By Zach Metkler of GZ Sports Report, special to the Point of Pittsburgh
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As the offseason rolls along, we have now gotten through all of the excitement associated with the NFL Combine and the first part of free agency when all of the big money is thrown around. At this point, all there is left to do is begin counting down the days until the 2017 NFL Draft kicks off on April 27. Between now and then, rumors will begin to circulate about which prospects each team is interested in as Pro Days and in-house visits commence. The Steelers are no exception to this. So with that, here is my next Steelers draft installment.
Round 1 (30): Fabian Moreau, CB, UCLA (6’0″, 206 lbs.)
The Steelers didn’t hesitate in 2016 when they selected Artie Burns with their 1st-round selection. Burns had everything that they were looking for: length, speed, ball skills, and the ability to play man-to-man against opposing receivers. While the Steelers have Burns, William Gay, and Ross Cockrell pegged as the top 3 corners on the roster, they should not be satisfied with that. Gay is getting older and his ability to play on the outside has quickly diminished and although Cockrell is a fan favorite, he is far from a guarantee to remain with the team past 2017. With the team’s desire to start using more man coverage schemes, the Steelers would be wise to take advantage of this extremely talented and deep group of corners. Fabian Moreau has everything that the Steelers desire in a cornerback: size and length (6’0″, 206 lbs.), speed (4.35s 40), and tremendous upside. His combination of size, fluidity, and open-field tackling makes him a tantalizing prospect. But where Moreau’s greatness comes from is his experience in man coverage. During his time at UCLA, Moreau consistently blanketed opposing receivers, giving them very little separation but also demonstrating great recovery speed when he does get beat (which isn’t very often). Moreau has great technique when breaking down and making the open-field tackle. He would give the Steelers a great long-term compliment at cornerback to Artie Burns and could soften the blow if they were to let Cockrell get away after the 2017 season.
Round 2 (62): Gerald Everett, TE, South Alabama (6’3″, 239 lbs.)
The Steelers have gone through their first full season without longtime fan-favorite tight end Heath Miller. The results were mixed, to say the least. The Steelers then signed the uber-athletic Ladarius Green, who was expected to come in and be the electrifying presence in the pass game. When healthy and on the field, he did just that. The main issue? He was barely on the field due to concussion and foot issues. This has the potential to be a historic tight end class with many of the prospects having great receiving skills that make them extremely dangerous in the pass game. Enter Gerald Everett. The South Alabama product has the potential to be one of the best players in the group. Everett has NFL scouts raving about his size, speed, and ability to run after making the catch. Additionally, Everett is a very willing blocker with the potential to grow in this area with proper coaching. In this tight end class, there aren’t many “do-it-all” players, but Everett provides the Steelers with the potential of being an every-down tight end that doesn’t have to come off the field just because it is a run play. If Everett is able to properly adjust to the speed of the NFL, he has serious Pro Bowl potential as one of the most well-rounded tight ends in the league and would help the Steelers relax after the numerous injury concerns with Green.
Round 3 (94): Derek Rivers, OLB, Youngstown State (6’4″, 248 lbs.)
The Steelers are in desperate need of improving their pass rush and need someone to be a long-term option opposite of Bud Dupree. While James Harrison continues to defy time and just re-signed with the team on a 2-year deal for only $3.5M, he simply is not the long-term answer. That is where a high upside player like Derek Rivers can give the Steelers defense a huge boost. During his time at Youngstown State, Rivers consistently produced at a high level, producing 56.5 tackles for loss in 37 career starts to go along with 41 career sacks. Rivers has great hand strength and packs a punch on every play, which is accentuated by his fast burst off of the line. Throw in the fact that he is extremely flexible by dipping and ripping through contact, and you have a prospect that has the potential to eventually turn into something great for the Steelers. No matter who the Steelers draft this year as a pass rusher, they will like start the season behind Harrison and will be eased into playing time as a situational player. This would be a wonderful situation for Rivers, who is a relatively raw player who needs to continue improving aspects of his game (disengaging from offensive lineman, be stronger against the run). There is a lot of mixed reviews about where Rivers should fall, with some seeing him as a sure-fire 1st-round pick, and others thinking that he could still be available well into the third day of the draft. Wherever he goes, that team will be getting a high-upside player with the potential to make a huge impact.
Round 3 (105; Compensatory Pick): Justin Evans, S, Texas A&M (6’0″, 199 lbs.)
Sean Davis and Mike Mitchell will be the unquestioned starters at safety for the Steelers next season, but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t continue to address the position, especially with the likely departure of Shamarko Thomas. Truth be told, both Davis and Mitchell are better suited to play free safety, meaning the team could use a true strong safety that has the ability to be an eighth man in the box or drop back into coverage. Justin Evans never shies away from laying the boom and destroying ball carriers in their tracks. He is an excellent run defender and can drop down into the box as an extra defender similarly to the way that Troy Polamalu did for so many years. While Evans has been known more for his hard-hitting style, he possesses great ball skills, looking almost like a receiver at times. Add in his anticipation and twitch, he has the makings of a very instinctive force in the secondary in the NFL and would be a welcome addition to the Steelers, who could then use Davis’ versatility to give them even more options. His play is reminiscent of Karl Joseph, who the Steelers were very high on in last year’s draft.
Round 4 (135): Alex Anzalone, LB, Florida (6’3″, 241 lbs.)
With the departure of Lawrence Timmons to the Dolphins, the Steelers are left with Ryan Shazier and Vince Williams as their starters in 2017. Personally, I’m a fan of Williams and his thumper-mentality on the football field. While fans might not consider inside linebacker to be a big priority for the team, there are a few reasons why they should consider drafting one during the draft. For starters, Shazier has spent time off the field injured in each of his first three seasons. Additionally, it would be wise for the Steelers to bring in some new competition to push Williams even further. Their interest in Dont’a Hightower shows that there is potentially interest in adding bodies to the position. Alex Anzalone could be that versatile backup the Steelers can make into a quality player. Anzalone’s size, speed, and athleticism give him the ability to play all across the linebacker positions, both inside and out. If Anzalone is as good as he is, why is he being selected this late? He has a long history of injuries that have raised questions about his durability. Selecting Anzalone could be the ultimate risk-reward pick, but if he can stay healthy and on the field, he has the potential to become a solid three-down starter in the league. This pick might not make sense to many fans, but given the opportunity to play, Anzalone with provide an extra boost alongside Shazier, Williams, and Tyler Matakevich.
Round 5 (173): James Conner, RB, Pittsburgh (6’1″, 233 lbs.)
The Steelers need help with running back depth. That actually is an understatement. With Bell locked up for at least the 2017 season (and potentially beyond, assuming a long-term deal gets done soon), the team needs to add bodies behind him, with DeAngelo Williams likely not returning and Fitzgerald Toussaint not showing long-term upside as a backup. With a historically deep running back class this year, the Steelers have the opportunity to add quality backs at any point in the draft. In the 5th round, they have the potential to add a familiar face in James Conner. After recovering from an MCL tear and beating Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Conner picked up right where he left off, demonstrating his tremendous power by running over defenders that got in his way. Of all the running backs in this year’s class, Conner might be the toughest of them all, showing great leadership and mental toughness on and off the field, something that is right out of the book of an old school Steelers player. At his peak, he weighed approximately 250 lbs. but he had noticeably leaned down and added more muscle mass, allowing him to continue to power through would-be tacklers. When running, defenders bounce off of him like pinballs and if they get a body on him, he utilizes an NFL-ready stiff-arm to knock tacklers to the ground. While so many backs struggle with pass protection, Conner has shown nice development in this area while at Pitt. Not many players have the heart that Conner has and he will likely stick in the NFL for quite some time. He would provide a great battering-ram to Le’Veon Bell, giving the Steelers the type of backfield that can wear down any defense in the league.
Round 6 (213): Shaquill Griffin, CB, Central Florida (6’0″, 194 lbs.)
In today’s passing league, you can never have too many quality defensive backs to help elevate your defense. While the Steelers’ secondary is steadily improving (contrary to popular belief), there are still a lot of questions surrounding it. Will Senquez Golson ever be able to remain healthy and contribute? Will Cockrell be back in 2018? How long will Gay remain with the team? Unless the Steelers add a free agent, they will need further assistance at the position and snagging a player like Shaquill Griffin in the later rounds could be a move that pays off in the long run. After adding Fabian Moreau in the 1st round, Griffin provides them with another blazing fast corner (4.38s 40) with tremendous ball skills and great length. When facing receivers, he has a disruptive punch with great awareness to make plays on the ball and quickly end the play. Griffin does this by perfectly timing his jumps to challenge at the catch point. His ball skills are backed up by his 34 passed defended and 6 interceptions over his last two seasons at Central Florida. Another strong area of Griffin’s game is his ability as an aggressive open-field tackler who is great in run support. It appears that he does not fear going through offensive players to seek out the football. So why is Griffin going this late? There are concerns about his long speed, which makes him the perfect candidate for a zone defense, which the Steelers still like to use, even with their apparent interesting in switching to more man defense. As a situational cover corner in the 6th round, Griffin could develop into a solid #3 or #4 corner in the secondary for the Steelers.
Round 7 (248): Isaac Rochell, DE, Notre Dame (6’4″, 280 lbs.)
The Steelers are not in any need of a starter along the defensive line. However, the depth behind the starting lineup could use an upgrade. While the Steelers could address the position earlier in the draft, they could wait until Day 3 and select a player like Notre Dame’s Isaac Rochell, a former teammate of Stephon Tuitt. Rochell has some quickness at the point of attack with the ability to cause disruption in the backfield and brings a hard-working mentality to every play. His experience is another valuable aspect of his game against top-tier competition. While Rochell lacks true athleticism, he has shown the ability to get his pads low and collapse the pocket against the pass and disrupt running lanes. He would be a prototypical 3-4, 5-technique defensive end in the NFL with enough versatility to do multiple things for the Steelers similar to what Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt do along the defensive line. If he is able to develop some consistency and a more complete pass-rushing arsenal, he could turn into a solid rotational piece along the defensive line with the ability to step into the starting lineup if and when injuries occur. In the 7th round, this would provide the team with great value.
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