ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. likes inside linebacker depth beyond 1st round for Steelers
With a second NFL Draft approaching since the Pittsburgh Steelers lost Pro Bowl inside linebacker Ryan Shazier to a spinal cord injury, the team is still searching for his replacement, a versatile player who can stay on the field for every down.
Jon Bostic wasn’t the answer after being signed in free agency. He played 53 percent of all defensive snaps in his first year with the team and was on the field for only six plays in the season finale against Cincinnati.
Vince Williams, who is entering his third consecutive season as the other starter, was on the field for 71 percent of the snaps, but he often was removed on passing downs.
The Steelers bypassed an inside linebacker in the first round last year when all of their top choices were off the board. The surprising part was they didn’t address the position with any of their selections.
This year, the Steelers should have at least one potential three-down player to choose when they select No. 20 overall. Although the top inside linebacker of the class, LSU’s Devin White, is expected to go earlier in the draft, Michigan’s Devin Bush is a possible mid-to-late round selection for the Steelers.
In his first mock draft that he unveiled in January, ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. had Bush targeted to the Steelers. In his version 2.0, which he released on Monday, Kiper changed his mind and had the Steelers selecting Georgia cornerback Deandre Baker. Kiper projected Bush slipping to the Green Bay Packers at No. 30.
“I think there is a pretty good chance Devin Bush will be there (for the Steelers),” Kiper said on a conference call with reporters Tuesday.
If the Steelers take a cornerback with their top pick, Kiper believes there is value in the second and third rounds. He projects Alabama’s Mack Wilson going in the second round. Wilson had 71 tackles as a junior and elected to forgo his senior season.
“Do you reach a little bit for Mack Wilson?” Kiper said. “In August, I thought he would be a solid mid-first rounder and follow in the footsteps of the great inside linebackers coming out of Alabama. He didn’t have the year he expected. I thought he would go back. He didn’t. He’s in this draft. I think he could be a late (first-rounder), but I’m projecting him more as a two.”
Kiper listed three players as possibilities for the Steelers in the third or fourth rounds:
• David Long, a 5-foot-11, 225-pound redshirt junior from West Virginia. The Big 12 defensive player of the year, Long led the Mountaineers with 111 tackles. “He’s an interesting guy,” Kiper said. “He fits today’s NFL very well.”
• T.J. Edwards, a 6-1, 244-pound senior from Wisconsin. He had 112 tackles in 13 games. “A smart, instinctive linebacker, Kiper said. “He won’t test great in terms of 40 speed, but he’s a good solid football player.”
• Te’von Coney, a 6-1, 240-pound senior from Notre Dame. In the regular season, he led the Fighting Irish with 107 tackles in 12 games.
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .