The Steelers signed seventh-round draft pick Derwin Gray to a four-year contract. Gray, who played at the University of Maryland, was the team’s seventh round draft pick, selected with the 219th pick overall.
Gray was drafted as an offensive tackle, but Coach Mike Tomlin said he could move to guard.
“Definitely has some guard, physical characteristics that we would be interested in looking at as well,” said Tomlin. “Flexibility and versatility will be an element of discussion.”
Gray, who played in 35 games with 25 starts, said he is open to whatever the coaches ask of him.
“I’ve played both, left and right tackle,” said Gray. “I haven’t played inside. But again, I’m willing to play either one as needed. I’m not really sure where they are going to move me at or keep me out at tackle, but I’m willing to play either one.
“It was always great with the Steelers. They always believed in me. They trusted in me. The believed in my ability that I’m going to get the job done. I’m excited about the opportunity to come to contribute early at whatever position I’m needed.”
Playing at a mid-major football program is no guarantee of NFL Draft status.
It might get a player a look. After all, NFL scouts are in the business of finding talent. If a player has it, they will find him.
Former University of Akron standout linebacker Ulysees Gilbert III might have been discovered. He’s been projected as a late-round selection to an undrafted free agent. He’s been getting the looks that he earned. Gilbert worked out for more than a few NFL teams, the most recent being the Los Angeles Chargers and Atlanta Falcons.
He has a respectable collegiate resume, having played in every game in his four years. He was chosen first-team All-Mid-American Conference his sophomore and junior years and second-team All-MAC as a senior and earned aninvitation to the East-West Shrine Game.
The 6-foot-1, 230-pound native of Ocala, Fla., has the speed for the NFL, according to several draft analysts. What they knock him for is his strength. Gilbert isn’t concerned with any of that, including his draft status. Others have a different opinion.
“If he doesn’t get a shot, it would be ridiculous,” said former UA associate head coach and defensive coordinator Chuck Amato, who’d definitely have some insight. He recruited Gilbert to UA.
“He’s a very good player. He’s got size. He’s bigger than [Jatavis Brown] was,” Amato said. “If he’s not drafted, someone is going to pick up a great player [as a free agent]. To me, if he doesn’t get drafted in the first five rounds, he should hope he doesn’t, so he can pick his own team.”
As for Gilbert, he uses the word “blessed” a lot to describe the position he’s in with the draft just around the corner, stating that he’s been happy with the process. It doesn’t sound disingenuous in the least when he does so, but he owes his opportunity to the hard work he put in at UA.
Make no mistake about how he wants that to pay dividends for him.
“That’s my dream and definitely I feel like I will get drafted. At the end of the day, you don’t really know what’s going to happen, but I just know God has a plan in store, but whatever it is, it’s the best plan for me,” he said on a brisk Tuesday morning as his former team held spring practice at InfoCision Stadium.
He’s come a long way since arriving. Habits that he picked up from former players, especially Brown, who he speaks with nearly every day, have helped him in the process with NFL scouts.
“As soon as I got here,” he said of Brown during his sophomore year, “he took me under his wing and showed me all of the little things he picked up when he was here at the time and taught me different techniques and different things to look at on the other side of the ball.”
Scouts appreciate his work in the film room as much as the work on the field. It could be a sign that on that day, his workout came with a Chargers scout, Brown’s current team. Does he have a preference as to where he plays? The answer for someone chasing a dream is obvious.
“It’ll be a blessing just to play football and do what I love to do,” he said. “Anywhere I go will be a blessing and will be the best team for me.”
The first of nine players the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted last month is under contract.
Defensive tackle Isaiah Buggs agreed to a standard four-year rookie contract, the team announced Tuesday afternoon. The 6-3, 295-pound Buggs led national runner-up Alabama in sacks last season with 9½.
The 192nd overall pick taken with the second of the Steelers’ three sixth-round choices, Buggs was recruited to the Crimson Tide out of junior college in part by Steelers defensive line coach Karl Dunbar, who previously held the same job at Alabama.
Buggs is expected to compete for a spot to be the fifth or sixth defensive lineman in the Steelers’ rotation this season.
Though terms were not disclosed, rookie contracts are virtually predetermined via a slotting system.
Steelers rookie minicamp is this weekend at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex. Players do not need to be signed to participate.
Sutton Smith was as dominant of a defender as we’ve ever seen in the MAC.
In his two seasons as a starting defensive end at Northern Illinois, Smith eased his way into backfields and created havoc. The back-to-back reigning MAC Defensive Player of the Year registered 29.0 sacks, 56.5 tackles for loss, and 124 total tackles during the 2017 and 2018 seasons. He led all FBS players with his 14 sacks in 2017 and ranked third in the nation with an impressive follow-up act of 15 sacks in 2018.
Smith was redshirted upon arrival to DeKalb and played briefly as a freshman. But in his sophomore and junior seasons, he was as dangerous as any pass rusher in college football. Smith was named a Consensus All-American in 2017 and 2018, with several first team nominations by major selectors.
When his college career came to a conclusion in Boca Raton in late December and he had obtained nearly every individual accomplishment for a defensive end, Smith — already a college graduate — declared for the NFL Draft. He received an invite to the Senior Bowl where he saw some playing time in the second half in his North team’s 34-24 win over the South.
Smith’s transition to the NFL isn’t similar to the majority of draft hopefuls. He’s learning different positions throughout this process and will likely transition to outside linebacker. At 6’0” and 233 pounds, many deem Smith too small for an NFL defensive end despite his off-the-charts numbers as a DE in college. According to SB Nation, there hasn’t been an NFL defensive end 6’1” and 240 pounds or smaller since Greg Morton in 1977.
In fact, Smith was much smaller than his current measurements prior to college and excelled in a different position in high school. As a senior at Howell High School in Missouri, Smith rushed for over 2,000 yards and 32 touchdowns while playing running back. That running back speed is still evident in Smith on defense.
He’s an incredibly fast pass rusher, with a great jolt of speed boosting him off the line of scrimmage. Smith utilizes this gift to his advantage when blazing by larger, slower linemen. At the NFL Combine, Smith impressed onlooking scouts with a 4.69 40-yard dash, one of the fastest times for players classified as EDGE rushers. Additionally, he’s mastered several effective go-to moves on the pass rush, which include spin moves and hesitations.
But most importantly, Smith’s concentration is top-notch. He never gives up on plays despite initial adversity and attacks with full-speed until the whistle. A great example of this quality was the game-changing play in Northern Illinois’ 19-point comeback to defeat Buffalo in the 2018 MAC Championship Game.
For a defender that put up such monstrous stats from the defensive end position, he doesn’t have too many glaring weaknesses outside of size and the fact that he has to catch up on a new position in the NFL. Smith’s 233 pounds may give him a lot less leverage against larger and more powerful NFL linemen, but he still possesses substantial strength as demonstrated by his 25 reps of 225 on the bench press at the NFL Combine.
Smith has all the tools to thrive as a utility player at the next level. Outside of his pass rushing and run stopping abilities, Smith played a major role in other areas for NIU. He finished his collegiate career with four touchdowns. On his six fumble recoveries as a Huskie, he cashed three of them in for touchdowns. He also blocked a punt, scooped it up, and returned it for a touchdown — unassisted — in Northern Illinois’ 38-15 win over Toledo on November 7. NIU’s defense ranked among the elites in many categories (e.g. tackles for loss) in 2017 and 2018, and Smith was the engineer behind the unit.
As a rookie, Smith will likely take his array of talents to special teams. Given his speed, tackling ability, and his ability to create turnovers and game-altering plays, an NFL franchise will likely select Smith to be a part of the kickoff/punt team. With success in these opportunities, he may transition to a full-time outside linebacker, a position which he’ll continue to develop in once landing on an NFL roster. That opportunity should arise on the third day of the upcoming draft, ranging anywhere from the fifth to the seventh round. His college production was too great for him for teams to disregard during the draft, and Smith will be a low-risk, high-reward pickup.
ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The Pittsburgh Steelers selected former Michigan tight end Zach Gentry in the fifth round of the NFL draft.
Gentry has a chance to be a very good professional tight end, but he was selected so late because he’s an unfinished product.
Gentry has the size to be a dangerous red zone target, but he
only caught four touchdown passes in 26 games the last two seasons.
Michigan didn’t have a lot of receiving touchdowns, but Gentry was often
a nonfactor in goal line passing situations.
He also dropped some important passes late last season,
particularly in the Ohio State game. Drops weren’t a major issue for
Gentry throughout his career, and his hands will improve as he continues
to adapt to the position.
Developing Gentry will certainly be a project, but he has a high
ceiling and could be a great weapon in the passing game before his
professional career ends.
Gentry was drafted with the No. 141 overall pick. He was the fifth Michigan player selected, behind linebacker Devin Bush, defensive linemen Rashan Gary and Chase Winovich, and cornerback David Long.
Jim Harbaugh recruited Gentry as a four-star quarterback from New Mexico and quickly converted him to tight end. While the move drew criticism at first, it worked out for Gentry, who is now on an NFL roster.
Gentry didn’t play much in 2016 as he adapted to his new position, but once he became part of the offense in 2017, his 6-foot-8-inch frame made him a mismatch for defenders.
Over the last two seasons, Gentry caught 49 passes for 817 yards and four touchdowns. He was one of Shea Patterson’s favorite targets last season.
Gentry has a chance to be a very good professional tight end, but he was selected so late because he’s an unfinished product.
Gentry has the size to be a dangerous red zone target, but he only caught four touchdown passes in 26 games the last two seasons. Michigan didn’t have a lot of receiving touchdowns, but Gentry was often a nonfactor in goal line passing situations.
He also dropped some important passes late last season, particularly in the Ohio State game. Drops weren’t a major issue for Gentry throughout his career, and his hands will improve as he continues to adapt to the position.
Developing Gentry will certainly be a project, but he has a high ceiling and could be a great weapon in the passing game before his professional career ends.
The Pittsburgh Steelers used a fourth-round draft pick on Kentucky running back Benny Snell, adding depth to a backfield that is already headlined by James Conner. Snell is thrilled to be a member of the Steelers organization, saying he was made for this:
“I felt like I was made to be a Steeler,” Snell said on 93.7 The Fan. “It was just right. It feels right. This is my type of football and the fit was just perfect. I feel that I’ve been in a lot of situations, and the NFL is completely different, but I feel like I’ve had pressure on my shoulders on so many occasions that I became successful at the end of the game. Or I was able to get those tough yards, get the touchdown if needed, so I feel like whatever situation I’m put in, I’m going to try to give my best so we can have the best outcome.”
The 21-year-old is coming off a junior campaign in which he racked up 1,449 yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground, averaging five yards per carry.
Snell arrived at Kentucky in 2016 and instantly became an integral part of the Wildcats’ offense, rushing for 1,091 yards and 13 scores in his freshman season. Then, the following year, Snell was even better, totaling 1,333 yards while reaching the end zone 19 times as a rusher.
The Steelers went 9-6-1 this past season, missing the playoffs for the first time since 2013 in spite of a 7-2-1 start. Locker room issues derailed Pittsburgh in the second half of the year. Snell might bring more harmony to a locker room which needs all the cohesion it can get.
Justin Layne watched as he nearly slid out of Day 2 of the 2019 NFL Draft, but the former Michigan State football star is ready to prove 31 teams wrong.
Everyone ready to buy their Pittsburgh Steelers jerseys? I know, after the Steelers and Le’Veon Bell had a falling out, many Michigan State football fans lost interest in the organization, but it’s time to pick that back up.
Justin Layne was selected in the third round by the Steelers which was about a round and a half too late, especially considering Mel Kiper had him as a potential late-first round selection and his third-best cornerback prospect in the draft class.
But Layne watched as cornerback after cornerback heard their names called in the first, second and third rounds until he was selected in the mid-third.
The Steelers are getting a lengthy corner who can lock receivers down and who will learn in one of the better organizations in the NFL.
Was he worried about his draft placement? He tweeted at someone who said that he needs to use this draft slide as fuel and he responded with “not tripping”. He stayed calm, cool and collected, but you know this adds a chip to his shoulder.
Growing up a Browns fan, he watched his favorite team as a kid trade up on Day 2 to select a cornerback — Greedy Williams out of LSU. He’s already said that his family has thrown away their Browns stuff in order to pick up Steelers apparel — a big rival of the Browns. He has the perfect mindset and this has made him hungrier to prove himself.
I think it’s fair to say that the reviews on the Pittsburgh Steelers’ draft class are mixed. There are definitely those who believe the team gave up too much—a 2019 second-round pick and their third-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft—to trade up 10 spots in the first round for inside linebacker Devin Bush.
Their next pick did not come until the start of the third round, and when it did, there was many a groan when the name rolling across the screen was Toledo wide receiver Diontae Johnson, who many amateur online scouts felt was more of a late-round pick.
Steelers wide receivers coach Darryl Drake, however, expressed high confidence that there is no way Johnson would have made it to the team’s second third-round pick as Bruce Arians, the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, cursed him out after Pittsburgh took him, because he was going to be their selection a few picks later.
That’s generally not how the Steelers approach their draft board, however. What they concern themselves with is if they are drafting players where they are comfortable drafting them based on their own evaluations. And according to Gerry Dulac, they were probably very pleased with where they got Johnson, because they reportedly had a first-round grade on him.
Even though he was a pre-draft visitor, Johnson is probably not a player that a ton of people did a heavy amount of scouting on, even with the reality that he bore some certain similarities to one Antonio Brown when he came out of a MAC school as an underclassman in 2010.
Dulac seemingly casually dropped this little nugget about the Steelers having a first-round grade on Johnson, but it’s interesting and worth noting that only two wide receivers were even taken in the first round this year, those being Marquise Brown 25th overall and then N’Keal Harry with the 32nd pick. There was a run at wide receiver at the end of the second round, and Johnson was essentially a continuation of that at the top of the first with the Steelers’ first selection since 10th overall.
If the team did indeed have a first-round grade on Johnson, then it marks the second year in which they were able to acquire a player in the third round that they believed has first-round talent. In 2018, they traded up a few spots toward the front half of the third round to select quarterback Mason Rudolph, whom they graded in the same tier as the five quarterbacks who were taken in the first round.
If the Toledo product actually plays up to a first-round talent, that will be a huge break for the Steelers, who got meager compensation in return for Antonio Brown in trade. Yet it would be fitting to get a star from a pick acquired from his trade. After all, they got Brown from a pick they acquired indirectly from trading Santonio Holmes—who of course announced the Johnson selection on Friday, because how else can this offseason have gone?
The Steelers saw a player they liked in Michigan linebacker Devin Bush, so made a rare, aggressive move to get him in the first round of the NFL draft.
Pittsburgh moved up 10 spots in the first round to select Bush with the 10th overall pick on Thursday night.
“If a player is high on your board and he gets within reach, then you make the necessary moves to go up and get him,” Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said.
Pittsburgh swapped first round picks with the Broncos, sending the 20th overall selection to Denver along with a second round pick (No. 52 overall) and a 2020 third rounder.
The Steelers hope Bush can be a capable replacement for Ryan Shazier, the Steelers’ 2014 first-round pick who will sit out a second straight season while recovering from spinal surgery in December 2017.
Bush is well-aware of Shazier’s story, but he’s ready to carve out his own role.
“I wish all the best for Ryan Shazier in his recovery and I hope to see him soon,” Bush said. “I’m not trying to compare myself to Ryan Shazier or anybody else. I want to come in and be Devin Bush.”
Bush, a 5-foot-11, 225-pound junior, played in 39 games, making 32 starts during a three-year career at Michigan. A consensus All-American in 2018, Bush registered 194 tackles, including 20 for loss, 10 sacks, one interception and 17 passes defensed at Michigan.
Bush, whose father Devin Bush Sr. won a Super Bowl in St. Louis, was named the Big Ten defensive player of the year and Big Ten linebacker of the year in 2018. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said the organization scouted Bush extensively.
“He’s an all-situations linebacker, but we’re equally as fired up about his intangibles,” Tomlin said. “He comes from a football family and he’s a football guy. We interviewed a lot of Michigan players and it was unanimous in terms of who their unquestioned leader was.”
Pittsburgh started 7-2-1, but a late collapse forced the Steelers to finish 9-6-1 and miss the playoffs for the first time since 2013. The Steelers hope Bush can serve as a three-down linebacker who can rush sideline-to-sideline and also make plays in the middle of the field to bolster a defense that failed to create takeaways or land critical stops down the stretch.
Bush feels he can help remedy the problem.
“I think I’m a good fit because I love to win,” Bush said.
While Bush can immediately help the defense with his skillset, Colbert said he might not be thrust into a starting role after the team signed former Los Angeles Rams linebacker Mark Barron to a two-year free agent contract in March.
“He will help us at some point, but it will be when he’s ready and not necessarily forcing him into a situation,” Colbert said. “He was a great player on a really good college defense, but it’s still the NFL. I think Devin will push the process, but it will be up to the coaches to decide when he’s ready.”
The Steelers still have eight picks remaining, including two third-rounders. Their next pick, No. 66 overall, is the third-rounder acquired for star receiver Antonio Brown — the only player in NFL history with six straight 100-catch seasons — who was traded away to the Oakland Raiders.
Colbert said the trade for Brown and the future compensation the team may receive after losing All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell allowed the Steelers to trade up and draft Bush. Bell sat out last season after declining to sign his $14.5 million franchise tender.
“We said under no circumstances would we go into (Friday) with less than two picks,” Colbert said. “We would look into trading up, but that was our criteria because there are good picks left. And we believe we’ll have some type of compensatory pick in 2020, so it gives us a little more justification for trading away a future pick. Had we not had 10 picks, we probably wouldn’t have been able to make this trade.”
Bush is Pittsburgh’s first top 10 pick since 2000, when the Steelers selected Plaxico Burress at No. 8 overall. He’s Pittsburgh’s first top 10 pick on defense since Hall of Famer Rod Woodson in 1987. Pittsburgh has used its first round pick on a defensive player each of the last seven years.
The last time the Steelers moved up in the first round was 2006, when they picked wide receiver Santonio Holmes. In 2003, Pittsburgh moved the Steelers from 27th overall to No. 16 to select four-time All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu.
“Mean” Joe Greene, the Steelers’ No. 1 pick in 1969, announced Bush’s selection. Moments earlier, Tomlin was on the call, telling Bush that the Steelers were about to trade up and pick the Michigan standout.
“He was just like ‘Are you ready to be a Steeler?'” Bush said. “And I was like, ‘Hell yeah coach, I’m ready.’ They were super excited and told me how much they felt they needed me. It was a great moment.”