While I’m not one to go through the leg work of making mock drafts, I do follow along with the offseason activities in order to form an educated opinion. I appreciate the concept of the mock draft as a mental exercise, but in the end mostly regard it as a waste of mental labor that will inevitably be wrong.
I prefer to take a more pragmatic approach, so I will take the same approach as I did last year for the opening day of the draft, which is to identify the top players that I believe are most likely to be drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers later tonight, based on likely availability and the organization’s known tendencies.
The list below will surely consist entirely of names you’ve seen mocked to the Steelers at some point or another during the offseason, although realistically it would probably be difficult to find a first-round talent that hasn’t at some point been mocked to them.
But of course the point of this exercise is not intrigue, but rather accuracy. With that being said, here are the players I believe are most likely to have their name called out with the 22nd overall selection of the 2015 NFL Draft, in no particular order.
Marcus Peters, CB: I know that I’ve previously written this offseason that the Steelers are likely to shy away from players with red flags this season, but I can’t ignore the amount of attention paid to Peters during this process. With arguably the best combined skill set of all corners in the draft, he would be hard to pass up if he is available and on the Steelers’ board. But if he is on their board, then he is likely on most teams’ board as well.
Byron Jones, CB: Jones may be the most complete corner at the top end of the draft—but then he might not be. His evaluation is somewhat incomplete due to the limited quality tape. But he has everything that you would want physically, including size and willingness to tackle.
Kevin Johnson, CB: Johnson is not such a willing tackler, and is smaller than the typical cornerback favored by Mike Tomlin, which has me concerned about whether or not he could be the pick. But he has what you look for in coverage, and his anticipation can help create opportunities for turnovers.
Eric Rowe, CB: Rowe may not go in the first round, but this class seems to have a tremendous amount of interchangeability between the back half of the first round and the middle of the second. He has size, talent, physicality, and position versatility.
Eli Harold, OLB: The opinions of the public don’t seem to favor the idea of drafting Harold, who is an edge rusher who could take some time to develop into his frame and add strength. Still, the young linebacker has the potential to develop into a legitimate pass rusher, and the Steelers seem to think highly of him. This would probably be viewed by most as a reach, but the front office won’t be too concerned about that if they really like him.
Randy Gregory, OLB: It’s hard to say how earnestly the Steelers may be interested in Gregory. While they brought him in for a pre-draft visit, that doesn’t necessarily translate to him being on their board. The off-field information may be concerning, but if he struggles to put on and maintain weight, that would be an even bigger issue. The team has enough slightly-built pass rushers at the moment. But his potential as a pressure generator leaves him on this list.