Written By: Roy Countryman @PreacherBoyRoy
Coming into the first night of the draft, the Steelers were sitting at the 20th position in the first round with one glaring need: the dreaded ILB position that lacked playmaking ability since the horrific injury by Ryan Shazier. The only problem was that neither of the top two dynamic ILB’s were expected to fall that far. So going against the grain of holding onto their picks, and loaded with additional picks from the Antonio Brown and Marcus Gilbert trades, they packaged a deal to go up and secure the services of a dynamic LB prospect in Devin Bush. They still made an additional eight picks even after trading away the draft capital needed to move up with the Denver Broncos, and in this article, I am going to grade each and every one of them along with an overview of some of the UDFA’s they were able to sign.
Round 1, #10 Overall
Devin Bush: LB, Michigan
Recap: Bush was neck and neck with Devin White for the title of best ILB in this class and the Steelers got their man. He has elite speed and lateral agility and will reach plays most LBs dream to get to. He arrives at the ball carrier with mean intentions and will separate them from the ball when the opportunity presents itself. He is a quality pass defender who has the fluidity to stick with most RBs and TEs downfield. His athleticism is an clear an immediate upgrade to anything they have had on the roster. Will be a day one starter and has a chance to win DROY.
Round 3, #66 Overall
Diontae Johnson: WR, Toledo
Recap: Stop me if you have heard this before: the Steelers drafted a playmaking force from the MAC who was somewhat unheralded to the general public. Yes, that would be Diontae Johnson, and yes he has a ton of similarities to the last star WR they selected from the MAC in Antonio Brown. He has similar measurables to AB and seems to get open at will against press coverage, which should give him a chance to get reps early and often. He plays faster than his 4.53 40-time and had multiple TDs of 70yds+ not only as a pass catcher but as a return man. He has also demonstrated the ability to win routes outside and inside from the slot which the Steelers covet highly. Some may have been scoffing at this pick initially, but watch what you say because he has the potential to be a key playmaker for Big Ben this year. He gets a slight knock only because he seems to have the occasional focus drop, which should be coached out of him.
Round 3, #83 Overall
Justin Layne: CB, Michigan State
Recap: If ILB was the most glaring weakness on defense, the secondary was the next wart that needed to be addressed, especially with the busting of former first round pick, Artie Burns, and a lack of playmaking ability. Layne should help on both fronts as he has a background as a 4-star WR recruit that transitioned to CB just a few seasons ago. He doesn’t have elite deep speed, but his length and ball tracking ability give him the opportunity to get his hands up into a ton of passing lanes. With more development, those PBU’s could become INT’s. A quality CB talent that dropped and the Steelers got great value.
Round 4, #122 Overall
Benny Snell: RB, Kentucky
Recap: When you watch tape on Snell, all one sees is big play after big play, and multiple occasions of him bulldozing over would be tacklers, everything that embodies a Steelers RB. He was one of the figureheads at Kentucky that helped put that program back on the map and has a very outgoing personality that is infectious to his teammates. He is not a track athlete and his combine performance left some to be desired, but he plays harder and faster on the field than in his workout clothes. He will be a quality third member in an RB corp that consists of the powerful James Conner and the versatile Jaylen Samuels.
Round 5, #141 Overall
Zach Gentry: TE, Michigan
Recap: Gentry was a surprising underclassman that declared for this year’s draft due to his suspect production while at Michigan. He has great height and pass catching ability and the speed to be a intermediate seam stretcher, but his suspect 40 time at the combine put up a red flag, even though he tested better at his pro day. He also has middle of the road blocking ability that can be refined, but it is average at best right now. He is a former QB that understands how to get open though, and Mike Tomlin and his staff are banking on his growth potential in a similar way as they did with another former Big 10 underclassmen TE that declared early in Jesse James, who just signed a lucrative deal. His grade is so harsh because of the quality of TEs still available when he was selected such as Caleb Wilson, Isaac Nauta, and Kaden Smith.
Round 6, #175 Overall
Sutton Smith: Edge, Northern Illinois
Recap: The second star the Steelers selected from the MAC is the pass rushing dynamo in Sutton Smith. Yes, he lacks the ideal measurables that you would like from your edge rushers, but what you cannot knock him for are his heart and hustle. He wreaked havoc on any OT opponents put in front of him the last few years with a variety of moves, bend, and excellent closing quickness to bring down QBs. He should be a dynamite special teams player until he can get an opportunity as a rotational pass rusher. A great lottery ticket type that could explode and outplay his draft positioning.
Round 6, #192 Overall
Isaiah Buggs: DL, Alabama
Recap: For the second straight year, former Alabama DL coach Karl Dunbar gets a chance to coach another one of his DL he helped recruit. Buggs is a former JUCO star DL recruit and has way more talent that last year’s Alabama DL selection, Joshua Frazier. Buggs has a quick burst and is a powerful pass rusher from the interior, but he lacks the length to be able to two-gap effectively throughout a game. He is a very talented piece of clay to add to this DL room of Heyward, Tuitt, Hargrave, and Tuitt.
Round 6, #207 Overall
Ulysees Gilbert: LB, Akron
Recap: A athletic sideline-to-sideline LB selection that keeps adding to the facelift of the ILB on the roster. He ran in the 4.4-4.5 area at his pro day and has the fluidity to cover outlet receivers, but it will be his athleticism that flashes on special teams early. Any injection of speed and athleticism to this LB corp is a plus.
Round 7, #219 Overall
Derwin Gray: OL, Maryland
Recap: Gray has an extended background as an OT, especially on the left side, and is a better run blocker than pass blocker at this time. He has impressive length that may allow him to stay on the outside, but I could see him transitioning inside to OG and have a Ramon Foster type career.
Travon McMillian: RB, Colorado
P.J. Locke: S, Texas
Garrett Brumfield: OG, LSU
Fred Johnson: OG, Florida
Alexander Myres: CB, Houston
Dravon Askew-Henry: S, West Virginia
Chris Nelson: DL, Texas
Jay Hayes: DE, Georgia
Ian Berryman: P, Western Carolina
Matthew Wright: K, UCF
Recap: Overall the UDFA signings are a little underwhelming, but Berryman has a real chance to unseat an uneven Jordan Berry at the punter position. Brumfield and Johnson are two massive IOL who can move defenders off their spots but need to work on their functional mobility. McMillian is a former Virginia Tech Hokie who spent his final season at Colorado and has a solid all-around skill set to try and land a practice squad spot. P.J. Locke has a terrific opportunity to unseat Jordan Dangerfield for the final DB spot because he has the versatility to play all over the secondary while being a special teams kamikaze. Askew-Henry is a local kid looking for a miracle, and both DL are way down the depth chart behind former AAF standout Casey Sayles.
Overall 2019 Draft Class Grade: