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Steelers can’t afford duds in draft

Commentary

Rarely, if ever, does an NFL team lose two players the caliber of Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown in one offseason.

Although the Steelers have already made preparations in free agency to help soften the blow of losing two elite superstars, finding top-notch talent in this year’s draft has become paramount.

When the Steelers begin the draft this evening, they’re going to need to enjoy first-round success, much like when they selected T.J. Watt, Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro. They can ill afford to miss with their high picks, similar to the selections of Artie Burns and Jarvis Jones.

With that in mind, here’s a sampling of how the Steelers’ draft could unwind over the next three days that could help get them back among the NFL’s top teams.

First round (No. 20): Michigan inside linebacker Devin Bush would be the ideal pick for the Steelers here, but they might have to use one of their two third-round picks to trade up and get him. If the Steelers don’t trade up and Bush is gone, they might have their pick of cornerbacks. If that’s the case, LSU’s Greedy Williams would be the most dynamic corner, combining length and speed. If he’s gone, the Steelers might have to “settle” for Washington’s Byron Murphy or Georgia’s Deandre Baker.

Second round (No. 52): If the Steelers select a cornerback in the first round, Alabama’s Mack Wilson might be the team’s last hope to get an inside linebacker who could make an immediate impact. If somehow they are able to get Bush in the first round, a cornerback like Temple’s Rock Ya-Sin, Clemson’s Trayvon Mullen, Notre Dame’s Julian Love or Penn State’s Amani Oruwariye are possibilities.

Third round (Nos. 69 and 83): If the Steelers don’t trade away any of their two third-round picks, expect them to go offense with both in the third round, possibly taking a receiver and tight end to help upgrade the passing game. Notre Dame’s Miles Boykin, Massachusetts’ Andy Isabella and West Virginia’s Gary Jennings would be some wide receivers the Steelers would look at in the third round. Mississippi’s Dawson Knox and San Jose State’s Josh Oliver are tight ends that could help fill the void left by Jessie James’ departure.

Fourth round (No. 122): The Steelers need to take a running back in the draft, but they can’t wait too long for one. Ohio State’s Mike Weber, Notre Dame’s Dexter Williams or Oklahoma State’s Justice Hill could be ideal fourth-rounders who might be able to form a decent backfield with James Conner and Jaylen Samuels.

Fifth round (No. 141): Finding an outside linebacker who has the potential to replace Bud Dupree might be a difficult task in the fifth round, but at this stage of the draft, much of it is a gamble. TCU’s Ben Banogu could be a steal here, but North Carolina’s Malik Carney, Oklahoma State’s Jordan Brailford and Florida’s Jachai Polite are other options.

Sixth round (Nos. 175, 192, 207): It’s hard to imagine the Steelers still having three sixth-round picks when the draft reaches its third and final day, but many times this is where difference makers can be found. Defensive end John Cominsky of Charleston (W.Va.), Kentucky safety Mike Edwards and Central Florida defensive tackle Trysten Hill could be on the Steelers’ radar at this point.

Seventh round (No. 219): It’s anybody’s guess when the draft hits the final round. This could be a spot for the Steelers to take an offensive lineman, like LSU guard Garrett Brumfield, whom they brought in to their facilities for a pre-draft official visit.

Trying to determine which players the Steelers really want is difficult enough. Adding in to that is trying to figure out what players the other 31 NFL teams might be coveting. That makes predicting a draft nearly impossible.

But, the above is just a general guideline to keep in mind during the draft. All that really matters, in the end, is that the Steelers’ scouts did their due diligence — and a little luck won’t hurt, either.

Buck Frank can be reached at 946-7461 or bfrank@altoonamirror.com.

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