. The good news is that Roethlisberger has done that and then some. Roethlisberger gets the ball out faster than any other quarterback in the NFL. With an emphasis on the quick passing game, the Steelers have been throwing it to their bevy of playmakers to a large degree of success for most of the season.
However, over the past two games, the offense has suddenly gone stagnant. Scoring just 17 points on Monday against the Washington Football Team, the Steelers offense is trending in the wrong direction at the worst time. Without a running game in sight, the passing game has been the Steelers’ crutch. Still, it is something that has become predictable. Washington edge defender Chase Young said that “Baltimore exposed some things” and that the defense could pick up on the Steelers tendencies as a whole.
It is that predictability that is the root cause of the issues the Steelers are having offensively. To the running game and short passing game, everything comes back to their inability to be unpredictable and fool the defense. Perhaps the most important of these predictable tendencies is the Steelers’ affinity to run short horizontal routes only. Bubble screens, drags, quick slants and ins, and smoke routes are essentially the Steelers’ route tree at this point. Every now and then there is a five yard curl over the middle of the field.
That is something that Randy Fichtner hangs his hat on. Ever since becoming the offensive coordinator, he has made it point for the Steelers to get their receivers in open space, create havoc, and let the playmakers do the work. In the modern NFL, it has a lot of great things to it. The fruits of it were shown in games against Tennessee, Cleveland, and Philadelphia earlier this season. The issue has become that Fichtner goes horizontal too much in games. Out of any bunch set, there is at most five route combinations the Steelers are running. Knowing they will try quick passes, teams are just dropping eight defenders into coverage and clamping down on it.
So, what is the natural adjustment to that? Well, it is to take the fight to them and attack them vertically. Now, the type of vertical attack they have is somewhat limited. It is essentially relegated to heavy and pray bombs. The Steelers also refuse to attack the middle of the field. They have only 11 passing attempts for 15 or more yards in the middle of the field this season.
Attacking the entirety of the field is one of the easy fixes for the Steelers. The middle of the field is ripe for the taking given what defenses are throwing at the Steelers. It is a lot of single-high coverage, so if they can isolate someone like Chase Claypool or JuJu Smith-Schuster on that single-high safety, it could be a big play. The Steelers have the weapons to really go after it in the middle of the field.
The caveat coming with a more oriented traditional vertical passing game would be the inaccuracy of Roethlisberger himself. There is a reason that the Steelers are hesitant to throw 40 yard bombs. It is because Roethlisberger’s accuracy is all over the place. Every now and then he finds paydirt, but it is a deep ball that far from what it was prior to his elbow surgery. The good news is that while Roethlisberger may struggle with those extremely deep passes, he can still put a lot of velocity on the ball and push it.
With an arm like Roethlisberger’s now, the Steelers should be trying a different vertical attack. They must go back to what they once did under Tood Haley, and even more so earlier this season. While they will have to toss the vertical heave every now and then, the Steelers can get away with working on the vertical plane. That means a lot of out, curl, comeback, dig, and seam routes. Those throws outside the numbers with guys like Claypool and Diontae Johnson could really be the adjustment this team needs.
Opening up the offense for JuJu Smith-Schuster to run up the seam a bit more and make some combat catches would be a welcome sight. Even running a skinny post or corner route with Eric Ebron seems ideal. Roethlisberger does not have the accuracy on those heave ball types anymore. He does have the accuracy in the 20-25 yard area to still push it to all areas of the field. It is that key distinction that the Steelers must take advantage of to work open this offense. The Steelers have the personnel to do it, the question is just will they do it.
With Conner, Snell Each over 100 Yards, Running Game Crucial to Steelers 2-0 Start
The Steelers have charged out to a 2-0 start to the season thanks to the stellar defense and the return of star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, which has elevated an already talented group of receivers that also added Chase Claypool and Eric Ebron to the mix this offseason.
At least, that’s how the narrative has gone so far. And with good reason. The Steelers do have a stellar defense, and Roethlisberger has been a spark, with five touchdowns in two games and a completion percentage (68.5) and passer rating (107.1) that would both be career highs.
But the Steelers have also done a surprisingly strong job of running the football. Through two weeks, there have only been 10 running backs to rush for over 100 yards, and the Steelers have two, with Benny Snell clearing the century mark against the New York Giants and James Conner returning from injury to do so against the Denver Broncos.
They’re the only team with a 100-yard rusher in each of their first two games and have increased their percentage of run plays from 33% in 2018 to 42% this season. Roethlisberger said part of that is that the Steelers have been operating with a lead in the second half and looking to run some clock by running the ball.
“Yeah, I think it’s just the way the games have played out,” Roethlisberger said. “We don’t go into any game saying, OK, here’s our percentage of run/pass. We go into the game trying to win it. I’ve just been happy at the end of games, we’ve been able to utilize the four-minute offense both games. I think that’s something that we take pride in. Because when we say we have to run the ball, it doesn’t mean we have to run it more. We have to run it more effectively. And running it in the four-minute offense is effective running.”
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin also highlighted the success of the four-minute offense as the Steelers ran out the clock with the football in both victories.
“We have been able to close games out via the run,” he said. “We have been able to possess the ball in four-minute offense. We’ve had a lead in the latter part of the game and have been able to close the game out and maintain possession of the ball primarily via the run. I like that aspect of it. We are still working and growing in terms of being able to do all the things that we want to do, not only in that area of the game, but in all areas of the game. But I think it is a good start when you have your four-minute offense rolling and you are able to possess the ball via the run and preserve a lead at the end of a football game.”
Of course, there are many mouths to feed when it comes to the Steelers offense. Roethlisberger’s number of quality targets in the passing game, plus what looks like it could be a two-headed backfield between Conner and Snell is a lot of talent to go around and there’s only one football.
Roethlisberger said striking a balance is easy, though, at least when the team is 2-0.
“You look at the win loss column,” he said. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who’s getting the ball. It doesn’t matter how many times we’re running or throwing it, it doesn’t matter who’s getting their stats, it’s just a matter of if the team is getting that one stat that’s most important. And that’s a win.”
Steelers Rookie Kevin Dotson is Ready to Step Up in a Big Way
The Steelers will be throwing their rookie guard into the fire on Sunday. With injuries to both David DeCastro and Stefen Wisniewski, the Steelers are being forced to throw fourth-round rookie Kevin Dotson into the starting lineup. While his college tape looks good, and Steelers Now concluded he could have starting upside, this is early for him to be starting. Dotson missed a good portion of training camp with a knee injury. Not only that but with such limited time, is he really ready to play this early? The few reps he got versus the Giants may be able to tell the story.
There were two key plays that showed Dotson might just be ready right out of the gate here, even despite the “angst” that Mike Tomlin and Randy Fichtner have described at starting Dotson this week.
The first play was this rep against Dexter Lawrence. Now, Lawrence is an explosive athlete. Converting speed-to-power is something he does really well. With powerful hands to jolt pass protectors as well, he can be a real problem, especially for a young guy like Dotson. However, while Dotson initially gets hit slightly back, he does a great job of engaging his core strength and anchoring down. It is obvious how strong Dotson is on the football field, but it is not just in his arms. It is his legs and core that allows him great body control to stand his ground. Other than his dependable anchor on this play, Dotson has fantastic hand placement. His hands are placed inside of Lawrence’s shoulder pads and he is able to control the point of attack here as a result. It was all through winning the leverage of the rep where Dotson was able to get those hands under Lawerence’s pads. A true people-mover it is no surprise to see Dotson play with excellent leverage.
This is a fantastic pull by Dotson on this play to spring Benny Snell. He shows off some hip stiffness, but overall moves pretty well to reach the end here and seal it off. Dotson is the very definition of mauler that plays with violence and power. The end gets shocked by Dotson’s pull and can not get free of his grasps in time to make a play on Snell. This is textbook teach tape for pulls, and while it is not flashy, it is good stuff from Dotson.
Back in training camp after he had just come back and was facing some first team competition, Dotson made sure to let it known he was up to the task.
“I feel like I can make an impact no matter what happens,” Dotson said.
Now with a flurry of injuries, it will up to Dotson to handle Jurrell Casey against the Broncos as the Steelers try to improve to 2-0. If the limited tape says anything, Dotson might just be up to that task.