Lance Zierlein of NFL.com released his second mock draft of the season Thursday. And for the Pittsburgh Steelers, he mocked cornerback Byron Murphy for their 20th overall pick. In explaining the Murphy selection, he wrote:
“Gritty, ballhawking cornerback with the willingness and desire to come up and lay the lumber in run support. He plays like a Steeler.”
Murphy is the second corner off the board in Zierlein’s mock, trailing only Greedy Williams (15 to Washington) and ahead of Deandre Baker (29 to Kansas City). It’s hard to argue anything he wrote in explaining the pick. Murphy can make plays and is one of the more physical corners in the draft. Certainly moreso than anyone else at the top, Williams, Baker, or Penn State’s Amani Oruwariye.
But corner is a tougher pill to swallow after the team signed Steven Nelson in free agency. He’s clearly the Day One starter opposite Joe Haden. So either Murphy becomes depth or, and this is feasible, he kicks to the nickel spot.
Mike Hilton has played well and if you know me, you know I’m a fan, but he lost out on playing time last year and I wonder if his lack of size hurts him in the team’s eyes. In a league where slot receivers are no longer, 5’10, 180 pound players, there is value in having a bigger nickel corner. The Steelers know it well with JuJu Smith-Schuster working primarily out of the slot his first two years. Murphy isn’t a huge guy but at nearly 5’11 and 190 pounds, he is bigger, and you could argue some speed concerns after running 4.55 at Indy make him a more natural fit inside. I don’t have any doubt he would play there. It all comes down to the team’s opinion and value on Hilton.
If you’re wondering, the two inside linebackers go within the top ten picks. Devin White at #5 to Tampa, Devin Bush six selections later to the Bengals. And that’s an entirely plausible scenario for how the draft plays out. It’s fair to argue the Steelers will have to jump Cincy to give them the best chance of taking Bush. And obviously, that’ll cost a lot of draft capital.