It's been a tough off-season for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Having to stand aside and watch as your star player slanders the franchise and drag several of his teammates through the mud isn't easy -- but the Steelers thankfully were able to put that behind them when they traded wide receiver Antonio Brown to the Oakland Raiders. And while Brown keeps talking -- because that's what he does -- the Steelers have turned their eyes forward, in hopes of replacing his production in the offense and maximizing their winning window with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger still at the helm.
How'd they do? They did a solid job. I liked their aggressiveness in tackling their positions of need and I thought the Steelers did well to stay true to system players. But if I had to do something over, where would I dial in? This is a much more complicated proposition than the one I faced the other day with the Chargers -- there was a clear pick I didn't like.
Here's Pittsburgh's full 2019 NFL Draft class:
1.10 - LB Devin Bush Jr, Michigan
3.66 - WR Diontae Johnson, Toledo
3.83 - CB Justin Layne, Michigan State
4.122 - RB Benny Snell, Kentucky
5.141 - TE Zach Gentry, Michigan
6.175 - LB Sutton Smith, Northern Illinois
6.192 - DL Isaiah Buggs, Alabama
6.207 - LB Ulysees Gilbert III, Akron
7.219 - OT Derwin Gray, Maryland
So here's where we're at. Would I have taken Devin Bush Jr. at 10? Probably not -- BUT this was a "GGYG" (Go get your guy) moment and if Pittsburgh doesn't take him at 10 there's a fair chance Denver considers him and he'd definitely be gone by Cincinnati at 11. Did I have other wide receivers rated higher than Diontae Johnson available to draft at 66? Yeah, but I'm also not stupid enough to second guess the Steelers as it relates to drafting wide receivers. Their track record is incredible.
I really love the fit and value of Justin Layne into this secondary at 83. So we've covered our bases on the first two days of the draft and I can't complain. So instead of looking to replace a pick, I'll look to something Pittsburgh didn't do.
Steelers' Draft Mulligan: Address the pass rush
Pittsburgh's outside linebackers are Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt -- if that's not a #brand unit for yours truly I don't know what is. But! Bud is in a contract year and while he's been okay, he hasn't been what I hoped he could be when he came out of Kentucky. Behind these two is Anthony Chickillo and Robert Spillane. So there's not much here in the way of depth.
Here are the options Pittsburgh could have explored with each of their first four picks at rush LB.
1.10 - Brian Burns, Montez Sweat
3.66 - Jachai Polite, Chase Winovich
3.83 - Jaylon Ferguson, Oshane Ximines
4.122 - Shareef Miller
Now comes the hard part -- how do you piece together a combination of picks that still address every one of Pittsburgh's needs? They traded 52 to Denver to move up from 20, could they have pushed hard to keep 52 and give Denver 83 or 66 and a 2nd round pick in 2020 instead of the other way around? Maybe.
Any mulligan that I can draw up for Pittsburgh would have involved landing Chase Winovich -- I can't expect Pittsburgh to pass on their guy in the first round, so Bush is locked in there vs. Sweat or Burns, I can't do it. If somehow, some way, Pittsburgh could have kept 52 and traded 66 as part of the trade up to 10 and then traded back into the mid-60s, perhaps they could have had enough ammo to land Winovich and Johnson and still had enough to address cornerback -- even if it wasn't Justin Layne.
Pittsburgh is the first team I've looked at in this series that it's hard to draw up a more favorable set of solutions with their RD1-RD4 picks, more specifically when viewing the players through the kind of filter that Pittsburgh tends to favor -- so kudos to them.