If top-pass rushers are gone, expect Steelers to sign with new cornerback
Will it be the converted defensive end or the standard two-point stance outside linebacker who is chosen with the No. 30 overall pick?
Or perhaps it will be the cornerback who excels in press coverage that hears his name called late Thursday night by the Steelers.
Don’t like those options? Then, maybe it will be a wide receiver who gets chosen in the first round for the first time since Santonio Holmes in 2006.
Or maybe the Steelers think it’s time to start developing Ben Roethlisberger’s successor and will make the surprise pick of a quarterback in the first round.
Trade up? Trade down? Those also are possibilities.
The only thing that’s certain is nobody really knows who is going to available when the Steelers step to the podium after 29 other choices are made Thursday.
Certainly not the so-called national draft experts, who have pegged everyone from A (Adoree’ Jackson) to Z (Zay Jones) — and about a dozen other prospects in between — as the Steelers’ top choice.
And likely not even the folks occupying the war room at 3400 South Water St. General manager Kevin Colbert called this draft class the most unpredictable in recent memory thanks to an inconsistently graded quarterback class that could trigger trades up and down the board.
The only certainty is one of the top 30 players graded by the Steelers scouting department will be available when it’s their turn.
“We know we are going to get a player,” Colbert said. “So we will just be prepared to take them in the order we like them.”
And that could be either a pass-rusher, cornerback, wide receiver and, yes, quarterback at No. 30. Heck, safety (Jabrill Peppers) and tight end (Evan Engram) aren’t out of the equation if you believe certain mock drafts.
To zero in on the greatest position of need, it might be best to heed the words of Steelers president Art Rooney in late January.
Speaking about a week after Tom Brady passed for 384 yards in the New England Patriots’ 36-17 win that kept the Steelers out of the Super Bowl, Rooney said “getting pressure on the quarterback more consistently is something that we strive to do.”
A pass rusher cut from a different mold than Jarvis Jones would go a long way toward helping the Steelers accomplish that goal. NFL Network’s well-regarded draft analyst Mike Mayock, a former Steelers draft pick and NFL player, said he expects one of Tennessee’s Derek Barnett, UCLA’s Takk McKinley and Missouri’s Charles Harris to be available to the Steelers.
However, other national draftniks have all three players being gobbled up before the 30th pick. A run of outside linebackers could result in the Steelers turning to cornerback — or even offense.
In late January, Rooney also said the Steelers needed to be “better in the red zone.” Suspended wide receiver Martavis Bryant is back on a conditional basis, yet the Steelers could find, say, NFL Combine 40-yard dash record-holder John Ross available late in the first round. It could be too tempting to pass up.
Then, there’s the unlikely chance a quarterback they fancy tumbles to the end of the round. There’s no national consensus on the pecking order among Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes and DeShone Kizer after Mitchell Trubisky comes off the board.
“We can guess as to when somebody might take them,” Colbert said. “But it really doesn’t affect us. We just have to decide when we would take them in comparison to who (takes them).”
The safe bet for those trying to decide which position the Steelers will address is to start with defense. They have taken a defensive player in the first round for four consecutive seasons. Last year, five of the seven picks were defensive players. In 2015, it was six of eight.
That doesn’t mean the Steelers will ignore offense, particularly skill position players. They will draft those players, but likely Friday and Saturday.
The guess here is the Steelers will hope a pass rusher falls to them at No. 30, but the ones they covet will already be gone.
That leaves them with a cornerback, one who can play man-to-man defense.
And if he’s not already gone, that player will be Alabama’s Marlon Humphrey.