On behalf of my fellow writers I want to make a few things clear.
First, we all know what the readership wants. Round 1 talents at OT, C/G, and RB, with Tom Brady in Round 6, and both Rod Woodson and Heath Miller in Round 4 (in either order, you all being so reasonable, though it would be better if we could achieve all that with a trade down for extra picks). Alas, but we are required to do our best efforts to place each prospect at a spot where it’s reasonable to believe he might actually be available.
Second, most of us plan to do several of these over the course of the draft season. I have no intention of repeating the same analysis with a different name at the same position each time. So please do not go nuts because this starts with a RB. Others will begin with an OT in the 1st (probably more than one given the numbers), a defensive player, and who knows what else.
Finally, I ask you to please remember that you need to pick players, not positions! Saying, “I would have picked a Tackle at this point” adds precisely nothing to the conversation. Saying, “What OT’s would you have picked ahead of this guy they’d still been on the board…”? That can spark some interesting back and forth.
Anyway, let’s get on with the matter at hand.
ROUND 1 (1:24)
At this point I have identified 22 prospects I would be willing to have the Steelers pick at #24 overall.
- 6 OT’s – Penei Sewell, Rashawn Slater, Christian Darrisaw, Samuel Cosmi, Alex Leatherwood, and Jaylen Mayfield;
- 4 QB’s – Trevor Lawrence, Justing Fields, Zach Wilson, and Trey Lance;
- 1 RB – Najee Harris;
- 3 WR’s – Ja’Marr Chase, Jaylen Waddle, and Devonta Smith;
- 2 EDGE – Gregory Rousseau and Joseph Ossai;
- 4 CB’s – Patrick Surtain II, Caleb Farley, Jaycee Horn and Derion Kendrick; and
- 2 ILB – Micah Parsons and Zaven Collins.
That list excludes several very good players that I expect to go before #24 to some other team. I would happily add Alijah Vera-Tucker if anyone can convince me he has the ability to play Tackle in the NFL in addition to Guard. [Sigh].
Alex Kozora’s initial mock draft started with one of those six Offensive Tackles, so I am going to in a different direction this time: RB Najee Harris. Here is the current Big Board writeup:
- RB Najee Harris, Alabama. (Senior). 6’1⅞”, 230 lbs. with long 33⅜” arms and big 10” hands. Turns 23 just before the draft. Solid, solid, solid, with an extremely high floor and a very high ceiling. A big, strong RB who Daniel Jeremiah has compared to Matt Forte, Harris can be trusted to get every inch of what’s available, a lot that wouldn’t be there for lesser backs, and to get stronger as the game goes on. As Alex Kozora’s gif-supported January scouting report sums it up, “Harris has every trait you look for in a back. Not just at a baseline ‘good enough’ level. He’s good to great in almost every area.” Pick your asset (other than home run 40-time speed) and he’s got it. Vision, size, strength, super quick feet, a brutal jump cut, an even nastier spin move, a nose for both the sticks and the end zone, etc., etc., unto the end. He will (A) reliably hit the best available hole, (B) run you over if you stand and wait, (C) disappear if you go in hot, and (D) vanish from your grasp if you fail to get a perfect grip. Deadly. He’s also a tremendous receiver, and already an accomplished pocket protector. Pro ready – two words I almost never say. The hardest part is distinguishing which heights he achieved on his own, versus climbing so high on the shoulders of his friends. The BCS championship game may have helped for that one. Ohio State cornered him several times, and then could not bring him down because of what he did all by himself. The Steelers reportedly met with him at the Senior Bowl.
I personally consider OL to be a bigger priority than RB, but this time around we’re assuming that at least 4-5 of the OT’s listed above are gone, and the team has reason to downgrade the other 1-2. I’m also taking the team’s history of passing over OT’s in the 1st, and what I expect to be around in Round 2. There are a lot of almost-as-good Tackles, but no RB who I think is really close to Harris.
ROUND 2 (2:23 = #55 overall)
If I don’t go for an offensive lineman in Round 1, I am definitely doing it in Round 2. So how about…
- OT Dillon Radunz, N. Dak. St. (RS Senior). 6’5⅝”, 304 lbs. with 33¼” arms and 9⅛” hands. The blindside protector from that small school superpower that keeps on producing NFL talent. Radunz profiles as an all-grit, long term starter who could make Pro Bowls, but lacks the supreme athletic genius to leave reviewers with HOF stars in their predraft eyes. His technique is already up to low NFL standards. Classic high floor, low ceiling.
Radunz impressed the heck out of me at the Senior Bowl. The guys he faced disappeared, which suggests that he has LT potential. That matters because I am more worried about Chuks Okorafor being able to step in for Al Villanueva than I am about finding a mauler to play RT. Zack Banner projects pretty well in the latter role.
My only real concern with Radunz is the lack of crazy length. If you give a superhero type like Myles Garrett longer arms, it translates to a natural advantage for certain things like the one-arm stab move and even a straight bull rush. There are ways to defeat those handicaps, but I question whether Radunz has had to yet; at least not against NFL talent who understand how to use those little cracks in their opponent’s technique.
I also considered OT’s Liam Eichenberg (assumed to be gone), Teven Jenkens (same), James Hudson, and Rasheed Walker.
ROUND 3 (3:24 = #87 overall)
I’m supposed to pick a Center now, right? I am not going to do it because Colbert & Co. have been so emphatic about their desire to split picks among both sides of the ball. Two picks in a row for the offense means the next one needs to be a defensive guy.
- CB Kary Vincent Jr., LSU (Senior). 5’10”, 190 lbs. Opted out of 2020, which is going to make him an object of much dispute in the draft community because proving a more advanced technique could have shot him toward Round 1 consideration. Or not. Vincent has world class speed and NFL quickness to match. That’s rare. He is a little on the small side, and it shows in his tackling, but he has everything else you look for in the Sutton/Hilton type of slot Corner, and the combination of just enough size with exceptional speed suggests a potential to play on the boundary too. It’s just that he’s never shown all that in college, and thanks to COVID he never will. Owen Straley’s gif-supported January scouting report catches the essence quite well, especially if you take some time to go through the discussion in the comments.
The team is going to lose either Mike Hilton or Cam Sutton to free agency, and Joe Haden has to start aging sooner or later. The current developmental talent includes Justin Layne and James Pierre. They’ve both flashed from time to time, but I am not ready to rely on either. There is a group of good DB’s who might be there in Round 3, and I’ve simply picked the one I know best due to Owen’s scouting report. The other names I considered were Greg Newsome (assumed to be gone), Shaun Wade (same), Paulson Adebo, D.J. Daniel, Josh Jobe, and Elijah Molden. I would definitely consider a Safety here too unless the team re-signs Sean Davis as the primary backup.
ROUND 4a (4:11 ≈ #135 overall after compensatories)
Maurkice Pouncey won’t be back in 2022 even if returns for 2021, so finding a starter for the future is a decently big priority. OTOH, the Steelers have a long tradition of Centers who are either in the HOF or on the fringe. It is a tradition they care about, but none of this year’s crop project to be at that level. There is no Heir To Pouncey. This suggests that Pittsburgh may be viewing this year’s targets as bridge players who will serve until the next capital-S Special prospect comes along.
I have found 6 Centers in this class that I’d be happy to see on the Steelers. The first is Rashawn Slater, who will probably get picked to play Tackle before the team even goes on the clock at #24 overall. After that comes a big cluster of Round 2-4 talent: Landon Dickerson, Trey Hill, Creed Humphrey, and Josh Myers lead the pack. All four would look great in black and gold. One of them is likely to fall this far too, but for the sake of argument I will assume that all (!) of them got snatched up early. The next two on my list are Pitt’s Jimmy Morrisey, and a certain Senior Bowl sensation:
- G/C Quinn Meinerz, U.W. Whitewater (Civ. III) (Senior). 6’3¼”, 320 lbs. with 33” arms and solid 10¼” hands. A yeti-sized man among the D-III boys, Meinerz showed up at the Senior Bowl and commenced to tossing around the all-star lads pretty much just as easily. If he’d done all that at a top tier school he’d be in the Round 1 discussion even as a Guard. He didn’t, of course, which is going to drop him down into the 2-4 range. Great story, and by all accounts a great kid who puts the Northwest country in strong, and the strong in Northwest country. Note that he played a lot of Center during the Senior Bowl practices, and did it well considering that he taught himself those most-interior skills this summer, but has never played Center in a game. Here is a brief scouting profile,a somewhat more detailed scouting profile from PFN, and a newsy summary scouting profile with a gif, all written during the Senior Bowl buzz.
Translation: I would honestly be surprised if all of the Big 4 are gone at this point, but will not panic even if they are. If Meinerz is gone too, I’d pick Morrissey. Drake Jackson of Kentucky and Jarrett Patterson are a step back, but only minor reaches at 4:25 if worse comes to worst. And there’s always free agency.
ROUND 4b (4:25 ≈ #150 overall after compensatories)
Heading off into the wilderness a bit, this is a prospect I have only read about but who intrigues me as a perfect fit behind either or both of Alex Highsmith or Vince Williams. He’s actually played both positions! Two birds with one stone in the 4th? Color me sold.
- EDGE/ILB Patrick Johnson, Tulane. (Senior). 6’3”, 255 lbs. The upside starts with a motor that never stops, and a proven ability to succeed as both an Edge Rusher and an ILB. That suggests the sort of player who could learn to be a higher end Vince Williams, with the really nice bonus of having the burst and bend to go out wide and turn the corner. Scores a full 100 for scheme fit, but could also end up being a jack of two trades and master of none. I have read concerns that his lack of length could limit his ability to set the edge if he ends up being an OLB. OTOH, Deebo was anything but long and he certainly managed.
If anyone knows more, please share.
THE REST OF DAY 3
I believe the Steelers have one Round 6 pick and two Round 7 choices before adding in compensatory picks, and are expected to get a few of those as well. Five picks in the last two rounds would be a lot of camp bodies! I would accordingly prefer to trade those picks away in exchange for 2022 draft capital. The normal rule says a pick next year needs to be one round higher to equal the value of a pick in the present year. I would rather have that slew of Round 5 and 6 picks in 2022 as draft capital for a big move up to chase some hypothetical QB, than using them in 2021 on just-a-guys.
But that sorta kinda violates the rules of a mock, so here are a few names to consider at the end of the draft (using only the native picks, and no compensatories):
- TE Miller Forristal, Alabama. (RS Senor). 6’5”, 244 lbs. Boom or bust due to medical concerns. Alabama used him with great success as a wham blocker (pulling across the formation to hit a would be tackler), which takes a nasty attitude and some sneaky athleticism to avoid getting juked into a whiff. He is also supposed to have very good hands, though he did not run a lot of routes in that offense. The biggest downside is a long, long series of injuries that held him to 14 games in 4 seasons. He’s a little more slender than you’d like in a TE, but the attitude makes up for the 10-20 pounds you’d ideally like to add. Also has a strong martial arts background, which may help with some hand fighting tricks and might explain some of his no holds barred approach to football.
- OT Tommy Doyle, Miami (OH). (RS Senior). 6’8”, 326 lbs. A goliath human being from a school that’s treated the Steelers well, Doyle is one of those sleeper prospects that received some Round 2-3 buzz before opting out and disappearing off the radar in 2020. He’s got the assets, no doubt about that, especially when it comes to the parts that relate to pure size, strength, and length. But he hasn’t proven it against prime competition and the lack of recent film is likely to hurt.
- WR Trevon Grimes, Florida. (Senior). 6’3⅞”, 217 lbs. A player who’s got the things that can’t be taught: size, weight, speed, and the sort of amazing athletic talent that will put up enormous SPARQ scores. What he hasn’t got is the production to match those talents. Even worse, he failed to put up numbers even though he played in the amazing Florida offense that included so many other weapons for Kyle Trask. Answer the question, “Why not?”, and you could have the steal of the year; unless there is a real “because” that is going to follow him into the pros. Here is a nice Senior Bowl scouting profile from PFN.