NFL Draft

2018 NFL Mock Draft: Steelers Focus On The Small Schools In Seven Round Projection

It’s not often the Pittsburgh Steelers dip into the small school pool. So if Chad Reuter’s latest seven round mock draft plays out in reality, it’ll be quite a surprise. Still, positionally, it mostly hits all the right notes.

With the 28th pick in the mock he posted Friday afternoon, the Steelers selected Wake Forest free safety Jessie Bates III. Bates is who I had in my latest mock though I don’t know if I’m going to keep him there. In a brief statement for the pick, Reuter writes:

“Bates is athletic enough to be used in multiple spots in the Steelers’ secondary.”

I wish he would’ve explained what other spots he sees Bates playing, given that most project him as a pure centerfielder. But the pick makes sense given the interest they’ve shown in him and the “boxes” he checks, arguably more than anyone else in first round consideration. He’s an underclassmen with production, high character, and a good enough athlete who Tomlin/Colbert dined with at his Pro Day.

Rashaan Evans came off the board at 25 while Leighton Vander Esch went to the rival Baltimore Ravens at pick 16.

In round two, the Steelers begin their small school surge by taking South Carolina State inside linebacker Darius Leonard 60th overall. Pittsburgh did bring him in for a pre-draft visit, indicating interest, but selecting him would break from tradition. They haven’t picked a small school player in the top two rounds since 2004.

The same happens in round three after turning in the card for Central Arkansas corner Tremon Smith. Smith’s name has been pretty popular over the last week and a “rise” in the process. He blazed at his Pro Day, running a 4.38 at 200 pounds. A three year starter and standout, he finished up his career with a whopping 15 interceptions, five of those coming as a senior. As a junior, he starred as a punt returner, averaging over nine per return and scoring one touchdown. But taking him would be unlikely for several reasons and this seems like a stretch.

The fifth round lands on its feet with a solid selection of Texas nose tackle Poona Ford, who we’ve mentioned a time or two on here. A bit inconsistent in his play but with the ability to work his way into the backfield, he’ll provide depth at nose tackle after the team failed to add anyone, outside of bringing back Daniel McCullers.

With their second fifth rounder, the Steelers take WR Richie James out of Middle Tennessee State. Brought in for a visit, he had an impressive career before injury tripped him up in 2017, missing most of the season with a broken collarbone. Pittsburgh is going to need some receiver depth in this year’s draft.

Finally, with their pair of selections in round 7, they take Hawaii OG Dejon Allen and Penn State DE Curtis Cothran. Cothran was brought in for a visit as a run stuffing end while Allen is a versatile piece who manned the Warriors’ offensive line. Perfectly fine, though not eye-catching, selections.

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