The 2018 NFL Draft is now a little more than 24 hours away from getting underway in Dallas and being as most of you are probably mock drafted out at this point, I figured we would do a little exercise centered around looking ahead at what the Pittsburgh Steelers top needs in the 2019 NFL Draft might ultimately be. It will be fun to look back at this post and the corresponding comments after the 2018 season is over to see how close everyone was is with their thoughts. I will attempt to rank the positions based on my current view of the team.
Running back – The running back position, as it relates to it being a big need in 2019, all centers around what transpires between now and July 16 with Le’Veon Bell. Should the Steelers ultimately be unable to sign Bell to a long-term contract extension by the middle of July, one can’t help but speculate he’ll leave via free agency next March. While the Steelers will still likely have James Conner, there’s probably not many of you reading this post that expect him to become the team’s every-down back in 2019 should Bell not return. Put a huge asterisk next this ranking as it could go from first to near the bottom depending on what ultimately happens with Bell this offseason.
Guard – Steelers left guard Ramon Foster is now 32 and in the final year of his contract for starters and he will presumably be backed up this season again by center/guard B.J. Finney, a former undrafted free agent. Barring the drafting of another guard this year with starter upside, it’s easy to speculate that guard might ultimately wind up being one of the top three positions of need entering next year’s draft and especially if Finney isn’t considered to be the heir apparent to Foster.
Tight end – Currently, the Steelers have Jesse James under contract through the 2018 season and Vance McDonald under contract through the 2021 season. McDonald’s future past the 2018 season will be tied to how he plays in 2018. As for James, if the Steelers don’t extend his contract prior to the start of the 2018 regular season, he will become an unrestricted free agent in March. In short, the tight end position could very well wind up being a top-three need next offseason.
Outside linebacker – The Steelers picked up the fifth-year option on Bud Dupree a few days ago and that means they have faith that he’ll finally live up to complete expectations in 2018 and ultimately be worthy of a salary in 2019 of over $9 million. Assuming he sticks past the start of the 2019 league year in March, the Steelers still might not view the outside linebacker position as being a huge need ahead of the 2019 draft. If, however, Dupree flounders in 2018, the outside linebacker position could potentially become one of the top draft needs a year from now. this is another ranked that deserves a big fat asterisk next to it.
Inside linebacker – Everyone of you reading this post likely expects the Steelers to select an inside linebacker in either the first or second round of the 2018 draft and if that ultimately happens, at least one of the two inside positions should be secure. With that said, Vince Williams is now in the final year of his current contract while the jury is still out on veteran Jon Bostic, who was signed to a two-year contract during free agency, and if he will be a starter in 2019. Additionally, none of us know right now if Ryan Shazier will be able to return to his starting role in 2019. There are quite a few uncertainties surrounding the Steelers 2019 inside linebacker depth chart as we sit here in April and that’s even with the team expected to address the position early in this year’s draft. Yet another position that likely needs an asterisk.
Quarterback – Ben Roethlisberger has stated that he wants to play at least three more seasons and assuming he’s still performing well, you have to think he will. Landry Jones, currently the backup to Roethlisberger, is now in the final year of his current contract while Joshua Dobbs, the team’s fourth-round selection in 2017, isn’t perceived as being the heir to the Roethlisberger throne. Assuming the Steelers won’t ultimately draft Roethlisberger’s potential heir this year, the annual “should or shouldn’t the Steelers draft a quarterback early” discussions will kick into high gear next offseason. At worst, the Steelers might decide to draft another quarterback in 2019 to develop in the middle to late rounds.
Cornerback – On the surface, it appears as though the Steelers might draft a cornerback this year and sometime after the second-round. Even if they do, the cornerback depth chart might need another addition during the 2019 draft depending on what happens in 2018 with starters Joe Haden and Artie Burns. The Steelers will need to decide next year around this same time if they want to pick up Burns’ fifth-year option and if they want Haden to play his final contract year at $10 million. Cameron Sutton, last year’s first of two third-round selections, might ultimately become a starter on the outside and should that ultimately happen, that will likely lessen the position being a big need if faith in Burns is also shown.
Wide receiver – The Steelers are likely to draft another wide receiver in 2018 and what round that ultimately occurs in will likely go a long way in determining if the position will be a top-three need in 2019. Martavis Bryant isn’t likely to be back in 2019 so unless a player is drafted this year to take over the spot on the depth chart behind Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster, we might be talking about the wide receiver position being a top-three need after the 2018 season. Personally, I expect the Steelers to fill that hole in the first three rounds this year so that’s why I have this position ranked low.
Defensive line – Entering the 2018 season the Steelers appear to be set with their starting three spots on the defensive line as Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Javon Hargrave should all be around for a few more years. With the chance that primary backups Tyson Alualu and L.T. Walton might not be part of the team’s 2019 plans, the Steelers could be in the market for another backup defensive end after the 2018 season. Even so, it’s hard to list defensive line as being one of the team’s top-three positional needs a year from now as we sit here in late April.
Tackle – Alejandro Villanueva is currently under contract through the 2020 season while Marcus Gilbert is under contract through the 2019 season. Assuming both play up to their potentials in 2018, there’s currently no reason to think the tackle position will be a top-three need a year from now and especially if former fourth-round draft pick Jerald Hawkins develops. While the Steelers might ultimately decide to draft another tackle in 2019, one would think such a selection wouldn’t happen until the mid to later rounds as we sit here in April.
Center – Maurkice Pouncey is currently under contract through the 2019 season and the Steelers might decide to extend him next offseason, or at the very least, franchise tag him in 2020. For now, I think its easy to speculate that center won’t be a huge draft need a year from now.
Safety – Like the inside linebacker position, the Steelers are also expected to add a young safety during the first few rounds of the 2018 draft and assuming that ultimately occurs, one can speculate that that position won’t be a huge need a year from now. The Steelers signed veteran safety Morgan Burnett to a three-year contract during the offseason and he, along with Sean Davis, and an early-round draft pick this year, should secure that positions depth chart for a little while.
Fullback, Kicker, Punter, Long snapper – They better not draft any of these positions in 2019. lol
Now it is your turn to project and rank the Steelers positional needs for the 2019 NFL Draft in the comments.