The anticipation is building for this year’s NFL Draft as it is now just a few days away and as I do every year, I am going to give it my best shot at deciphering what the Pittsburgh Steelers might do. I tend to wait until all of the pre-draft process has wrapped up to give myself a better picture at exactly who the Steelers are focusing on. While I will likely never be an NFL GM, creating a mock draft gives the fun illusion of being in the war room, with the task of improving the team staring me right in the face. I am usually able to nail a few selections each year, let’s hope I have the same luck this year.
Feel free to discuss the picks you loved and the picks you hated in the comments below.
1st Round – 20th pick overall: Clemson EDGE Clelin Ferrell
Up until a week ago, I would have had Michigan’s Devin Bush mocked to the Steelers though I now have serious doubts about his availability at #20. Instead the Steelers grab one of this draft’s top edge rushers in Clemson’s Clelin Ferrell. The Clemson pass rusher would immediately help bolster the Steelers’ pass rush and would form a lethal pass rushing duo with T.J. Watt for years to come. With 50.5 tackles for a loss and 27 sacks over his last three seasons, Ferrell has been a consistent performer during his collegiate career. Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert and Keith Butler were also present at his Pro Day, which has been a necessity for Steelers’ first round picks since 2009.
Others Considered: Trade up for Devin Bush or select Washington CB Byron Murphy
2nd Round – 52nd pick overall: Virginia S Juan Thornhill
Wanted to slot Maryland’s Darnell Savage Jr. here but it is looking more and more like he will be off the board by the time the Steelers get to their second-round selection. Should Savage be off the board, the Steelers select the next best safety in Virginia’s Juan Thornhill. A cornerback to safety convert, Thornhill has a ton of athleticism for the position and is a proven playmaker. Thornhill has recorded 13 career interceptions and would be a much upgrade over former safety Morgan Burnett. The Steelers are currently thin on safety depth behind Terrell Edmunds and Sean Davis and with the team focusing on their sub packages, Thornhill would be another intriguing chess piece for Butler to deploy.
3rd Round – 66th pick overall: Notre Dame WR Miles Boykin
After trading Antonio Brown, the Steelers are in the market for an ‘X’ receiver. Notre Dame’s Miles Boykin fills that need, hopefully for years to come. Colbert was in attendance at the Notre Dame Pro Day and he must have been impressed with the receiver’s performance as Boykin was then invited for a visit to the Steelers facility. Boykin offers a good combination of size (6’4) and speed as he ran a 4.42 40-yard dash at this year’s NFL Combine. The sky is the limit for Boykin as long as he can continue progressing upwards after a great final season at Notre Dame.
3rd Round – 83rd pick overall: West Virginia LB David Long Jr.
The Steelers finally get their inside linebacker with their second selection in the third round. West Virginia’s David Long is slightly undersized but his sideline to sideline ability cannot be ignored. Long has recorded 35 tackles for a loss over the last two seasons and he definitely caught the eye of Steelers’ management. Colbert, Tomlin and most importantly, inside linebackers’ coach Jerry Olsavsky were in attendance to see Long workout. The Steelers then invited Long in for a pre-draft visit likely to do more homework on the prospect.
4th Round – 122nd pick overall: Houston CB Isaiah Johnson
The Steelers have shown two tendencies when it comes to drafting players. First, they usually select a player or two who have participated in the Senior Bowl and second, they usually select a lengthy, project cornerback to work on. The Steelers kill two birds with one stone with the selection of Houston CB Isaiah Johnson in the fourth round. Johnson is a 6’2 corner with 4.4 speed and while he is still incredibly raw, he gives new defensive back assistant Teryl Austin a new toy to play with. The Steelers also got a first hand view of Johnson as Colbert was at Houston’s Pro Day.
5th Round – 141st pick overall: Toledo WR Diontae Johnson
The Steelers double dipping in wide receivers may be an unpopular move but it is one that maybe we should see coming. Following the departure of Antwaan Randle El, the Steelers selected two receivers. After the trade of Santonio Holmes, the Steelers selected two receivers. After the departure of Mike Wallace, the Steelers selected two receivers. Now, with the absence of Antonio Brown, it would be a smart bet to think the Steelers might repeat history.
Toledo’s Diontae Johnson would be the perfect replacement for Brown as they have many similarities. Both are great route runners and play bigger than their size. He also has experience returning kicks and punts and would likely challenge Eli Rogers and Ryan Switzer for a role in the offense. It is interesting to note that both wide receivers coach Darryl Drake and Special Teams Coordinator were at the Toledo Pro Day. Out of all the Toledo receivers they saw workout, Johnson was the only one who was invited for a pre-draft visit.
6th Round – 175th pick overall: Notre Dame TE Alize Mack
With the departure of Jesse James this offseason, the Steelers have very little behind Vance McDonald. James was a very well-rounded receiver and run blocker and the Steelers have seen some potential from Xavier Grimble to carry some of James’ load. Waiting until the sixth round, the Steelers get a receiving tight end who can hopefully develop into an all-around tight end. Notre Dame’s Alize Mack is a great vertical threat and contested catch winner and with some polish in the blocking department, he could pass Grimble on the depth chart by the end of the season. The Steelers also had Mack in for a pre-draft visit after Colbert was on hand at his Pro Day.
Should the Steelers want a more polished blocking tight end, they might explore Michigan’s Zach Gentry, though his ceiling may not be as high as Mack’s.
6th Round – 192nd pick overall: Miami RB Travis Homer
The Steelers brought in a staggering total of seven running backs for pre-draft visits which seems to imply that the team is serious about addressing the running back depth chart. James Conner has missed time in each of his two seasons due to injuries and Jaylen Samuels has struggled in pass protection in his absence. If the Steelers are looking for a change of pace back who can also pass protect, there would be no better option than Miami running back Travis Homer, who they also brought in for a pre-draft visit. The Miami running back is one of the better pass protectors in this year’s running back class and would be more than capable of playing a three-down role or sharing carries with Samuels in the event of a Conner injury.
6th Round – 207th pick overall: Utah K Matt Gay
Chris Boswell has the yips and there is no telling if he will ever recover. The Steelers had Boswell on a long leash last season but if they are really serious about making the most of the 2019 season, they cannot afford to at least challenge Boswell with some serious competition. That’s where Matt Gay comes into the picture. Gay has been perfect on extra point attempts, going 85/85 in his two seasons at Utah. He has also converted 56/65 of his field goal attempts, good for an 86.2 field goal percentage. Gay went 16/16 on field goals inside 40 yards and was 3/5 beyond 50 yards, with a long of 55 yards. His five misses last season came from 56, 54, and 43 (three times).
The selection of Gay in the sixth round signals a now or never for Boswell. If Gay is off the board, the Steelers could also consider LSU’s Cole Tracy.
7th Round – 219th pick overall: Wisconsin EDGE Andrew Van Ginkel
The Steelers have a history of taking intriguing edge rushers at either the back end of the draft or as undrafted free agents. Last year it was Ola Adeniyi, the year prior it was Keion Adams, then Travis Feeney in 2016 and Anthony Chickillo in 2015. Wisconsin outside linebacker Andrew Van Ginkel was one of the last prospects the Steelers brought in during the pre-draft process as his athleticism likely interested the Steelers. With Adams buried on the depth chart and Dupree on the final year of his contract, the Steelers reinvest in the linebacking department with the selection of Van Ginkel. The Wisconsin linebacker will likely be a practice squad body or a special teams player should he see the field in his first year.
Potential UDFAs: LSU G Garrett Brumfield, Maryland DE Byron Cowart, Northern Illinois LB Sutton Smith, Penn State S Nick Scott, LSU S John Battle, BYU EDGE Corbin Kaufusi, Penn State DE Kevin Givens