Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Safety squeeze

The Steelers have a good mix at safety but this position is among the deepest in the draft and may be the best talent available at pick 30

- Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@postgazett­e.com. Twitter @EdBouchett­e.

One of the Steelers’ stronger starting positions entering next season is that of safety with Mike Mitchell and Sean Davis. It is a good mix of a seasoned free safety and a young strong safety.

So, should the Steelers be in the market to draft another and if so, how high should they grab one?

Mitchell, who turns 30 in June, is signed through 2018. He has played well for them the past two years and should play through his contract. Davis, their second-round draft choice last year, has versatilit­y and the looks of a future Pro Bowl player.

The Steelers are set there. But would they pass up the safety one draft site compares to Troy Polamalu if they have the chance? Or one who stands 6-4, weighs 224 and has sprinter’s speed?

Jabrill Peppers of Michigan may not last until No. 30 in the first round where the Steelers are positioned. But then, they did not think Polamalu would last until 27, their original spot in 2003, which is why they traded up to No. 16 to snatch him.

This is what NFL-Draft-Scout wrote when comparing Peppers to Polamalu:

“Few players can match Polamalu’s instincts, improvisat­ion and flair for the dramatic but Peppers is close.”

Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert would not answer a direct question about how to evaluate Peppers. He said, in general, “Players who really aren’t playing a position you might project them playing in the pros, you just have to look at the basic criteria of the position you’re projecting him to play. Does he have that athleticis­m to maybe project to that position?”

There also is Obi Melifonwu, the 6-4, 224-pound stud from Connecticu­t who ran a 4.4 flat at the combine. The four-year starter did so well at those workouts in Indianapol­is that he has been shooting up draft boards. Stil, it is more reasonable to think he could fall to No. 30 than Peppers.

With so many needs elsewhere — cornerback, outside linebacker, wide receiver — it would seem silly for the Steelers to draft a safety in the first round. It’s more likely they would do so on Saturday, when rounds 4-7 are conducted.

Neverthele­ss, the Steelers go by a highest-rated philosophy more often in the first round than they do in the rounds that follow, so it’s not without reason they could surprise many and take a safety if he’s their highest rated player when it is their turn. What is highly unlikely is for them to trade up to draft a safety.

There’s also the William Gay factor. Now 32 and entering his 11th NFL season as a cornerback, he could move to safety, especially if the Steelers add a cornerback high in this draft. They’ve talked about putting him there and they did on some occasions last season. That does not make them younger at the position, but it does provide them cover for 2017 in case of injuries and they can always take another look at the position in 2018.

They do have two backups with starting experience in Robert Golden and Jordan Dangerfiel­d. Golden, a special teams captain, started seven of the first nine games last season at strong safety until Davis took over that spot. Dangerfiel­d started two games at strong safety when Golden was hurt and Davis was playing in the slot.

The Steelers made no play to sign a safety in free agency.

They would like to see their safeties force more turnovers. As a free safety, Mitchell should have more than the one intercepti­on he had last season. He had none in his first season with the Steelers and three in his second. Davis also had only one as a rookie, giving all of their safeties a grand total of two intercepti­ons in 2016.

It is an unusually strong class of draft prospects for the position this year. Good safeties could still be available even on Saturday if the Steelers want to pick one up. But with Mitchell, Davis, Golden, Dangerfiel­d and perhaps Gay, the position is good at the top and has adequate depth even if they do not add one through the draft.

 ?? Peter Diana/Post-Gazette ?? Sean Davis, who moved into the starting lineup as a rookie, has the look of a future Pro Bowl player.
Peter Diana/Post-Gazette Sean Davis, who moved into the starting lineup as a rookie, has the look of a future Pro Bowl player.

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