The NFL Draft is anything but an exact science and never quite plays out as expected. There are players who unexpectedly drop, and others who go much sooner than expected. Either way, the draft is one of the most anticipated events of the year for both fans and organizations alike. The highlight of this year’s edition of the NFL Draft was Ryan Shazier walking out to announce the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ first pick at 28. The reaction of Connor Williams being selected by the Dallas Cowboys was memorable as well. The bottom line is that the NFL Draft is the best reality on television, and this year’s draft did not disappoint. The Steelers 2018 draft review covers each selection in one of the team’s more unpredictable drafts in years.
Complete Review of the Pittsburgh Steelers 2018 NFL Draft
Most experts had the Steelers picking a safety and a linebacker in the draft. These two positions of need were their most glaring and it was assumed they would be addressed early. The Steelers drafted a safety with their first selection and seemingly went off script the rest of the way. Although the linebacker never came, and they didn’t quite do what they were expected to, the Steelers were successful. They ended up drafting two safeties, an extremely versatile running back, and a lineman from both sides of the ball. The biggest surprise from the Steelers came in the form of two players from Oklahoma State. Mason Rudolph and James Washington were college football’s most productive quarterback/wide receiver duo over the last two years.
The selection of Washington was necessitated by the trade of Martavis Bryant. The Steelers moved up to get Rudolph because he represented great value in the third. The irony is that prior to the draft, the Steelers said they weren’t trading Bryant. They also said they weren’t likely to draft a quarterback. The Steelers did both and attacked this draft with purpose and a plan. Offensively, they drafted the kind of specialty player some teams attacked them with, Jaylen Samuels. Defensively, Their picks reflect their concerted effort to adjust to a life spent in sub-package football 70 percent of the time. This complete Pittsburgh Steelers 2018 draft review takes a look at each pick, and how they going forward.
First Round Pick: Terrell Edmunds – Safety
The Steelers are playing more sub-package defense than ever before, increasing the need for safeties who can line up as an inside linebacker. They jettisoned Mike Mitchell and Robert Golden on March 14th leaving an immediate need to replace them, but not with just anyone. They needed a safety of the hybrid variety, and Terrell Edmunds was it. The Virginia Tech safety racked up 182 tackles, six interceptions, and broke up 14 passes during his career. Edmunds loves contact and is a punishing tackler, but is also a fast and fluid athlete. He’s equally adept in coverage and run defense. Mitchell and Golden couldn’t do what the Steelers need from their safeties, but Edmunds checks all the boxes. It’s debatable whether or not he was a reach for the Steelers at 28, but he is a great fit.
Second Round Pick: James Washington – Wide Receiver
The Steelers already had a need at wide receiver, but it became an immediate need once they traded Bryant. They filled that need quickly with the 2017 Biletnikoff Award winner from Oklahoma State. Washington led the nation in receiving yards (1,549) and was half of the most productive quarterback/wide receiver duo in the nation. He gives the Steelers a low maintenance deep threat with suction cup hands. Washington has an excellent work ethic and knows how to set up defensive backs. He is great at tracking the deep ball and can hit a third gear when the ball is a little overthrown. Washington is a complete receiver who should be able to come in and help the Steelers immediately.
Third Round Pick (A): Mason Rudolph – Quarterback
The Steelers had Rudolph graded as a first-round round pick and thought about taking him in the second round. They might’ve taken him too if Washington wasn’t available. When Rudolph was available at the 76th pick, the Steelers made the move to get him. Rudolph isn’t an immediate need, but his value in the third made him impossible to pass up. Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner was happy Rudolph was available. “Big, strong, athletic,” said Fichtner. “A pretty accomplished player at his school. He is a winner. Very talented. Throws the deep ball really well. It’s a value here. Something we like to do and something we have done very effectively.”
Rudolph was the biggest quarterback in the draft at 6’5″ and 235 pounds. He owns a 32-9 career record as a starter at Oklahoma State and holds 54 school records. Rudolph threw for 13,618 yards and 92 touchdowns against 26 interceptions and averaged 324.2 yards per game. He has the ability to escape the rush to extend plays while keeping the ball in position to throw. Rudolph is a polished pocket passer and throws the most accurate deep ball in his class. His size and similar traits to Ben Roethlisberger make Rudolph a great fit for the Steelers and a potential heir to his throne when he retires.
Third Round Pick (B): Chukwuma Okorafor – Offensive Tackle
Chukwuma Okorafor is the fourth pick covered in this Pittsburgh Steelers 2018 draft review. He comes to the Steelers by way of Western Michigan and has the tools to be great. He has only been playing football for six years, but has the size and strength the Steelers love in their linemen. Here are some notes on Okorafor according to steelers.com.
First-Team All-American selection by FWAA and Phil Steele…second-team All-American by Sports Illustrated…one of six semifinalists for the Outland Trophy…first-team All-Mid-American Conference honoree….started all 12 games at left tackles…helped pave the way for seven different players to record 26 total rushing touchdowns…invited to play in the Reese’s Senior Bowl.
Started all 14 games at left tackles…first-team All-MAC selection…part of an offensive line than allowed just 16 sacks on the year, the 13th-fewest total in the country…helped pave the way for the team to rush for over 300 yards in three games…part of a unit that created lanes for Jarvion Franklin to rush for a program-record 281 rushing yards at Akron.
Started all 13 games at right tackle…helped pave the way for 401 rushing yards vs. Ohio in the second half…blocked for MAC Freshman of the Year and Popeyes Bahama Bowl MVP Jamauri Bogan who finished with 1,051 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns on the year.
Appeared in 12 games.
Okorafor has the talent to become a starter, and if Mike Munchak can coach him up, he could possibly get into the regular rotation this season. He’s a hard worker, but is slow to come out of his stance in pass protection at times. The Steelers love players like Okorafor because he has had enough time to show potential, but not enough for bad habits to become ingrained.
Fifth Round Pick (A): Marcus Allen – Safety
Marcus Allen is real thumper who has was a team captain and a locker room favorite at Penn State. He’s an extremely physical defender who sets the tone. He comes downhill hard and fast in run defense and knows how to shed blockers. Allen is effective in coverage and matches up well with big receivers and tight ends, and has great makeup speed if he makes a mistake. The Steelers love his versatility and will use him in the box early and often. Aside from his obvious ability to help out early, Allen was third round talent acquired in the fifth. The addition of Allen has greatly improved the versatility of the Steelers secondary.
Fifth Round Pick (B) – Jaylen Samuels – Running Back
Samuels is a running back who isn’t great at any one thing, but is very good at many things. He’s a rare multi-purpose weapon who has lined up at tight end, wide receiver, half-back, and tailback. He’s a fluid athlete who makes things happen with the ball in his hands. Samuels is elusive after the catch and is patient in space. He finds running room regularly and is physical when he does. Samuels is the Swiss Army Knife of football players, and running backs coach James Saxon is glad to have him.
“I think the value in a kid like him, for a coach, is you can use him in a lot of different areas like N.C. State did,” said running backs coach James Saxon. “In terms of whether or not he got an opportunity there purely to be just a running back, that doesn’t really matter at this point to me. … because that’s why he got drafted. He’s going to get an opportunity to do everything we do in our room in terms of being a running back.”
Samuels is the type of weapon that some teams have used against the Steeles in recent years, because he is a matchup nightmare. Samuels, however, has much more versatility than those players and could be the steal of the draft.
Seventh Round Pick: Joshua Frazier – Defensive Tackle
Frazier was a five-star recruit coming out of high school in Arkansas and saw playing time at Alabama until he got injured. He managed to get into defensive line rotation when he returned, but didn’t see any more time than that. Frazier is powerfully built and has much potential. Coach Karl Dunbar worked with Frazier at Alabama for two seasons before coming to Pittsburgh and had this to say.
“He was a five-star kid out of Arkansas, and he played a lot his freshman year until he got hurt his second year and that’s when Da’Ron Payne came in and took over that job,” said Dunbar. “It’s the luck of the draw sometimes when you go to a team that has a lot of talent. It’s almost like, some people say, that Wally Pipp story – he took a day off and never got his job back (from Lou Gehrig). Frazier didn’t start many games because of you know, Jonathan Allen, Da’Ron Payne, [Jarran] Reed, [Cam] Robinson, Da’Shawn Hand, Isaiah Buggs. Hopefully this kid can do some things that we think he can, and it will be fun coaching him again.”
Frazier has the ability to be another late round steal for the Steelers, and at worst he will push Daniel McCullers off the roster. Dunbar knows what Frazier could be capable of more than anyone involved with scouting and believes in him. The Steelers have faith in Dunbar. Don’t be surprised if Dunbar is on the roster when the Steelers open the season.
Last Word on The Pittsburgh Steelers 2018 Draft Review
The Steelers draft didn’t play out as most expected it to, but on paper at least, it was a success. In the 90s, the Steelers stocked up on pass rushers by drafting defensive ends and converting them to outside linebackers. The Steelers adopted this practice when the outside linebackers they were looking at were gone, and they had great success. It helped that they were one of the few teams running a 3-4 defense at the time.
When the inside linebackers they were looking this year got snatched up, they went with another hybrid safety to compensate. It’s a great strategy that will pay off with the large amount of time they’ll spend in sub-package defense. Throughout the rest of the draft, the Steelers continued to find great value that’ll help them now and in the future. Edmunds, Washington, Samuels, and Allen will help this year, while Rudolph, Okorafor, and Frazier should help out down the road.