How did they not take a linebacker? Everyone in the city of Pittsburgh is at the water cooler Monday morning talking about how the Pittsburgh Steelers left the 2018 NFL draft without taking a linebacker. It was the obvious need, the team had interest in a variety of linebackers pre-draft and then, nothing.
As it turns out, the team did try to get a linebacker. They fought hard to trade up into the draft for Rashaan Evans.
Just so everyone knows, Alabama's Rashaan Evans was the Steelers intended target in the 1st round, no matter who else was there at 28. When he was gone with other top ILBs, they either didn't have a high enough grade on the rest or feel strongly enough to go up and get one.
— Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac) April 28, 2018
Apparently, from there, the team just did not see much in this class. Kevin Colbert talked about how it was a good not great class. They had four players they really liked. All four were gone.
The question becomes how does a team with a Hall of Fame quarterback, and the top skill player arsenal in the NFL not go all-in and get Evans at all costs? How do you get outbid? He is what would make the draft complete, right? Well, when you dig into it, it might have been a lot tougher than you could imagine.
First, let me mention this is going to feature some dot connecting and string tying.
Fast forward 15 picks into the 2018 NFL draft
Through 15 picks, things were going perfectly. Heck, Tremaine Edmunds is still on the board, are three linebackers really going to go in the next 13 picks? Sit tight, take your man, go home. Then, the Baltimore Ravens trade down. There goes Edmunds at 16 and so we begin. At 17, Derwin James and 18 Jaire Alexander. Green Bay already traded down with eyes on Alexander at 18 and 17 to the Chargers was regarded as James floor. Getting into the top 18 was not even on the table for Evans, if Edmunds was falling. Two linebackers to go, 10 spots to fall.
First, Leighton Vander Esch. Tony Pauline of draftanalyst.com was all over the Leighton Vander Esch beat from the very start. He was clearly tapped in. He predicted Vander Esch’s weight at the combine when many thought he was lighter. Pre-combine Vander Esch was fringe round one. Pauline said Vander Esch would show up to the combine and leave with a floor of pick 28, to Pittsburgh.
Vander Esch showed up to the combine and did so well, that rumors began to swirl he could go as high as 12. Rumors also began to swirl that Leighton Vander Esch had a neck injury and failed multiple teams reports. Vander Esch would fall out of round one said Mike Mayock. Pauline called this bunk from the start.
As Evan Silva of Rotoworld points out, Mayock and Mike Lombardi also mentioned a bone on bone knee injury issue pushing Sony Michel down the draft. Those two both have ties to the Patriots front office. The Patriots drafted Sony Michel at 31, as Silva thought. If I told you they would have taken Vander Esch at 23, would you believe me?
Tony Pauline, who is batting 1.000 said that despite injury rumors two teams still had him on their board, the Dallas Cowboys, and the Pittsburgh Steelers. One team took him, one team was searching to get to him. Still, the Steelers had eyes on Evans.
If the Patriots put the Vander Esch and Michel news out there, did the Pittsburgh Steelers tell Rashaan Evans not to run at his Pro Day? There were rumors that several teams were disinterested in Rashaan Evans for not running a 40 at his Pro Day, or at all throughout the process. The Steelers dined with a group of Alabama players before their Pro Day. Did the Steelers tell him to take it easy pre-draft, with the hopes of nailing him at 28? It is what the Patriots would do. Nonetheless, word was out and Vander Esch was gone ahead of him.
Still, they knew the New England Patriots obviously were going to shift their focus to Evans. How do we get in front of the New England Patriots to get our man, the Steelers thought. Looking at the way the board broke between Dallas and New England is like looking up at Mt. Everest. How do you climb this?
First, pick 20. The Detroit Lions took Frank Ragnow, the top center from Arkansas. The Lions can move down to 28 and still get their center, right? Wrong. Reports were widely spread that the Cincinnati Bengals were the floor for Frank Ragnow. In fact, they traded down from 12 to 21 under the assumption Ragnow would be there. The Lions were not budging.
21 was the Bengals who now were at option B. James Daniels and Billy Price sat there. Yes, the Bengals could have picked up the phone and took the call, moved down to 28 and saw their center around. The Bengals were not going to give the Steelers their missing piece though.
22 is who else? The stinking Baltimore Ravens, who traded down from 16 so that the Buffalo Bills could start this linebacker run with Tremaine Edmunds. Were the Ravens going to take the call and give Pittsburgh their missing piece or would they take Tennessee’s call, even if Pittsburgh offered more?
You tie all the strings together and the Patriots needing a backup plan caused the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals to have a chance to stick it to the Steelers. Who says rivalries are only for the field?
So, at the end of the day, you want to hate the Steelers for not pulling the trigger. You wish they were more aggressive. Then, you realize it would have been impossible. They tried, I believe they tried to the point of telling Evans not to run a 40-yard dash, knowing he had a floor. Sometimes it doesn’t go the way you wanted. This is a tough lesson in life.