The Pittsburgh Steelers need to get back into playoff contention in a suddenly-hot AFC North. The 2019 NFL Draft will be key to getting them there.
The Pittsburgh Steelers narrowly missed out on the playoffs to close their 2018 season and went into the spring losing two top offensive playmakers in running back Le’Veon Bell and wide receiver Antonio Brown. But it’s the defense that really needs help this year, after giving up too many points and having too few takeaways last season. Here’s everything you need to know about the Steelers leading into the 2019 NFL Draft.
State Of The Team
Beyond the losses of Bell and Brown, the Steelers still have a well-established roster of high-performance starters. But the team is still somewhat chaotic; they struggle on the road, particularly on the west coast, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is inconsistent week-to-week and it’s easy to criticize head coach Mike Tomlin for an apparent lack of discipline in the locker room and on the field. And with the AFC North becoming more competitive, particularly when it comes to the suddenly-loaded Cleveland Browns, the Steelers need to act quickly and decisively to remain relevant.
Total Draft Picks
The Steelers have 10 picks in the draft. This includes two Round 3 picks (one of which was acquired in the trade of Brown to the Oakland Raiders) and three in Round 6.
- Round 1, pick 20 (No. 20 overall)
- Round 2, pick 20 (No. 52 overall)
- Round 3, pick 2 (No. 66 overall)
- Round 3, pick 20 (No. 83 overall)
- Round 4, pick 20 (No. 122 overall)
- Round 5, pick 3 (No. 141 overall)
- Round 6, pick 2 (No. 175 overall)
- Round 6, pick 20 (No. 192 overall)
- Round 6, pick 35 (No. 207 overall)
- Round 7, pick 5 (No. 219 overall)
Top 3 Draft Needs
Cornerback: The secondary has been a longstanding issue in Pittsburgh and the team struggled far more against the pass than the run a season ago, while only notching eight interceptions on the year. Further, the Steelers need to prepare for the departure of cornerback Joe Haden, who is likely in the final or next-to-final year of his career. A young playmaker who can contribute early and develop into a keystone of the secondary is certainly something the Steelers can use this year.
Wide receiver: While the Steelers clearly have a gem of a wideout in JuJu Smith-Schuster and are expecting a breakout from James Washington at any time now, losing Brown — no matter how necessary it was — does mean the Steelers are in the market for a new wide receiver. This is a position the Steelers should address within the first three rounds of this year’s draft.
Inside linebacker: The Steelers did a bit of experimentation last year in order to deal with the loss of inside linebacker Ryan Shazier, parlaying a weak draft class at the position into trying to incorporate safeties into linebacker-type roles. It wasn’t the best solution, but it was the one the Steelers had to go with. This year, expect inside linebacker to be a greater priority. The addition of Mark Barron in free agency decreases this need, but they would be well-served to find a younger interior linebacker to develop.
Top 3 Draft Targets
What the Steelers need in their secondary is takeaways, and Greedy Williams can certainly deliver on that front, with a combined eight over two years at LSU. The Steelers also need a corner capable of playing man coverage, which Williams does in spades. Add in the underclassman factor — Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert typically targets them — and it all lines up for Williams to be a top Round 1 target for Pittsburgh.
Devin Bush is exactly the type of interior linebacker that fits the Steelers’ mold. He’s versatile, able to stop the run (18.5 tackles-for-loss over three seasons), can rush the quarterback (10 sacks over the last two years) and can cover when called for (11 career passes defensed). It’s hard to find a comparable player to Ryan Shazier — they aren’t dime-a-dozen — but Bush comes awfully close.
WR, Notre Dame
Later on in the draft, the Steelers should look to pick up a wide receiver. If doing so in the second or third rounds, Notre Dame’s Miles Boykin would be an intriguing add. At 6-foot-4, he’d be a big target for Ben Roethlisberger, especially when and if he can get physical with opposing cornerbacks. Yes, Boykin is a bit raw and receiver has a sharp learning curve for rookies, but the upside is there, making him worthy of one of Pittsburgh’s two Round 3 picks.
Decision Maker (Or Who To Blame If Things Go Wrong)
Kevin Colbert is the man to look to should any of these picks boom (or bust) in the coming years. The Steelers’ general manager has a boom-or-bust track record of his own since controlling the Pittsburgh’s draft plans. For every JuJu Smith-Schuster or David DeCastro he’s landed on, there’s a Senquez Golson or Bud Dupree to bring him back down to earth. Still, the results of the 2019 draft won’t weigh heavily on Colbert’s immediate job security. What he’s done well thus far still outweighs the bad.
Best/Worst Pick In Current Draft Slot
Historically, who was the best pick and the worst pick based on where the team is currently picking?
Best Pick: Lynn Swann, wide receiver, No. 21 overall in 1974 NFL Draft
The Steelers haven’t had many No. 20 selections over the years, particularly since the AFL-NFL merger in 1972. But they have picked at No. 21, namely in 1974, when they selected eventual Hall of Famer receiver Lynn Swann. Swann played for nine years and helped the Steelers to four Super Bowl wins in that span. Oh, and he also had the franchise’s most iconic moment, the Immaculate Reception.
Worst Pick: Darryl Sims, defensive end/tackle, No. 20 overall in 1985 NFL Draft
Darryl Sims lasted only two years in Pittsburgh — and only four in the NFL — after being selected by the Steelers with the 20th-overall pick in the 1985 NFL Draft. He appeared in 32 games and had zero starts. This was not what the Steelers had expected after an impressive collegiate career at the University of Wisconsin.