Lamar Jackson in Steelers' first-round plans? Mel Kiper Jr. says maybe

Lamar Jackson could figure into the Steelers' draft ... whether they select him or not. Andy Lyons/Getty Images

PITTSBURGH -- Seeing Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch projected to the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 28 overall by ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr. was not a major surprise. The team needs a versatile linebacker who can help against the run and in coverage.

Reading the last sentence in Kiper's explanation of the pick was far more surprising.

“This is also a spot where I could see a team trading up to grab Louisville quarterback and 2016 Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson, who I think will be the fifth QB off the board.”

Kiper pegs Jackson to the late first round more than to a particular team, but the comment creates two fascinating scenarios for a contending team:

Trade Jackson at 28 or actually select him. Neither might happen, but both are worth exploring.

If the Steelers take Jackson: Ben Roethlisberger’s commitment to future years alleviates the Steelers’ need to draft a quarterback high. Plus, they have last year’s fourth-round pick, Josh Dobbs, in the developmental role. The team has needs at multiple defensive spots.

But Jackson as a stash-and-start option for 2020? That would be wild, and it just might work. Jackson faces questions about his accuracy, but he has a few Big Ben-like qualities: big arm, big-play ability, mobility.

The Steelers were forced to comb through the past two quarterback classes because of the uncertainty around Roethlisberger's future. They've taken a hard look at the second-tier quarterbacks in this class.

Louisville runs a pro-style system, so the Steelers’ concepts wouldn’t be entirely new to Jackson. But the chance for him to sit and learn for two to three years might just give coach Mike Tomlin a viable post-Roethlisberger option.

If the Steelers trade out of No. 28 because of Jackson: The Steelers rarely make trades in the first round. They are usually content taking their late-round pick on Day 1 with a smile. In a near shocking model of consistency, the Steelers are the NFL's only team without a top-10 pick since 2001.

But the Steelers don't have a fourth-round pick due to an active trade market last year. They'd love to get it back. And that's exactly what the Vikings gave up in 2014 to move up for Teddy Bridgewater at No. 32 overall.

The drafts have gotten deep enough to where volume might be more enticing than the boom-or-bust first round.