Now that we’re officially inside the legal tampering window when it comes to the NFL’s free agency period, I thought it would be a good time to drop the first version of my Steelers’ mock draft.
At the time of writing this (Monday morning), there has been no Steelers news regarding a free agent pickup. Of course, with my luck, the Steelers will snag a big fish right before this mock draft posts on the site.
Anyway, this mock will reflect the Antonio Brown and Marcus Gilbert trades to Oakland and Arizona, respectively. As always, this first version is what I think the Steelers will do.
Here we go.
First round, 20th overall — Hakeem Butler/WR/Iowa State/6’5”, 227
Analysis: What? A wide receiver in the first round?? Yep. I’ve said since the Antonio Brown saga kicked into gear after the regular season that should the Steelers move on from 84, they’d need to address wide receiver early in the draft, and possibly even in free agency.
In a loaded receiver’s class, Butler can step right in with his big body and slot in at the ‘X’ opposite James Washington at the ‘Z’, allowing JuJu Smith-Schuster to remain inside at the slot more often than not.
Butler has some drop issues on tape, but it’s more of a technique issue that any sort of physical or mental issue. He’s a monster in the air and wins contested catches consistently. Plus, he brings some serious juice after the catch. Ben Roethlisberger has wanted a big-bodied receiver for a long, long time. Butler provides that.
Others Considered: WR Deebo Samuel, S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, EDGE Jachai Polite
Second round, 52nd overall — Trayvon Mullen/CB/Clemson/6’1”, 199
Analysis: Let’s run through the checklist for Mullen. Underclassmen? Junior, check. Power 5 Conference? Clemson, check. Production? 68 tackles, seven pass breakups, four interceptions and two sacks in two years with the Tigers, check.
I’m not as high on Mullen as others are, especially with the first round buzz that he’s getting. However, he’s an athletic cornerback who thrives in press coverage and is reactive, rather than instinctive, to what’s happening with the receiver.
The Steelers have said they want are shifting their philosophy a bit this year with defensive backs, drafting production rather than upside, but Mullen has a little bit of both and seems to fit the mold of what the Steelers have done in the past.
Others Considered: ILB Germaine Pratt, S Juan Thornill, LB Blake Cashman
Third round, 66th overall — Jace Sternberger/TE/Texas A&M/6’4”, 250
Analysis: With Jesse James off to the Detroit Lions, the Steelers have an obvious need for a No. 2 tight end behind Vance McDonald. Sternberger was terrific at Texas A&M the last few years, serving as an athletic move tight end for the Aggies that really produced in the passing game.
He’s a bit more athletic than James and is much more polished coming out of college in both the pass and run game than James was. At the very least, Sternberger will be able to replicate James’ red zone production for Roethlisberger and the Steelers.
Others Considered: ILB Germaine Pratt, EDGE Ben Banogu, S Amani Hooker
Third round, 84th overall —Germaine Pratt/ILB/North Carolina State/6’3”, 245
Analysis: Back in January I wrote up Pratt’s draft profile for the site and came away really impressed with linebacker who converted from safety late in his career at NC State. He didn’t test as well as I anticipated, but he’s a rangy linebacker on tape that can line up all over the field and make plays. He’s a sound tackler who rarely missed stops on tape, and is still growing into the position.
I’m anticipating a bit of a slide from the early Day 2 projection I gave him back in January, and that could be a slide right into position for the Steelers.
Others Considered: ILB Terrell Hanks, iDL Jerry Tillery, S Taylor Rapp
Fourth round, 123rd overall — Jordan Brailford/EDGE/Oklahoma State/6’3” 250
Analysis: Brailford mostly played with his hand in the dirt at Oklahoma State and really produced as a pass rusher in the pass-happy Big 12. Despite playing with a hand on the ground throughout his collegiate career, Brailford tested really, really well at the Combine and showed plenty of athleticism that makes me think he can transition into an EDGE roll in the NFL.
As a pass rusher he has great hand usage and plenty of length to work with. Plus, he usually has a plan he’s working with when coming off the edge. He’ll need time to develop when it comes to dropping into coverage, but he fills a major hole on the edge for the Steelers.
Others Considered: CB Mark Fields, EDGE Chase Winovich, RB Devine Ozigbo
Fifth round, 142nd overall — Khalen Saunders/DL/Western Illinois/6’0” 318
Analysis: Another athletic interior defensive linemen from a small school, you say? Yes, please.
Saunders made waves prior to the NFL Scouting Combine by flashing his athleticism with a number of backflips posted on twitter. Diving into his tape, he played all over Western Illinois’s front, rushing from inside and off the edge. He’s a twitchy player that could provide the Steelers with versatility and depth up front from a run-stopping and pass-rushing perspective.
Others Considered: EDGE Jaylen Jelks, LB Chase Hansen, S Sheldrick Redwine
Sixth round, 176th overall — Greg Dortch/WR/Wake Forest/5’9”, 165
Analysis: I’m making this pick off of the assumption that the Steelers DON’T address wide receiver in free agency, simply because it’s such a deep wideout class. Dortch is a jitterbug that excels out of the slot.
He’s lightning quick off the line and has impressive, varied releases that get him off the line of scrimmage cleanly. Despite being a bit small, he’s as tough as they come and really makes waves with his ability to haul in contested catches despite a small frame.
Plus, Dortch was an explosive playmaker at Wake Forest on punt and kick returns, giving the Steelers another option on special teams. He’s much better than Ryan Switzer is as a receiver, so I view it as an upgrade.
Others Considered: S Mike Bell, LB Ulysees Gilbert, LB/S BJ Blunt
Sixth round, 194th overall — Darwin Thompson/RB/Utah State/5’8”, 190
Analysis: One of the fastest running backs in the draft that somehow wasn’t invited to the NFL Scouting Combine will bring much-needed explosiveness and home-run-hitting abilities to the Steelers’ backfield behind James Conner and Jaylen Samuels.
I’m projecting more as a change-of-pace guy in the NFL in the mold of Darren Sproles, where he can come into the game and help swing the game in favor of his team with an explosive run or catch.
Others Considered: RB Benny Snell, LB Jahlani Tavai, iOL Lester Cotton
Sixth Round, 209th overall — Hjathe Froholdt/iOL/Arkansas/6’4” 311
Analysis: Here’s a name you probably haven’t read much during the draft process. An old-school style interior offensive lineman that went to Arkansas to play under Bret Beilema, Froholdt is a mammoth interior lineman that loves to bury guys, especially when he gets on the move to the perimeter.
He made remarkable improvements from 2016 to his senior year in 2018, but he still needs to work on his footwork in pass protection and learn to really drive his feet in the run game inside. He’s a ball of clay, and could be a nice project for Shaun Sarrett to work on.
Others Considered: iOL Conner McGovern, OL Zach Bailey, EDGE Sutton Smith
Seventh round, 221st overall — Jimmy Moreland/CB/James Madison/5’9”, 175
Analysis: A small-school cornerback with impressive ball skills and a flat-out playmaker, Moreland projects as a slot corner in the NFL, much in the same mold as current Steeler Mike Hilton.
I love Moreland’s feistiness and ability to make play after play on the ball despite his small stature. He finished with 208 career tackles, 18 interceptions and 63 pass breakups in four years with JMU.
The Steelers need guys with an edge on defense, and Moreland would bring that right away. He might not make the roster right away, but he’d be a solid corner to stash on the practice squad and work on developing.
Others Considered: LB Tre Watson, RB Darrin Hall, P Steven Coutts