Pittsburgh Steelers Draft Outlook

 

'19 Outlook:  "A dazzling dozen to feast on"

        

 

With the foundations of tough and driven play-makers in mind, it’s time to piggyback on a project that took place last year involving my annual top 100 prospects draftboard.
SEE BELOW (last year's archived '18 Outlook)

At that time, I took a dozen of the closest “Steeler matches” from the rankings and was able to secure four players that actually ended up getting selected by the team, or more specifically, four of their first five selections. Those names were: Terrell Edmunds (No. 28), James Washington (No. 60), Mason Rudolph (No. 76), and Marcus Allen (No. 148). All were a part of my final rankings, but this year the thickness of the draft class is vast and it creates a much harder prognostication to those “ideal fits” that might help in the era of sub-package football. Here is this year's attempt to re-do the successes of last year; finding probably matches based on the roster holes and philosophical outlook of the franchise. Although none of these dozen might turn out to be a draft selection, these are the ones that I think could be ripe for interest in the minds of General Manager Kevin Colbert and Head Coach Mike Tomlin.

 

 

Caveats to this Project:
 
1. The top 15 players have been eliminated from my draftboard in order to get an authentic and realistic fit for the wholesomeness of this class.
 

2. I do not believe for a moment that the two star-studded inside linebacker prospects will sniff the trade-up territory mandatory for the team to mortgage asset and make a move. Likewise, my belief is that this is a crazy draft to give away top 100 selections that will, with all certainty in prognostication, turn into key foundation pieces for the future. Prospects in round two through round four don’t have much slippage from those in the tail-end of the first round.

 

3. I’m aiming at not so much who the team will select at No. 20 overall, or with a trade-up scenario, but rather, what are the other dozen prospects that could be in the mix for Day One and Day Two?

 

4. Offensive linemen, quarterback, and defensive line will not be considered for this outlook. The quarterback just had his pay dirt day and the depth is as solid as any unit in the league behind him. Both lines could use an unexpected upgrade when a coveted player drops, but that won’t happen until the middle rounds or later.

 

5. The aim at this study is this: Find those eventual starter-capable players, a theme that Kevin Colbert uttered last year at this time. This list is going after prospects that accentuate the attributes of “sub-package,” “high character,” and “lovers of the game.”

 

 

Dazzling Dozen Starters:

(1.) N’Keal Harry, WR, Arizona State (#19 on my draftboard) – Harry is an extraordinary after the catch play-maker and has similar traits to Juju Smith-Schuster when he was coming out of USC. His name has been bantered-about in each and every bit of this article series and I believe he’s going to be a very special professional player. N’Keal did not receive a lot of noticeable Steelers attention, but the key emphasis of that notion is “noticeable.” We don’t know what happens behind the scenes, and I can imagine a fruitful discussion between Mike Tomlin and Sun Devils head coach Herm Edwards. While Smith-Schuster extends his level of play and style and takes on more rigid route running, N’Keal would fairly comfortably transition into the style we observed Juju deploy during his rookie and second year campaigns.

 

(2.) Rock Ya-Sin, CB, Temple (#20) – Another player that was highlighted from the very beginning of this series was Ya-Sin. He’s the top rated cornerback on my board and the one special player with a certain edge and toughness that I think fits the new mission of the Steelers as they progress their attitude as a team. Recent national reports about the connection to the team matters-not in this outlook, as “The Rock” was on the radar in these parts all along. What’s not to love about this Temple-tough prospect with a chip on his shoulder and a equally chiseled body? Of all the players I’d pound the table for if the team sticks at No. 20, I’d go Ya-Sin No. 1 and N’Keal Harry No. 2. Tough kids and natural future leaders. I had decide a couple weeks ago that if there’s to be a Round One fit at cornerback, Rock Ya-Sin was the Steelers type of guy.

 

(3.) Justin Layne, CB, Michigan State (#48) – If you’re looking for a high upside prospect that’s still in the process of learning, the converted wide receiver Justin Layne might be for you. Layne is a taller type cornerback, at 6-2, with lankier arms and he’s very fluid. He should be viewed as more the type of bump-and-run type that the team has been interested in lately. Justin has traits that should create for high levels of interest, with athleticism and great feet. Obviously, as a former wideout, this guy has great hands as well! Layne could line up nicely for a selection at the Steelers No. 52 pick in round two. Interestingly, the team had just two “top 30” visitors on Friday, April 5 and they were Layne and Ya-Sin. A bit of extra concentration on two key targets, perhaps?

 

(4.) Juan Thornhill, SAF/CB, Virginia (#50) – A well-rounded safety prospect with plenty of explosiveness and instinct, Thornhill projects as a hybrid player suited for the sub-package football that Mike Tomlin spoke of several times in the pre-draft press conference. He has overly impressive range and experience at all defensive back positions after converting from cornerback to safety. The instinctive nature of Juan’s football mentality shows in the number of interceptions he had at Virginia: 13

 

(5.) Miles Boykin, WR, Notre Dame (#51) – At 6-4, 220, Miles Boykin could be that extra bonus-cash that makes Big Ben Roethlisberger’s April even more exciting to celebrate. We know how Ben likes his big targets, and Boykin puts me in mind of the type of player the Steelers are so great at uncovering in the draft. While Boykin is not going to give you precise route running at the start of his career, he has outstanding hands and would thrive in Roethlisberger’s passing style. There’s only one year of solid production to put on Boykin’s resume, but he also didn’t have a Hall of Fame quarterback throwing to him; another point that was uttered during Colbert’s comments at the press conference.

 

(6.) Chase Winovich, OLB, Michigan (#52) – Do you thrive for high motor? A tough guy that wants everyone to know he’s the tough guy and he’s going to just go get the job done no matter what the mission? If so, Winovich is that guy you might most want from this draft class. He spent an awful lot of time in the backfields of Big Ten opponents the past few years and accumulated 44.5 tackles for loss while attaining 18.5 sacks. I just love his technical skills and motor and think Chase is very worthy of the team selection at No. 52. In fact, if the Steelers take advantage of a first round trade back scenario, it would not be shocking if Chase is this year’s surprise pick.

 

(7.) Jace Sternberger, TE, Texas A&M (#66) – The fact is, it will be hard for a team to sit and wait on Sternberger to fall if you’re after him in round two or early round three because the tight end talent is a bit thin in that area before it blossoms in the middle rounds. Jace had 10 touchdown catches on a 17.3 YPC average in 2018 and could be thought of as a stronger and more physical upgrade to the departed Jesse James. He fights harder as a blocker than James did coming out of Penn State and has a higher down-the-seam upside potential. Sternberger is a really great match for what the Steelers could be looking for, particularly if they are unable to draft a wide receiver in round one or two.

 

(8.) Ben Banogu, OLB, TCU (#77) – At the collegiate level, Banogu collected 22 sacks and 22 quarterback hurries in three years of work. He’s going to go top 100 because it’s rare to find these OLB/edge presence prospects that can actually drop into coverage, but that is something that is very much a part of Banogu’s game. He will need some time before being field-ready, but there’s significant upside with the selection of this 6-3, 250 prospect. Oh, Ben is another high-motor and deeply energized player.  Check!

 

(9.) Ugo Amadi, SAF/CB, Oregon (#87) – As a team captain for the Ducks, Amadi demonstrates the type of sub-package and leadership role the team is striving for in the defensive backfield. Some fans will start to cry if this team continues to invest in safety prospects without results, but Amadi is the type of example in this draft class that Colbert refers to when commenting about not letting good players get past you in order to secure team need. Ugo (full name Ugochukwu) is another instinctive and high football-IQ player and one with a bit of a nasty and feisty demeanor. He made my top 100 list due to these attributes and also his eight interceptions in college, but others might find him more suitable for round four or five.

 

(10.) Isaiah Johnson, CB, Houston (#90) – And here’s probably the highest traits/upside cornerback prospect of the 2019 draft class. He’s flying right underneath the radar, but Isaiah Johnson won’t be forgotten as his career develops. Without the need for immediate starter help at cornerback, the Steelers could luck into one heck of a pick if Johnson were to be their choice at No. 66 or No. 83. He only has a couple years of playing the position under his belt after spending most of his career as a wide receiver. Isaiah is extremely physical and allows his lengthy 6-2, 208 frame (33 inch arms) do the talking as he smothers the opponent. If chosen, don’t think about immediate starter, but enjoy watching Johnson and his battles in training camp and the pre-season!

 

(11.) Ryquell Armstead, RB, Temple (#92) – A second Temple-tough player makes this dazzling dozen, and oh my do I like Ryquell as a future pro prospect. If the team is going to bring a little smash-mouth back into the equation, Armstead is worth a very long look for the selection at No. 83 overall. He’s a fearless wrecking-ball runner, but one that gets his body and pads in a good position to take on physical contact. Here’s another player that maybe wouldn’t have made a top 100 list several years ago, but my inclination is that the league is beginning to migrate back to toughness and brawn. Maybe Armstead doesn’t go so early because the run on running backs doesn’t begin in round three, but I advocate for mixing this type of toughness into the running back room. There’s a need there – you have James Conner and Jaylen Samuel, but with the departures of some former offensive performers (no names need mentioned here), Armstead is a great choice in adding depth and short-yardage ability with his 5-11, 220 frame and 4.45 timed speed. Finally, he has seemed to enjoy the term “play angry,” and has spoken in interviews that “you’re either doing the hitting, or being hit.” Armstead: Temple Tough

 

(12.) Khari Willis, SAF, Michigan State (#96) – With every moment of draft-prep and research during the past several months, or at least those moments involving Willis, I’ve been led to gravitate towards him as a guy to include rather high in my rankings. Here’s a guy that oozes with the highest possible levels of team chemistry, leadership, and captain traits. People just can’t really get out of their own way to say enough good about what they think of Khari Willis as both a football player and a human being. As a player, his style fits that same level of maturity and angst towards getting the mission accomplished. Khari has scheme versatility and is another player that could play a huge role in sub-package football. While he’s played high, in the deep safety/free safety role at times in college, he should be viewed as a slot/strong safety type player, one that will be able to take on the physicality of the middle passing game and tight ends in particular. He’s driven! And a future captain.
 
 
May the 2019 NFL Draft be enjoyable and entertaining to the fullest extent possible, Steelers Nation!
Hit me up w/ an email or on Twitter for an invite to join-in to a weekend draft
chat (Chat Room) on not only the Steelers picks, but the entire draft.
 
     - Doug Martz, DraftBoardGuru.com
     Twittertwitter.com/DraftBoardGuru
     Email: coachdmartz@hotmail.com
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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Last year's archived "Find the Eventual Starters" column
 
* * * *

2018 Steelers Outlook: Find the Eventual Starters
 
 
 
Honest and diligent General Manager Kevin Colbert alluded to this draft class as a “deep cumulative group” that holds a collection of 180 guys that would intrigue the team in some form or fashion. His excitement about the solid nature of this group indicates to me that the previous perception by this Draft Talk column could turn out to be correct.  That is, this 2018 Draft would be a fantastic year to strongly consider a small trade back. The notion of picking up an extra mid-round selection could be very worthwhile in a draft that provides “about 90 guys that in all honesty could at some time become starters for us.”
 
I will take this opportunity to agree with Mr. Colbert and double-down on his thought that “you know that there’s good players available… not marquee players, but probably more of that solid starter-capable player than what I’ve seen in recent years.” Though the finishing touches are going into my collection of Top 100 talent as well as final slotting of players on the value boards, now is the time to dissect the top dozen prospects outside of the first round, the ones I’d draw attention to for Day Two and those that can go on to make Colbert’s dreams come true – eventual NFL starter.

 

Caveats to this Project

1. The top 32 players on my board will be eliminated from discussion in anticipation that this might finally be the year, after 50 straight years of drafting in round one, of moving back and possibly out of the round entirely.

2. While best player available was mentioned in the pre-draft press conference by Colbert and Tomlin, there was still the lingering goal of melding this current roster with players that could accentuate a team ready to go win a Super Bowl. The word relative was used to gauge the relationship between this team need (“want”) and BPA.

3. With coupling these factors of drafting at No. 28, the description of team wants, and realizing this team has been chasing sub-package safety/linebacker hybrids and never hesitating to find a new toy for the offensive skill positions, there will be foundations for sorting out the list.

4. Offensive linemen will not be considered for this outlook. Tight End, and to a great extent Quarterback, will not be considered either. Why tight end? Because the longer term foundational need to fill the WR position or RB position with the eventual loss of a Le’Veon or Martavis will relatively trump those spots.

5. Defensive focus will be on the safeties, safety/linebacker hybrids, and inside linebackers. Beefy defensive line pluggers will be available in round five and beyond and not emphasized here, as could be the case with outside linebackers and cornerbacks. While a cornerback could be the type of player that turns out to be a “steal” at No. 28 such as Jaire Alexander, Josh Jackson, or Isaiah Oliver, I cannot imagine them trading out of the spot and then looking for one. Safety is an awfully sure bet to be in play for one of the first couple of selections that are made, regardless of where that positioning might be.

 

Dazzling Dozen Starters

Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis (#34 on draftboard) – When considering the idea of coupling the ability to immediately help the team along with projecting as a long term foundational anchor, this guy brings all the attributes to the table. Often compared to a young Antonio Brown, Miller is an extraordinary after the catch play-maker.

Justin Reid, SAF, Stanford (#35) – A reliable and well-versed participant in many positions at Stanford, Reid could provide the closest thing to plug-and-play for the Steelers defensive backfield. He could be so valued that the idea of trading-back never crosses the minds of the decision makers. Similar to recent free agent signee Morgan Burnett, Reid has the versatility to play deep, in the slot, and in the box.

Mason Rudolph, QB, Oklahoma State (#36) – If there’s an early Quarterback that would seem to fit the bill of being groomed by Ben for a couple years before being given the reigns to the team, Rudolph might be that guy. Will he even be there at No. 28? This year’s quarterback-shuffle is anyone’s guess. Rudolph would be dropped into the perfect scenario, a place to develop gradually and a team that is loaded with offensive weapons and an aggressive gun-slinging mentality.

Ronnie Harrison, SAF, Alabama (#42) – When Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider pressed a follow-up question to Mike Tomlin on Burnett’s likely position for day one of OTA’s, an indication of free safety was given. Harrison is a well-rounded safety prospect with plenty of explosiveness and instinct; he projects best to the strong safety position. Could the sub-package trio of Harrison, Burnett, and Sean Davis be something to lean on while regrouping the middle of the field strategy?

Christian Kirk, WR/KR, Texas A&M (#50) – Similar to Anthony Miller, Kirk is not a tall player (5-10 ½), but would add significantly to the seam/middle area of the routes with ability to separate and then do something with the ball after the catch. Along with patrolling the inside game with Juju Smith-Schuster, Kirk would immediately be the team’s best kick return specialist.

Terrell Edmunds, SAF, Virginia Tech (#56) – For those fans often craving defensive backs with ball skills, Edmunds might be your guy. Terrell, whom saw various action at corner and dropping into the slot to cover, could be a long-term answer at free safety once learning his craft from Morgan Burnett. I believe Edmunds could very well be a big part of the suspected “safety pool” that the Steelers might be hoping for with their selection at No. 60.

James Washington, WR, Oklahoma State (#58) – While Washington doesn’t contain the type of break-away YAC ability of Miller or Kirk, he has a certain work ethic and reliability that is hard to match in this year’s wide receiver group. He hooked up numerous times in every game with Mason Rudolph as a deep threat even though one wouldn’t guess it from his timed-speed (4.53). Washington is a 5-11 prospect that players bigger and goes faster than Combine numbers might indicate.

Tarvarius Moore, SAF, Southern Miss (#60) – Tucked in at #60 on the big board is a player not invited to the NFL Combine and also one the Steelers had in for an official team visit.  Tarvarius could very well be that late second round selection to fill the safety need if it isn’t addressed beforehand. He plays with fantastic range and overall coverage skills and is a tackling machine. Of all players on this list, Moore is the one I’d put a heavy bet on to be a selection. He is, perhaps, a guy that isn’t getting a lot of attention but should at the very least be a known commodity for Day Two. Study up on Tarvarius Moore, as the Combine snub might be the perfect chip on the shoulder that would add nicely to the secondary.

Kyzir White, SAF, West Virginia (#74) – Anyone that has followed my previous discussions on White knows that I’m a huge fan of his game. If the goal is to finally find a $Backer for the sub-package, Kyzir is certainly worth a look. He’s simply the most physical safety in this draft and this acquisition could be a different way of solving the linebacker problem, and most assuredly the tackling problem. I believe White is the most underrated prospect in this draft class and feel as if he would greatly impact this defense.

Genard Avery, ILB, Memphis (#77) – An ultra-athletic specimen with great instincts, Avery is another underrated prospect that I believe will crack the top 100 prospects of this draft. He flashes great pass-rush skills and overall versatility, but I like him a lot as a 21st century inside linebacker type.

Marcus Allen, SAF, Penn State (#78) – Not much of a coverage guy, Allen has a bit of an awkward path to where he might start as an NFL player. He goes totally downhill in his pursuit of the ball and is an incredible tackler, but must improve his coverage ability to be on the field. With that said, this is a mighty fine tackling machine.

Jerome Baker, ILB, Ohio State (#95) – The Buckeye, Baker, might be a better choice for the Steelers than Marcus Allen. He can actually play the linebacker spot, which he did at Ohio State, but can also run and cover with the best of them. He’s light (225), but uses this frame to his advantage in filling holes and making tackles.


Among the list of prospects, a certain theme of finding solid players that can become starters was the mission. These players are all within the Draft Board Guru Top 100 list that I so carefully craft each year. None are locks to be eventual Steelers, but rather, have certain characteristics that would help make the team have a noticeable upgrade.

 

Among the dozen, maybe there’s one or two that could fulfill that optimistic goal of the team’s pre-draft mission statement: go find some eventual starters among the many in this draft class, a class not so much with the glitz and glamour, but instead “solid starter-capable players.”
 
Who's the bet?  Give me an Anthony Miller (No. 28 or trade-down scenario), Terrell Edmunds (No. 60), and Jerome Baker (No. 95).
That's as far as this year's Steelers Prognostication can go.... it's been just a crazy Draft Season and there's precious hours left for final submissions.