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Steelers 2018 7-round mock draft: Pittsburgh makes stunning Day 1 trade

There’s always a lot of wheeling and dealing that happens at the NFL draft, but the Steelers aren’t usually a part of it. They might make some trades in the later rounds, but they’ve only traded up in the first round twice this century. They moved from 27 to 16 in 2003 to get Troy Polamalu and from 32 to 25 in 2006 to get Santonio Holmes.

Those moves yielded a Hall of Fame candidate and a Super Bowl MVP. Do they feel that a player in this draft class will have enough of an impact to move up in the first round for the first time in 12 years?

(NFL.com was used for scouting reports, and Rotoworld was used as a resource for heights and weights.)

2nd round (No. 38)

Ronald Jones, RB, USC

The answer to the question in the lead-in is no, the Steelers don’t trade up. Instead, they trade out of the first round in this mock draft and then send the message that they are preparing for life after Le’Veon Bell.

This assumes inside linebackers Rashaan Evans and Leighton Vander Esch are off the board by the time the Steelers pick at No. 28.

In this scenario, the Steelers trade back 10 spots and get a fourth-rounder (No. 102) and fifth-rounder (No. 144) from the Buccaneers. In this running back class, there’s Saquon Barkley and there’s everyone else, so even if Derrius Guice is still on the board the Steelers figure they might as well see who they can get early in the second round and beef up their supply of middle-round picks. Currently, they are without a fourth-round pick.

The 5’11”, 200-pound Jones was eighth in the nation with 1,550 rushing yards in 2017 and fifth with 19 rushing touchdowns.

There’s some concern that Jones might not be able to handle a workhorse role in the NFL, but that’s not a problem even if the Steelers move on from Bell after 2018.

Even though Jones would be drafted 10 spots higher than Bell in 2013, he wouldn’t necessarily be Bell’s successor. He could be a complementary piece as the Steelers follow the model of last year’s conference champions, the Patriots and Eagles, and build a stable of backs that share the workload. The Steelers began this process when they drafted James Conner last year. As great as Bell is, the Steelers’ championship hopes sank in 2014, 2015 and 2016 when he couldn’t finish those seasons healthy. With a productive tandem or trio at the position, they can better absorb an injury to one back.

The Steelers haven’t been without a first-round pick since 1967. It might not seem like a good idea to do anything that was done pre-Chuck Noll, but the circumstances are different. The Steelers had a habit in those days of trading away early-round picks for veterans who were past their prime, and as we all know it didn’t work out too well.

In this mock trade, the Steelers aren’t dealing away the future. They’re addressing their running back situation while adding some flexibility on Day 3 of the draft.

2nd round (No. 60)

Darius Leonard, ILB, South Carolina State

The Steelers draft another USC guy with their original second-round pick.

No, not Southern California. Another school commonly referred to as USC is South Carolina State.

Leonard would re-join former USC South Carolina State teammate Javon Hargrave. Like Hargrave, Leonard won two straight MEAC Defensive Player of the Year Awards. He earned the honor last season with 113 tackles, eight sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble.

The 6’2″, 234-pound Leonard forced eight fumbles in college and is the all-time leading tackler for a program that also produced three-time All-Pro Steelers safety Donnie Shell.

The Steelers signed inside linebacker Jon Bostic in free agency, but that could turn out to be just a depth signing as he’s had health issues in the past. Inside linebacker remains the Steelers’ biggest draft need, and the Steelers address that in the early rounds.

3rd round (No. 92)

Anthony Averett, CB, Alabama

Anthony Averett would become the sixth cornerback the Steelers have drafted on Day 1 or Day 2 since 2015.

The Steelers are in better shape at cornerback than they have been in recent seasons, but Joe Haden hasn’t played 16 games in a season since his rookie year and while Artie Burns and Cameron Sutton have shown some promise, they still have a lot to prove.

The 5’11”, 183-pound Averett had just one interception and eight pass breakups in three years at Alabama. But remember when the Steelers drafted Senquez Golson and Gerod Holliman in 2015? Holliman led the nation the year before with 14 interceptions and Golson was second with 10. How did those picks turn out?

4th round (No. 102, from Buccaneers)

Marquis Haynes, OLB, Mississippi

As it stands now, the Steelers are without a fourth-round pick. That means they have little margin for error on Day 1 and Day 2 because 47 picks will go by before the Steelers draft on Day 3. In the aforementioned mock trade, the Steelers get the second pick of Day 3 and use it to try to improve their pass rush.

The 6’3″, 225-pound Haynes was consistently productive in his four years at Ole Miss with 32 sacks in four seasons, including 7.5 last season. He forced 12 fumbles, three each season. He had 11 tackles for loss in both 2016 and 2017 and according to Sports Reference his 48 career tackles for loss are tied for third on the all-time SEC list, one more than Jadeveon Clowney.

Haynes wouldn’t have to be Clowney to fulfill his value as a fourth-round pick, but draft analyst Tony Pauline did say that people are “sleeping” on Haynes.

5th round (No. 144, from Buccaneers)

Geron Christian, OT, Louisville

A fourth- and fifth-round pick might seem like a lot for the Buccaneers to give up, but moving into the first round and from Day 2 to Day 1 doesn’t come cheap.

Jerald Hawkins, a fourth-round pick in 2016, is the heir apparent to Chris Hubbard as the Steelers’ backup tackle. Hubbard, who started 14 games in 2016 and 2017, signed with the Browns. Hawkins spent his rookie year on injured reserve and played 47 snaps last season. He hasn’t shown enough to simply inherit Hubbard’s role. The Steelers need to find someone to compete with him.

Christian could be gone by the fifth round, but if he drops he could turn out to be a steal at this spot. The 6’6″, 318-pounder can play both tackle spots and started all 13 games at left tackle in 2017, earning an honorable mention all-ACC nod.

5th round (No. 148)

Marcell Ateman, WR, Oklahoma State

The Steelers keep the supply lines moving at wide receiver, drafting one for the seventh year in a row.

The 6’4″, 216-pound Ateman could probably fit right into Martavis Bryant‘s old uniform if and when Bryant leaves as a free agent.

Ateman caught 59 passes for 1,156 yards and eight touchdowns last season. He’ll have to adjust to life in the NFL coming from the defensively challenged Big 12.

5th round (No. 165)

Joshua Kalu, S, Nebraska

The mock trade gives the Steelers nine picks in this draft. They still wouldn’t have any sixth-round picks, however. So this is the last pick before the total crapshoot that is the seventh round.

Safety is lower on the Steelers’ list of draft priorities after they signed Morgan Burnett, but they’re still dangerously thin at the position with J.J. Wilcox, Malik Golden and Jordan Dangerfield backing up Burnett and Sean Davis.

The 6’1″, 190-pound Kalu intercepted seven passes and broke up 27 in four years at Nebraska. He was second among safeties in both the high jump (41.5 inches) and broad jump (11 feet, 2 inches) at the combine. He moved from cornerback to safety in his senior year, so he could bring some versatility.

7th round (No. 220)

JoJo Wicker, DE, Arizona State

The Steelers drafted a JuJu last year, and in this mock they take a JoJo and address all three levels of their defense in this draft.

The 6’3″, 273-pound Wicker had 13 tackles for loss and six sacks last season.

7th round (No. 246)

Phillip Lindsay, RB, Colorado

Lindsay might be just 5’8″, 190 pounds, but his 301 carries last season were tied for the most in the NCAA. He gained 1,474 yards on those carries and ran for 14 touchdowns. He also ran for 1,252 yards in 2016.

With nine picks in this mock, the Steelers have the luxury of drafting a second running back and trying to add a smaller back to the committee if they have to replace Bell in 2019.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets.

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2 comments

  1. Mike Batista

    Fixed. Thanks.

  2. scott

    FYI, in your second round pick you have misidentified your universities — USC is University of South Carolina (or the one on the other coast) — South Carolina State is SCSU

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