The Pittsburgh Steelers were eliminated in the 2017 AFC Championship game by the eventual champions the New England Patriots. Pittsburgh wasn’t very active in this year’s free agency market but will try to reload via the draft. G.M. Kevin Colbert is one of the best in the business as he can find talent in the draft even late in the draft such as Javon Hargrave just a year ago. What can we expect from the Steelers heading into the 2017 NFL Draft?
With the 30th overall pick, Pittsburgh likely looks to continue to improve their defense. With a stud defensive line trio of Cameron Hayward, Javon Hargrave, and Stephon Tuitt up front, the Steelers could look to improve the edge rushers on the outside. James Harrison will enter the 2017 season at 38 and Bud Dupree has been underwhelming as a former first round pick. UCLA pass rusher Takkarist McKinley seems like a perfect fit for Pittsburgh. At 6’2″, 250, McKinley is a perfect fit in the 3-4 Steelers Zone-Blitz defense. McKinley is a relentless pass rusher who racked up 10 sacks for UCLA a year ago. His long arms (34.5-inch arms) and elite measurables at the combine could really draw the Steelers to go in this direction.
In what is a deep secondary draft, Pittsburgh could also go cornerback in round 1. Fabian Moreau, another UCLA player, seems like a great fit for the Steelers Zone-Blitz defense. Moreau did suffer a pec injury at his pro day but should be able to get back on the field for week 1. Moreau has been a draft riser since he dominated at the East-West Game and put on a show at the Combine. As a former running back recruit, Moreau has great movement skills and has elite speed (4.35 – 40 time).
In round 2, Pittsburgh could look for a replacement for the recently departed inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons. Ryan Shazier needs a new sidekick next to him in the 3-4 defense. Zach Cunningham of Vanderbilt seems to be a logical fit. Cunningham (6’3″ – 234) constantly finds his way to the football leading the SEC with 125 tackles in 2016. He doesn’t have any career interceptions and has a bit of an issue as an arm tackler but head coach Mike Tomlin is just the man to fix those mistakes. An undersized lengthy tackling machine next to Ryan Shazier could create a scary duo.
The third round could wind up being another spot the Steelers target secondary help. Sean Davis really broke out as a terrific safety as a 2016 2nd round pick. He could use a rangy free safety to go next to him. Eddie Jackson of Alabama is a player who is flying under the radar a bit. Jackson hasn’t competed during the draft process after suffering a leg injury late in the season. Jackson is a natural rangy-cover free safety that also adds some return value to whatever team drafts him. A player I also like that could garner some interest later in the draft is Fish Smithson of Kansas who was robbed of a Combine invite due to the depth of the secondary class.
Later in the draft is when the Steelers will likely address some offensive needs. With a Big Ben, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, and a terrific offensive line intact, the Steelers could look to add a tight end. Ladarius Green came in the previous offseason via free agency but has really struggled to stay healthy. Michael Roberts and Jeremy Sprinkle could be really nice fits that sort of fill that Heath Miller mold of elite blockers as well as the ability to catch. With the amount they rely on Le’Veon Bell running out of the backfield, a tight end that can block should be a priority. Roberts and Sprinkle both looked great at the Senior Bowl this year. Roberts, (6’4″ – 270) is also a great red-zone piece reeling in 16 touchdowns at Toledo in 2016. Sprinkle, (6’5″ – 250) didn’t look as good in the catching portion of drills but is a reliable blocker coming from that run first Arkansas system.