Today is finally the day. Round one of the NFL Draft. All the speculation, opinions, debates, put to rest. In these last hours before things kick off, I want to take one last look at what the Pittsburgh Steelers’ big board could be. Of course, their board includes players at the very top. We won’t do that here, sticking only with the players who are have some level of probability of falling to 25. I am going to create this list based off what the team is most likely to do, rather than what I would prefer them do.
With the 25th pick, the Steelers select…
1. Noah Spence/OLB Eastern Kentucky: Though he was never brought in for an official visit, the Steelers have reportedly kept in contact with him throughout the draft process. You don’t do that to someone who is off your board entirely, so I can’t believe the off the field concerns are weighing so much against him that he won’t be considered.
Spence is a long shot to fall, I don’t see him getting past the 20th pick, but it isn’t impossible. His stock has leveled off into that squarely-in-the-middle range. If one or two wonky things go down (and it’s the draft so, duh), he could wind up in Pittsburgh’s lap.
Outside linebacker hasn’t been a position the team has invested in during the pre-draft process but Spence’s drop would be unique. Not too dissimilar to Bud Dupree last year. He is one of the best pure pass rushers in the draft, showing the ability to flatten and get upfield. I see enough of an arsenal as a pass rusher to indicate he has a plan and with more reps, he’ll be even more effective.
There are concerns about him, why I’ve always pegged him lower than most, but in this weak edge class, and the 2017 and beyond need for edge rushers, the fit makes sense. Again, unlikely to be there, but the #1 player on your board rarely is.
2. William Jackson III/CB Houston: I’ve gone back and forth on who should be in the two hole, Jackson or Andrew Billings, but from a team-standpoint, it sounds like the Steelers have more interest in the secondary than defensive line. Either player makes sense from a talent/value perspective. Jackson’s triangle numbers are excellent, he’s a playmaker, and fits the team’s zone scheme pretty well. Not the most active tackler, as I wrote yesterday, but he isn’t contact-shy.
3. Andrew Billings/NT Baylor: Though they didn’t bring Billings in for a visit, another reason why he’s below Jackson (juniors usually brought in, seniors don’t have to be), the interest in him is obvious. You don’t send the farm to Baylor’s Pro Day, have him dine with Joe Greene, unless you’re seriously mulling him over. Tough against the run and offering pass rush value, he’s one of the few nose tackles who check those marks. 50/50 if he’ll make it to the team’s pick.
4. Karl Joseph/S West Virginia: The most common pick, including from yours truly, around these parts. We’ve gone through all the reasons why Joseph could be the guy: team need, Joseph’s talent, the interest shown in him. Don’t need to rehash it all again. Confident, though less so than last week, he’ll still be on the board.
5. Eli Apple/CB Ohio State: Though he’s gotten a bad rap from myself and others, we can’t sit here and say there is no chance Apple will be the pick. We wrote yesterday that Gerry Dulac believes this is their pick. Up front, there is no guarantee Apple will last, many mocks have him going in the teens, and even if he falls, I’m not convinced Pittsburgh will take him. The lack of a pre-draft visit for an underclass corner is concerning if history has any clout.
6. Keanu Neal/S Florida: The one my gut still nags me about. Though Joseph is the better player, I’m not looking to debate that, Neal is a year younger with more than 20 fewer starts than Joseph. Hard to compare the two. If the team feels Neal is coachable, I can see them taking him here. Tony Pauline and others have repeatedly said the team has interest, confirmed by their pre-draft visit with him. He’s the first player on this list I can say with complete confidence will be there at 25.
7. Mackensie Alexander/CB Clemson: Though a reporter prompted the question, Kevin Colbert’s comments Monday about cornerbacks needing to have confidence speak directly to Alexander’s strength. No one has more of a swagger in this entire draft than him but he’s a football savvy guy who seems to love the game. His play on the field is pretty good, too.
8. Robert Nkemdiche/DE Ole Miss: This is a real wildcard. No idea where Nkemdiche is going to land, no real clue what the Steelers’ level of interest in. But they brought him in for a visit, no doubt a better chance to understand who he is as a person. Though wildly inconsistent even on the field, there’s no denying he has first round talent. This would drop every Steelers fans’ jaw, but hey, I think it’s on the table.
9. Vernon Butler/NT La Tech: Though there is only a loose connection to Butler, a meeting at the Combine, Butler makes sense for most of the reasons Billings does. Butler has additional height and length, making him a more ideal fit to play the five, something Billings probably wouldn’t do a ton of. I’m just worried I’m higher on the pick than the Steelers are.
10. A’Shawn Robinson/DE Alabama: Another first round talent brought in for a visit, the driving force behind him being on this list. Most in the amateur draft scouting circle aren’t big fans of his but seeing him fall to 25 would present some decent value. Hard to think of many more reasons beyond this, and this pick seems extremely unlikely.