Steelers Beat Writer

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

The NFL will hold its draft later this week, allowing the Steelers to completely turn the page on the receiver who is no longer here.

The Steelers will have to wait until 2020 to use the compensatory pick they will eventually be given in return for Le’Veon Bell – likely a third-round selection – but they get an opportunity to use the third- and fifth-round picks they received from Oakland for Antonio Brown this week.

And while many fans were upset with the overall return, the guess here is that they’ll be pretty happy with it when they see what those picks help bring in later this week.

This is a deep draft, and the more picks you have, the better.

Many people like to focus on the first-round pick and who it will be. And that is important. But the draft hardly stops there.

In fact, think back to 2017, when the Steelers selected T.J. Watt in the first round. Things were hardly over at that point. They then took JuJu Smith-Schuster in the second round and James Conner with a compensatory pick – for losing offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum – in the third.

All three played in the Pro Bowl last season and will be major contributors in 2019.

But the first-round pick is expected to be a major contributor this season.

So where might the Steelers go with that pick?

They would love the chance to select one of the top two inside linebackers available, LSU’s Devin White and Michigan’s Devin Bush. But there’s a decent chance both are gone long before the Steelers have a chance to select them with the 20th pick in the first round.

And the cost of moving up to 10 or so to have a shot at getting one of them would likely be too costly.

So, if not White or Bush, then who?

Cornerback is always a need for this team, while receiver became one when Brown was traded. And the Steelers also could use help at safety and tight end.

The Steelers haven’t had a lot of success drafting cornerbacks, but part of the reason for that is they rarely do so in the first round. Prior to taking Artie Burns in 2016, the Steelers hadn’t selected one in the first round since Chad Scott in 1997.

And neither were anywhere close to being the first cornerback selected in their respective drafts.

Because of the depth of this draft at other positions, the Steelers could have the luxury of having their choice of cornerbacks in this draft.

There aren’t any other inside linebackers beyond White and Bush who are first-round talents. And the receiver position, while deep, is lacking top-end talent. That position can better be filled in the second or third round.

Iowa’s T.J. Hockenson is considered a future star at the tight end position. But unless he’s available at 20, it just wouldn’t make much sense to take a player at that position considering the outstanding depth at tight end and the fact the Steelers have a very capable starter in Vance McDonald.

Safety could be a consideration, since like the cornerback position, there isn’t a player at that position expected to be taken in the first 15 to 20 picks. But there also will be solid players available in the second and third rounds there.

Who could be the Steelers’ top pick? Washington cornerback Byron Murphy.

This is a team that needs to improve its takeaways after forcing just 15 last season. And Murphy, who could start immediately as the nickel cornerback, could help there.

  • A sleeper position for the Steelers to take in the first round is outside linebacker.

This year’s draft is deep in first-round talent at the position and Bud Dupree is heading into the final year of his contract.

If a player such as Brian Burns from Florida State or Clelin Ferrell of Clemson happens to be available, the Steelers would be very tempted to take them.

  • The NFL released its 2019 schedule earlier this week, and if you watched any of the TV shows or listened to the radio programs breaking it down, you’d have thought the Browns have the most prime-time games in the league.

They don’t. They have four. A number of other teams, including the Steelers, have five.

But hey, Cleveland typically only gets one prime time game per season. So, it is exciting for the Browns to get more than that.

However, it also could be their undoing.

One thing the Steelers have done well over the years is win their night games. But other teams struggle in those matchups.

The Bengals, for example, who have been good in general since selecting Andy Dalton in 2011, are just 6-14 in prime time since he’s been their quarterback.

And it’s not just dealing with the actual prime time, it’s rebounding to play against the next week coming off what is typically a shorter work week.

The Browns haven’t had to deal with that much. But they will this season. In fact, three of their first five games are night games.

We’ll see if they’re ready for prime time.

  • It’s hard to say which was more disappointing, the Steelers not making the playoffs in 2018 or the Penguins getting swept out of the postseason by the New York Islanders.

Yes, the Penguins made the playoffs for the 13th consecutive year, which is great. But the NHL takes eight teams per conference to the postseason each year.

If the NFL took eight teams per conference, the Steelers would have been in the playoffs every year since 2003, which happens to be the last time they had a losing record.

Because of that, the vote here goes to the Penguins as being the greater disappointment.

  • The Pirates have quietly posted the best record in the NL Central thus far. And they have done so with starting outfielders Gregory Polanco and Corey Dickerson injured and Starling Marte batting around .200.

Now, with the Penguins’ postseason finished, maybe people will notice this is a team that is better than anyone thought it would be.

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

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