With the 2017 NFL Draft drawing ever so closer, it’s time to take a look at the 20 players I’ve identified as potentially being the team’s first round selection this year. While there’s a good chance several of the players listed below will be off the board come time for the Steelers 30th overall selection, I’ve included them just the same should they ultimately slide.
I purposefully left running backs, wide receivers and offensive linemen off of this list because I will be shocked if any of those three positions are addressed with the first round selection. If you want to make a good arguement for one player from any of those three positions, please do so in the comments.
Also, please don’t get caught up in the order that I have listed these players as that’s the way I pulled them off of Gil Brandt’s latest rankings.
Derek Barnett – EDGE, Tennessee – I don’t think Barnett will fall out of the top 25, but what if he does? While his combine measurables weren’t eye-popping, his production on the field at Tennessee was and included him registering 197 total tackles of which 33 were sacks. He had 52 total tackles for losses during his college career. The Steelers sent a large group to the Tennessee pro day so there’s that.
Charles Harris – EDGE, Missouri – Much like Barnett, Harris’ combine performance wasn’t overly spectacular. Even so, he produced at Missouri as he registered 135 total tackles of which 17 were sacks in the 38 games that he played in. Steelers linebackers coach Joey Porter was at the Missouri pro day this year so interest is there.
Takkarist McKinley – EDGE, UCLA – McKinley is currently recovering from shoulder surgery that he underwent after participating at the combine. While just a two-year starter at UCLA, McKinley still managed to produce 29 tackles for loss and 17 sacks during his three years at the school. If you watch his interviews and learn about his back story, you’ll see he has the kind of character the Steelers covet. If he’s the pick, he will likely be sidelined until the start of training camp. As far as I can tell, neither Kevin Colbert nor Mike Tomlin attended his pro day. The team did, however, bring McKinley in for a pre-draft visit. Being as Tom Bradley was the UCLA defensive coordinator the past two seasons, I’m sure the Steelers know more than enough about McKinley, who did play on his feet some as an edge-rusher.
Jordan Willis – EDGE, Kansas State – If you only looked at Willis’ stats and combine measurables, you would probably peg him as a sure first round selection. With that said, there’s a good chance his names isn’t called until the second round of the draft because he’s just not as twitchy as his numbers say he is. Impeccable character and all, Willis appears to have been ignored by the Steelers since the Senior Bowl and combine took place. Colbert was unable to attend the Kansas State pro day this year as he was busy talking to Dont’a Hightower when he was in Pittsburgh for his free agent visit. As far as I can tell, the Steelers only had an area scout on hand for Willis’ pro day.
Taco Charlton – EDGE, Michigan – At 6055, 277-pounds, Charlton is at best a true tweener and likely to be considered a base 4-3 end by most NFL teams. His 4.91 40-yard-dash time at the combine in addition to the fact he was just a one-year starter at Michigan will likely result in him being an early day-two selection. The Steelers did have several people at the Michigan pro day this year and while Charlton undoubtedly received some attention from them, he probably wasn’t their main focus.
Tim Williams – EDGE, Alabama – Williams was primarily used as a pass rushing specialist at Alabama and he played that role very well. His character red flags combined with his lack of tape against the run, however, could be enough to force him into the second round. Williams made a pre-draft visit to Pittsburgh so the Steelers definitely wanted to find out more about him. He had 21 sacks during his four year career at Alabama despite only starting two of the 48 games he played in.
T.J. Watt – EDGE, Wisconsin – Watt has a lot of boxes checked when it comes to him potentially being the Steelers first-round selection and especially when it comes to measurables. As far as knocks go, Watt was only a one-year starter at Wisconsin. Additionally, his previous knee injuries might cause some teams to take pause. If Watt can stay healthy and continue to progress as a pass-rusher, he could be a double-digit edge-rusher almost immediately at the NFL level. The Steelers attended his pro day and that’s not overly surprising.
Carl Lawson – EDGE, Auburn – Even though several have Lawson pegged as a late second-round selection, that might not prevent the Steelers from taking him 30th overall. A very productive pass rusher at Auburn, Lawson’s knocks include his lack of length in addition to him having shorter arms. There’s also his injury history that works somewhat against him even though he managed to stay on the field last season. His play against the run Auburn also has a few concerned ahead of the draft. The Steelers were at his pro day and if he’s ultimately bypassed, perhaps he can be had in the second round if need at the position still exist.
Jarrad Davis – ILB, Florida – Davis, a two-year starter while at Florida, can’t be ignored by the Steelers in the first round. He showed to be a SPARQ demon at the combine (133.6) and was productive on the field at Florida. If there are concerns about him being a first-round selection, most are likely related to his injury history being as he was forced to miss several games during his college career due to ankle and knee issues. Davis checks a lot of boxes when it comes to him potentially being the Steelers first round selection and that includes Colbert attending his pro day along with inside linebackers coach Jerry Olsavsky.
Haason Reddick – EDGE/ILB, Temple – Sure, Reddick isn’t expected to still be on the board come time the Steelers pick in the first round but we’ve seen these tweener types slip in the past so I’m including him on this list just in case he tumbles. Is he an edge guy or best suited to move inside? In my opinion, it doesn’t really matter as he’s the kind of player you draft and find a fit for after the fact much like the Steelers did many moons ago with Lawrence Timmons. His 141.3 SPARQ score matches his tape. It’s been 30 years since Temple has had a player selected in the first 20 picks of a draft.
Adoree’ Jackson – CB, USC – I learned once again last year with cornerback Artie Burns that just because I think a player is a second-round prospect doesn’t mean the Steelers don’t have him higher on their big board. Jackson is blazing fast and while a little undersized, he did produce at USC where he mostly lined up outside. Jackson was a three-year starter at USC and really shined during the 2016 season that included him registering five interceptions to go along with 16 total passes defensed. Like Peppers, Jackson figures to be an option to return both punts and kicks at the NFL level. While it doesn’t appear as though Colbert or Tomlin attended the USC pro day this year, there was a local report stating that defensive backs coach Carnell Lake was present for it. Jackson, much like several other players on this list, has a great character. He could be the dark horse in this year’s race when it comes to potentially being the Steelers first-round selection.
Quincy Wilson – CB, Florida – Wilson is perhaps another dark horse candidate to be the Steelers first-round selection this year. However, outside of Colbert attending the Florida pro day this year, there hasn’t appeared to be very much interest in the 6014, 211-pound cornerback, who started his final two years. Several seem to think he might need to move to safety at the NFL level and if indeed the case, his risk factor increases.
Kevin King – CB, Washington – It’s not often you see 6030, 200-pound players with the kind of athleticism that King possesses. The converted free safety ran a 4.43 40-yard dash at the combine and after registering 6 interceptions and 165 total tackles at Washington during his career, several believe he could wind up being selected during the final few picks of the first round. When it comes to the Steelers, however, it doesn’t appear as though King is in their sights when it comes to them considering him in the first round. With that said, I will be mocked tremendously should I leave him off this list of potential candidates and he winds up being the pick.
Tre’Davious White – CB, LSU – White was a very productive player during his four years at LSU that included him starting 47 games. He can play both inside and outside as well as potentially returning both kickoffs and punts at the NFL level. While White only registered 6 interceptions over the course of four seasons, he did have 40 total defensed passes. His combine measurable are on par with the ones Burns posted over a year ago and when it comes to White’s character, it’s hard to find any player in this year’s class who has a better one. The Steelers made sure to send nearly everyone who is important to the LSU pro day this year and thus you can’t discount the slightly undersized White as potentially being the team’s first-round pick this year.
Marlon Humphrey – CB, Alabama – Humphrey can probably be best be described as a height, weight, speed guy with the draft approaching. During his two years at Alabama as a starter, Humphrey didn’t make a huge amount of plays as evidenced by his 5 total interceptions and 18 total passes defensed. The defense he had in front of him surely could’ve played a role in that. It’s evident on tape that Humphrey needs to do a better job at finding the football while in coverage. He’s still very young, however, and thus hasn’t yet hit his ceiling as a defender. He has an NFL bloodline and played in a very complicated defense at Alabama. The Steelers brought Humphrey in for a pre-draft visit and that can’t be ignored being as Colbert also attended the Alabama pro day this year. Humphrey checks a lot of boxes.
Jabrill Peppers – S, Michigan – There has been a lot of chatter about Peppers being the player the Steelers really want in the first round over the course of the last several weeks. Peppers had to play close to the line of scrimmage quite a bit in 2016 as a linebacker but still managed to make his share of plays sans interceptions. He is an uber-athletic player who can play some on offense in addition to returning both punts and kickoffs. If the Steelers have a distinct plan in mind for Peppers as a money-backer, he will be hard for them to pass up. The Steelers sure had a lot of people at the Michigan pro day and that included Colbert and Tomlin.
Josh Jones – S, North Carolina State – Jones could wind up being this year’s Keanu Neal. He played both safety spots at North Carolina State on his way to registering 229 total tackles, 8 interceptions and 25 total defensed passes. Jones put on the show at this year’s combine as evidenced by his 132.5 SPARQ number and he did that at 6013, 220-pounds. He lined up all over the place during his college career and it’s not surprising that he was brought to Pittsburgh for a pre-draft visit.
Budda Baker – S, Washington – Baker was brought in for a pre-draft visit and at best is likely considered a fringe first round prospect after registering 200 total tackles, 5 interceptions and 24 total passes defensed in the 39 games he started at Washington. In addition to mostly playing as a single-high safety during his college career, Baker also played some in the slot. He’s very compact at 5095, 195-pounds but still ran the 40-yard-dash in 4.45 seconds to go along with very respectable short shuttle and there cone times.
David Njoku – TE, Miami – Should Njoku wind up falling to the Steelers, he’s a player the team really has to consider taking at 30th overall an especially when you consider what happened last year with tight end Ladarius Green. While he still needs some polishing, Njoku looks like he can be an offensive weapon at the NFL level and be used as an all-around tight end to boot. That 139.3 SPARQ score is very hard to ignore as is the 43 receptions for 698 yards and 8 touchdowns that he had in 2016. The Steelers were at the Miami pro day this year and that included them reportedly dining with Njoku.
Patrick Mahomes – QB, Texas Tech – If the Steelers were to draft a quarterback in the first round this year, odds are good it would be Mahomes, who made a pre-draft visit to Pittsburgh. He completed 63.5% of his passes at Texas Tech for 11,252 yards and 93 touchdowns. He has a strong arm.