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10 players on the Steelers’ radar at the NFL scouting combine

The NFL scouting combine is always a special time of year for Steelers fans.

It’s when we can see Steelers scout Mark Gorscak on the NFL Network instructing prospects who are about to run the 40-yard dash.

The Steelers’ 2018 offseason came a lot earlier than expected, but the sight of Gorscak is always a nice reminder that the next Steelers game is only about six and a half months away.

OK, maybe that’s not such a pleasant thought because six and a half months is an awfully long time. The combine, however, starts Tuesday and all the running, lifting, jumping and interviewing that goes on over the next week will bring the Steelers’ draft board into focus.

These 10 players could be available when the Steelers are on the clock with the 28th pick in the first round. Some of them might even be there in the second round.

(NFL.com and CBSSports.com were used for scouting reports.)

Roquan Smith, ILB, Georgia

The Steelers can leave a light on for Ryan Shazier, but they can’t expect him to return to action in 2018, so inside linebacker is probably their biggest draft need.

At this early stage of the pre-draft process, it doesn’t look like Smith will still be on the board at No. 28, but the combine has a way of shuffling eveyone’s draft stock. So the Steelers need to have Smith on their radar.

Smith had 6.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss in 2017. He had 137 tackles, including 13 in both the SEC Championship Game (a 28-7 win over Auburn) and the College Football Championship (a 26-23 loss to Alabama). In between, Smith made 11 tackles in a 54-48 win over Oklahoma in the Rose Bowl. He’s shown he can rise to the occasion even if he is a little undersized at 6’1″, 225 pounds.

Derwin James, S, Florida State

If James slides, he could fill another glaring need for the Steelers. He comes with a medical red flag after missing all but one game of the 2016 season with a torn ACL. If he stays healthy, however, the 6’3″, 215-pounder has the potential to be a game-changer like Troy Polamalu with Kam Chancellor’s size.

James broke up 11 passes in 2017 with two interceptions (including a pick-six), 5.5 tackles for loss and a sack.

Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech

Tremaine Edmunds won’t turn 20 until May 2. He’s one of just five players with a grade of 7.0 or better on NFL.com, which puts him in the “Pro Bowl to All-Pro ability” category.

Edmunds has 30.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks over the last two seasons along with five pass breakups and three forced fumbles (all in 2017). He’s a physical freak, the tallest linebacker in the draft class at 6’5″. He might have to add buik to his frame and one of the few knocks on him is that he needs to be more of a student of the game and not rely so much on his athleticism.

Rashaan Evans, ILB, Alabama

Now we get to the players who are projected to be available when the Steelers pick in the first round. There’s been some chatter that the Steelers will bring back Lawrence Timmons if the Dolphins release him. Even if Timmons returns to Pittsburgh, inside linebacker will remain a draft need because Timmons is 32 and was ineffective in his one year with the Dolphins.

It just so happens that NFL.com’s player comparison for Rashaan Evans is Timmons. Playing behind 2017 first-round pick Reuben Foster, Evans had to wait his turn at Alabama. He did play in three national championship games, recording 2.5 sacks, four tackles for loss, 22 total tackles and a pass breakup. The only senior on this list, Evans would be the first player the Steelers draft from Alabama since Deshea Townsend in 1998.

Josh Jackson, CB, Iowa

The Steelers have a pair of promising young cornerbacks in Artie Burns and Cameron Sutton and they uncovered a hidden gem in Mike Hilton. Still, the Steelers need help at the position and it looks like a lot of corners will be available late in the first round.

A 6’1″, 192-pound junior, Josh Jackson led college football with eight interceptions last season and was third in the nation with 18 passes defended. Most of his career production came in one season, but it was a first-team All-America season.

Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State

A former teammate of 2017 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Marshon Lattimore, Ward tied Lattimore for the team lead with nine passes defended in 2016. Ward broke up 15 passes last season, eighth in the nation, and had two interceptions to earn first-team All-America honors.

At 5’10”, 191 pounds, the junior might be a little undersized. But he has the physical tools to boost his stock at the combine.

Leighton Vander Esch, ILB, Boise State

If Roquan Smith and Rashaan Evans are off the board, there’s a good chance Leighton Vander Esch will be there if the Steelers want to address inside linebacker in the first round.

The 6’4″, 240-pound junior is one of several inside linebackers in this draft class with uncommon length for the position. Vander Esch was second in the nation with 91 solo tackles in 2017 and led the Mountain West Conference with four forced fumbles. He also had three interceptions, four sacks and 8.5 tackles for loss. There’s a chance that Vander Esch might need a couple of years to develop. If that’s the case, the Steelers might want to keep that in mind. Their championship window won’t be open forever, and they need to improve their defense instantly with this draft.

Isaiah Oliver, CB, Colorado

Isaiah Oliver is another player who might need a little time to develop. His pro player comparison is Artie Burns. That’s nice. The Steelers have done a lot worse than Burns in the early rounds, but if they draft another cornerback in the first round they might want him to have more of an impact in his first two years than Burns.

The 6’1″, 195-pound Oliver has only three interceptions in three years at Colorado, though he did have 25 pass breakups during that time.

Ronnie Harrison, S, Alabama

After Derwin James, there’s a major dropoff in the draft stock of the safeties, at least pre-combine.

The 6’3″, 214-pound Ronnie Harrison would bring size to the position. The junior had 4.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, three interceptions and four pass breakups last season. According to one scouting report, Harrison doesn’t have the football smarts to direct traffic on defense but he does what he’s told.

There’s a chance Harrison could even be available to the Steelers in the second round.

Derrius Guice, RB, LSU

If the Steelers can’t sign Le’Veon Bell to a long-term deal and franchise him for another year, it might be time to look for his successor or try to build a stable of backs that share the workload similar to the ones that helped the Patriots and Eagles get to the Super Bowl.

Derrius Guice led the SEC with 1,387 rushing yards in 2016. That was with Leonard Fournette still on the team. Fournette battled injuries in 2016, which gave Guice more work. Last season, it was Guice who dealt with injuries, although he still managed 1,251 yards.

The Steelers can forget about landing Saquon Barkley, but the 5’11”, 212-pound Guice is the top running back in the draft class not named Barkley.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets

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