2019 NFL Draft: Should the Steelers use their first-round pick to replace Antonio Brown?
Pittsburgh has plenty of needs, most of them on defense, but could they take a receiver at No. 20 in a post-Brown world?
The Steelers are worse off today than they were a week ago when they agreed to trade one of the NFL's best players, wide receiver Antonio Brown, to the Raiders for a third and fifth-round pick. The compensation should give you an idea of just how little market there was for Brown, who spent the last few months plotting his way out of Pittsburgh and in the process sapping any leverage the Steelers might have as they tried to unload him.
As it stands, JuJu Smith-Schuster, the 2017 second-round pick who led the team in receptions (111) and receiving yards last season (1,426), is now the No. 1 receiver in Pittsburgh. After that, there are a bunch of questions. Can 2018 second-rounder James Washington step up after a disappointing rookie campaign (16 receptions, 217 yards, 1 TD)? Can Ryan Switzer, who plays primarily from the slot (he's 5-foot-8, 180 pounds) be a reliable third option? Then there's Donte Moncrief, who reportedly signed a two-year deal with Pittsburgh on Wednesday night. At 6-2, 215 pounds, Moncrief ran a 4.40 40 at the combine in 2014 but he's never developed into a consistent deep threat; his best season came in 2015 when he had 64 receptions for 733 yards and six touchdowns.
With primary needs at linebacker, edge rusher, cornerback and wide receiver, how should the Steelers approach the draft now that they have four picks in the first three rounds (Nos. 20, 52, 66 and 83)? Let's take a look:
Scenario 1: Draft defense in Round 1, then target a WR
Here's the deal: Yes, this draft is deep at edge rusher but it's not 2-3 rounds deep. If you want one, you better take him in the first round, preferably in the first 20 picks. Because after that, it's slim pickings. Nick Bosa, Josh Allen, Montez Sweat, Brian Burns, Rashan Gary, Clelin Ferrell and Jachai Polite are all first-round talents, and at least five of those seven names could be off the board by pick No. 16. If, say, Ferrell falls to Pittsburgh they should think long and hard about taking him.
Alternatively, they could also target a linebacker in Round 1. If edge rusher is relatively deep, the linebacker class consists of just two players with first-round grades: Devin White and Devin Bush. White will be a top-11 selection but Bush could be on the board at No. 20 and it's hard to imagine the Steelers wouldn't take him.
In Round 2, the Steelers follow their draft blue print from the last two years: Take a wide receiver. Possible options include NC State's Kelvin Harmon, whose game more resembles Smith-Schuster's than Browns, but he's an experienced, big-play wide receiver who is a likely Day 2 pick because of a slow 40 time at the combine (4.60). A better fit, perhaps, is Parris Campbell, the burner from Ohio State. He didn't run many deep routes in college but he was a terror underneath -- tough to cover and impossible to catch with the ball in his hands. Then there's Deebo Samuel, a four-down threat who can line up anywhere on the field. Another option in Round 2? Antonio Brown's cousin, Marquise "Hollywood" Brown. He's a first-round talent but a Lisfranc injury could sideline him until late summer, and he could slip as a result. But he has Tyreek Hill-type game-changing ability.
In the third round, the Steelers could find a cornerback (it's a position of need, for sure, but with the Steve Nelson signing it's not as critical as it was prior to free agency). Jamel Dean, Lonnie Johnson Jr. and Isaiah Johnson -- all big, physical, fast and raw -- may be available.
Scenario 2: Draft defense in Round 1, play Round 2 by ear
Here's the thinking: Go get an edge rusher or linebacker in the first round but if cornerbacks like Deandre Baker or Byron Murphy are on the board in the second round, the Steelers should seriously consider drafting them. Both are undersized and ran mediocre 40s at the combine (in the 4.55 range). But both were also two of the best defensive backs in college football last season. Even with the addition of Nelson, the Steelers are woefully thin at cornerback, especially with 2016 first-round pick Artie Burns' regression from replacement-level to unplayable.
In the third round, Pittsburgh can circle back to the wide receivers. Riley Ridley, Calvin Ridley's brother, might be the best route runner in this class but he didn't put up huge numbers at Georgia and he ran a glacial 4.58 40 at the combine. There are questions about J.J. Arcega-Whiteside's long speed too, but both his parents were professional basketball players and he regularly uses his size to post up small defenders. He could be a different kind of deep threat for the Steelers. There's Emanuel Hall, who like Arcega-Whiteside, is listed at 6-foot-2, but he uses his speed to get open. He needs to play with more consistency but he also has more upside. And finally, what about Andy Isabella, the 5-foot-8 former high school sprinter?
Yes, we know, with Switzer and Eli Rogers already on the roster, how many diminutive slot receivers does one team need. But understand: Isabella isn't just a slot receiver. He blazed a 4.31 40 at the combine and that speed shows up on tape. He regularly wins outside, which goes a long way in explaining why he led the nation in receiving yards per game last season.
Scenario 3: Go get a WR in the first round
There could be an early run on edge rushers and linebackers in Round 1 and when the Steelers are on the clock at No. 20 there may not be much to choose from on that side of the ball. And if Hakeem Butler or D.K. Metcalf are sitting there they'd have to give serious consideration to taking them, right?
Butler, who is 6-5 and ran in the 4.4s at the combine, is more polished than Metcalf. He also runs routes like someone six inches shorter, but has the strength to win against cornerbacks, whether at the line of scrimmage or when making a contested downfield catch. It's hard to imagine he wouldn't flourish in Pittsburgh's offense. Metcalf would be more of a project; he played just seven games last season because of a neck injury and ran a limited route tree at Ole Miss. But there's no mistaking his God-given talent; Metcalf ran a 4.33 40 at the combine and that speed shows up on tape too. The only question would be how quickly could he get comfortable in an NFL offense.
While adding Butler or Metcalf would go a long way in solving the Antonio Brown problem, it would create other issues. Namely: the Steelers would still have needs at linebacker and edge rusher, and no players to target in Rounds 2 and 3 because of the lack of depth at those positions. It's likely why general manager Kevin Colbert signed Nelson and Moncrief in free agency -- to give the team flexibility when it came to addressing cornerback and wide receiver in the draft -- and it's also likely why Pittsburgh will be more inclined to go defense early on Day 1 of the 2019 NFL Draft.
Unless ... Hakeem Butler is on the board.
Pick Six Newsletter
Get the day's big stories + fun stuff you love like mock drafts, picks and power rankings.
Thanks for signing up!
Keep an eye on your inbox for the latest sports news.
There was an error processing your subscription.
The Falcons trade up for a Grady Jarrett type on the inside, and the Zac Taylor era in Cincy...
Noah Fant is one of the best pure athletes in this draft class
Not only is T.J. Hockenson the best tight end in this class, he's a top-10 talent
The Patriots also trade up for Gronk's replacement at tight end
D.K. Metcalf blew up the combine but is he the best receiver in this draft class?
Josh Jacobs is the best running back in this class but how high will he go?