Pittsburgh is in a transition process as they moved away from both Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown and used selections in this draft to fill their shoes. But those are far from the biggest impact as we saw the Steelers become very aggressive to target their biggest need on their team. Our Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 NFL Draft Review takes a look at each of the Steelers picks while also providing an overall grade with superlatives.
1st Round, Pick #10: Devin Bush LB Michigan
I was very surprised when the Steelers moved up with the Broncos jumping 10 spots. But when you think about it, they desperately needed help at linebacker and after the two Devin’s this class has a huge drop off at linebacker. Pittsburgh identified a huge need and went hard after a player that fits perfectly into their scheme. Bush’s ability to go sideline to sideline along with his toughness and tackling ability will add a dimension to this defense that they haven’t had in a while.
3rd Round, Pick #2: Diontae Johnson WR Toledo
It was only fitting that the Steelers used one of the picks they got in the Antonio Brown trade to take a receiver from the MAC. While Pittsburgh and GM Kevin Colbert has a strong track record of finding day two receivers, this pick leaves a lot to be desired. Johnson has some tools but the third round is early and Terry McLaurin was still available. I’ll give Colbert the benefit of doubt, but it looks like his day two magic may have ran out.
3rd Round, Pick #19: Justin Layne CB Michigan State
Cornerback was the rumored target for the Steelers in round one if they didn’t move up. Instead the Steelers got an elite linebacker in round one and then got a potential steal of a cornerback here in the back end of the third round. Justin Layne is a big cornerback who is still developing but has a high ceiling. Pittsburgh wants to run more press man coverage and Layne’s ability to do both fit right in. A lack of top end long speed likely is the reason that Layne fell to the end of the third round but he can make up for it at times with his length. Great pick here.
4th Round, Pick #20: Benny Snell Jr. RB Kentucky
Now that Le’Veon Bell is officially not a Pittsburgh Steeler, they had to go out and find a backup to James Connor who had a big season last year. Snell is a tough runner that doesn’t go down to body shots and shows enough burst and speed to attack the hole. Pittsburgh also loved that Snell was a leader for Kentucky and a big reason for their turnaround this past year. As a backup to Connor he’ll be mainly used as a runner because he lacks the hands to be a factor in the pass game.
5th Round, Pick #3: Zach Gentry TE Michigan
After losing Jesse James in free agency the Steelers needed to add a blocking tight end to replace him. Gentry played in a pro style scheme at Michigan so he has experience inline. While Gentry has some athletic upside but he’s being drafted to be a run blocker and he’s more than just a occupy blocker. If there wasn’t much for tight ends left here than this pick would be ok, but both Kaden Smith and Isaac Nauta would have been much better values.
6th Round, Pick #2: Sutton Smith OLB Northern Illinois
What Sutton Smith lacks in size and length he makes up for in change of direction and quickness. It will be interesting to see where the Steelers line up Smith at. Conventional wisdom would assume that Smith will be used as a rotational pass rusher but don’t be surprised if the Steelers try to convert him to an inside linebacker within their system. It’s worth the shot. Even if he doesn’t pan out as an off the ball linebacker they could always keep him as a pass rusher.
6th Round, Pick #19: Isaiah Buggs DE Alabams
In his first chance to make an impact with the Crimson Tide Buggs was able to step up and be one of Alabama’s top defensive lineman. But the reason why he fell down to the sixth round is because he lacks ideal size and athletic traits. But he has experience playing in a three man front and if he’s able to provide some sorely needed depth, this pick is a homerun.
6th Round, Pick #34: Ulysees Gilbert LB Akron
Inside linebacker was always a need and that was before Ryan Shazier went down with an injury. Devin Bush was the first step in adding an impact player to the group and now they are hoping Gilbert can develop into a quality backup. Lacking great size Gilbert makes up for it with elite speed for the position, a perfect fit in the Steelers pattern matching zone coverages.
7th Round, Pick #5: Derwin Gray OT Maryland
After trading away starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert the only new addition the Steelers made was drafting Gray here in the seventh. Gray may be better suited to play guard in the NFL because he lacks the lateral agility needed on the edge, but the Steelers could give him a shot in training camp.
Overall Grade: B-
Best Pick: Devin Bush
Biggest Value: Justin Layne
Biggest Reach: Diontae Johnson