Now that the collegiate all-star circuit is over and we fully settle into draft season ahead of virtual pro days, I wanted to take an early crack at my first Steelers Depot Mock Draft of the season.
While we still don’t know the salary cap outlook and we don’t know the look of the roster overall ahead of the 2021 NFL Draft, I decided to really hone in some areas of need that I identified from the previous season, as well as the future overall.
There will be some surprise picks, ones that many readers likely won’t agree with. Take a look at the mock below and leave your thoughts. Side note: all of the overall pick numbers came from PFF’s NFL Draft projections.
Round One (24th Overall): Jaycee Horn, CB, South Carolina, 6’1”, 200 Lbs
Analysis: Cornerback probably isn’t high on the list of needs for the Pittsburgh Steelers right now, but depending on where the salary cap comes in for 2021, veteran Joe Haden might be a cap casualty.
Here, I am assuming he is, and I’m also assuming the Steelers lose Mike Hilton in free agency while retaining Cameron Sutton. Justin Layne and James Pierre will get a crack at the starting job opposite Steven Nelson in the future, but I can’t feel very good about that duo right now defensively.
I do feel great about Horn, who is a physical cornerback with Power 5 experience and NFL bloodlines (father Joe was a former receiver in the NFL with the Saints). Horn doesn’t have a ton of production in terms of interceptions, but he clamped down on some strong receivers in the SEC the last few years.
Round Two (56th Overall): Liam Eichenberg, OT, Notre Dame, 6’6”, 302 Lbs
Analysis: Eichenberg fills an obvious need right away at left tackle for the Steelers. Eichenberg should be a key piece that is plug and play right away at left tackle that could help fix a woeful running game from Day 1.
He’s a physical specimen at left tackle that moves well for his size, has impressive power, and is a true people mover up front. He’s not overly athletic side to side and won’t blow people away with his movement skills, but he held up well year over year at Notre Dame blocking for Ian Book, who was incredibly unpredictable in the pocket the last few years.
You can’t go wrong with an offensive lineman from Notre Dame right now.
Round Three (87th Overall): Kenneth Gainwell, RB, Memphis, 5’11”, 191 Lbs
Analysis: Though Gainwell opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns, his tape over the last two years at Memphis is quite impressive. Gainwell comes from a school that has churned out some strong running backs in recent years in Los Angeles Rams running back Darrell Henderson and Washington Football Team standout Antonio Gibson.
Gainwell has legitimate home run speed, brings some surprising power with his frame, and is just a general weapon that could really be unlocked under Matt Canada’s direction in Pittsburgh.
If Pittsburgh is truly committed to fixing the run game, adding Gainwell to a room with Benny Snell Jr. and Anthony McFarland is a great step in the right direction.
Round Four (119th Overall): Hunter Long, TE, Boston College, 6’5”, 254 Lbs
Analysis: Much like running back, tight end has been an issue for the Pittsburgh Steelers in recent years. While this isn’t as early as I’d ideally like to see the Steelers address the tight end position, Long is a good value grab here.
Long has the size and want-to to profile as a strong TE2 in a system that relies heavily on a 12 personnel package. He could step in right away as a strong complimentary piece to Eric Ebron for a year or two, filling the void of Vance McDonald’s retirement from a blocking perspective.
Quietly, he reminds me a lot of Tyler Kroft, who has carved out a strong career as a TE2 that is a decent red zone weapon and a strong blocking tight end overall.
Round Four (Comp Pick): Brady Christensen, OT, Brigham Young, 6’6”, 300 Lbs
Analysis: Again, with a clear need to fix the running game to provide balance to the offense, the Steelers need to throw as much as possible at fixing the problem. Christensen is a mammoth human who works best rolling downhill in the run game.
He’s not very athletic overall, but he could be a strong swing tackle/extra tight end-like lineman that provides a ton of depth across the line of scrimmage. Christensen plays with a high level of football IQ that will help him carve out a long NFL career across the OL. With injuries cropping up a ton in recent years along the offensive line, the Steelers could do well by grabbing a fourth tackle and versatile guard here with Christensen.
Round Six (226th Overall): Chase Lucas, CB/S, Arizona State, 6’0”, 180 Lbs
Analysis: Another cornerback this year? Yes, and here’s why. While Lucas might look small on paper, he plays with a ton of physicality, has great production overall over the last few years at Arizona State, and comes from a program heavy on NFL philosophies with Herm Edwards and Marvin Lewis, two guys Mike Tomlin knows well and has a friendship with.
Lucas is a good reactionary athlete at corner with foot quickness and change of direction skills to mirror and match in the slot and outside. He loves to play downhill against the run too and could profile as a strong slot corner and special teams ace in the NFL.
Round Seven (245th Overall): Tony Fields II, LB, West Virginia, 6’1”, 222 Lbs
Analysis: Depth is a serious concern at inside linebacker with Devin Bush coming off of an ACL tear, Vince Williams’ roster status up in the air due to cap space, and the impending free agency of Avery Williamson, so I have the Steelers taking a flier on an athletic, rangy linebacker in Fields II, potentially backing up Bush or pairing next to him down the line.
A transfer from Arizona, Fields immediately became the face of the Mountaineers’ defense in 2020, thriving in the Big 12, flying sideline to sideline and attacking downhill overall. I have concerns about his overall size and length playing inside, but at worst you’re getting a special teams stud and a legitimate athletic backup behind Bush moving forward.
Round Seven (254th Overall): Josh Imatorbhebhe, WR, Illinois, 6’2”, 220 Lbs
Analysis: Imatorbhebhe is one of my sleepers in the wide receivers class in the 2021 NFL Draft. A former 4-star recruit that went to Southern California, Imatorbhebhe transferred to Illinois to play for Lovie Smith and thrived in the vertical passing attack the Illini deployed.
He’s a physical freak that profiles at the Z in the NFL and could really carve out a role as a boundary receiver. He has very good ball skills and can jump through the roof. He probably won’t provide a ton on special teams right away, but he’s a sound route runner that can stretch the field and make some impressive plays in the air.
Imatorbhebhe makes a ton of sense as a late round flier at a position of depth for the Steelers.