With the 2020 NFL Combine in the rearview mirror, we have (slightly) more clarity on what the Pittsburgh Steelers may do in the 2020 NFL Draft. There’s still plenty to wade through: roster cuts, free agency signings, decisions looming on Bud Dupree and other soon-to-be free agents. But the Combine told us a little and with that, here’s my latest Steelers’ mock draft.
Round Two (49th Overall): Adam Trautman/TE Dayton – 6’5 255
Analysis: Wrestled with this one for awhile. It’s far from a great tight end class and despite the glaring need and total lack of long-term prospects currently on the roster, it is possible they punt on the position entirely. But if anything, that should make the team feel even more compelled to try and take one early, knowing there won’t be any attractive options come Day Three.
This comparison is a blast from the past and trust me, I know the tight end position has evolved so much since then. But he’s a new-age Mark Bruener. Not athletic marvels, not insane vertical threats, but big bodies who take pride in blocking. Trautman should offer more in the passing game and though his 4.8 40 won’t wow anyone, the Steelers have never been impressed with a 40 time for the position and Trautman simply plays faster on tape. His eye-catching 6.78 three cone should quell any “not an athlete” concerns too. That was the second best time….among receivers.
Of course, the biggest question/concern with this projection is the history. Pittsburgh hasn’t used a first or second round pick on a non Power 5 player, let alone someone below FBS, since 2004, when they drafted Ben Roethlisberger and Ricardo Colclough back-to-back. Those careers went in vastly different directions. For Trautman to stay in my mock, the Steelers will have to show serious interest during the pre-draft process. But he balled out at the Senior Bowl and showed he can make the jump to the NFL. That’s a good start to piquing Pittsburgh’s interest.
Others Considered: TE Brycen Hopkins, WR Jalen Reagor, OLB/ILB Josh Uche
Round Three (~100th Overall): Lloyd Cushenberry III/C LSU – 6’3/1 312
Analysis: After taking a small school prospect like Trautman, the Steelers gotta take a cold shower and get back to their roots with an experienced, SEC player like Cushenberry. Interior offensive linemen is going to be a need for this team, even should they retain Ramon Foster. If BJ Finney walks, and he very likely will, there’s no backup on this roster who can play center.
Enter Cushenberry. Played in the best conference in college football with good size and especially excellent length at 34 1/8 inches. Has the size to play guard too, which is important because no backup plays *just* one spot in Pittsburgh.
What’s most admirable about him is his competitiveness. Earned the #18 jersey the school gives out to the team’s most inspirational player (Cushenberry wore a patch on his jersey with the number since it obviously couldn’t be his actual jersey). Starts 28 games over his last two years, Tigers go on to win the National Title in what basically amounted to a full NFL season (15 games). A week later, he’s in Mobile for the Senior Bowl, having a great week, and a month later, he’s at Indy for the Combine. Gotta think the Steelers will love that mentality for someone in the trenches. Always willing to compete, always wanting to show his ability. Will offer some much-needed depth.
Others Considered: C Matt Hennessy, S Terrell Burgess, WR Michael Pittman Jr.
Round Four: K’Von Wallace/S Clemson – 5’11 206
Analysis: Offense might be the area this team needs to pay more attention to but defense has its holes too. Like safety depth. There’s none. One injury to Terrell Edmunds or Minkah Fitzpatrick and the Steelers are in serious trouble.
The difficulty is in trying to find someone who fits what the team looks for. They like their prospects to be very SPARQY, highly athletic. Edmunds, Fitzpatrick, Sean Davis all tested off the charts. The safety pool is limited in those prospects, especially mid-rounders, but Wallace fits pretty well. 4.53 40 with a 38 inch vert, 11’1″ broad, and 6.76 three cone.
Will need to dig into his tape more but he has plenty of starting experience, 36 with the Tigers, with five career interceptions. Overall, a good baseline level for what the team wants.
Others Considered: WR Devin Duvernay, RB Antonio Gibson, NT Davon Hamilton
Round Four: Van Jefferson/WR Florida – 6’1/4 200
Analysis: No position is as deep as receiver and Kevin Colbert’s only avoided drafting a wideout three times in his Steelers’ career. Odds seem pretty high he doesn’t make this a fourth. Jefferson is a crisp route runner with good size who really boosted his stock during the Senior Bowl. His college numbers weren’t gaudy but he didn’t exactly play in pass-prolific offenses either coming from Ole Miss before transferring to UF.
His dad played in the NFL for over a decade and is a WRs coach today so Jefferson has grown up around the game all his life. It shows on his tape. Pittsburgh doesn’t have a glaring need at any receiver spot – X, Z, or in the slot – so they can really focus on just getting talent. But I like the idea of playing Jefferson inside as a matchup headache for smaller corners.
A strong showing in Mobile made it feel like he was going to be a Day Two pick but after finding out he needs surgery to repair a foot fracture that kept him out of the Combine and almost certainly his Pro Day, Draft stock probably leveled out in a deep wide receiver class.
Others Considered: NT Rashard Lawrence, WR KJ Hill, OL Jonah Jackson
Round Six: Casey Toohill/OLB Stanford – 6’4/3 250
Analysis: Starts getting much more difficult pegging these last two picks. Colbert called the EDGE class “unusually strong,” which frankly, I don’t agree with, but he’s usually pretty honest in his draft class assessments and the team’s eventual selections tend to follow suit.
The future of the OLB position is still up in the air. Even assuming Bud Dupree gets tagged, there’s no guarantee a long-term deal gets hammered out. Who is the starting ROLB in 2021? I don’t know. A sixth round pick doesn’t exactly make you feel more comfortable about your situation but it’s at least another option.
Toohill has the size/athleticism combination the team prefers. 6’4, 250 with 33 1/2 inch arms, a 39 inch vert, 10’6″ broad, and very solid 7.08 three cone time. Production isn’t as strong but ended his Cardinal career on a high note with 11.5 TFL and 8 sacks.
Others Considered: WR Joe Reed, S L’Jarius Sneed, OL Jon Runyan Jr.
Round Seven: Benito Jones/NT Ole Miss – 6’1 316
Analysis: Trust me, I detest not mocking a nose tackle until the final round. That is going to create a hole in the middle in 2020, no doubt. But it was a take-your-pick situation. Safety or nose tackle and safety is simply a more valuable position so I went Wallace in the 4th round. And I can’t see them waiting too long on a receiver in such a talented class.
So nose tackle drew the short straw. This mock really outlines why Pittsburgh should be looking to trade back from #49 and pick up an extra mid-rounder.
Jones is a classic plugger who has to play with more consistency and stay on your feet but does offer power and the ability to collapse the pocket as a pass rusher. Think if Daniel McCullers actually had leverage.
Others Considered: ILB Evan Weaver, ILB John Lako, CB Dane Jackson