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Steelers draft buzz: Team eyes pass-rushers and pass-catchers

With less than 24 hours before the Pittsburgh Steelers draft, here are a few things I've heard or observed heading into the weekend:

Off the edge: There’s a good chance the Steelers take an outside linebacker in the first two rounds. A few people I’ve talked to with teams selecting later in the first round sense the Steelers will bolster the defense in the first round, either with pass-rush or defensive-back help.

One pass-rush option is UCLA's Takkarist McKinley, who was one of the team’s top-30 visits during the pre-draft process. But there’s a strong feeling he won’t be available when the Steelers come up at No. 30 in the first round. McKinley (6-foot-2, 250) is slightly smaller than third-year linebacker Bud Dupree but has a similar speed (4.59 40) and high motor.

The pass-rush depth in this draft is solid, so the Steelers can take the best player available in the first, regardless of position, figuring the Day 2 pass-rushers are capable. Think Youngstown State’s Derek Rivers, Auburn’s Carl Lawson, Houston’s Tyus Bowser or Alabama’s Tim Williams. Last year, the Steelers scoured the earth for cornerbacks because they had no choice. This year, the roster has more balance.

Playmaking help: With Alabama’s O.J. Howard expected to fall off the board early in the first round, Miami’s David Njoku could come into play in the late first. The Steelers like the tight-end depth in this class but could opt for more refinement. Njoku is ultra-talented but considered raw as a receiver. Two evaluators have told me he’s a bit unnatural as a receiver, which is a concern.

If the team had the choice between Njoku and, say, Western Michigan receiver Corey Davis, I believe Davis would be the pick.

A few other playmaking options I like for the Steelers for various points in the draft: Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram, East Carolina receiver Zay Jones, Clemson tight end Jordan Leggett, Penn State receiver Chris Godwin, Texas A&M receiver Josh Reynolds.

Washington DB flavor?: Can’t help but think a Washington Huskies player has a decent chance to end up in Pittsburgh. Corner Kevin King has the size (6-foot-3, 32-inch arms) and hybrid skill set the Steelers coveted in recent high picks Ryan Shazier and Sean Davis. He limits opponents' big plays, too. Safety Budda Baker, who visited the Steelers this month, is a fierce competitor in the open field, which might help offset his 5-foot-9⅝ frame.

If the Steelers really want to get weird, they can take freak athlete safety Obi Melifonwu. Coordinator Keith Butler could get creative with Meliwonfu’s 6-foot-4 frame.

Phones ringing: The Steelers typically stay put with their first-round pick, but with several teams looking to trade back in a deep but not top-heavy draft, the Steelers could field a few calls in both directions. Some reports have Cal quarterback Davis Webb sliding into the late first round. Though that might happen, I don’t sense the Steelers are getting many calls about him from teams looking to move up.

The QB: Don’t expect Pittsburgh to force this. This quarterback class is far from perfect. The Steelers will look for value; if a high-upside stash option falls to Day 2 or 3, they'll consider that. I don’t expect them to make a quarterback splash unless the situation is right.

The Steelers haven’t tipped their hand on this position. I do believe the intrigue in Patrick Mahomes is genuine, and that he’d be fairly high on their list of quarterback prospects.