No team in the NFL had a more tumultuous off season than the Pittsburgh Steelers. After failing to make the playoffs for the first time since 2013, the Steelers parted ways with two of their stars in Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. Brown forced his way out of town after months of drama and antics, ultimately securing a trade and new contract with the Oakland Raiders that will pay him $30.125 million guaranteed over the next three years. After sitting out all of last season, Bell was traded to the New York Jets, who ultimately ended up paying him less than the largest contract offered to him by the Steelers. Both moves signaled the Steelers intentions to cut ties and move on.
The Steelers will now attempt to turn the page to a new era of young stars. With James Connor, Juju Smith-Schuster and TJ Watt already established as cornerstones of the Steelers’ core of the future, the 2019 NFL Draft will be another opportunity to add a young stud that can be an instant contributor. Here are five players the Steelers can take with their first round pick that can make an impact day one:
MLB Devin White, LSU
This is best case scenario for the Steelers. Ever since Ryan Shazier’s injury in Week 13 of 2017, the Pittsburgh defense has been in dire need of speed and coverage skills at the linebacker position. The Butkus Award winner can provide both. He ran 4.42 40-yard dash at the combine, the fastest of any linebacker. He has a nose for the football and great instincts at the linebacker position with 256 total tackles over the last two seasons. White also had six pass breakups last year, demonstrating his elite ability to cover in space.
What is even more impressive is that White is a converted running back. If he’s already this good having only played the position full time for the last three years, there no telling how good he could be once he is under the supervision of a professional coaching staff. Unfortunately, it is likely that White will be long gone by the time the Steelers pick at No. 20, as many teams ahead of them are in need of a defensive playmaker. We can still hope though, right?
MLB Devin Bush, Michigan
If the Steelers can’t get their hands on White, there is luckily another linebacker named Devin that is also very good. The son of former Florida State Seminole and 8-year NFL veteran Devin Bush Sr., Junior was a stud under Jim Harbaugh at Michigan. The reigning Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year could also fill the holes in the Steelers linebacker group. Bush has fantastic awareness, instincts and anticipation that allowed him to rack up 19.5 tackles-for-loss over his career. He ran a fantastic 4.43 40-yard dash at the combine that was second among linebackers. That speed helped him break up 15 passes over the last two season. Bush is everything the Steelers could want in a modern linebacker, and can be a stud middle linebacker for years to come.
CB Greedy Williams, LSU
The Steelers have been trying to draft a shutdown corner for the last decade, and unfortunately, they have not had much luck. While inside linebacker is a more pressing need, the they could absolutely take a cornerback in this spot to learn from and play opposite of Joe Haden. Greedy Williams could be that corner the Steelers have been searching for. Williams is an athletic freak with long arms and speed that gives him the skills to be a shutdown corner. He is fluid and smooth, allowing him to be successful playing man or zone coverage. Williams also boasts impressive ball skills, intercepting six passes in 2017 before teams knew not to throw his way. His technique may not be as polished as others in the draft, but he has the raw talent and athleticism to be molded into a shutdown corner.
CB Byron Murphy, Washington
While Byron Murphy may not have prototypical size for an outside cornerback, he makes up for it by being an instinctive, dynamic football player. Murphy has a high football IQ and great anticipation, which helped him snag seven interceptions and breakup 20 passes over just 87 career targets. He is also not afraid to step up and make tackles in the run game, demonstrating toughness and a competitive streak that few other cornerbacks in this year’s class can match. He is a ballhawk that is excellent at making plays on the ball in any part of the field. Although he only played in 20 career games, Murphy has shown the ability to create turnovers and make plays over his limited time at Washignton. Even if he is more suited for the nickel spot, he will be a difference maker on the defensive side that the Steelers desperately need.
WR A.J. Brown, Ole Miss
With their first pick sitting at No. 20, the Steelers are in serious danger of the top defensive talent already being gone by the time they make their selection. If that is the case, they could try to replace the All-Pro wideout that they shipped off to the West Coast with another, younger AB. Brown is a masterful route runner with great anticipation and footwork that allows him to get separation against virtually anybody. He has good size and strong hands that allow him to make combat catches in traffic.
While he does not have elite speed, his superb routes and instincts help him get open on deep routes and become a dangerous ball carriers after the catch is made. His Oles Miss teammate DK Metcalf has been getting all of the attention pre-Draft, but Brown was the more productive receiver over three seasons in Oxford. Brown put up back-to-back seasons of at least 1200 yards with 17 touchdowns over the last two years. He can be a contributor in the Steelers’ passing game day one, and would take some of the pressure off of Smith-Schuster.