First of all I’ve got to start with Kevin Colbert and an ongoing flaw in his draft strategy. Last year the Steelers biggest free agent signing was Safety Morgan Burnett. This was a very solid signing of an experienced, proven NFL starter who could ably man either Strong Safety or Free Safety positions. So, you think ‘Good, the team can concentrate early on another position of need’. NOPE. Colbert drafts Strong Safety type Terrell Edmunds early in the Draft. This ends up being a fiasco and Morgan Burnett requested to be released and he was. Now, he’s a Cleveland Brown who no doubt wants to stick it to the Steelers. It was a complete and total waste of a free agent signing.
This year, Colbert doubled down on this ill advised and wasteful strategy by signing TWO proven NFL starters in Cornerback Steven Nelson and the hard hitting, mobile, converted Strong Safety, Mark Barron and then going to those same positions early in the Draft. Don’t get me wrong, I think ILB/Playmaker Devin Bush and CB Justin Layne will be great additions to the team. I had both of them going high in one of my mocks. I actually had Layne and Clemson’s Trayvon Mullen rated over Mock Draft darlings Byron Murphy and DeAndre Baker. The problem is you can’t tell me Nelson and Barron couldn’t very capably man the positions they were TOLD they were brought in to fill and now I’ll bet you dollars to donuts one of both them will be requesting a trade or release sooner than later. And there’s another problem with Colbert constantly make this kind of move. If I were a NFL free agent I would think twice about signing with the Steelers and I definitely would NOT do it before the Draft.
The other big problem is because of Colbert’s strategy was the Steelers were unable to actually UPGRADE the team, which is purpose of Draft. They really needed find someone somewhat comparable to Antonio Brown, They failed miserably in that regard. The team currently has weak starters at OLB with the seriously under-performing Bud Dupree. Defensive End, Stephon Tuitt, is off the field with injury more than on it, it seems. Also, Tight End Vance McDonald is a very average or a little below starter, Straight Arm of Death, not withstanding. They also did nothing to address their biggest offensive Achilles Heal, the dead last in field goal percentage among starters, Chris Boswell. The Steelers lucked in late in the Draft with a challenger for Tuitt but the other positions will go unchallenged save some late signing or trade miracles. Hoping for miracles is not a sound strategy.
There. I wanted to get that out of way so I could concentrate on the players and what they might bring to team. I found this draft very uneven with the good barely outweighing the bad and there were some absolute duds. There is game footage for each pick so you can see what I was seeing.
2019 Steelers Draft Review
Rd 1 (10) – ILB/Playmaker – Devin Bush – Michigan – 5’–11” – 234# – 4.43/40 – I had to like this pick since I had Bush going in 1st Rd to the Steelers in one of my Mock Drafts. He could be the 2nd coming of Ryan Polamalu (Yes, I did that on purpose) The only reason I don’t love this pick is I can’t see Bush’s production in his first year being that much better than what the team KNOWS they would get out of Mark Barron. That said, this is what I wrote about Devin Bush:
Bush is a little undersized, even for a WILL but he’s not undersized for his real position which is Playmaker. He’s the type of player you can put near the line of scrimmage and just watch him make things happen. Very good instincts and quick analysis skills guarantee Bush will always be in the middle of the action. Uses patience and reads the play on interior pass rushes. Great sideline to sideline speed. Can be swallowed up by big blockers but uses his hands well to disengage and tends to keep himself clean. Uses his linemen to get him clear lanes to the backfield. Delivers hits with real pop and rarely misses once he’s locked in on a target. An imaginative D.C. (not Keith Butler, obviously) can find all kinds of ways to use Bush as a spoiler. Very good coverage skills and should be a three down backer with the exception of some short yardage plays.
95 tackles, 10.0 for a loss, 5.5 sacks, 1 interception and 7 pass deflections in 2017. In 2018 Bush had 66 tackles with 8.5 for loss, 4.5 sacks and 4 pass deflections. Two time Academic All Big Ten honoree and 2018 Defensive Team Captain.
The Steelers swapped 1st Rd picks and gave away their 2019 2nd Rounder and a 2020 3rd Round pick. So, they sort of gave up too much to get him but then again, not if he pans out as a perennial Pro Bowl player.
Rd 3 (66) – Wide Receiver – Diontae Johnson – Toledo – 5’-10” – 183# – 4.52/40 – Before I launch into this one I have to let you know two of the leading Drafts sites, Drafttek and Walterfootball had similar grades on Johnson. Drafttek ranked him at #366 overall (the Draft only goes to #254) and Walterfootball had him as a Rd 6 – FA, meaning they both thought he had a very good chance of not being drafted at all. I watched all the available film on Johnson here’s what I thought:
Johnson is small. He usually has at least one concentration drop or fumble a game. He’s a body catcher who lets the ball come into him far too much. If he has to catch away from his body he’s just as likely to drop the pass as catch it. He runs sloppy routes and rarely seemed to be where his Quarterback thought he would be when things broke down. He can get jammed at the line of scrimmage and really isn’t fast or strong enough to cause a match up challenge at the NFL level. He shows poor effort on blocks and is a non-factor in that phase of the game. He could occasionally break off a big play against MAC competition but those will be fewer and far between at the NFL level. Johnson had 74 receptions for 1278 yards at a 17.3 yard average with 13 TDs in 2017. In 2018 he had a big production drop with 49 catches for 761 yards at 15.5 per and 8 TDs. He also returned punts, 17 for 343 yards at a very good average of 20.2 per and 2 TDs on his career. At best Johnson is project player who will take a number of years to develop. At worst, he’s waste of a high round draft pick.
His closest comp currently in the league is Eli Rogers. Though Rogers may be a little bit slower he has a better overall game and I’m betting Johnson will not be able to beat him out for Slot/WR3 no matter how hard Tomlin tries to jam the rookie into the starting lineup. Also, after he has his second dropped pass he will be consigned to the Doghouse of Doom, where Tomlin sends all WRs who commit that one cardinal sin. This this pick was made worse because pass catching TE Josh Oliver, Edge Rusher Chase Winovich, Riley Ridley, Miles Boykin, Gary Jennings and other WRs who are better than Johnson were still on the board. Big play Running Back Darrell Henderson was also still there. This pick put the Steelers behind the 8-ball for pretty much the rest of Draft.
If Colbert thinks the Steelers Wide Receiver room is better with Johnson than last year’s with Antonio Brown, he’s trippin’. On acid. Peace, tranquility and death to the pigs, Daddio.
Rd 3 (83) – Cornerback – Justin Layne – Michigan St. – 6’-2” – 192# – 4.50/40 – Layne is a tall and aggressive man cover corner. He was converted from Wide Receiver early in his college career and shows plus anticipation of routes. Reads QBs intentions very well. Doesn’t panic with his back to ball and reads the receiver to time when he should turn to make the play. Could be a very good option against big receivers and pass catching Tight Ends. Can stuff receivers at the line of scrimmage. Also saw some double duty, lining up as WR4 on some offensive pass plays. This is a good pick even if it is redundant because of FA signing of Steven Nelson.
Had 72 tackles, 2.5 for a loss, 0.5 sacks, 1 interception and 15 pass deflections in 2018. Posted 40 tackles, 0.5 for a loss, 1 interception, 8 pass deflections and 1 forced fumble in 2017.
Rd 4 – Running Back – Benny Snell – Kentucky – 5’-10” – 224# – 4.66/40 – The Steelers 4th Rd pick, Benny Snell, is a hard running back who is almost a clone of James Conner in running style. Jets great, Matt Snell, is his Great Uncle. He will probably take over at RB #3. Snell was a workhorse for Kentucky amassing 737 carries for 3873 yards at 5.3 yard average and 48 touchdowns on his career. Not fast but moves pretty well in space. Can create for himself and will carry a few tacklers with him before he goes down. Had 29 catches for 216 yards at 7.4 per on his career. Not a very good blocker but he could be. He has a bad habit of getting low and popping up which makes him bounce off the guy he’s supposed to be blocking. He needs to get low, engage and drive with his legs in run blocking and get low and displace in space in his pass blocking. Need to learn how to use his hands.Those problems should be able to fixed by coaching.
Colbert had said he wanted the team to get faster on offense. He failed in that regard but Snell will be a perfect scheme fit as a reserve for Conner. With Jaylen Samuels this should give the team three high functioning RBs for the first time in years. Nice addition to the team.
Rd 5 – Tight End – Zach Gentry – Michigan – 6′-8″ – 235# – 4.78/40 (Pro Day)
A big red zone target. A converted QB, Gentry shows plus knowledge of how to adjust his routes to be a better target. He plays faster than his listed Combine time, 4.90/40. Gentry is a solid blocker who gets the seal on off tackle plays, blocks well in space and is good in pass blocking. Gentry was under utilized in the Wolverines passing game. He had 32 catches for 514 yards at a 16.1 yard average and 2 TDs in 2018. He’s not a premium TE and not really a challenge to Vance McDonald. He’s really sort of a developmental player. However, Gentry could give the Steelers the same receiving production they had with Jesse James and he is a similar tall target for Ben. He is also a better blocker. Nice addition to the Steelers TE room and has a good chance to beat out Grimble for a roster spot. I’m assuming a healthy Jake McGee will be the Steelers TE3 going into the season.
Rd 6 – Edge Rusher – Sutton Smith – Northern Illinois – 6′-0″ – 233# – 4.69/40 – Very undersized. I mean this kid looks tiny and he gets swallowed whole by big Offensive Tackles. From NFL.com, “In 2018 he was MAC Defensive Player of the Year honors. In 14 starts he posted 61 tackles and finished among the nation’s leaders with 26.5 tackles for loss, 15 sacks, three forced fumbles, and two blocked kicks.” Shows great effort on every play but he’s not very fast and has virtually no play strength. Hopefully his stats will translate at the next of level but I really don’t see it. Either way this guy would’ve been available in the 7th Rd or as an UDFA and if he wasn’t it would’ve been no big deal. And this is not the round to pick a Special Teams player. The Steelers needed someone to challenge Bud Dupree, this kid ain’t it. They also needed a reserve NT to push Dan McCullers. The space eating NT Dontavius Russell was still available and he would’ve been a much better choice. Sutton is heading for the Practice Squad if he manages to stick, at all. That is not guaranteed.
Rd 6 – DT/DE – Isaiah Buggs – Alabama – 6′ 3″ – 306# – 5.15/40 – This is a very good value pick since Buggs was projected for the 3rd or 4th Rd. Buggs is a space eater who can clog up the middle. He draws a LOT of double teams. This should be the end of L.T. Walton and gives the Steelers some good young blood on the D-Line. His NFL comp is Tyson Alualu so, now, we have a young Alualu to go with the old one. Will provide quality depth and can play all along the D-Line. May be able to challenge Stephon Tuitt for the starting weakside DE spot.
“Nick Saban brought “Big Pooh” into the fold in 2017, when he started all 13 games and compiled 51 tackles, four for loss, and 1.5 sacks. He started all 15 games of his (2018) senior season, leading the Tide with 9.5 sacks among his 51 total tackles, 13.5 for loss. He also had three pass breakups and two forced fumbles on the year.” From NFL.com.
Rd 6 – ILB/OLB – Ulysees Gilbert III – Akron – 6′-1″. 230# – 4.60/40 –
Gilbert is a fast, productive and versatile LB from the MAC. Sort of a young Arthur Moats. He was a standout at the East-West Shrine game. Figures to be more of a WILL/OLB but can sub for all LB positions. He had 358 tackles with 28.5 for a loss plus 9.5 sacks on his career. Another solid late round value pick. Since Jon Bostic has already been released, Gilbert has a chance of making the final 53.
“Gilbert is a tackling machine for Akron. He flies all over the field, taking down ball-carriers and making his presence felt. In 2017, Gilbert totaled 140 tackles with 9.5 tackles for a loss, five sacks, four passes broken up and three interceptions. He had 122 tackles with four sacks, three breakups and 11.5 tackles for a loss as a sophomore. Gilbert totaled 85 tackles with 7.5 for a loss, one pass batted and .5 sacks in 2018.” from Walterfootball.
Rd 7 – OT/OG – Derwin Gray – Maryland – 6′ 4″ – 320 lbs – 5.26/40
“Teams love big tackles with movement skills, but Gray offers a little more challenge for evaluators. His lack of bend causes deficiencies in sustaining blocks and in landing blocks on the move. However, in pass protection, he makes good usage of his size and his length and he might be able to hang in as a left tackle rather than the assumed push to the right side because of his size. He could go from solid to good as a starter if an offensive line coach can improve his consistency in the run game.” From NFL.com.
This is not a horrible pick but Place Kicker Cole Tracy was available and it would’ve been nice to have someone to challenge the broken Chris Boswell. Gray will be on the Practice Squad if he manages to stick. There’s no footage devoted to Gray but here’s some of the Maryland O-Line. Gray is the Left Tackle #55.
Overall 2019 Draft Grade
You can’t call a Draft that contains four people who should see a lot of playing time in their first year and three with strong starter potential a failure. The problem is one of the players is a WR who is an almost certain dud. The strategy behind this draft was flawed from the get-go and Colbert and Tomlin did nothing to challenge weak starters, OLB Bud Dupree and TE Vance McDonald and they only lucked in late in Draft with DT/DE Isaiah Buggs. They did nothing to bring the Wide Receiver room close to the 2018 standard. They wasted picks on project and special teams players.
The worst mistake of the Draft by far was not using a pick to supplant Chris Boswell. Other than Quarterback the Place Kicker is your most important offensive player late in close games. He is often the difference between wining and losing. For reasons that elude me the Steelers made no effort to draft or even sign Cole Tracy of LSU who was perfect on 38 extra points and was 25 on 29 attempts for an 86.2% average with a longest of 54 yards in 2018 for LSU. In 2017, in Division II, at Assumption college, Tracy connected on 27-of-29 field goals for 93.1% and made all 67 of his extra-points. That means Tracy was 89.7% on FGs for his career. The kid they signed, Matthew Wright of UCF has more experience but kicked 98.6% on extra points and only 77.5% on field goals on his career. Tracy would’ve been 9th in FG percentage among starting NFL kickers. Wright would’ve been 27th and his percentage is not that much better than Boswell’s 32nd place with an abysmal 65.0%.
Given the above and the potential of this deep Draft, which had the real possibility for all players selected to make the team, it was a success but just barely. Some of these guys won’t make it past the middle of preseason. Everything is hinged on Devin Bush being a splash player. If he becomes what everybody hopes this Draft will be very good. As it stands now, it gets a:
Overall Draft Grade: C+