NFL Draft

Kozora: 2021 Steelers’ Mock Draft (Pre-Free Agency)

A month after my first crack at a Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 mock draft, giving it another shot right before free agency. This one looks quite different than the first. Only one player from that first edition is sticking around for the second. My next mock will come out after the dust has settled in free agency, though we’ll still have our mock offseason right before the new league begins.

Like last time, until it’s official, I’ll only project out a 4th round compensatory pick for the Steelers. A 6th may be coming too but it’s less certain.

As always, let me know your thoughts, agreements, and disagreements in the comments below.

Round One (#24 Overall): Najee Harris/RB Alabama – 6’2 230

Analysis: You may not love the idea of taking a running back in the first round. Frankly, I’m with you. But Harris is a great prospect, that isn’t debatable, and the Steelers are taking a frat-boy pledge to fix their league-worst run game this offseason (First: draft a running back. Next: keg stands).

Reports are they already like Harris. In our scouting report, he compared almost equally to Le’Veon Bell. In fact, Harris may be a smidge faster than Bell was coming out of Michigan State. Harris is a big, strong, productive runner with hands like a receiver who would instantly become the Steelers’ bellcow. The value of taking a running back in the first round is questionable but for the five years Pittsburgh will have him, they’ll get plenty of production.

Others Considered: C Creed Humphrey, C Landon Dickerson, LB Zaven Collins

Round Two (#55 Overall): Trey Hill/C Georgia – 6’4 330

Analysis: Hill’s the only holdover from my first mock and I’m bumping him up a round. If Pittsburgh is as content with their offensive tackle situation as they seem to be, then going running back/center in the first two rounds is their best way of improving the run game. Center is the most obvious need along the starting five following Maurkice Pouncey’s retirement. There’s zero in-house options to replace him. In the team’s mission of getting nastier and more physical up front, adding a 330 pound mauling center like Hill does the job. He began his Bulldogs’ career at guard before kicking to the pivot. Likely becomes a Day One starter. He shows a good blend of youth, leaving school as a true junior, with starting experience, 26 of them for Georgia.

Others Considered: RB Javonte Williams, RB Kenneth Gainwell, WR Amon-Ra St. Brown

Round Three (#88 Overall): Joe Tryon/EDGE Washington – 6’5 262

Analysis: Though the focus of this draft is predictably on the Steelers’ offense, there’s holes defensively, too. Bud Dupree is almost certain to leave in free agency leaving the team perilously thin at EDGE behind TJ Watt and Alex Highsmith. Pittsburgh saw the value in drafting a third round EDGE rusher last season in Highsmith, who became great rotational depth turned starter post-Dupree’s ACL tear.

Tryon fits the mold of bigger pass rushers they tend to prefer though as noted in our scouting report, he needs to get stronger and more consistently play to that size. The biggest knock on him from the Steelers’ view is Tryon’s decision to sit out the 2020 season. Less tape to go off of and Kevin Colbert referenced those players will be at a disadvantage when it comes to their evaluation.

The Steelers need to have good EDGE depth. If the front four can’t get pressure, the principles of this defense fall apart. EDGE might not scream like a team need the way center does but it is one.

Others Considered: CB Elijah Molden, C Josh Myers, EDGE Patrick Jones

Round Four (#119 Overall): Amari Rodgers/WR Clemson – 5’9/4 211

Analysis: Didn’t include a wide receiver in my first mock draft. Putting one in here now and you could argue the position, and Rodgers, goes a round higher. If JuJu Smith-Schuster signs elsewhere, Rodgers is an immediate starting slot option for the Steelers. He’s short but not small, tough to tackle, and a smart route runner. Broke out in 2020 with over 1000 yards and seven touchdowns. Though he’s a Day Three pick here, he could start out of the gate. Also the son of former Steelers’ QB Tee Martin, if you’re looking for a connection/feel-good story.

Others Considered: WR Dazz Newsome, RB Trey Sermon, CB Benjamin St-Juste

Round Four (Compensatory Pick): Camryn Bynum/CB California – 6’0/3 198

Analysis: With Joe Haden entering the last year of his contract, likely his last year with the Steelers, and Steven Nelson’s future uncertain, Pittsburgh grabs an insurance policy with Bynum. He lacks length but is a strong man cover corner with good size overall and a willingness to play the run, though he’ll need work on defeating blocks and being more consistent. Though the team seems high on UDFA James Pierre, Justin Layne’s career is quickly fizzling out. The Steelers could also look at a slot option here depending on what happens with Mike Hilton and Cam Sutton. But the hope is at least one of them re-signs and there’s 6th round pick Antoine Brooks Jr, who could become a big-slot/nickel type player.

Others Considered: OL James Hudson, OT Adrian Ealy, LB/S JaCoby Stevens

Round Six (#189 Overall): Tommy Doyle/OT Miami (OH) – 6’8 326

Analysis: Waiting a long time to address offensive tackle. But with so many holes to fill, it’s impossible to address everything in the first couple of rounds. The Steelers are expected to re-sign Zach Banner, remaining high on his prospects despite a Week One ACL tear. With Chukwuma Okorafor still on the roster and Matt Feiler possibly also circling back, the Steelers could wait on adding a tackle until Day Three.

Doyle has been a fast riser who could go as high as late Day Two by the time the draft arrives. Big-framed with great length and plus athleticism, he’s still a bit raw but his game has steadily been improving. Perfect prospect to effectively redshirt for a season to have him ready for 2022. Plus, Pittsburgh’s gotta come out of the draft with a MAC player, doing so in five of their last seven drafts.

Others Considered: OL Brady Christensen, OG Robert Hainsey, TE Luke Farrell

Round Seven (#210 Overall): John Bates/TE Boise State – 6’5/5 259

Analysis: There’s a surprising number of blocking tight ends in this years class. But with so many other holes to address, the Steelers wait until the seventh round to add one. Bates will probably never be a #1 tight end and definitely won’t be a premiere threat as a receiver, but he’s a physical run blocker who takes a lot of pride in moving guys from Point A to Point B. With depth thin, he could make the roster as the #3 out of camp. Joins past players like David Paulson and Robert Blanchflower as 7th round tight ends Kevin Colbert’s thrown a dart at.

Others Considered: P Drue Chrisman, S Damar Hamlin, FB Ben Mason

Round Seven (#219 Overall): James Wiggins/S Cincinnati – 6’0 202

Analysis: Safety depth is an oft-forgotten concern on the Steelers especially if Sean Davis leaves in free agency. Wiggins path to making the 53 will come by way of special teams. In 2018, he intercepted four passes but missed 2019 with a torn ACL.

Others Considered: DL Marquiss Spencer, WR Ben Skowronek

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