It’s clear the Pittsburgh Steelers were highly interested in the 2018 NFL Draft safety class. They, of course, drafted Terrell Edmunds’ 28th overall, to the surprise of many who pegged him as a Day 2 candidate. In 2019, they made the historic move of trading a first-round pick for Minkah Fitzpatrick, taken 11th overall that year. And in Bleacher Report’s 2018 re-draft, they did things over by giving Pittsburgh safety Jessie Bates, a player the team showed plenty of interest in but did not choose the first time around.
Author Gary Davenport explains the pick:
“So while the Pittsburgh Steelers are still fortifying the defensive backfield in this 2018 redo, one of the Edmunds is getting thrown back—in favor of a safety who has been both more productive and more versatile.
Given that he has spent most of his career in Cincinnati as a deep safety, the 6’1″, 200-pounder’s tackling output to date is that much more impressive. Bates tallied 100-plus total stops in each of his first three seasons and has averaged a robust 102 tackles per season for his career.
But Bates is more than just a big hitter. He has proved to be quite proficient in coverage as well, notching a passer rating against of less than 80 in two of four seasons.
Not only do the Steelers get a sizable bump at safety, but it comes at the expense of their division rivals in Cincinnati.”
Bates was certainly on the team’s radar in the pre-draft process. Mike Tomlin attended his Wake Forest Pro Day, an unusual move for a team often went to Pro Days that had multiple draft prospects, first-rounders and later round candidates. At Wake that year, Bates was the main and only attraction. Tomlin also had a Pro Day dinner with Bates, another strong sign of interest.
Ultimately, the Steelers chose Edmunds, highlighting his athleticism and football bloodlines. Two Edmunds brothers were drafted in the first round in 2018, Tremaine first followed by Terrell, and their father Ferrell played in the 1980s-1990s; in fact, Kevin Colbert was a college scout in the late 80s for the Miami Dolphins, who drafted Ferrell in 1988. The dots that led Pittsburgh to drafting Terrell were easy to connect.
In a weird way, drafting Edmunds over Bates might still be the right decision. Solely for the fact it led them to Fitzpatrick, the best free safety in football. Had the team drafted Bates, who predominantly plays there, the team likely wouldn’t have acquired Fitzpatrick. Bates is a good safety who will get paid handsomely at some point soon (he’s currently on an unsigned franchise tag) but he’s not in Fitzpatrick’s tier.
Still, putting aside the domino effect, Bates was the better prospect than Edmunds. Edmunds has slowly but steadily improved year-by-year but has turned into nothing more than a classic, average box safety.
Based off Bleacher Report’s re-draft, Pittsburgh would’ve been better off taking CB J.C. Jackson, a then-UDFA gem who cashed in big this offseason. Jackson went 30th in the re-draft, which feels low for one of the better corners in football. A hypothetical secondary of Minkah Fitzpatrick and Jackson would be a remarkable safety/corner duo.