While the 2020 NFL Draft is still months away, we do know one things as far as the Pittsburgh Steelers are concerned: for the eighth consecutive year, they have used their first-round draft pick on a defensive player. This time, of course, they acquired that player via trade, sending their top pick to the Miami Dolphins for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, who went on to become a first-team All-Pro.
That follows a trail of players consisting of Jarvis Jones, Ryan Shazier, Bud Dupree, Artie Burns, T.J. Watt, Terrell Edmunds, and, most recently, Devin Bush. One is no longer in the league, another is about to leave in free agency, while Shazier, who reached a Pro Bowl level, of course had his career cut short prematurely due to injury.
The remainder of the Steelers’ selections—and there aren’t many—may well be largely devoted to the offensive side of the ball for a change of pace, after the defense took a major step forward last season, and they were able to acquire some very significant pieces via free agency and trade.
One of the very top priorities will be tight end, with Nick Vannett a pending free agent and Vance McDonald coming off a down year, with the possibility even that he could be a salary cap casualty if they don’t believe he is worth over $7 million.
Earlier this month, Pro Football Focus cautioned that the Steelers should not shell out for Bud Dupree, whose 2019 sack total does not represent his actual pass-rushing productivity. They suggested instead that they target tight end Hunter Henry in free agency.
Now, in a two-round mock draft, they have the Steelers addressing the tight end position with their top pick, in the second round. They have Pittsburgh taking Hunter Bryant out of Washington with the 49th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, writing:
At 6-foot-2, 240 pounds, Bryant is definitely a tweener at the position. The good news is that he moves much more like a wide receiver than a tight end. And before you write him off as a run blocker, know that Delanie Walker – one of the better run-blocking tight ends over the past decade – was almost the identical height and weight as Bryant was coming out of college.
As should surprise none of our regular readers, we have already done our own homework on Bryant, with Daniel Valente writing up our draft player profile on him, which you can read at the following link. Suffice it to say that he has a lot of work to do in the blocking department, but he can be a real receiving threat.
This follows a trend with PFF, who also recently wrote an article re-drafting the 2017 NFL Draft. With Watt going in the top 10, the site ended up having athletic pass-catching tight end Evan Engram land with the Steelers that year.
This, of course, doesn’t typically fit the profile of what the team looks for in their tight ends. At the very least, they expect that their tight ends have the frame and demeanor to develop into a blocker, unless we’re talking about a late-round pick like David Paulson or David Johnson.