The draft has been over for a month.
Fans outside the AFC North have undoubtedly forgotten who their teams drafted, but here, we stay vigilant. We pore over the rafts of war room and draft details that led to various selections. We analyze remaining team needs and speculate why they exist. We invariably project the best-case scenarios for our team’s picks and their careers, because the AFC North has never missed on a draft pick.
In our final look at the AFC North’s draft, we check on the…
As fans certainly know, the Steelers have been vulnerable to the run since ILB Ryan Shazier suffered a spinal injury in 2017. After employing a series of ineffective stopgap measures since, the team traded up to the #10 pick to select linebacker Devin Bush, who may not have Shazier’s top-end speed (few do), but shows a more natural lateral coverage – “sideline to sideline” speed, if you will. While debate continues regarding whether the Steelers gave up too much to acquire Bush, there’s little discussion that he fills their most pressing need.
The third round (second rounder traded for the #10 pick) yielded wideout Diontae Johnson, whose draft profile reads almost identically to departed wideout Antonio Brown’s. While expectations of Johnson being Brown are most likely unrealistic, extensive use of a smaller, speedy slot receiver is vogue in the NFL these days. Expect to see Johnson in this role, possibly as soon as Week 1.
The Steelers also picked up cornerback Justin Layne in the third round, effectively spelling the end of frustrating cornerback Artie Burns’ tenure in Pittsburgh. Layne is big (6’2″) for a corner and he lacks some fluidity, but he’s expected to excel on special teams early and may challenge for a starting role as soon as midseason.
4. Benny Snell Jr., RB, Kentucky – while a nice complimentary back, Snell won’t displace starter James Conner anytime soon.
5. Zach Gentry, TE, Michigan – tight ends are needed, but 6’8″ blocking-only tight ends probably need not apply.
6. Sutton Smith, OLB, Northern Illinois – undersized but quick, Smith has the versatility the Steelers covet, but also some pass rush ability.
7. Isaiah Buggs, DT, Alabama – aka “Big Pooh” (I’m not kidding), Buggs is a long-term interior project.
8. Ulysees Gilbert III, ILB, Akron – a proven tackler but unproven everywhere else – obvious special teams player.
9. Derwin Gray, OT, Maryland – a value pick this late, Gray has excellent size but questionable footwork.
That concludes this AFC North draft. Barring unforeseen NFL news, I’ll see y’all when camp open. Enjoy your summer.