3 draft needs for the Pittsburgh Steelers

PFF Analyst Bryson Vesnaver looks at what the Steelers need to address in the draft.

| 3 months ago
Bud Dupree

(Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

3 draft needs for the Pittsburgh Steelers

The Pittsburgh Steelers enjoyed a successful 2016 season in which they won the AFC North and advanced to the AFC Championship game, losing to the eventual Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots. The Steelers look as good as ever on offense for the upcoming season with QB Ben Roethlisberger, RB Le’Veon Bell, and WR Antonio Brown making up one of the most dangerous offensive trios in the NFL. The defense is a different story however, as the Steelers have many needs throughout that they’ll need to fix if they want to make it even further in 2017.

Need: Edge defender

The Steelers are getting all-world edge defender James Harrison back for at least another year, but it’s fair to think that at 39 years old, Harrison may finally start to slow down. On the other side, they have Bud Dupree who, despite showing a marked improved from his rookie season, still has a ways to go as an edge defender. Anthony Chickillo and Arthur Moats provide depth but the Steelers definitely need help here.

Early-round target: Jordan Willis, Edge, Kansas State

Willis has been shooting up draft boards after his strong Senior Bowl game and NFL combine performance, but we’ve been high on him since the beginning. His production this past season was second-to-none among edge rushers and he possesses legitimate high-level pass-rush tools. He’s explosive off the line and can beat tackles in a variety of ways. He has some concerns, but his improvement year-to-year at Kansas State bodes well for his chances of developing even more as a professional.

Mid- or late-round target: Ryan Anderson, Edge, Alabama

Anderson is a player who found a ton of success at Alabama and while some of that was due to the players around him, he has some solid pass-rushing potential. He uses the pin and swat move very well and has good hands to break off of blocks. He’s also a stout run defender. If the Steelers pick him up and add him to their outside linebacker rotation, he could find success early on in a limited role as he develops into a full-time starter down the road.

Need: Linebacker

Going after Dont’a Hightower this offseason was an indicator that the Steelers are certainly aware that they need to upgrade their inside linebackers even if they don’t want to admit it publicly. Ryan Shazier was solid last year but that was his first season grading anywhere close to above-average. Behind him is Vince Williams, who has played just 728 snaps combined in the past three seasons and hasn’t shown himself to be more than an average linebacker.

Early-round target: Jarrad Davis, LB, Florida

An elite athlete that may fall due to his being slightly undersized, Davis would be a big get for the Steelers defense. Davis is an explosive player who can contribute in all three facets of the game (pass rush, run defense and coverage). His biggest issue is his out of control tackles which should be fixable with coaching. Otherwise he’s a player that the Steelers could have rush the passer one play, make a run stop the next and then drop into coverage with a tight end on third down.

Mid- or late-round target: Raekwon McMillan, LB, Ohio State

McMillan may not be the do-it-all answer that Davis would be, but he offers something. McMillan is a hard-hitting, sure-tackling run defender. He’ll meet and shed fullbacks in the point of attack, and shows great angles on outside pursuits. He also shows great awareness in his run recognition, rarely straying from his gap or assignment. McMillan doesn’t show the same ability in the passing game but he could still provide some much-needed help for the Steelers on first and second down at the very least.

Need: Cornerback

The Steelers are hoping they found their No. 1 corner in Artie Burns after a rookie season that saw him struggle early on but finish as the 16th-highest-graded corner from Week 9 onward. Across from him is Ross Cockrell, who has shown he can be a solid if unspectacular No. 2 corner. Finally, they have William Gay in the slot after a great 2016 season. But at 32 years old, Gay’s best years might be behind him. After those three the Steelers have next to no depth at corner and so this is a big need for them come the draft.

Early-round target: Marlon Humphrey, CB, Alabama

In Humphrey, the Steelers would get a big, physical corner who is comfortable playing against the run on top of his coverage skills. Where Humphrey really excels is with the play in front of him. He’s great at making plays on the ball and would excel in Pittsburgh’s zone-heavy scheme. He’s had trouble with losing at the catch point in college but with his size and speed the Steelers would hope that they could help him fix that issue and become a high-level corner to pair with Burns.

Mid- or late-round target: Corn Elder, CB, Miami (Fla.)

Elder is a perfect fit for the Steelers to put in the slot if Gay struggles with his age. He’s very good in zone coverage (great for the Steelers) and is very quick at reading and reacting to whatever the offense is doing. He’s also a very sure tackler, something that the Steelers would covet. He’s also a great run defender and offers punt return ability if the Steelers decide to take Antonio Brown off that unit to preserve his health. He could be a big-time mid-round pick for the Steelers if they decide to wait on a corner.

| Analyst

Bryson has been an analyst at Pro Football Focus since 2014, and has also been a contributor to 120 Sports.

  • Milliken Steeler

    Wait a minute. lol I think the Steelers might be a little concerned how VW, might fair, in extended time in coverage. That being said, In the limited time he has started, I think he had 14 tackles and a sack followed by 9 tackles and another sack. That’s not just average.

  • http://www.chris-garman.com SteelByDesign

    You talk about how much zone the Steelers play, and I agree Humphrey is EXACTLY what they’d look for in a CB over the past decade.

    However, their zone gets destroyed by Tom Brady and the Pats and even Mike Tomlin has said they’re looking for guys that can play more press-man coverage.