How the Steelers can have a perfect 2020 NFL Draft, starting with finding a key weapon for Ben Roethlisberger

For most of the 2010s, the Steelers spent their first-round pick on the defensive side of the ball in order to help rebuild a defense that was transitioning away from the dominant units that helped Pittsburgh advance to three Super Bowls in a six-year span from 2005-10. And after watching their defense — a unit that included nine former first-round picks — blossom into one of the league’s best in 2019, the Steelers, specifically Ben Roethlisberger, is expecting the team to turn their attention to the offensive side of the ball as it relates to the 2020 draft. 

While they are devoid of a first-round pick for the first time since 1967, the Steelers are still armed with six picks in the 2020 NFL Draft. Here’s a four-step plan for what an ideal draft would look like for the black and gold, who are trying to maximize the final years of Big Ben’s career. 

1. Find a new weapon for Big Ben 

Roethlisberger recently expressed confidence in his receiving corps, a unit that is led by JuJu Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson and James Washington, but Smith-Schuster is entering the final year of his rookie contract, and while Johnson and Washington were solid in 2019, the team still needs to find a reliable No. 4 after Ryan Switzer (who spent last season dealing with injuries) and Donte Moncrief (who was released after the season) failed to offer much production last season. Pittsburgh did give Roethlisberger another weapon earlier this offseason when they inked former Colts tight end Eric Ebron to a two-year deal, which means that the Steelers will not have to further address the tight end position during the draft. 

Fortunately for the Steelers, the 2020 draft is loaded with talented receivers. In his seven-round mock draft, NFL draft analyst Chris Trapasso has the Steelers, with the 49th overall pick, selecting former Colorado receiver Laviska Shenault, who is arguably the most versatile receiver in this year’s draft. During his three seasons at Colorado, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound wideout caught 10 touchdowns, ran for seven touchdowns and scored another touchdown on special teams. During his final two seasons, Shenault caught 142 passes for 1,775 yards and 10 touchdowns despite missing four games due to injury. 

2. Add talent at the EDGE position

For a team that has more sacks than any other team over the past two seasons, you wouldn’t expect this to be one of the top things the Steelers should look to address during the draft. But after losing defensive tackle Javon Hargrave (10.5 sacks over the past two seasons) and outside linebacker Anthony Chickillo, Pittsburgh needs a solid pass rusher that can provide quality depth on the defensive line while complementing Cam Heyward, T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree, who combined to rack up 35 of the team’s 54 sacks last season. And with Dupree possibly entering his final season with the Steelers, Pittsburgh should try to find another pass rusher now in order to give them some flexibility in case they are unable to keep Dupree beyond the 2020 season. 

To help fill this need, Trapasso has the Steelers selecting Utah edge rusher Bradlee Anae with the 102nd overall pick. A 2019 consensus All-American, Anae leaves Utah as the school’s all-time leader in sacks (30) and tackles for loss (45). Alton Robinson, who racked up 19 sacks and 32 tackles for loss in three seasons at Syracuse, could also be an option if Pittsburgh elects to wait until the 124th overall pick to address this need. 

3. Replenish the depth on the offensive line 

While Pittsburgh’s offensive line has been one of the league’s best over the past half-decade, the unit could use a facelift after losing Ramon Foster (retirement) and B.J. Finney (who signed a two-year deal with Seattle) earlier this offseason. The Steelers already added to their line this offseason when they inked former Chiefs lineman Stefen Wisniewski to a two-year deal. 

With their 124th overall pick, Trapasso has the Steelers selecting former Kansas lineman Hakeem Adeniji, an imposing presence at 6-foot-5 and 300-pound who started every game for the Jayhawks over the past four years — primarily at left tackle. While most of his experience is at tackle, Adeniji proved capable of playing either guard spot when asked to during his time at Kansas. 

Another option with the 124th pick, as recently alluded to by Jim Wexell of 247Sports, could be Michigan’s Ben Bredeson, who was recently tabbed by Mel Kiper as the best pure guard in the draft. Despite that praise, Bredeson is currently projected as a fourth-round pick, which is largely due to a hamstring injury that prohibited him from taking part in on-field work during February’s NFL combine. He was hoping to do on-field work during Michigan’s pro day that was ultimately canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

4. Add another running back 

While the Steelers already have a pretty good running back trio of James Conner, Benny Snell and Jaylen Samuels, Pittsburgh is expected to add to their position via the draft after finishing 29th in the NFL in rushing in 2019 after being 31st in the league in that department in 2018. 

If the Steelers decide to address this need with the 49th overall pick, an option might be Florida State’s Cam Akers, CBS Sports’ fourth best running back in the draft behind D’Andre Swift, Jonathan Taylor and J.K. Dobbins. Akers, who significantly elevated his draft status following his impressive combine performance, is an extremely well-balanced running back who possesses a good blend of power, speed, agility and pass-catching ability. One of his greatest strengths is his ability to make quick decisions while getting to the second level of the defense without much resistance. And while he was mostly a north-south running at Florida State, Akers, by virtue of his underrated cutback ability, still made plenty of plays outside the hash marks. 

If the Steelers wait until Day 3 to draft a running back, one potential option could be Appalachian State’s Darrynton Evans. Arguably the most underrated running back in this year’s draft, Evans enjoyed a prolific 2019 season, rushing for 1,480 yards and five touchdowns while also catching five touchdown passes. 

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