For the final time of 2018, my final NFL mock draft. My best guess of what the Pittsburgh Steelers will do, not necessarily what I want to happen. I’ll mock and explain each pick below and by the weekend, we’ll see what (if anything), I got correct. You can check out my previous three mock drafts here.
Without further ado, let’s jump in.
Round One (28th Overall): Rashaan Evans/ILB Alabama – 6’1/7 232
Analysis: After going back and forth, I settle on Evans. For a couple reasons. I think you can argue it’s a bigger need for the Steelers defense, Morgan Burnett was a more significant signing than Jon Bostic (their contracts reflect that), and Kevin Colbert’s comments about how rare it is to find a “four down” linebacker should compel the team to take one as high as possible. Pittsburgh brought in seven ILBs for pre-draft visits, the most of any position by far, and there’s a strong correlation between that and where one gets selected.
Evans may not be quite as athletic as say, Leighton Vander Esch, but it’s better than people perceive. He’s an excellent run stuffer, run defense was the first thing Art Rooney II talked about this offseason, who is strong at taking on blocks and forcing backs to bounce to the outside. Versatile, playing on the edge on 3rd downs, even if he isn’t significantly impactful there, and in an NFL-ready defense.
The Steelers interviewed him at the Combine and sent the house to Alabama’s Pro Day, just as they did in selecting T.J. Watt last year. Even if Evans isn’t a successful Mack linebacker, he’ll be an outstanding one at the Buck, and it’s fair to point out Vince Williams is in the last year of his contract (even though I don’t think he’ll leave). I do believe Evans can survive and thrive as the Mack, however.
Others Considered: FS Justin Reid, OLB Lorenzo Carter, RB Derrius Guice
Round Two (60th Overall): Terrell Edmunds/S Virginia Tech – 6’0/4 217
Analysis: I know Jessie Bates is the popular pick here for anyone who goes with a safety and it’s completely fair to think he’s the pick. But the second round surprised with JuJu Smith-Schuster last year and it does again. Really, it shouldn’t. He fits some of that similar criteria. Underclassmen, leaving as a junior, and just turned 21, only a little older than Smith-Schuster.
He’s a fantastic athlete, running a 4.47, 41.5 inch vert, and 11’2″ broad, insane numbers across the board. Truthfully, he may not even fall this far but I felt the same way about Josh Jones, who got late buzz last year before going late in round two.
Pittsburgh was at his Pro Day with the big wigs included: Colbert, Tomlin, and Keith Butler. Much of that had to do with his younger brother Tremaine but there’s no way you ignore a guy of Terrell’s size and athletic profile. If selected, he’ll see work in dime Year One.
Others Considered: FS Jessie Bates, ILB Fred Warner, ILB Malik Jefferson
Round Three (92nd Overall): DaeSean Hamilton/WR Penn State – 6’0/5 203
Analysis: Sticking with Hamilton for consecutive mock drafts. Receiver may not be an immediate need for 2018 but depth is poor and Martavis Bryant doesn’t look likely to return. Colbert was at his Pro Day to get a good look at him.
Hamilton is one of the draft’s best route runners and in that regard, he reminds me of a bigger Antonio Brown (not saying he’l have that type of career, of course). His hands are a bit suspect but I think new WR coach Darryl Drake will be confident he can coach that up (he doesn’t require his receivers to be technical catchers, either). Hamilton had a big year last season, averaging over 16 yards per catch and nine touchdowns.
In our study of what the team looks for, Hamilton missed in the vert by just a half-inch and he didn’t run his 40 time at the Combine. If we took his Pro Day time, he would’ve passed there, too.
Year One, he’ll work in the slot if there’s any injury to Smith-Schuster or someone on the outside, which would cause JuJu to slide and replace that outside spot. Even if everyone remains healthy, Bryant gets rotated enough to give Hamilton some number of snaps, even if that figure will be relatively small (100-150).
Others Considered: WR J’Mon Moore, NT B.J. Hill, SS Marcus Allen
Round Five (146th Overall): Kallen Ballage/RB Arizona State – 6’1 228
Analysis: Again, no changes here from the last one. The Steelers haven’t shown a ton of overt interest in running backs, aside from Derrius Guice for Round One, but Ballage was one of them. James Saxon not only attended his Pro Day but personally put him through drills. I went back to find footage from that day and saw two other Steelers too. Area scout Mark Bruener and I *believe* Pro Scouting Director Brandon Hunt attended too, which carries some weight.
Ballage fits the mold of the big back the Steelers look for, just as they’ve done in selecting James Conner, Le’Veon Bell, Jonathan Dwyer, and Rashard Mendenhall over the years. Ballage needs to run tougher (I thought Conner had a similar issue) but he’s got solid hands out of the backfield and can be used on third down, an area a lot of rookies can’t. 82 career receptions, 44 of those as a junior. Only once has he had more than 150 carries in a season so there isn’t a ton of wear and tear on him, either.
Others Considered: RB Josh Adams, ILB Matthew Thomas, ILB Oren Burks, ILB Skai Moore
Round Five (165th Overall): Justin Jones/NT NC State – 6’2/4 309
Analysis: I think every mock has to have one pick out of left field. It’s never cookie-cutter where every pick selected is one where the Steelers held up a flashing sign that says “We’re drafting him!” So Jones is the one I’m doing the “Babe Ruth calling his shot” for.
When you look at a defensive linemen, I look for someone with versatility and a guy who can pass rush. Jones is a surprisingly good athlete who is light on his feet and wins with a variety of pass rush moves, including a spin you don’t normally get from a guy with his frame. Not that he’ll use it all the time but it’s an impressive counter when guards overset. He also has the length the Steelers need (33 1/2 inch arms, 10 inch hands) who can leverage and bull rush to collapse the pocket. Production wasn’t great, and he was surrounded by top talent, but he can back up Javon Hargrave at the nose and play some three tech in nickel.
Director of College Scoutig Phil Kriedler attended his Pro Day. Thought about Delaware’s Bilal Nichols, who they brought in for a visit, but even with a new DL coach, his lack of production at that level – usually a requirement when Pittsburgh dips into the FCS – scares me off.
Others Considered: NT Bilal Nichols, NT Poona Ford, ILB Dorian O’Daniel
Round Seven (220th Overall): Quadree Henderson/WR-KR/PR Pittsburgh – 5’8 192
Analysis: A local product from down the hall, the Steelers have reportedly shown plenty of interest in Henderson. Yes, it’s technically a second wide receiver, but consider him a Demarcus Ayers type. Special teams driven selection. But Henderson returned kicks and punts at a high level. Do the Steelers want JuJu doing kicks again in 2018? If not, then who is their guy? Fitzgerald Toussaint? Time to give a spark to a unit that was dreadful until the very end of last year.
Henderson does break from the mold of the size/toughness they put a high priority on in the kick return game but he basically towers over Dri Archer and weighed in 12 pounds heavier than even Chris Rainey, so those comparisons aren’t fair either.
I think he can be a Day One kick and punt returner, making him worthy of a spot on gameday roster, the active 46.
Others Considered: WR Russell Gage Jr, DE Curtis Cothran, RB Reggie Bonnafon, NT Joshua Frazier
Round Seven (246th Overall): Jermaine Carter Jr./ILB Maryland – 6’0/5 222
Analysis: I have a weirdly confident feeling they’re going to take Carter in the 7th. As I described in my scouting report, he fits their “hearts and smarts” mantra to a T. A two-year captain at Maryland, captain his senior year of high school, and the key communicator on that defense that missed him when he wasn’t on the field (which wasn’t very often).
He was productive and though I don’t see his ceiling as high, his work ethic and IQ will be appreciated as he tries to carve out a role. Someone that coaches probably love in getting to talk and know him. Hunt also attended the Terps’ Pro Day.
Others Considered: OT Jordan Mailata, DE Greg Gilmore, OT David Bright