By: Zach Metkler, The Burgh Blog Writer
Every year, the Pittsburgh Steelers are among the best teams in the league and are always a threat to contend for a Super Bowl championship. This is largely due to the teams ability to build great teams through the draft. Although the team has been effective at finding players in early rounds, the Steelers have been among the best in the league at uncovering diamonds-in-the-rough players in late rounds of the draft. This list includes players such as Antonio Brown, Kelvin Beachum, Brett Keisel, Ike Taylor, and William Gay, plus many more who made solid contributions for the team over the years. In this years draft, there are some players who fit the bill of late-round gems that the Steelers should try to get their hands on.
Kenyan Drake, RB, Alabama
Drake is often the forgotten back from Alabama, considering Derrick Henry’s Heisman Trophy winning season. Many people might not consider running back to be a position of need for the Steelers but consider these points:
- Le’Veon Bell, albeit that he is an All-Pro and arguably one of the best running backs in the NFL, has had two seasons ended prematurely due to knee injury. Not to mention, he is also entering his contract year.
- DeAngelo Williams will be 33 at the beginning of the 2016 season and is not a long-term option at running back, even though he was productive while Bell was out.
Fitzgerald Toussaint showed flashes in the playoffs that he can be a solid running back when called upon, but realistically, he is no more than a backup running back.
While at Alabama, Drake showed great versatility that is comparable to the Le’Veon Bell’s and Jamal Charles’s of the NFL. In open space, Drake has big play ability that makes him a threat anytime he has the ball in his hands. This also gives him value as a kick returner, a position that the Steelers need to quickly replace to stop Antonio Brown from being back returning punts every game. Projected to be selected between the 4th and 6th rounds, Drake would give OC Todd Haley another weapon on offense and give the team a solid returner on special teams.
Jay Lee, WR, Baylor
With the suspension of Martavis Bryant, the Steelers lost one of the most promising deep threats in the NFL. Although the Steelers boast one of the best and deepest receiving groups in the league, they have never shied away from taking players who can help their already explosive offense. At Baylor, Jay Lee played in the shadow of 1st round prospect Corey Coleman (similar to Bryant’s situation at Clemson sitting behind DeAndre Hopkins and Sammy Watkins). Jay Lee is another physical specimen that the Steelers have come to covet with receivers. His blend of size (6’2″, 215 lbs., 33 in. arms) and speed (4.5 40-yard dash) makes him a tantalizing prospect. Lee has developed great body control and is able to quickly and effectively locate the ball, allowing him to use his huge catch radius to catch the ball away from his body. While at Baylor, he had a relatively small route tree which has led to his poor draft stock. Regardless, as a receiver projected to go in the 7th, the Steelers would be wise to look at this talented (yet raw) receiver to develop into another dangerous option for one of the best options in the league.
D.J. Reader, DL, Clemson
Even with the signing of defensive lineman Ricardo Mathews, the Steelers still lack solid depth across the defensive line. D.J. Reader could help fill out this depth. At 6’3″, 327 lbs., Reader has great size and deceptive athleticism that makes him an effective lineman. Reader presents an interesting case, as he stepped away from football during his senior season for “personal reasons”. He later returned at the end of the season and eventually earned an invitation to participate in the Senior Bowl, where he stood out and showed tremendous potential as a versatile defensive lineman. Reader’s ability to get off the ball quickly, use his athleticism to rush the passer, and defend against the run make him a solid late-round choice that is projected to be taken between the 5th and 6th round. With the Steelers lack of depth on the line, Reader could work his way into the rotation quickly and potentially make an impact during his rookie season.
Jonathan Jones, CB, Auburn
Last season, the Steelers used their 2nd round selection to take Senquez Golson, the 5’9″ corner from Ole Miss who possessed incredible ball skills and athleticism that made him an attractive selection. Even with the Steelers likely drafting another corner within the first 3 rounds again this season, there is a chance that they will double dip at the position, much like they did last year. That second selection might be another diminutive corner by the name of Jonathan Jones. Much like Golson, the corner from Auburn plays with an excellent motor and has the ball skills that most teams look for in defensive backs, as shown by his 7 interceptions and 24 pass breakups during his junior and senior seasons. Jones plays extremely physically at the line of scrimmage and plays well both on and off the ball and receiver. As a projected 4th or 5th round prospect, the Steelers could take the small corner after using an earlier pick to get a lengthier player like William Jackson III. Jones would provide valuable depth to the secondary and create competition to make the secondary the best it can possibly be.
Matt Judon, DE/OLB, Grand Valley State
In last years draft, the Steelers selected Bud Dupree, a 6’4″, 270 lb. outside linebacker from Kentucky. His speed and athleticism was off the charts for a player of his size, which played a big part in the Steelers selecting him to help improve their pass rush. This year, a similar player could be in the mix for the Steelers as D-II edge-rusher Matt Judon boasts similar skills and traits that made the team fall in love with Bud Dupree. At 6’3″, 275 lbs., Judon led the NCAA with 20 sacks and demonstrated the burst, awareness, and ability to set the edge that NFL scouts look for in edge-rushers. Judon needs a lot of work with his technique (as would be expected from a small school prospect) but when given some time to develop, he could become a force off the edge, especially with Jarvis Jones being a huge question mark for the team moving forward.
Tyler Ervin, RB, San Jose State
As mentioned in the section about Kenyan Drake, running back might not seem like a pressing need for the team. But much like Drake, Ervin brings help to the team in multiple ways. As a smaller back (5’10”, 192 lbs.,), Ervin does not run with much power. What he lacks in power, though, he makes up for with excellent speed and vision. He is a patient runner, seeing his blocks develop before he finds the best place to run. Do not let this patience mislead you, as he is very quick when making his reads. His ability to make quick reads and his 4.4 40-yard dash speed make him a solid candidate to be a return specialist early on in his career. If the Steelers took a shot on him towards the end of the draft, they would be getting a shifty back who would provide depth and special teams contributions as a rookie, with the latter being a much needed addition to the team.