The suspicion is they’ll take an offensive tackle if the right offensive tackle is there for the taking.
“Paris in April” or “Along Came Jones” are scenarios that would seemingly please the Steelers in Round One of the NFL Draft.
They need not overthink Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski, Ohio State’s Paris Johnson Jr. or Georgia’s Broderick Jones.
Failing that, cornerback would be much more than a mere consolation prize, especially if the cornerback who slips to 17th overall is either Devon Witherspoon of Illinois, Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez or Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr.
But in the event 16 picks are made and Alabama safety Brian Branch still hasn’t hugged Roger Goodell, the Steelers should pivot and pounce.
Immediate help for a defense that needs it? Check.
Foundational player down the road in the mold of Minkah Fitzpatrick? Check.
Best player available when it’s the Steelers’ turn? Check.
And did I mention he’s from Alabama?
There’s a reason 30 Alabama players have been drafted in first rounds since 2013, a number that includes Fitzpatrick and Najee Harris and one that appears destined to increase by at least three this time around.
Branch isn’t just an Alabama player, he’s arguably Alabama’s best player.
That, at least, was the opinion of Alabama defensive coordinator Pete Golding as reported by ESPN during the Sugar Bowl.
And this is an Alabama team with a couple of players who are seemingly universally considered Top 5 players in quarterback Bryce Young and edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. (they might be the first two off the board).
The first three plays in that Sugar Bowl against Kansas State wound up sufficing nicely as Branch’s resume tape.
On first down, he lined up in the sot and covered a running back.
On second down, he was deployed on the left edge opposite a tight end.
And on third down, Branch shifted from left edge back to inside linebacker in response to a pre-snap shift by the offense.
Branch emerged from the Sugar Bowl having made 12 tackles, 11 of them solo and four of them for a loss, and also had a sack and an interception (he came off of his guy and found the ball).
It wasn’t a College Football Playoff game but the Alabama guys played, anyway (as did the prospects from Kansas State).
Branch led the way.
What more do you need to know?
Maybe just this: According to NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah, Branch is manically consistent.
“He’s not a 4.3 guy,” Jeremiah noted after Branch ran a 4.58-second 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine. “He’s a 4.5 guy but he plays to that speed at all times and he has excellent ball skills and he trusts it.
“His eyes and instincts are what his game’s all about.”
Branch isn’t the biggest guy, either, at 5-115/8 and 190 pounds.
But he’s all football player, whether he’s lining up at deep safety, in the slot, in the box or coming off the edge.
NFL Network analyst Peter Schrager called Branch one of the smartest players in the draft and said teams “loved interviewing him” at the Combine.
The following quote from Branch, as relayed by NFL Network reporter Stacey Dales, is also revealing:
“When I take the field it’s almost like I’m allowed to release some sort of anger in me, but it’s legal anger. I can’t do it on an every-day basis but when I’m able to make contact with the opposition it makes me able to express myself.”
If you can’t figure out what to do with that guy, you’re doing it wrong.