Now that the dust from free agency has settled, for the most part, we have an idea of what the Pittsburgh Steelers roster will look heading into the 2018 NFL draft. The Steelers will pick 28th and have seven picks this year. With that said, it is time to unveil the first seven-round mock draft of the season. I will use fanspeak.com to generate a pool of players for each round. For version 1.0, I will use Matt Miller of Bleacher Reports rankings. To create variety version 2.0 and so on will use a different person’s set of rankings. With that said, here are the picks.
Round One 28th overall: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State
With Roquan Smith, Tremaine Edmunds, and Rashaan Evans all off of the board, Vander Esch became an obvious selection. The team signing Jon Bostic does not make linebacker any less of a need. Ryan Shazier was the heart and soul of a defense, bringing in a low-end starter is a small band-aid. They continue to add to the room with Vander Esch.
Vander Esch comes in eerily similar to T.J. Watt in terms of size and athletic profile.
The difference is that Vander Esch is going to be a sideline to sideline covering linebacker who can match up with tight ends and cut off the short middle of the field zone. He has put on a lot of weight at Boise State and is still coming into his body. This leads to lack of tackling power, and at times, inconsistencies in shedding blocks. The team can get him on an NFL workout plan and build him up behind Bostic as a high upside shot to bring another freak athlete to the linebacker corps.
Round Two 60th overall: Kyzir White, S, West Virginia
Kyzir is the younger brother of Kevin White, a former first-round pick for the Chicago Bears. Like his brother, he comes into the NFL with a league ready body. White comes in with the ability translate to a linebacker/safety hybrid in the NFL. However, his range gives him the potential to be a versatile safety. White’s versatility has to be a strong draw for the Steelers.
His issues come in man coverage, and at times he can be tight in his change of direction. However, he has a good enough feel for reading the quarterback to be a deeper safety who does not line up in man often. He also can play a robber role and is strong in shutting down routes underneath. Then, of course, his best attribute at West Virginia was his ability to hang in the run game in the box.
White is similar to Morgan Burnett in their ability to wear a lot of hats, and the Steelers are looking for athleticism and versatility on defense. White could be a good fit in the second round.
Round Three 92nd overall: D.J. Chark, WR, LSU
The Steelers are going to draft a wide receiver in this draft. Call it a hunch, call it a take, call it a reasonable thought. As of this point, it would be tough to convince me that the Steelers will not take a wide receiver this year.
To start, they take one seemingly every single season. Since 2010 the Steelers have drafted ten wide receivers and only went an entire draft without targeting a wide receiver just once. However, in this situation, it could very easily be in the first three rounds as well.
Eli Rogers is currently unsigned but is coming off of knee surgery. Martavis Bryant will not be traded this year but will leave the Steelers next season via free agency, you can bet that. Add in that Sammie Coates was traded, and Justin Hunter showed nothing, and there is no one to currently slide in for Bryant. Here comes D.J. Chark.
Chark, like Bryant, can take the top off of the defense. They both also have similar athletic profiles.
Chark was somewhat unproductive at LSU, but a lot of that has to do with his quarterback play. He showed his excellent ball tracking and in the air adjustment at the Senior Bowl, and showed his upside as a whole at the NFL combine. Chark would be a great selection in the third round.
Round 5, 148th overall: Jeff Holland, EDGE, Auburn
The Steelers definitely will have to address pass rusher at some point. Arthur Moats is currently unsigned and the team has yet to decide on a fifth-year option for Bud Dupree. With the draft shaping out the way it did, the team lands on Jeff Holland. Holland is a pass rushing specialist who knows how to use his hands and arms to create leverage. He does not bring much in run support or coverage at this time, and will likely be a nickel or third down asset early in his career. However, with Dupree and Watt being such great athletes off of the ball and in space, adding the pure pass rush of Holland would be a good complement.
Round 5, 165th overall: Kalen Ballage, RB, Arizona State
The Steelers drafted James Conner last season and re-signed Fitzgerald Toussaint. However, that does not by any stretch mean that this team is remotely prepared for life after Le’Veon Bell. They get a potential high upside shot in Ballage.
Ballage has been described as the Josh Allen of running backs. Physically, he is everything you could possibly imagine in a running back. He has the size of Adrian Peterson with the lateral agility of Reggie Bush.
However, he is extremely raw and lacks nuance.
His vision is poor and his ability to wait behind the line for holes to open could be close to the opposite of Le’Veon Bell. However, when the ball is in his hands, and he is not running into his line or into clogged holes, good luck getting him down. Ballage is an unbelievably strong receiver for his size profile, and his receiving ability in space could be dangerous in the NFL.
Conner provided little to nothing in the passing game, but showed vision and burst between the tackles. Ballage shows little between the tackles but could be a stud in the passing game. Could the duo grow into a formidable future in the backfield?
7th round 220th overall Chris Worley, LB, Ohio State
The Steelers have gone with an Ohio State player in four of the last seven drafts, the most of any school. They go back into the well with Chris Worley from Ohio State. Worley is praised for his team leadership and knowledge in the film room. He is a limited athlete and does not have strong upside. However, he could be looked at as a BUCK version of Vince Williams. Worley can come in with a good locker room presence and work ethic. He can help in the film room and compete on special teams. He could step in over L.J. Fort or Tyler Matakevich, or spend a season or two on the practice squad. Either way, the Steelers are bringing him into Pittsburgh for a visit, so they are interested in his personality joining the locker room. 220th is the earliest they would take him, though.
7th round 246th overall, Joshua Frazier, NT, Alabama
Another player the Steelers have shown pre-draft interest in is Joshua Frazier. Frazier was a limited player due to his role and upfield penetration. He is nose tackle who cannot move off of the 0-technique and will only help when it comes to clogging run lanes. However, behind Javon Hargrave, the team needs some sort of space clogger. Daniel McCullers was re-signed but brings little upside and a contract that is easy to get out of. Frazier could beat McCullers and spend the next few seasons in the same role McCullers has been, as the team looks to build a brighter future from Frazier.