Steelers Beat Writer

Dale Lolley is a contributor to the Observer-Reporter and has been covering the Pittsburgh Steelers since 1993.

We’re just under three weeks out from the NFL Draft and there seems to be a prevailing feeling the Steelers need to trade up to acquire one of the top two inside linebackers – Devin White of LSU or Devin Bush of Michigan – in the first round or the whole process won’t be a success.

Nothing, in fact, could be further from the truth.

White and Bush are both excellent prospects. Both ran the 40-yard dash in the low 4.4s at the NFL Scouting Combine in February, putting them on nearly equal footing as the man they would replace, Ryan Shazier, in terms of pure speed.

The difference is that the Steelers acquired Shazier with the 15th pick in the 2015 draft. The Steelers pick 20th in the first round this year.

And unless they can get White or Bush – likely Bush, because White will probably be a top-10 pick – at around the same spot, they shouldn’t make that kind of drastic move. Moving up a few spots to acquire Bush would make sense. After all, the Steelers have 10 picks in the draft and really don’t have the need to take 10 players.

But moving up, say, 10 spots? That would likely cost them their second-round draft pick and more, and that’s not a move they should make given the depth of this draft.

The trade of Antonio Brown gave the Steelers four of the first 86 picks, something general manager Kevin Colbert said last week the team feels very good about.

“We have four picks in the top 83, and 10 picks in the top 219 so we are picking once out of every 21 picks, so we are in much better shape draft-wise than we were prior to that trade,” Colbert said.

Some might look at that as Colbert trying to put some spin on the trade of Brown. But the reality is that he’s right. In this draft, which is deep with talent, having four of the first 83 picks is quite valuable.

By using all four of those picks, the Steelers could set themselves up well. If they somehow pull off something close to what they did in 2017, then it would be a coup. Their first three picks in 2017 yielded T.J. Watt, JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner, all three of whom were voted to the Pro Bowl last season.

And it’s not like the Steelers have immediate needs in their starting lineup after free agency. They have wants, to be sure. But the additions of cornerback Steven Nelson, linebacker Mark Barron and wide receiver Donte Moncrief have lessened their needs.

Bush would be a nice long-term upgrade over Barron. But Barron is already an upgrade over Jon Bostic and Morgan Burnett at inside linebacker. But Bush would not be worth acquiring if it cost the Steelers the opportunity to select the next Smith-Schuster, their second-round pick in 2017. Or Sean Davis, their second-round pick in 2016.

  • There are other inside linebackers available in this draft who could be long-term starters and be acquired later in the draft. White and Bush are both good and would likely be immediate starters, there are the options to fill the spot. One would be making a trade for a veteran player. After signing C.J. Mosley in free agency, the New York Jets have too many inside linebackers and are reportedly shopping Darron Lee, their first-round pick from 2016.

The Steelers should be players to acquire Lee if they miss out on White and Bush.

Ironically, Lee was the 20th player selected in the 2016 draft. He also happens to have been the player who replaced Shazier at Ohio State.

Lee isn’t as fast or instinctive as Shazier, but he’s most certainly in the same conversation. He’s had some injury issues with the Jets, playing 12, 15 and 13 games in his first three seasons. But that also was the knock against Shazier in his first few seasons.

Lee also has shown some productivity, including intercepting three passes in 2018.

If you think taking a Jets castoff is a bad idea, then realize the last time the Steelers acquired a former first-round linebacker from the Jets it worked out OK. James Farrior would go on to become perhaps the best free-agent signing in Steelers history.

If the Steelers can get Lee for, say, a fifth-round draft pick, then they should jump on that in a heartbeat.

  • The one thing the Pirates couldn’t afford to happen if they hoped (dreamed) to contend this season was a rash of injuries.

They didn’t even make it through the first week of the regular season without getting hit by a rash of injuries.

With outfielders Gregory Polanco, Lonnie Chisenhall and Corey Dickerson all on the disabled list, they were forced to play Colin Moran, a third baseman by trade, in left field Friday night against Cincinnati.

That’s OK for a one-game experiment, but it’s not something a team that hopes (dreams) to contend can do as a long-term solution.

  • Then again, a team that hopes (dreams) of contending probably shouldn’t go into a season with a journeyman such as Erik Gonzalez at shortstop.

Not that Gonzalez isn’t a nice player to have – coming off the bench.

  • When you have a dollar hotdog night at the ballaprk, it’s probably a good idea to match the number of buns on hand to the hotdogs you’ve ordered.

Aramark, which runs concessions for the Pirates at PNC Park, didn’t do that Wednesday in what turned into the latest PR blunder for the team.

You can pin your hopes and dreams on Gonzalez proving he can be an everyday shortstop in the major leagues. But you can’t put your hotdog in an imaginary bun.

That’s not necessarily on the Pirates, to be sure. But it certainly wasn’t a good look.

  • One thing the Pirates do have to be pleased about thus far is their starting pitching. That group has lived up to its billing for sure.

In their first six games, through Friday night, the Pirates’ starters had allowed five earned runs. That’s not just pretty good. That’s excellent.

It’s also something that’s just not going to hold up over the course of a 162-game schedule.

Unfortunately for the Pirates, all of that great pitching only added up to a 3-3 record. When you get that kind of starting pitching, you’d better take advantage of it if you have any hope (dream) of contending.

Dale Lolley covers the Steelers for DKPittsburghSports.com and writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.

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