With the 2019 Senior Bowl long behind us and the annual scouting combine set to get underway next week in Indianapolis, I suppose it’s finally time for me to release my first Pittsburgh Steelers mock draft of the offseason so here it is below for you in all of its glory.
I chose not to use a mock draft simulator for my first offering this year as I just don’t like going that route this early if I can avoid it. I have, however, included my goals for this first mock draft ahead of the selections and also included a summary. As usual, I ask that you focus on the individual players I selected for the Steelers while critiquing this mock draft instead of the rounds they were taken in. Tell what you like and dislike about each of the players I have mocked to the Steelers and which players you would have selected instead.
Goals entering this mock draft: Obviously, I wanted to hit on has many immediate positional needs in the first several rounds of this draft and that means addressing the outside linebacker, cornerback, and inside linebacker positions within the first four selections. Uncharacteristically, I also mocked in a potential trade of wide receiver Antonio Brown to better help me address the needs and make some players I mocked fit somewhat better from a round perspective. By the time I do my next mock a few weeks from now, hopefully the Steelers will have traded Brown by then.
Outside of a few underclassmen, the other goal of mine for this mock was to only choose seniors who had participated in this year’s Senior Bowl as the Steelers have a long history of drafting mainly from the three annual college all-star game rosters. Additionally, even though I would like to see the Steelers draft mostly defense this year, I wanted to mock in a few offensive positions for balance as we usually see the team do the same.
Finally, Alex Kozora and I will address my first mock draft of 2019 more in-depth during the Tuesday podcast, so make sure to tune in for that.
With all the disclaimers that I’m sure you failed to read out of the way, here is my first mock draft of 2019. Remember, this mock is what I think the Steelers might do.
1st Round – Jachai Polite – EDGE – Florida – 6020, 240 lbs – There’s a strong chance that the Steelers will draft another underclassman in the first round this year with that player playing on the defensive side of the football. LSU linebacker Devin White, if he should still be on the board, would be hard to pass up and I think there’s an outside chance of that happening. In the meantime, I chose to go with Polite, the Florida edge-rusher, as the Steelers certainly could use another one of them behind outside linebacker starters T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree. Polite, however, is one of those questionable tweener-types that you sometimes see get shuffled out of the first-round. He can certainly get after opposing quarterbacks, but his run defense needs work. There’s also not too much evidence of him having to drop into coverage while at Florida so it will be interesting to see him go through those drills at the combine. He’s seemingly a top-40 player in this year’s draft class. Is he right in the middle, or more toward the back end of that group? Currently, I have him right about in the middle and can’t wait to see him go through the paces at this year’s combine.
2nd Round – Amani Oruwariye – Cornerback – Penn State – 6016, 204 lbs – I’m not one who really likes to predict trades, but for the sake of this first mock I will because I truly feel the Steelers will trade wide receiver Antonio Brown prior to the draft. I’m also not convinced that the Steelers will be able to get a first-round draft pick for Brown. For the sake of this first mock draft I will predict that the Steelers will get a second-round pick for Brown and maybe one that falls in the first ten picks. If that happens, I can see the Steelers using that selection on a top cornerback and thus that’s why I went with Oruwariye, who is a seemingly well-rounded coverage man that can play both off and press and one that is physical enough to match up against bigger body wide receivers. He needs work on his run defense but could potentially become a starter on the outside for the Steelers during the second half of his rookie season.
2nd Round – Chauncey Gardner-Johnson – Safety – Florida – 5110, 207 lbs – The Steelers could use a very versatile secondary defender to play initially in their dime defense in 2018 and especially if safety Morgan Burnett is jettisoned in the coming weeks. Garner-Johnson played all over the place in the Florida defense and that includes some in the slot. He plays well against the run down low in the box and should also be adequate as a deep center-fielder free safety as time goes on. He’s a fun player to watch on tape and one must think the Steelers have interest in him due to his ball-awareness and his experience playing in the SEC.
3rd Round – Terry McLaurin – Wide Receiver – Ohio State – 6000, 205 lbs. – McLaurin had a nice Senior Bowl showing after having a productive career at Ohio State. He played all the various wide receiver positions in college and that includes the X, a spot the Steelers will need some help at should Brown indeed be dealt. He’s a good route runner, good after the catch and a touchdown producer. He’s also a more than willing blocker and damn good at it. He’s kind of the D.J. Chark of this year’s draft class, meaning he lacked a high volume of catches in college. He’s a good gunner on special teams to boot and seemingly has a great character. The third or fourth round sounds perfect for him and he seemingly has a nice ceiling he’s yet to scratch as a wide receiver.
4th Round – Terrill Hanks – Inside Linebacker – New Mexico State – 6020, 234 lbs. – Assuming the Steelers are unable to address the inside linebacker in the first three rounds, Hanks, another Senior Bowl participant, might just fit the bill in round four if still available. He has the athleticism to play in the NFL as a 3-4 inside linebacker but does need to improve in several areas of his game and that includes his tackling. That said, he reportedly recorded the most defensive stops among all FBS linebackers in 2018, according to Pro Football Focus. He also averaged nearly 100 total tackles a season during his college career with 43 of the 396-total resulting in lost yardage. He also recorded 8 interceptions during his college career in addition to 14 total pass breakups. He is a player I want to study more after the combine is over as I’ve only watched three of his games from 2018 thus far.
6th Round – Khalen Saunders – Defensive Tackle – Western Illinois – 6005, 320 lbs. – An athletic one-gapping defensive tackle type out of Western Illinois who was voted a 2018 Associated Press All-American after registering 72 total tackles and 6.5 sacks as a senior. The Steelers could use a backup defensive tackle in this draft and especially if they move on from Daniel McCullers for good. He’s another player I want to learn more about in the coming weeks.
6th Round – Foster Moreau – Tight End – LSU – 6042, 250 lbs. – Moreau’s best fit in the NFL is likely as a second tight end. Not a flashy receiver or blocker, but adequate in both areas and he should be able to contribute some on special teams to boot. He was a team leader at LSU and has impeccable character to go along with a strong football IQ. It wouldn’t be shocking to see the Steelers draft a tight end somewhere in this year’s draft and they could do worse than Moreau in the later rounds. He had 52 receptions for 629 yards and six touchdowns during his college career at LSU and was even issued the coveted No. 18 jersey as a senior.
7th Round – Tony Pollard – Running Back/Wide Receiver/Kick Returner – Memphis – 5115, 200 lbs. – I’m not bullish on the Steelers addressing the running back position in this year’s draft but for offensive/defensive balance in this mock, I’ll do just that in the final round. However, if a running back is drafted this year by the Steelers, I would like to see them select one with some versatility and Pollard definitely fits that criteria. Steelers offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner probably already knows quite a bit about Pollard with him being a Memphis product. Pollard, who was also at this year’s Senior Bowl, is sort of this year’s Jaylen Samuels as he lined up all over the place at Memphis. He’s a very good kickoff returner to boot and can cover punts and kickoffs on the other side of special teams.