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Armchair GM – Steelers 2018 Final (Maybe) Mock Draft 4.0

April 11, 2018
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Armchair GM – Steelers 2018 Final (Maybe) Mock Draft 4.0

A Blockbuster Trade (Slight Return)

Given that the Steelers have broken off contract talks, I have the team starting their draft with a blockbuster trade. There is no way LeVeon Bell is ever coming to terms with the Steelers’ brass. The highest paid Running Back not franchised makes 8.25 million a year. The Steelers reportedly offered Bell 12 million last year and he wants to be paid as both a RB and Wide Receiver and get 17 million. He refuses to accept any compromise on this. Frankly, I think Bell’s numbers are inflated because of Haley’s lack of imagination and over reliance on him and the Steelers’ O-line.

Bell has removed all reference to the Steelers from his social media. He has complained about how Pittsburgh is painting him as ‘a villain’. You see it has nothing to do with his greed or lack of team loyalty, it’s all OUR fault. Well, he can sell that brand somewhere else. If the Steelers just wait for Bell to walk next year they can expect the Compensatory pick ‘formula’ to award the Bengals 4 draft picks.

The big question here is, can the Steelers win without Bell? The answer is Hell, yes! Getting rid of Bell now, when we can get some value out of it means we can plan for the future without sacrificing the present. The time to cash out is now.

San Francisco has the most cap space and they LUV Jimmy Garropolo. I’m guessing they would jump at the chance of getting what appears to be a future Hall of Famer in his prime. Seeing that Brandin Cooks garnered a 1st Rd pick, I really think the Steelers could get the 49er’s 1st Rd, 9th overall pick and one of their 3rd Rounders, the 70 overall pick. After all, Bell did almost double Cooks’ yardage production.

And yes, I know Bell hasn’t signed his franchise tag, yet but I’m sure he will, immediately, when he knows it will get him his butt-load of money. That is all he cares about.

With Bell gone, I see the Steelers going to Running Back by Committee in 2018. This draft reflects the need to get runners with varying skills to augment James Conner. So, on Offense I’ve got the Quarterback of the Future, an every down Running Back, an all purpose Tight End, a versatile Offensive Weapon and solid, well coached, swing Offensive Lineman to make up for the loss of Chris Hubbard.

The D also gets a lot of love with one player who can immediately compete to start at Inside Linebacker, a potential starter at Safety and two depth players at Edge Rusher and Nose Tackle.

The Steelers return teams were one of the worst in the league in 2017.

Actually, the Steelers haven’t had a return game since Stefan Logan, so a few of my picks have return experience and one of them was an ace.

A note on methodology: This year I’m using a few different sites that numerically rank every player in the Draft to get my Draft placement. If all three or two out of three sites hit on or around the same number that gives me the round. If I think the player is better or better for the Steelers than he’s ranked, I might kick him up a round.

The 2018 Draft (Final… probably)

1st Rd (Mock trade with 49ers) – Quarterback – Mason Rudolph – Oklahoma St. – 6′-5″, 230# – 4.70/40 – Rudolph’s leadership and intangibles are top rate. He’s a team captain and is unflappable under pressure. The arm talent is solid. He consistently fits the ball into tight windows. His accuracy on intermediate passes, slants and the ‘money passes’ is very good. He can make all the NFL throws and shows good form. NFL analyst, Mike Mayock, heaped praise on Rudolph’s long passing. He shows great touch on long balls and throws some very nice back shoulder fades. He can hit his man in stride and drop it in the bucket.. His football I.Q. is very high and he impressed teams with his chalkboard knowledge.

Whatever the opposite of ‘happy feet’ is, that’s what Rudolph has got. He sets his feet and barely moves them. When he does move he slides or shuffles them so they are almost always in contact with the ground. This means his feet are always set to make a throw. Feels pressure and makes minimal adjustments to escape, always keeping his eyes down field. Can run and make things happen if flushed out the pocket and had 10 touchdowns on designed run plays in 2017. Can shake off arm tackles and will lower his left shoulder and ram forward on quarterback sneaks or short yardage.

The Steelers interviewed Rudolph at the Combine and Tomlin, Colbert and Randy Fitchner all attended his Pro Day. He also came into Pittsburgh for a visit and threw for the coaches there.

Rudolph does have a few issues that will need addressed before he’s ready to become a starter at the next level. He sometimes latches onto the intended receiver and telegraphs his intentions. He developed a habit of occasionally throwing off a straight front leg in his Senior year which led to some intermediate passes sailing. He can also put too much air under some of his long passes which causes them to hang. He only seemed to do this when his man was clearly beating the defender down the field, so maybe he was coached to do so. Luckily these are all easily solvable issues. Going through reads, looking off defenders and fine tuning mechanics is something Steelers very good QB coach, turned Offensive Coordinator, Randy Fitchner, can help him with. Rudolph will also have the benefit of learning behind one of the best in the business for a couple years.

Rudolph is a three year starter and improved in each year of his college career. He had 62.3 completion rate for 3770, 21 touchdowns against 9 interceptions as a Sophomore. In his Junior year he put up 63.4% completions for 4091 with 28 tds and 4 ints. As Senior he threw with a 65.0% accuracy for 4904 yards and 37 touchdowns against 9 interceptions. His starting QB rating began at 149.1 and ended at 170.6 . Between throwing and rushing he broke Barry Sanders’ single season touchdown record with 47 in 2017.

And yes, in case you’re wondering I do rate Rudolph ahead of Mayfield and Allen. I did detailed scouting of all the top 2018 QB prospects and you can find them on the Pittsburgh-Blitz website.

1st Rd – Inside Linebacker – Leighton Vander Esch – 6′-4″, 256#, 4.65/40 – Leighton Vander Esch (of the Riggins, Idaho, Vander Eschs) is currently an energetic prototypical WILL, with a little strength conditioning he could also become a dominating MACK. He was a basketball star in High School and that fluidity shows up on the grid iron. His read and react time is very fast and he has a high motor. He’s fast and physical enough to cover Running Backs and Tight Ends. He was used on inside blitzes and occasionally pass rushed from the edge so he brings some of  scheme versatility the Steelers lost with Ryan Shazier’s injury. He doesn’t quite have the sideline to sideline game of Ryan but then, who does? (Continued prayers for Ryan) #Shalieve

Vander Esch’s Combine results, near the top for the LB group, a 39.5 vertical jump, 124″ broad jump, 6.88 sec. 3 cone drill and a 4.15 sec. 20 yard shuttle all point to explosive athletic ability and great short area quickness.

Vander Esch was 2017 Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year and a Bronco’s Team Captain. He was also the Mountain West Championship Game MVP with 16 tackles and a game-sealing interception. He only has one year of starting production but that year was spectacular. He put up 141 tackles, 8.5 for loss, 4.0 sacks, 2 interceptions, 5 pass deflection and 4 forced fumbles in his Junior season.

2nd Rd – Running Back/KR – Raashad Penny – San Diego St. – 5′-10″, 220# – 4.46/40 –  Penny has a non-flashy, north-south running style that makes him look like a one-cut, down hill runner. But if you look from another angle you see a patient runner with good acceleration who makes quick and smooth cuts. He has good ability to spot the hole and an extra gear to get through it. Has more quick cut ability than what readily appears on film. Good at making approaching defenders commit, then he flips his hips and heads in the opposite direction. Can ‘get skinny’. Has good vision and field awareness.

Plenty of  power to run between the tackles. Can drive a pile, taking two or three defenders with him. Sure-handed receiver coming out of the backfield and makes things happen after the catch. Has the build and game to be a every down back. Penny had a great week of practice and looked very good in the Senior Bowl against the step up in competition.

Though not very polished, Penny is a tough and hard working blocker who keeps going until the whistle blows. He hasn’t been asked to block much since he was a featured back for the Aztecs. With a little Munchak coaching Penny could be a dominating blocker.

Penny’s quick decisions and field vision have made him a standout in the return game. He had 79 kick returns for 2387 yards and a very impressive 30.2 yards per return avg. with 7 touchdowns on his career. He also had 2 punt returns for 70 yards and 35.0 ypr for 1 TD in 2017.

In 2017 Penny had 275 carries for 2027 yards and a 7.4 avg per carry with 19 touchdowns. He added 18 catches for 142 yards, 7.9 ypc and 2 touchdowns. As a junior he had 136 carries for 1018 yards, 7.5 ypc and 11 TDS. Penny also had 15 catches for 224 yards 14.9 ypc and 3  TDs.

3rd Round – (Mock Trade from 49ers) – Free Safety – Jessie Bates Wake Forest – 6′-2″, 195#, .4.47/40 – Bates is a good center-fielder with great field vision. He is a sure tackler and takes good angles when closing. He understands the duties of Free Safety which gives him one up on Mike Mitchell. He had 5 interceptions in his Junior year and does a great job of closing on the high receiver. Bates never sells out for the big hit but can deliver one given the opportunity. Plays a very smart game and is good at reading the QB’s intentions. He was rarely out of position when his team needed him to be the last line of defense. He did show speed to run some players down from behind. He will add much needed competition at the Free Safety position and may emerge as a starter.

Tomlin dined with Bates at the Wake Forest Pro Day.

In his Junior year Bates had 100 tackles with 3.5 for a loss. He added to that with 5 interceptions, 2 of them pick sixes and 4 pass deflections and 1 forced fumble. As a Senior he had 77 tackles, 6.0 for loss, 1 interception, 6    pass deflections and 1 forced fumble in 11 games, when he missed 2 with injury.

Bates also returned punts having an outstanding 2017 season with 9 returns for a 17.9 yard average. Looks to be a great broken field runner on interceptions and returns. On his career Bates had 27 punt returns for 234 yards, 8.7 ypr and 1 touchdown.

3rd RdTight End – Troy Fumagalli – Wisconsin – 6′-6″, 230# – 4.72/40 – The sure-handed Fumagalli has the same height as Jesse James but he’s a few steps faster and a much better blocker. He’s made some spectacular one handed catches and is good at high pointing the ball. Gets good acceleration off the line and can rip it up the seam. He has a sharp out/cut back route that is a guaranteed space creator. His routes are precise and he’s always where his QB is expecting him to be. He has the right combination of strength, body placement, speed and leaping ability to beat press coverage. I could easily see Fumagalli becoming Ben’s new security blanket.

I really think Mayock and company are selling Fumagalli way short. They made a really big deal of his missing index finger which wasn’t common knowledge until this year. It hasn’t hindered his game in the least and he has made several one handed catches with that hand. I think he has what it takes to be very good, starting, all-purpose Tight End. A walk-on at Wisconsin, Fumagalli has been defying expectations most of his life and I expect him to continue that at the next level.

Because of the Wisconsin’s run happy offense Fumagalli got to show off his blocking quite a bit in 2017. His pad level is always good and his base is always solid. He was used extensively pulling on inside traps. The Badgers used him on sweeps and he showed he could block in space. Troy also proved he could be stout at the point of attack, holding his own against Linebackers and even Defensive Ends in pass protection and off-tackle plays.

Fumagalli is coming off a minor hip injury which kept him from running at the Combine and his Pro Day but he should be fine come Spring Training. In 2017 he had 43 catches for 516 yards at 12.0 ypc and 4 touchdowns. In his Junior year his numbers were 47 catches, 580 ypc, 12.3 ypc with 2 TDs. Wisconsin’s run heavy offense belies Fumagalli’s impact in the passing game. He was their go to guy and the Badgers air attack revolved around him.

We need another Badger to keep T.J. Watt company, right?

5th Rd – (Rd swap from McDonald trade) RB/WR/KR – Akrum Wadley – Iowa – 5′-10″, 195# – 4.54/40 – Okay, I know what you’re thinking, ‘Another Running Back?’. Well, no, not really. Wadley is a Christian McCaffrey type player who is a very elusive runner and a talented receiver. His versatility means he could be lined up in the slot with a runner in the backfield. Doesn’t have the build or game of an every down back but is sturdy enough to run between the Tackles. Figures as a ‘spark’ player whose versatility will make him one of O.C. Randy Fichtner’s favorites. Wadley has enough game to make it as the Steelers’ #3 Running Back and/or #2 Slot Receiver (Eli Rogers’ old spot) while providing Special Teams value. He could be a very good 3rd Down Back with his ability to provide running and passing options. He would provide some of the run/pass flexibility the Steelers lose by shipping Mr. Money Bags.

Wadley is seen as a rotational back and change of pace guy which is why he’s ranked here at the front of the 5th Rd. What I see is a player who between his running and receiving could and should generate 1200+ yards per season. Add his return game that number should top 2000.

Wadley’s numbers, while still good, were down in 2017. He had 252 rushes for 1109 for a 4.4 yard avg and 10 touchdowns. He also caught 28 passes  for 353 yards and a very healthy 12.6 ypc with 3 TD’s. In 2016 he had 1081 yards for a 6.4 avg and 10 TDs with 36 receptions for 315 yards and 3 touchdowns. Wadley also has some kick return experience with 9  in 2017 for a 30.1 yard avg. His sure hands, speed and short area quickness indicates he should be effective in the punt return game. Wadley doesn’t have any punt return experience but he didn’t have kick return experience until the Hawkeyes tried him in his final season and he flourished.

5th Rd  – Edge Rusher/OLB – Hercules Mata’afa – 6′-2″, 252# – 4.76/40 – For reasons unbeknownst to me Washington State had Mata’afa playing with his hand in the dirt his entire career. He played Defensive Tackle and sometimes End, even though his body type and game wasn’t suited for that role. Amazingly, he did well. His wrestling background helped him hold his own at the point of attack against guys who outweighed him by 50 lbs. He was an extremely disruptive defensive force and often drew and sometimes beat double teams. Washington State used him on bizarre stunts where he would pull from DT to around the edge. As dumb as this sounds Mata’afa would often get pressure on the QB or cut off an outside run. I think he’s a pass rushing OLB and everything in his game backs that up.

Mata’afa has a very fast first step. He beat a lot of linemen with that alone. He’s also got disruptive hands, great understanding of leverage, some drive power and a non-stop motor. Can be used on the edge and on inside blitzes. He looks fast and athletic enough to handle running backs in pass coverage. Mata’afa has dropped because he didn’t test all that great at the Combine but Combine Schrombine, this guy’s a football player. He could be a real steal.

Tomlin created a depth problem where none existed at OLB, by his not playing and then cutting future HoFer, James Harrison. If they don’t give any playing time this season to Anthony Chickillo, we could be losing him soon, too.

Mata’afa declared early for the Draft. He had 47 tackles, 13.5 for loss and 5.0 sacks as a Sophomore. In 2018 he had 45 tackles, an astounding 22.5 for loss, 10.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles.

7th Rd – Nose Tackle/DT – Greg Gilmore – LSU – 6’3″, 320# – 5.15/40 – Gilmore is a big run stuffer who can draw double teams. He could be more effective if he made better use of his hands. Was recruited as a pass rusher but ended up being a space eater at Nose and Defensive Tackle. He began starting in the middle of his Junior year and only has one year of quality production. The Steelers have good subs at both ends with Tyson Alualu and L.T. Walton. Daniel McCullers has never developed so competition is needed at Nose Tackle. Gilmore is mobile enough to sub across the line so he has the versatility the Steelers like in their second stringers. Gilmore got a Senior Bowl invite but was snubbed by the Combine. He had 21 reps at the 250# bench, a 29″ vertical jump, 5.15/40, 7.65 3-cone drill and 4.81 20 yard shuttle at his Pro Day which would’ve landed him on about the middle of page one of the Combine results, so those numbers aren’t bad, at all.

Gilmore tallied 51 tackles, 10.0 for loss with 7.5 sacks and 1 pass defensed in 2017. In 2015 he put up 34 tackles, 1 for a loss and 1 sack.

7th Rd – Offensive Tackle/OG – Ike Boettger – Iowa – 6′-5″, 307# – 5.20/40 – Boettger began at Iowa as a Tight End and has started at Guard and Tackle on both the left and right sides. He’s a big road grader, who can drive a pile. Has enough mobility and athleticism to be a pulling Guard and make it to the second level. He’s good in pass protection with good hand checking and a decent kick slide. Iowa linemen are always well coached. Boettger will bring the flexibility the Steelers like from their swing linemen. He had an Achilles injury that kept him out of most of 2017 which is why he should be available in the 7th Rd. Chris Hubbard has gone to the Browns for more money (poor dumb bastard) so the Steelers need more O-line depth.

Well, this is my FINAL 4.0 Mock Draft. Do you think the Steelers should do with Bell? Are there any players in the Draft you love? What do you think should be the highest priority?

Go Steelers!

Jeffrey Burton

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One Comment

  1. Mr. McBlitzface

    Solid Mock. I agree, it’s time to get rid of Bell while we can still get something for him. I like Akrum Wadley and Hercules Mata’afa, too.

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