The Pittsburgh Steelers have completed the 2019 NFL Draft by making nine selections in the seven round draft. General manager Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin worked to retool a roster that missed the playoffs last season. Thanks to some pre-draft trades and draft day deals, the Steelers selected the following players:
- First Round, 10th overall: Devin Bush, Inside Linebacker, Michigan
- Third Round, 66th overall: Diontae Johnson, Wide Receiver, Toledo
- Third Round, 83rd overall: Justin Layne, Cornerback, Michigan State
- Fourth Round, 122nd overall: Benny Snell Jr., Running Back, Kentucky
- Fifth Round, 141st overall: Zach Gentry, Tight End, Michigan
- Sixth Round, 175th overall: Sutton Smith, Outside Linebacker, Northern Illinois
- Sixth Round, 192nd overall: Isaiah Buggs, Defensive Tackle, Alabama
- Sixth Round, 207th overall: Ulysees Gilbert III, Inside Linebacker, Akron
- Seventh Round, 219th overall: Derwin Gray, Guard/Tackle, Maryland
Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 NFL Draft Grade: 8.5/10
Pittsburgh Steelers 2019 NFL Draft Review
The Best Player: Devin Bush
Pittsburgh was the first team to pull off a draft day trade to select Devin Bush out of Michigan. The Steelers paid a fairly steep price to get the high energy linebacker as they seek to replace the missing production of Ryan Shazier. In order to move into the top ten, Pittsburgh swapped first-round picks with the Denver Broncos, as well as giving up their second round pick and a third round pick for next year. It was steep, but well worth it.
Bush is arguably the best linebacker in this year’s draft class, and after the combine and pre-draft workouts, a top-10 pick. The Steelers would have hoped that he could have fallen to them at their 20th pick, but it wasn’t likely that would happen. While Bush might a bit undersized at 5’11”, he can fly from sideline to sideline. Bush loves to hit people and can be a run stopper or can drop back and play coverage. He’s a three-down player that should be able to make plays in any situation.
Historically, the Steelers are conservative and don’t make big moves on draft day. The last time they did, they moved up 11 spots in 2003 to select Troy Polamalu. That was a great move then, and this should turn out that way as well. Bush will give the Steelers the production out of the middle of their defense that has been missing since Shazier was injured. Bush is the kind of guy the Steelers need on their defense.
The Head-Scratcher: Zach Gentry
The Steelers had a need at tight end that required addressing. Pittsburgh waited until the third day of the draft to do so, and the selection was a bit questionable. There is no disputing Gentry’s size and athleticism. Recruited to Michigan as a quarterback, Gentry has done a lot of learning and growing into the position. He is still raw and has plenty of upside. As a big body, he will make for a great big target in short yardage and goal-line situations.
All that being said, Gentry is a big project. There were plenty of other tight ends that were available in the third or fourth rounds that are far less raw. With Vance McDonald and Xavier Grimble on the team, it isn’t like the Steelers needed a guy to plug in right away. But at the same time, it seems like a bit of a roll of the dice to take a guy this raw at that time. There will be plenty of time to see if Gentry can develop into a serviceable NFL tight end. Size and length can get you into the league, but production is how you stay there.
The Surprise: Diontae Johnson
It was widely assumed that the Pittsburgh Steelers would address the wide receiver position in the 2019 NFL Draft. After trading their All-Pro wide receiver Antonio Brown in very controversial circumstances, the Steelers needed another guy to help make up Brown’s production. To do that, they decided to go back to the proverbial well that they found Brown. Diontae Johnson is a small receiver with decent speed that can line up anywhere on the field. Johnson hails from Toledo and the Mid-American Conference, the same conference that has given the Steelers Brown and Ben Roethlisberger.
Johnson in some ways feels like a little bit of a reach, especially that early in the third round. He has the ability to make any catch but has too many drops due to lack of focus. He tested low in the speed department, but he does seem to play faster than his numbers indicate. Pittsburgh is really good at drafting and developing wide receivers. There’s no reason to believe that they can’t do the same with Johnson.
The Steal: Justin Layne
Justin Layne was rated as one of the top-10 best at his position coming into the draft. He tested incredibly well in all of his pre-draft workouts and was rising up many draft charts. For him to be available to Pittsburgh in the middle of the third round with a second-round grade was a steal. Layne has a big frame and a willingness to battle at the line of scrimmage. He has also shown he’s willing to go and help stop the run.
Layne was a wide receiver turned cornerback, meaning he has the ball skills to help a defense that was one of the worst in getting interceptions. With veterans Joe Haden and Steven Nelson in front of him, there is no immediate pressure for Layne to start. That’s not to say with his ability he won’t play a lot. By the end of the season, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Layne is starting for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Most Likely to Turn Heads During Training Camp: Benny Snell Jr.
Benny Snell Jr. is your quintessential Pittsburgh Steelers running back. He’s a strong, between-the-tackles runner that is as hard-nosed as they come. He isn’t flashy and won’t outrun many people, but he can grind out yards and shake off defenders unwilling to fully commit to bringing him down. In short, he represents the perfect compliment to James Conner.
Once he gets to camp, Snell will show that he is a very capable runner in short yardage and goal line situations. Conner has better speed, elusiveness, and pass catching ability. But in order to stay healthy, Conner needs to share the workload. Snell will help ease that workload and could remind Steeler fans of one of their favorite running backs: Jerome Bettis. Snell is a great pick and will surprise many in Pittsburgh.
The final four picks of the Steelers were used primarily defensive players. With the first of their sixth-round picks, the Steelers chose Sutton Smith from Northern Illinois. The undersized outside linebacker was one of the most productive linebackers in all of college football last season. He is athletic and has a high motor. At minimum, he will be a solid special teams guy. But there is a chance he could find a way to make it as a backup to spare Bud Dupree and T.J. Watt.
The second sixth-round selection was on Isaiah Buggs of Alabama. Buggs has the size to make him a decent defensive lineman for the Steelers, but there is a lot to be desired talent wise. Like Gentry, Buggs will be a project and there is no reason to expect him to start right away. The best case is he can develop into a solid backup.
With their third sixth-round pick, the Steelers went back to the Mid-American Conference to pick inside linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III. Gilbert was a tackling machine at Akron and does possess great speed. He averaged about seven tackles per game in college. If he can improve his open-field tackling he could become a good special teams player and help Bush reshape the Steelers interior defense.
The final pick for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2019 NFL Draft was Derwin Gray of Maryland. Pittsburgh expects Gray to be able to play both guard or tackle, which could certainly help his case to make the roster. He has the size to be able to play both but needs to improve a lot to stay on the team long-term. For now, he projects to be a backup and special teams player.
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