Ed Bouchette every year on the eve of the draft reveals his prediction for whom the Pittsburgh Steelers will select in the first round. The award-winning writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette typically makes it into a full article, but he revealed his selection for the Steelers yesterday during a chat session, a fact that he acknowledged via Twitter.
And that selection was Boise State inside linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, one of the most popular choices mocked to the team over the course of the past several months. As Gerry Dulac also revealed yesterday, Pittsburgh does not have any medicals concerns regarding the player in spite of reports raising red flags about his health.
Bouchette mentions or alludes to Vander Esch on a number of occasions throughout the draft. He first notes that he “would take one of the inside linebackers for sure” if they were on the board, referring to Vander Esch and Alabama’s Rashaan Evans.
He is later asked to choose between Evans and Vander Esch and notes that his choice would be Vander Esch because he is “bigger and faster”. Finally, he is asked outright if it is a “no brainer” to draft Vander Esch if he is available. Bouchette responds, “I think so, yes”.
It’s pretty clear the beat writer is predicting the Steelers will select Vander Esch, and that shouldn’t exactly be a surprise. It is the position on the team that suffered the biggest blow from a year ago with the loss of Ryan Shazier, and Vander Esch roughly fits the profile, as well as their pattern of interest.
Vander Esch and Evans have been the most popular mock choices for Pittsburgh since the mock season began, with running back Derrius Guice and quarterback Mason Rudolph also being up there. A number of other names have been tossed around, but these four are the ones that have really received the bulk of attention.
And in fairness all four of them are players that they have shown a good amount of attention to. If I were a betting man, I would probably put money on one of those names being the Steelers’ pick tomorrow.
As always, there is a good chance we will be surprised by who is available for the team to pick from. There is often a name that slides that the Steelers are able to select, though that player hasn’t always lived up to his presumed potential. David DeCastro is probably the best example of a player falling to them and panning out in recent years. Ben Roethlisberger and Rod Woodson are Hall of Fame slides.
Whether or not Vander Esch will be available is uncertain. There are those who expect him to go higher than is initially projected, perhaps even ahead of Tremaine Edmunds. Of course it all depends on the teams’ evaluation of those players. There is never 100 percent consensus in ranking prospects.