NFL Draft

Pavelle: Steelers 2020 Mock Draft (Version 2.0)

I try to do one or two of these a month during draft season in order to highlight some lesser known players while illustrating the different paths that Pittsburgh might take. Last time I explored the ”Top RB falls to Round 2” scenario. This time I will look at one that hasn’t gotten as much attention – yet.

Blah, blah, blah. Let’s cut to the chase!

1:18     Lest anyone forget, we’ve already made our Round 1 pick: FS Minkah Fitzpatrick.

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

2:17     TRADE: Pittsburgh’s 2:17 for Green Bay’s 2:30 and 3:30.

There are two main reasons why this could realistically happen: WR Jalen Reagor, the deadly speedster and playmaker from TCU, and WR Tee Higgins, the 6’4” menace out of Clemson who’s been compared to Mike Evans. Some quick research confirms that Green Bay will be targeting four main areas: OT, DT, TE, and a good WR to pair with Davante Adams. A lot of mocks have the Packers opting for either Reagor or Higgins at 1:30, but just as many predict someone in the trenches. That’s what I would do, especially after the Niners ran down their collective throats in the playoff loss.

A D-Line or Tackle pick by Green Bay at the end of Round 1 would create an odd situation, because the WR-needy teams in the early 2nd will have already feasted on talents like Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, Henry Ruggs III, and Laviska Shenault Jr. Others will be looking at the enormous depth of this WR class and considering other desires. It doesn’t take much to see Reagor or Higgins tumbling all the way to 2:17 even though I’d give them both a 1:15 or 1:20 grade on an “all teams, all years” board. The same analysis applies to that dense band of fringe-1st Offensive Tackle talent. They are good enough to incite serious greed up Wisconsin way; should be available at 2:17; but probably won’t be available at 2:30.

That creates a strong motivation for Green Bay to make this trade. The thought of Aaron Rodgers with Reagor or Higgins will send shivers of terror through the NFC North. It also helps that the Packers have a massive ten picks overall even before the compensatory awards. Trading up makes sense.

Whether you use the top-heavy Jimmy Johnson trade chart or the more recent Pats Pulpit version, the combined value of Green Bay’s late 2nd and 3rd round picks is just about equal to Pittsburgh’s mid-2nd. We can “negotiate” in the comments if you want, but why complicate things for a mock? That is the trade on the table, and it’s unfair to assume that “motivated” equals “desperate enough to be fleeced.”

Would the Steelers trade down? In this scenario the answer is yes. I drool at the idea of adding a true WR1 to the current Big 3 in Pittsburgh’s locker room, but once the sparkles fade from my eyes I have to wonder how many increased-quality snaps that addition would provide. Smith-Schuster, Johnson, and Washington are all extremely young, have showed real promise, and will no doubt be better next year. Reagor is a fantastic talent, but also the sort that needs a great QB to bring out his best results. It takes serious arm strength to make full use of his devastating 4.2-something deep speed, and serious accuracy to hit him in stride for those tantalizing breakaway touchdowns. Aaron Rodgers? No problem. Ben Roethlisberger? No problem. But what about three years from now? And in the immediate future, who would benchwarm so Reagor can take the field? How many 4-WR sets do we really want to see? Sitting one of the current young guns subtracts from the overall bang for the buck.

Higgins invokes the same arguments with a different physical prototype. He is described as a higher-pedigree version of JJSS, with comparisons made by to stars like Mike Evans. That’s a great prospect, especially for a mid-2nd pick! But Pittsburgh has the original Juju, it is a deep WR draft, and there are other positions I want to target before the talent level starts to dive in Rounds 4-5.

If I am Kevin Colbert and I don’t have the RB or OL of my dreams on the Board, I am ready to make this trade.

What am I hoping for most at 2:30? Probably RB Cam Akers, but in this scenario the gods settle on TE as the best available talent. Fine by me! The pickings at Tight End really begin around the late 2nd, with prospects that would be moderate reaches at 2:17. Write off Cole Kmet, and the choices will be between Adam Trautman, Harrison Bryant, and Brycen Hopkins. I confidently expect one or two of those to get drafted before the Green Bay pick (# 62 overall), but there is no way to guess which one(s). Thus I will flip this handy three-sided coin and end up with:

HV 2:24  TE Adam Trautman, Dayton. (RS Senior). 6’5”, 251 lbs. This year’s small school sensation suffers under just one cloud: negligible experience, with most of it coming against poor competition. Trautman is, to be blunt, a basketball player from a forgettable football program who played nothing but QB until a few years ago. See this nice Yahoo Sports article for some background. All the other signs say, ‘Delay Not Lest Ye Wish To Lose Out.’ The tape shows a receiver who can get down the field efficiently, box out defenders, and catch whatever is thrown his way. At the Senior Bowl he looked every bit the peer of his power school opponents, and also showed some serious ability to block. Small school wannabe to draft sensation in one easy leap! This goes to a gif-supported scouting report from Senior Bowl week, which suggests that Trautman has the native stuff to keep rising up boards. Heck, during the Senior Bowl broadcast Daniel Jeremiah said, “[Trautman] has a legitimate opportunity to be the first Tight End drafted.”

Pittsburgh prefers to go with Power 5 schools for its Round 1 picks, but this “first pick” is coming at the tail end of Round 2. That is the part that matters. A certain latitude is called for, and Trautman’s ferocious blocking at the Senior Bowl raises his stock significantly in my eyes. I have little doubt that he’ll find a rude awakening in NFL opponents, but c’est la vie.

3:19     Lest anyone forget, Mom and Dad also gave us an early Round 3 gift: Mack ILB Devin Bush

Get your eyes off the teeny-looking pile beneath the Christmas-in-April tree Steeler Nation! Look at the toy in hand and rejoice.

3:30 (from Green Bay via the trade)     OG Damien Lewis

RB’s are off the table for me at this point in the draft. That position makes a lot of sense for a true #1 who will either push or replace James Conner. It makes no sense at all to get any lesser talent. I am quite comfortable with the team’s trio of RB2 depth (Snell, Samuels and Whyte), and see no reason to simply add another body to that room. The next tier of RB talent could mature into what we need but I am not willing to take the risk.

I’m also okay with the state of the O-Line. Feiler is Guard-capable, and maybe even better there than at RT, while the comic book battle of Chuks vs. The Hulk seems sure to result in a worthy successor outside. But when I look a little deeper I see that all of Pittsburgh’s depth is loaded into the Tackle position. Villanueva and Okorafor are athletic, oversized TE’s with the wrong build to survive inside. Banner is 6’9”, would have desperate problems with leverage at Guard, and is still in his boom-or-bust phase. Derwin Gray… he has a chance to play Guard as well as Tackle, but he was a 7th round pick for a reason, and DiLauro is another oversized TE athlete with an even lesser pedigree.

A good Guard keys in to that mix like heaven’s own puzzle piece. If he excels as a rookie, said Guard would push Feiler back outside to compete with Chuks and Banner at RT. If the comic book winner is better at Tackle than the rookie is at Guard, he would become much needed depth for a redshirt Freshman year. And then, in Year 2, he would give the team a lot of flexibility for dealing with Feiler-the-UFA, as opposed to this year’s Feiler-as-RFA. Sold! So let’s go with:

HV 3:01  G Damien Lewis, LSU. (Senior). 6’2”, 329 lbs. with 33⅜” arms. A people mover with good, quick movement inside the phone booth and acceptable mobility when pulling. Knows how to use both power and angles in the run game. His performance during Senior Bowl week led Alex Kozora to write: “LSU’s Damien Lewis seriously might be one of the best players – not just linemen – in Mobile. Quick, technically sound, great ability to reset and repunch, with a quick first step, capable of mirroring in the pass game and reaching backside cutoff blocks in the run game. Super impressive week.” In the actual game, he and teammate Lloyd Cushenberry stood at as rocks on an offensive line that otherwise got destroyed.

Lewis is one of the class’s best prospects to fill that puzzle piece role, but picking him here in the late 3rd isn’t some idle fantasy. Centers and Guards both tend to fall, which means there might even be an outside shot at a Round 2 C/G talent like Biadasz, Ruiz or Cushenberry. Other prospects you could slot in might be Netane Muti (an early round talent with medical red flags), G/T Robert Hunt (a small school phenom), Solomon Kindley (Georgia’s best Guard), G/T Logan Stenberg (a higher pedigree Feiler clone), T/G Ben Bartch (a small school Feiler type with a higher ceiling), and to a lot of people Clemson’s John Simpson. At least one top IOL should be on the Board at this point.

3:35 (Estimated Compensatory Pick)     Safety Jordan Fuller

I love Minkah Fitzpatrick’s play, and I’m very happy with Edmunds’ too. People forget how young Terrell really is (he turned 23 a week or two ago) and how complicated his assignments really are. At any given time the Steelers’ Strong Safety may be found playing deep in cover 2, midfield as the box Safety, right off the line as a Dime ILB, or handling direct coverage on RB’s, TE’s, or WR’s. He’s also supposed to disguise what he’s doing on every play, and in a more general sense to serve as the midfield “eraser.” Terrell Edmunds is the one who covers up the risks taken by splashier stars like Devin Bush (right in front of him) and Fitzpatrick (behind and beside him). Sheltering others will depress your own statistics in all areas other than tackling; where, indeed, he’s excelled. I understand it when people argue that Edmunds is the weakest link in the Steelers’ secondary. It’s may even be true – but only because he is surrounded by some really amazing talent. Give the young man a break.

In other words, I am, after many long years, delighted with the two starting Safeties. But behind those two? Uhm…. Not so much.

Pittsburgh would be in real trouble if either starter went down. Thus we need a backup, and hopefully one who’s good enough to push into the mix for Big Nickel (3-Safety) looks. I have an educated hunch that those are going to be the closest thing to an answer for Baltimore’s newfangled offense. He also needs the physicality to serve as special teams stud since he won’t be in the full time defensive lineup. Let the deal be done.

HV 4:16  SAF Jordan Fuller, Ohio State. (Senior). 6’2”, 205 lbs. A very plus athlete who often played single-high in college but has the size to drop into the box in run support too. Likely to be a big riser at the Combine because scheme limited his tape. Ohio State asked him to be an eraser rather than a flashier playmaker.

A plus sized eraser (Edmunds) with expertise playing deep (Fitzpatrick)? Oh yeah. Heck yeah.

BTW, that is not a typo. He really is graded at 4:16 on the current Big Board, and I am picking him at 3:35. Take it as a reminder of how our Board is supposed to work. The “Highest Value” grades are in constant flux. They start from my best take on a consensus average, get revised over time as more information comes in, and then revised again to incorporate reader critiques and suggestions. But it is still an average, and average is not the answer. I write those Boards expecting y’all to modify the grades for your personal versions.

The same is true for the author. The published Steelers Big Board isn’t the same as my own.

My sniffer says that Jordan Fuller is a prospect on the rise. Ohio State tends to recruit marvelous athletes, which Pittsburgh emphasizes, and I am convinced that his role in the Buckeyes scheme tended to suppress the stats that raise players up in the public eye. Since he also slots right in as the final chink for our secondary and has great special teams potential… I am dancing my way up with card, not just dropping it off.

If Fuller isn’t available, comparable skill sets can be found in K’Von Wallace out of Clemson, and maybe Reggie Floyd out of Va. Tech. These are all players who are likely to rise or fall as the process moves forward. Things are still pretty vague at this point in time.

4:05     The pick from Miami turns into… WR Antonio Gandy-Golden

  • NOTE: Miami’s native pick is #5 of Round 4. The Tennessee-via-Miami pick would 4:29. My last mock went the other way, so this one gets the optimistic version. Internet searches have not resolved the issue, with confident assertions being made in both directions.

Up above I questioned how much value a WR1 brings to the table for a team with three ascending WR2 talents. I concluded that it was less than this year’s Steelers would get from eventual starters at both TE and Guard. That doesn’t mean it makes no sense at all to keep investing in the WR room. Round 4 looks like a good spot to do it, because there will be “all years” Round 3 talents who fell because the 2020 class is so incredibly deep at this position.

But alas! My draft crush, Denzel Mims, is already off the Board! It seems the rest of the world has caught up with me and he’s now being graded where we had him all along: as a fringe-2nd value for this very deep class. I can’t be too sad, however, because AGG has a ceiling so high that he could easily end up as an even better player.

HV 4:01  WR Antonio Gandy-Golden, Liberty. (Senior). 6’3½”, 222 lbs. This may be the ultimate boom-or-bust receiving prospect of the entire draft. AGG is a phenomenal athlete wired so well that the Senior Bowl coverage did a feature (start at :37 seconds) on how he bowled a 300 game two months after picking up the game, and also has the gymnastic chops to do full tumbling runs. On football film he excelled at running really fast down a sideline, leaping high in the air, twisting around while he’s up there, and seizing the ball away from the opposing DB. The issue is that he did it against a very low level of competition. Okay, we get it. He’s pure NFL clay who’s run nothing remotely like an NFL route tree, nor shown the sophistication he’ll need to beat NFL Corners. But he absolutely does have, beyond any question, the athletic genius to learn all that eventually. Note that AGG held up well at the Senior Bowl, showing the ability to physically dominate D-1 Corners. The learning curve may be less steep than originally feared.

I believe in superior wiring as a hidden asset for in-space players like Wide Receivers and Corners. Both positions require incredible amounts of split second adjustments and spatial/body awareness. Those qualities are hard to measure, which is why everyone pounds the film so hard. AGG does not have that film because his competition was so weak, but his off-the-field feats strongly suggest that the secret sauce is there. And that makes him worth a pick at this point in the draft.

Other WR prospects in this same general range of value include K.J. Hill, Chase Claypool, Quartney Davis, James Proche, Isaiah Hodgins, and Michael Pittman, none of whom will be available if I wait until Round 6. Hill, Davis and Proche are slippery route runners. The other three are jump ball bullies with the potential to be a little bit more. I’d be happy with any of the above, but for this mock will go with the freaky upside of AGG.

4:18     NT Davon Hamilton, Ohio State

I’m liking this band in the late 3rd and early 4th! The Steelers don’t have many picks overall, but that trade with Green Bay has pretty much allowed me to fill all the positions that have me worried. All that remains now are a run-plugging Nose Tackle to fill the hole that Javon how-I-wish-we-could-pay-him Hargrave is likely to leave; a backup Center to replace B.J. how-I-wish-we-could-pay-him-too Finney; and either a Mack or a Buck ILB to replace Mark Barron and/or Tyler Matakevich, who I will also hate to lose. Where is my magic salary cap wand when I need it?

Let’s go with the Defensive Line.

HV 4:16 NT Davon Hamilton, Ohio St. (RS Senior). 6’3¾”, 327 lbs. with 32⅞” arms. Ohio State’s designated, handle-the-double-teams big man in the center would serve the same function in Pittsburgh. The production has all been in areas that don’t show up on a stat sheet, and he sat out large portions of many games after Ohio State built up a massive lead, but he projects to be a somewhat lesser version of Javon Hargrave. Nick Farabaugh’s gif-supported January scouting report ends in a Round 2 grade, which is discounted only because Nose Tackles with moderate pass rush ability tend to be so undervalued in today’s game.

Hamilton is exactly the sort of DL player I envision the Steelers getting: a prospect who’d have gone much higher 20 years ago, but lacks the essential pass rush upside that NFL teams now value above all else. If he isn’t there, my next set of D-Line talent would better suited for Round 6 or 7 (Benito Jones, Naquan Jones, or Bravvion Roy). They may be more one dimensional than Hamilton, but they’d serve plenty well as old fashioned, Blockbuster Video era Nose Tackles. That would push me to one of the other gaps I expect free agency to create (assuming no bargain QB). Fortunately enough, I have later mocks to address those prospects.

6:19     BPA at Center, Mack or Buck ILB. Let’s go with…. Buck ILB Mohamed Barry, Nebraska.

Barry is one of those players I have no real fix on. Consider this a request! The descriptions I’ve found all glow with praise better suited for a Day 2 prospect, but the actual grades on the public boards and mocks seem have him landing in Rounds 6-7. The process will no doubt clear things up over the next few months, but in the meantime I will go with the descriptions and assume that he’s a steal.

HV 5:01 BUCK ILB Mohamed Barry, Nebraska. (RS Senior). 6’1”, 245 lbs. He’s described as having a phenomenal motor, very good speed for a Buck ILB, serious hitting power, and even the ability to move in space. The issue is lack of length, and the corresponding problem that he doesn’t get off blocks. Pittsburgh would ask him to blow blockers up more than get free to roam, and that is also a learnable skill. Could be one to watch.

Anyone who’s read my stuff over the years will know that I am a big fan of “glue guys” like Tyler Matakevich. You can’t have stars everywhere. Glue Guys™ are the ones who fill in the gaps, while helping to keep the locker room at a true championship level. I really hope we can keep Dirty Red, but the salary cap situation looks awfully dire. Enter a rookie whose description sounds more like a faster Vince Williams than the more athletically limited Matakevich. This won’t make sense if the F.O. sees Sutton Smith making  sophomore leap, but I am not in the locker room take that possibility with a grain of salt.

Alternatives would include just short of 20 ILB’s who are currently on the Board with Round 4-5 grades, some of which are bound to fall. It is a huge, somewhat fuzzy cluster of talent we will have to work on busting up and refining over the next few months. Or not, if the F.O. somehow finds the money to re-sign the guy they have.

7:18     G/T/C Jon Runyan Jr., Michigan.

HV 5:16 G/T/C Jon Runyan Jr., Michigan. (RS Senior). 6’4⅛”, 313 lbs. Mr. Versatility (he can also be a long snapper) started at Left Tackle for a very good offensive line, played Guard in the Shrine Bowl where he looked tremendous, and projects just as well to Center in light of his high football IQ and movement skills. Tough, nasty, and competent, he looks like a prime Day 3 target with a high floor and a low ceiling. Scouting profiles like this January, Giants-oriented piece tend to agree that he lacks the length and movement skills to continue at Tackle, though he may serve well as an emergency backup. And yes, his father is that Jon Runyan; the retired all-pro LT for the Eagles, retired U.S. Congressman, and now NFL Vice President who hands down the fines.

Okay, yes. This one is cheating. A little. I can make good arguments for picking Runyan as early as Round 4, which would make this an unrealistic steal for a mock like this one. On the other hand, I have seen many Boards that grade him out as a UDFA. I’m including him here to highlight an asset I think the Steelers may quietly want to pursue this year: Versatility.

In recent years the Steelers have focused on boom-or-bust OL prospects with the potential to provide Round 1 or 2 value if all things “click.” Feiler is a perfect example. Anyone who knew what he would become would have picked him in Round 2 without blinking an eye. Okorafor and Banner are still in that unformed, boom-or-bust category with the proviso that the boom part looks likelier now than it did back then.

Runyan is in the opposite camp. He played Left Tackle for Michigan by, quite frankly, overachieving compared to his physical talents. His limitations are enough to prevent him from serious consideration as a likely starter. Granted. But smart, technical, heady men can serve an invaluable role as the all-purpose safety net. You want an “A” level player at every position, but that’s obviously impossible. Teams therefore try to have two “A’s” sandwiched by a trio of “B’s”. Prospects who can play every position at a “C” level – still a passing grade! – have another use. They let the team carry only seven linemen on any given Sunday, with the normal 8th hat being allocated for some special matchup. I’ll take it, especially if B.J. Finney has left.

My verdict on the trade-down scenario? The Steelers have fewer actual holes than most people think, but it is really nice to add a choice in the rich pickings of this year’s Round 3 talent pool. I gave up a grade “A“ prospect at a position of moderate want (WR) in exchange for two “B-with-upside” prospects at positions of need, with the ability to get another “B-with-upside” at the WR spot later on. This would be a superb haul from the contributor and pipeline points of view, but that’s about it. No one who is likely to stand out in 2020.

If James Conner can stay healthy in 2020 the trade will look like genius in hindsight. If he doesn’t, it won’t. Conner and Roethlisberger look like the Achilles Heels to worry about.

So there you have it. Let me know what you think in the Comments.

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