NFL Draft

2020 NFL Draft Pittsburgh Steelers’ Big Board – Version 1.0


This will be my first post here at Steelers Depot, so it’s probably best to introduce how the annual Pittsburgh Steelers Big Board works. The grades are organized by Highest Value (“HV#”) ***to the Steelers.*** Many of the listed players would have a higher grade on a board devoted to some other team because they would better fit that organizations scheme, needs, and/or wants than they do the ones in Pittsburgh. Start from (a) the highest potential grade for any individual player in a perfect fit, (b) discount that grade for this particular iteration of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and you should end up with (c) the grade on this Board. Yes, this system results in a certain amount of grade inflation for positions of need because we are talking about the “highest” grade, not the one where a player is expected to go; but grades are never pushed up just because of need.

An HV of 1:25 means the player would be a reach for the Steelers at any point before Pick # 25 of Round 1, but good value at any point from the end of the 1st on. Getting him at Pick #20 overall would be a minor reach; pick #15 a significant reach; etc. Again, you should expect this approach to result in grades that can range from very unfair to almost absurd when applied to the prospects at low-priority positions. Someone like a good CB could easily have a 3:01 grade on this Board due to Pittsburgh’s lack of need in 2020, even though the same player would deserve a 1:25 grade, or even higher, for a team like the Steelers of 2016. That 3:01 grade would indicate the point when the talent-based bargain outweighs the positional discount. The odds that even a fringe-1st Corner would fall to the early 3rd are vanishingly small, but that is kind of the point: they are great targets for other teams but not for Pittsburgh. The same will be true in the opposite direction as other teams discount players that we list at full retail value.

Rounds are subdivided as follows:

  • 1st Round grades: 1:01, 1:05, 1:10, 1:15, 1:20, or 1:25.
  • 2nd & 3rd Round grades: Early (#:01), Mid (#:12), or Late (#:24).
  • 4th to 7th Round grades: Early (#:01) or Late (#:16).

With the Steelers lacking a 1st Round pick, I have also decided to use an “Ain’t Gonna Happen” list for the prospects with no semi-realistic chance of falling to the mid-2nd. Players with the same HV# are organized alphabetically. Boards organized by HV, like the one in this post, are sorted within each grade by position: Defense, then Offense, inside to out.

Defense Is Heavily Discounted In Round 2

I believe Defense is basically off the table for Pittsburgh’s Round 2 pick due to several considerations. First, the front office (“FO”) absolutely hates to load up too many picks in a row on one side of the ball. The Steelers have pre-spent their Round 1 and Round 3 picks for 2020 on Minkah Fitzpatrick and Devin Bush. I love those picks! But they do make it hard to imagine a third defensive pick in Round 2 as well. The offensive unit would have a well justified fit.

Second, the team has far less need at any defensive position than it does on the offensive side of the ball. The only serious “want” might – might! – be at Edge Rusher, and that would only happen if Bud Dupree leaves. When push comes to shove we can pretty well write that possibility off. It will only happen if the team feels way more comfortable with Ola Adeniyi and Tuzar Skipper than the fans do.

Remember when Steeler Nation went nuts over letting Joey Porter depart to Miami? The FO knew that James Harrison was ready to step in. If the same isn’t true for Ola and Tuzar, the FO can and will pull out every financial stop to pay for Dupree’s franchise tag or to negotiate a long term deal. See the Ain’t Gonna Happen list for a long list of the names we don’t need to worry about beyond their ability to push a more favored position down the draft.

Hargrave’s expected departure makes Nose Tackle a bigger concern but let’s face facts. The Gravedigger is one of my favorite draft steals of the past decade, but even his level of talent could only earn around 40% of the defensive snaps at this position – and it only went up toward 60% when Tuitt got hurt. Pittsburgh won’t spend its Round 2 pick on such a limited number of potential snaps. Maybe at 3:comp and more likely in Round 4, but not in Round 2. The Board therefore puts the Round 1 guys on the Ain’t List, applies something like a 30-spot discount for the Round 2 talents, and a half-round discount for those who might otherwise be targeted in Round 3. There is no discount for players from the late-3rd on.

The Steelers may also have wants at backup Safety and ILB, but backups are even more of a Day 3 target than NT’s. This may adjust as we learn more about the status of Sean Davis, Tyler Matakevich, and Ulysees Gilbert. Similar discounts have been applied and maybe a little steeper. It’s hard to see the team drafting a Corner at all.

The Offensive Needs Are Well Balanced

Fans can argue endlessly about the relative value of anything other than a potential franchise quarterback. Offensive line, with Ramon Foster likely to be a cap casualty? Running Back, since James Conner’s injury record suggests that he will be unavailable for at least half of the offensive snaps? Tight End, which is headed by the equally fragile Vance McDonald? Wide Receiver, since that is the strongest class in the draft and thus the most likely one where a Round 1 talent might fall to the mid-second?

The fact that we can go around that loop so endlessly proves only one thing: there are no distinctions in relative need sufficient to discount any offensive position in favor of the others. This forces one, unavoidable conclusion: the FO will spend the 2:18 pick on its highest rated offensive player. Period.

The most unpredictable factor is the Quarterback situation. The Steelers appear to be happier with Mason Rudolph’s growth curve than the fans were with his 2019 production, so this isn’t an emergency, but it would do the team nothing but good to create competition for the backup role. This class offers five talents that could easily go in Round 1.

  • Joe Burrow is a lock for #1 overall. See the Ain’t Gonna Happen list.
  • Tua Tagovailoa would be on that list with him but for a season ending hip surgery. Question: What will happen if the doctors say he won’t recover fast enough to play in 2020? Answer: he will fall out of the 1st, and quite possibly to the middle of Round 2. Question: Would Pittsburgh leap for the podium like a lion on a limping gazelle if Tua’s available from 2021 onward? Answer: They might, rabbit; they might. He’s listed at 2:01on those assumptions.
  • Jacob Eason, Justin Herbert, and Jordan Love are classic Round 1 reaches at the QB position. They all have unquestionable Round 1 physical talent and tools. They also have the unquestioned ability to pull a Paxton Lynch and bust out completely. They are all listed at 2:12 with the full expectation that we won’t face so painful a choice.
  • The #6 Quarterback of the 2020 draft is Jalen Hurts. He is on the Board at 2:24; i.e., a “minor reach” at 2:18. I have opinions about this prospect but have done my best to keep them out of that grade. Let the battle begin.

Offensive Linemen have full retail grades. Feiler’s ability to move inside, and the depth behind him at Tackle in Okorafor and Banner, means the team can focus on BPA without particular regard to position. Note that the two top Centers all have the ability to be starting Guards while Pouncey finishes his career. Pure Centers earn a minor discount.

RB’s have full retail grades for the elite talents, but are severely beyond that rank. The team could use a true 1.b costar for James Conner, but will have zero interest in depth that would only compete with the likes of Benny Snell, Jaylen Samuels, and Kerrith Whyte.

The Steelers already have three good receivers in JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, and James Washington. They could use (a) that elusive top-20 talent, (b) a speedy take-the-top-off role player, or (c) a titan-sized red zone weapon, but only to move the overall unit’s rank from ‘excellent’ to ‘next level Madden fantasy.’ That earns a discount for all WR’s, which can be kind of significant for players who don’t fit one of those specified roles. The following table nevertheless includes a ton of WR’s. Why? Because 2020 offers an all but legendary array of receiving prospects. The players listed below would be ranked even higher without the discounts.

Alas, but the exact opposite is true of the TE class. Only one of this year’s Tight Ends has earned a Round 2 grade, and that is at 2:24. Most are expected to go well after the Steelers pick at 2:18. The scary part is this: there aren’t a lot of them with Round 3 grades either, they will be in high demand, and we will be luck if one falls to 3:comp. This. Class. Sucks. Prepare for disappointment, and take that into account when considering your free agency and salary cap projections.


1:20 C/G Tyler Biadasz, Wisconsin. (RS Junior). 6’3”, 321 lbs. Name a better factory for linemen than Wisconsin. [Crickets]. Name the leader of the Wisconsin OL. You got it. A marvelous technician who’s only flaw is the lack of shining athletic brilliance in any one area. Has the ability to start at Guard while Pouncey finishes his career as the Steeler’s Center.
1:25 OT/G Mekhi Becton, Louisville. (Junior). 6’7”, 369 lbs. A gigantic grizzly bear of a Right Tackle who should be able to move inside and be a dominant Guard if the height doesn’t get in his way. Becton has blindside protector potential, though one questions if he has the requisite feet. Time will tell. This December scouting profile emphasizes how much his mobility improved with the loss of some weight going into 2019. Serious, informed comparisons have mentioned names like Trent Brown and Bryant McKinnie. Some other scouting profiles have noted signs of hesitation that could come from insecurities about basic technique. That, and the physical maturity to move from a college behemoth to an NFL athlete, are among the easiest “fixes” for OL prospects and may actually enhance his grade. He might not splash in his rookie year but watch out for what happens next! A prospect who could easily climb up the Board as the process moves forward.
1:25 RB Travis Etienne, Clemson. (Junior). 5’10”, 210 lbs. A slashing home run hitter with top notch speed, very good contact balance and quickness, adequate size, and a willingness to block. Some minor questions exist about his vision and how much credit for his production should go to a great QB and an excellent OL, but those are nit-picking at its finest.
1:25 RB D’Andre Swift, Georgia. (Junior). 5’9″, 215 lbs. Usually ranked as the #1 RB in the draft, Swift really is. He has ankle-breaker quickness combined with excellent speed and a finisher’s mentality in a short-but-not-small body. The dream pick of those who envision a thunder and lightning duo as Pittsburgh’s ideal background.
1:25 RB Jonathan Taylor, Wisconsin. (Junior). 5’11”, 219 lbs. Ain’t Gonna Happen, but wouldn’t it be nice if it did? Taylor’s combination of really good size, toughness, niftiness, blocking, and receiving ability bring to mind a version of James Conner with breakaway speed and no record of health issues. What more could you ask? Taylor played behind a great OL (which he used well and patiently), but that isn’t his fault any more than the excessive workload (which has shown no signs of wearing him down). 2,000 yards in three straight seasons… Wow. May be more of a game-maker than a game-breaker, but that fits Pittsburgh’s approach to the position.
1:25 WR Tee Higgins, Clemson. (Junior). 6’4”, 215 lbs. Gets compared to Mike Evans, and to Juju with several extra inches for jump ball matchups. The odds it could happen may hover around 2% outside of mock draft simulators but the chance can’t be ignored.
1:25 WR Jalen Reagor, TCU. (Junior). 5’11”, 195 lbs. Think “higher pedigree Mike Wallace;” a blazing fast, quick twitch deep threat who can operate from the slot as well as the outside. Walter Football reports rumors that he’s run a 4.29 dash! Unlikely to be available at 2:18 because he projects best as the final weapon for a team like Green Bay, New Orleans, or that one-and-out squad from Massachusetts. This December scouting profile points out Reagor’s need to focus on catching and holding the ball before running with it, though few have any doubt about his ability to do so. The Draft Network scouting profiles agree: he has the potential to be an all-pro deep threat in the NFL, but must fill out his array of WR skills to do so; and particularly focus on eliminating the ability of DB’s to force drops that could have been caught.
2:01 C/G Cesar Ruiz, Michigan. (Junior). 6’4”, 319 lbs. A sure thing NFL starter, but with longer odds against stardom. Smart and extremely mobile, he would be a fine successor to Pouncey if you keep the expectations to “starter” rather than “fringe HOF prospect.” Hoping for more would be fine; just don’t expect it. An nice, high floor because he also projects a a good pulling guard and is likely to be ahead of the curve on football IQ. His college coach (the other Harbaugh) might be a jagoff outside the locker room, but he really knows the technical game of football and also how to teach it.
2:01 QB Tua Tagovailoa, Alabama (Junior). 6’1”, 219 lbs. He’d be neck and neck for the #1 overall pick if he hadn’t been hurt. No way he gets out of the top 5 in the absence of bad news on the medical front.
2:01 RB J.K. Dobbins, Ohio St. (Junior). 5’10”, 217 lbs. Probably the most likely RB target for Pittsburgh in Round 2, and no one should complain if they land him. Nick Farabaugh’s gif-supported January scouting report gives a good overview. Dobbins is smaller and less of a load than James Conner, but possessing an equally rounded skill set with better burst, breakaway speed, more quickness in space, and no history of health problems. Bulk him up just a little and you’d get a Maurice Jones-Drew vibe: the classic bowling ball with good moves and acceptable hands. One can question his ceiling in pass protection due to the lack of size, or raise doubts because he played behind a great college OL, but how picky do you want to get?
2:12 OT Austin Jackson, USC. (Junior). 6’6”, 310 lbs. Round 1 feet and length, but will need a redshirt year to build his strength and ground his technique. Might have issues moving inside to Guard.
2:12 QB Jacob Eason, Washington (Junior). 6’6”, 227 lbs. Another prospect who satisfies every physical profile but needs to show he can play the NFL position mentally. The talent is too good to fall out of Round 1 and enough to justify a pick at 2:18 if it somehow occurs.
2:12 QB Justin Herbert, Oregon (Senior). 6’6”, 235 lbs. Ain’t Gonna Happen. His inconsistency raises eyebrows but the talent will almost certainly get him picked in Round 1, and is enough to justify a pick at 2:18 if it somehow occurs.
2:12 QB Jordan Love, Utah State (RS Junior). 6’4”, 225 lbs. Size, strength, arm, mobility, etc. Love has every physical asset and will therefore get picked in the 1st due to nothing more than his pro bowl ceiling. Worth a pick if he somehow falls to Round 2 for the exact same reasons, understanding that he could be Paxton Lynch just as easily as pick-your-star-who-got-it.
2:24 DL Raekwon Davis, Alabama. (Senior). 6’7″, 312 lbs. Reminds me of Stephon Tuitt as a prospect, with some college stagnation as the issue instead of an injury problem. Ain’t Gonna Happen.
2:24 C/G Nick Harris, Washington. (Senior). 6’1”, 302 lbs. Comes to the NFL with a description that basically matches where B.J. Finney is as a multiyear veteran. This gif-supported scouting profile from Tom Mead agrees with that take. Harris is smart, savvy, strong, good mover, limited only by length and overall size that make him a good Center but a bit undersized to backup at Guard except in emergencies. That is a darned solid floor.
2:24 OT Trey Adams, Washington. (Senior). 6’8”, 314 lbs. A Round 1 talent with prototypical length, excellent strength that solves any leverage issues, and enough mobility to project as a solid NFL starter at either Tackle spot. Pure speed rushers have given him trouble sometimes, but that is true for all men this size who don’t have perfect technique. The issue is health. As discussed in this article, Adams has tenaciously fought back to overcome both a 2017 ACL tear and a 2018 disc surgery. If the team doctors say “go for it,” don’t be surprised if the Steelers do just that. Probably not a Guard simply because he is so long.
2:24 OT/G Lucas Niang, TCU. (Senior). 6’7”, 328 lbs. Another classic Right Tackle prospect with the ability to be a dominant Guard if he moves inside and isn’t crippled by his length. Walter Football cites rumors concerning work ethic but that isn’t the most reliable source.
2:24 OT Prince Tega Wanogho, Auburn. (RS Senior). 6’7”, 305 lbs. A blind side protector who could develop into a shut down guy if everything goes just right. Long, smooth, and mobile but not as straight up powerful as the Right Tackle prospects, and probably unsuited to move inside. A higher pedigree version of Chuks Okorafor?
2:24 QB Jalen Hurts, Oklahoma (Senior). 6’2”, 218 lbs. A wonderful athlete but is he an NFL Quarterback? Nick Farabaugh’s gif-supported January scouting report emphasizes that he has all the physical assets you want even if you ignore the somewhat amazing talents as a runner. The issues go to whether he can learn the position, and how long it would take him in light of his undeveloped processing skills and ability to go through the progressions – let alone to call blocking schemes.
2:24 TE Cole Kmet, Notre Dame (Junior). 6’4”, 235 lbs. Solid, but not exceptional, he may be the best of this extremely poor Tight End class because he has a good attitude toward blocking that the other prospects generally lack. The issue is his very marginal size to get that done. That said, a lot of blocking comes down to the proverbial fight in the dog, and many observers have commented on his willingness to scrap. He’s also right up there with everyone else as a receiving option who can get deep down the seam and possess good hands for settling into zones.
2:24 RB Cam Akers, Florida St. (Junior). 5’11”, 212 lbs. This Draft Network scouting profile (Marino) argues that Akers “has no physical limitations to execute in any role,” but has been hidden from site because he (a) played behind a terrible OL in college, and (b) may need a good coach to develop his above-the-neck skillset, blocking, and receiving skills.
2:24 RB Najee Harris, Alabama. (Junior). 6’2″, 230 lbs. A 5-star athlete recruited to Alabama, who fits the Steeler model perfectly… and yet. When was the last time a Bama RB failed to look like the Next Great Thing? Harris only managed to look like the Next Good Thing when his chance arrived in 2019… with occasional games where he flashed that next level. Hard to figure out, but he really is that good an athlete. Harris does things that others simply cannot; just not as often as you’d like. Reviews like this good December scouting profile bring to mind descriptions of James Conner as a prospect, but with a higher ceiling, less achievement, and none of the health-related red flags.
2:24 RB Chuba Hubbard, Oklahoma St. (RS Sophomore). 6’1″, 207 lbs. Another blue chip RB who would have been a 1st rounder 30 years ago, Hubbard is a little leaner than the Steelers seem to prefer but being CFB’s leading rusher in 2019 has proven ability to take the pounding. Tremendous vision, speed, and COD skills are his main calling cards but he’s more than just a scat-rat. He’s a home town hero for most of Canada too. This goes to a December interview with DraftWire.
2:24 WR Brandon Aiyuk, Arizona State. (Senior). 6’1”, 206 lbs. A 2019 version of Juju Smith-Schuster, but a bit faster, a bit more athletic, and a few years older on draft day. Discounted from a fringe-1st overall grade for this particular team in this particular year.
2:24 WR K.J. Hamler, Penn State. (RS Sophomore). 5’9”, 176 lbs. A killer quick, big play slot receiver with excellent speed, but earns a small downgrade because the Steelers picked that guy last year in Diontae Johnson, have to be happy with the result, and Johnson is small, not tiny. Discounted from a fringe-1st overall grade for this particular team in this particular year.
2:24 WR Justin Jefferson, LSU. (Junior). 6’3”, 192 lbs. A 2019 version of James Washington, but a little taller. Hard to see what he would bring to a WR unit that already contains comparable players. And how much of his production is due to having Joe Burrow as his QB? Would get a higher grade if JJSS wasn’t already on the team.
2:24 WR Tyler Johnson, Minnesota. (Senior). 6’2”, 205 lbs. A crafty, all-around receiver with a very high WR3 floor and a decent chance to become a solid WR1. A taller version of James Washington as a prospect – which explains why the Steelers might hesitate to pull the trigger in Round 2, when someone darned well ought to. Discounted from an early-2nd overall grade for this particular team in this particular year.
2:24 WR Donovan Peoples-Jones, Michigan. (Junior). 6’2”, 208 lbs. He isn’t small and he isn’t slow, but he plays even bigger and faster than he is. A really likeable prospect who fits the Steelers profile, whatever that is. His stock will go up if the measurables prove he can excel as a deep threat. If not, he will be caught in that same trap of being another peer of the good, all-around WR’s Pittsburgh already has.


THE “AIN’T GONNA HAPPEN” LIST (26 players so far)

DL Derrick Brown, Auburn. (Senior). 6’5”, 318 lbs.  Top 5 talent. Ain’t Gonna Happen.
DL Raekwon Davis, Alabama. (Senior). 6’7″, 312 lbs. Reminds me of Stephon Tuitt as a prospect, with some college stagnation as the issue instead of an injury problem. He could be a similar Round 2 bargain as well, but the Steelers have other priorities.
DL Javon Kinlaw, S. Carolina. (Senior). 6’6″, 310 lbs. Top 20 talent. Ain’t Gonna Happen.
EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson, LSU. (Junior). 6’4”, 250 lbs. Top 15-20 talent. Ain’t Gonna Happen.
EDGE A.J. Espenesa, Iowa. (Junior). 6’6”, 280 lbs. Top 10 talent as a 4-3 DE. Ain’t Gonna Happen.
EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos, Penn St. (Junior). 6’5”, 264 lbs. Round 1 talent. Ain’t Gonna Happen.
EDGE Curtis Weaver, Boise St. (RSJunior). 6’3”, 265 lbs. Fringe 1st talent. Ain’t Gonna Happen.
EDGE Chase Young, Ohio St. (Junior). 6’5”, 265 lbs. Top 5 talent. Ain’t Gonna Happen.
ILB Kenneth Murray. (Junior). 6’2”, 234 lbs. Could go in Round 1. Ain’t Gonna Happen.
ILB Isaiah Simmons, Clemson. (RS Junior) 6’4”, 230 lbs. Early 1st Round talent. Ain’t Gonna Happen.
SS Grant Delpit, LSU. (Junior). 6’3”, 201 lbs. Top 10-15 talent. Ain’t Gonna Happen.
SAF Xavier McKinney, Alabama. (Junior). 6’1”, 200 lbs. Fringe 1st talent as a multipurpose Safety. Ain’t Gonna Happen.
CB Paulson Adebo, Stanford. (Junior). 6’1”, 190 lbs. Fringe 1st talent. Ain’t Gonna Happen.
CB Trevon Diggs, Alabama. (Senior). 6’2”, 207 lbs. Easy Round 1 talent. Ain’t Gonna Happen.
CB Kristian Fulton, LSU. (Senior). 6’0”, 200 lbs. Easy Round 1 talent. Ain’t Gonna Happen.
CB C.J. Henderson, Florida. (Junior). 6’1”, 202 lbs. Fringe 1st talent. Ain’t Gonna Happen.
CB Jeffrey Okudah, Ohio St. (Junior). 6’1”, 200 lbs. Top 5 talent. Ain’t Gonna Happen.
CB A.J. Terrell, Clemson. (Junior). 6’1”, 190 lbs. Fringe 1st talent. Ain’t Gonna Happen.
OT/G Andrew Thomas, Georgia. (Junior). 6’5″, 320 lbs. Top 10-15 talent. Ain’t Gonna Happen.
OT/G Jedrick Wills, Alabama. (Junior). 6’5”, 320 lbs. Top 10-15 talent. Ain’t Gonna Happen.
OT/G Tristan Wirfs, Iowa. (Junior). 6’5”, 322 lbs. Top 10-15 talent. Ain’t Gonna Happen.
QB Joe Burrow, LSU. 6’4”, 216 lbs. Oh please. Likely to go #1 overall.
WR Jerry Jeudy, Alabama. (Junior). 6’1”, 192 lbs. Going in the top 10, but no WR gets a higher grade than mid-1st for this particular team in this particular year.
WR CeeDee Lamb, Oklahoma. (Junior). 6’2”, 189 lbs. Going in the top 10, but no WR gets a higher grade than mid-1st for this particular team in this particular year.
WR Henry Ruggs III, Alabama. (Junior). 6’0”, 190 lbs. The dream speedster. Ain’t Gonna Happen.
WR Laviska Shenault Jr., Colorado. (Junior). 6’2”, 220 lbs. Round 1 talent all day long. Tall, big, fast, elusive, extremely tough, good hands, versatile, young… He might even be in the Top 10 talk if he played at a Top 10 school. A slightly beefier and maybe faster version of Juju Smith-Schuster. Ain’t Gonna Happen.


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