There is no doubt that the 2018 season will be a crucial one for Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, following a disappointing end to what was seemingly a promising 2017 season. It is important to note that the players selected in this mock draft are based on areas of need, availability based on their current draft position, and who I believe should be the best player available at that position. At this point, it is impossible for the Steelers to gain a compensatory pick at some point during the year, or from players being released during the offseason. Each player noted is not guaranteed to be selected, yet they each have attributes the Steelers need on both sides of the ball. With all this noted, here is the first version of the Steelers mock draft.
1st Round – 28th pick: Rashaan Evans ILB – Alabama
The void of losing a player of the calibre of Ryan Shazier is too great for the linebacker position not be addressed with the Steelers first pick. Evans’ skill set is ideal for the Steelers defense; he brings prototypical size ( 6’3, 234 lbs), speed, and versatility. ESPN football analyst Mel Kiper Jr. had the Steelers choosing Evans in his own mock draft, as he noted in his analysis of the Steelers situation at linebacker:
The big looming question for the Steelers is Ryan Shazier’s future, and no one knows if he’ll play again. Even if he returns, though, the Steelers need depth at linebacker. Evans is versatile enough to play inside or outside, and he had 15 career sacks at Alabama, where he often played on the edge and blitzed. He is a perfect fit in the middle of a modern-day defense — he can play every down.
Though it is possible that the Steelers could address the safety position first, they need to fill Shazier’s spot alongside linebacker Vince Williams, and the fact that they only have one viable backup option with Tyler Matakevich. Evans is the type of player that can help make the linebacker position one of strength, instead of a liability as it proved to be in the latter part of the 2017 season.
2nd Round – 60th pick: Armani Watts S – Texas A&M
The play at the position safety for the Steelers this season was perhaps their worst in recent memory. As it stands, current free safety Mike Mitchell’s future with the team is in doubt after subpar performances through the latter part of the season. Backup safety Robert Golden is a decent backup at this position, but is not a viable option to take over as a starter in the case Mitchell is released. Armani Watts is one of the top safeties in this year’s draft class. Though he stands slightly under 6’0, Watts has the ability to cover a large amount of ground, and is seemingly always around the ball. In his senior year with the Aggies, Watts finished with a total of 87 tackles, four interceptions, five passes defended and three forced fumbles. Though many have noted his issues with tackling, this has not impeded his ability to be as productive as he was the season. With Watts, the Steelers would get a player with good instincts, timing, and high level playmaking ability as noted his NFL draft report:
Plays with instincts and timing. Recognizes opportunities to undercut routes and make plays on the ball. Has twitchy burst to break on throws. Anticipates and triggers to make plays outside of his coverage area.
Watts is the type of player that can prevent the defense from allowing deep completions in the middle of the field, an issue that proved costly for this team down the stretch. As is the case for the Steelers at linebacker, expect them to address this position early.
3rd Round – 92nd pick: Dallas Goedert TE – South Dakota State
Finding big-time, playmaking tight ends have been a rarity in the last few draft classes. Dallas Goedert is one of those rare types of playmaking tight ends, with the potential to elevate an offense to greater heights. At 6’4, 260 lbs, Goedert has size, gifted hands, and is arguably one of the best athletes for his size in the entire draft. His offensive numbers during his junior and senior seasons with South Dakota are a sample of his undeniable potential.
Even with a potent enough offense, the Steelers still have uncertainties surrounding the current tight ends on their roster. Goedert is exactly the tight end the Steelers have been waiting for to help take the newly assigned offensive coordinator Randy Fitchner‘s offense to the next level.
5th Round – 150th pick: Lorenzo Carter OLB – Georgia
After impressive performances in both the Rose Bowl and National Championship game, Carter stock is most certainly rising. With the Steelers in need of high-quality linebackers, I believe they double up at this position. Carter is definitely the type of linebacker that can compliment someone like Evans. At 6’6, 243 lbs, this accomplished cello player is versatile enough to play at both outside linebacker or defense end if needed. In his senior year, he accounted for 31 total tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, and 4.5 sacks. In Georgia’s epic victory over the Oklahoma Sooners, it was Carter’s field goal block in overtime that made the difference. So when you think of it, the Steelers are getting a guy that can play three different positions; defensive end, outside linebacker and special teams. Excellent value.
5th Round – 167th pick: J’Mon Moore WR – Mizzouri
During the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama, wide receiver J’Mon Moore stated that he had an evening meeting with the Steelers following one of their practices. Moore’s style of play is similar to last year’s second round pick, rookie sensation JuJu Smith-Schuster. At 6’3 205 lbs, Moore is known as a physical and willing blocker, very similar to Smith-Schuster. At the same time Moore had a productive senior season with 65 receptions for 1,082, excellent considering many have noted him having ‘average’ hands. Though a wide receiver is not necessarily a position of need, the Steelers have been successful in recent years in finding receivers late in the draft that end up becoming highly productive players. With the future of receiver Martavis Bryant in doubt beyond the 2018 season, Moore has the tools to become the playmaking successor they are looking for.
7th Round – 220th pick: Kalen Ballage RB – Arizona State
Prior to the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ballage’s large frame (6’3, 230 lbs) and running style drew comparisons to Arizona Cardinals runningback David Johnson. Although this not quite the case, Ballage’s power running style is effective as he averaged 4.3 yards per carry during his senior year. I believe the Steelers will eventually sign All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell to a long-term contract, and alongside him will be second year running back James Conner. I can see Ballage as a more effective third option than anyone they could sign in free agency and much better than current third option Fitzgerald Toussaint.
7th Round – 246th pick: Jamarcus King CB – South Carolina
First the time in a long time, the Steelers have a decent stable of cornerbacks which includes Joe Haden, Artie Burns Jr, and rising rookies Cameron Sutton and Brian Allen. In my estimation, the need for a cornerback is not as much a priority as it has been in past years. King is a big corner at 6’2″ that has the speed to shadow receivers effectively and he displayed great instincts. In his senior year, he accounted for 56 tackles, three interceptions nine pass breakups, and one sack. Like Allen, King was once a wide receiver before he transitioned to cornerback late in his high school career, thus his ability to read receiver routes would be an asset to the Steelers secondary.