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Tim Benz: Steelers’ moves quizzical on draft day

Tim Benz
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Virginia Tech's Terrell Edmunds takes a selfie as he celebrates with fans after being selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first round of the NFL football draft, Thursday, April 26, 2018, in Arlington, Texas.

I’m still trying to figure out how they got here.

In a lot of ways.

The Steelers selected Virginia Tech safety Terrell Edmunds with their first pick in the NFL Draft on Thursday. That was the 28th overall pick.

During a conference call with Pittsburgh media members after the selection, Edmunds admitted he was surprised he was selected that quickly.

Join the club.

Edmunds said he thought he was going to be a Day 2 selection. So that’s second or even third round.

Most draft analysts agree.

NFL.com‘s Mike Mayock rated Edmunds as the 73rd player on his board. ESPN’s Mel Kiper had him as the eighth-rated safety available. Luke Easterling of “Draft Wire” at USA Today had him as the 14th-best safety. NFL Media analyst and former scout Bucky Brooks called him a second-round pick.

It’s not only who the Steelers selected, but who they didn’t get. If the Steelers wanted a safety, more highly touted players at the position such as Ronnie Harrison of Alabama and Justin Reid of Stanford were still out there.

Given their signing of Morgan Burnett and Sean Davis being in just his third year, if the Steelers were looking for secondary help, I thought they’d be more inclined to take a cornerback, especially with the surprising presence of Iowa’s Josh Jackson still in play.

“We just thought that this was the best player,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said. “It was plain for us.”

Colbert said that Edmunds could be either a free safety or a strong safety, so clearly that versatility was appealing. But is this buyer’s remorse on Burnett or a red flag that they may have overdrafted Davis two years ago? What does this mean for who plays at safety now?

“We’re going to sort all of those things out,” said coach Mike Tomlin. “There are more than two safety positions when you are talking about sub-package football.”

Furthermore, there is still the glaring need to replace Ryan Shazier at inside linebacker. Shazier walking out to ceremonially make the pick at the podium was the highlight of the night.

So it fills the hearts of Steelers fans with hope that he can continue his recovery to live a normal life. And who knows, maybe even play in the future. But for 2018, he’s not going to be on the field.

The four top inside linebacker prospects — Rashaan Evans, Leighton Vander Esch, Roquan Smith, and Tremaine Edmunds (Terrell’s brother) — were all gone by pick 28. So the Steelers must try to find someone capable of filling that void with one of the next three picks they have Friday.

Yet, by the time they select again in the second round, an already thinning talent pool at that position may be virtually dry.

The Steelers also left who many felt was the second best running back in the draft on the board in LSU’s Derrius Guice. Plus, they now need receiver depth after dealing away Martavis Bryant to the Oakland Raiders earlier in the night.

All those options were left behind for a safety who could’ve been there in Round 2 and may not start this year.

Then there’s that trade of Bryant. A third-round pick came back to Pittsburgh for him from Oakland. The first reaction was that the Steelers were going to try to use that chip as an extra piece to move up in the draft to get either Evans or Vander Esch.

That never happened, though, as either the asking price was too high or there was no trade partner to be found if the Steelers were trying to move — as they should’ve been.

Sure, it’s great to get an extra pick in the third round for Bryant. A guy who wouldn’t be here after 2018 anyway.

However, if the hope was to parlay it into a climb up the board, it ended up being a swing and a miss. Now you just have a hole to fill at receiver, and you have to face Bryant, too, in December in Oakland.

“When you get an extra pick, that’s always an opportunity,” Colbert said. “But at worst we’ll have two, and two threes (Friday).”

It’s all quizzical. Who the Steelers took, the position they addressed, who they bypassed and the real reasons behind why they made the Bryant trade in the first place.

If they are right about Edmunds, and he’s better than all those other safeties — and Sean Davis — then good scouting by them.

But beyond the talent evaluation of the player himself, how they even wound up sending that card to the podium for Shazier to read doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at [email protected] or via Twitter @TimBenzPGH.

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