With less than one week remaining until the 2021 NFL Draft kicks off in Cleveland, I will be highlighting my personal prediction as to what the Steelers will do in terms of adding new talent to their roster to fill key needs for the upcoming season and beyond. This predictive mock is based off historical trends set by the Steelers, as well as their Pro Day visits and the players we know the team has seen or been in contact with.
Please let me know your thoughts below in the comments section, as well as what you may have done differently.
Round One (#24 Overall): Najee Harris, RB, Alabama, 6010, 230 lbs.
Analysis: This pick shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone, as Najee Harris to the Steelers seems to be the expected pick for over a month now. Given the fact that Tomlin and Colbert were on hand for Alabama’s Pro Day to see Harris in person (although he didn’t work out at the Pro Day they attended), RBs Coach Eddie Faulkner and College Scouting Coordinator Phil Kreidler were there for the second Pro Day to see Harris work out, the interview with Adam Schefter where Harris stated that he had a great conversation with the entire Steelers’ staff on a zoom call, and the reports circling that Harris is squarely targeted as one of the three players that Pittsburgh is considering at their selection, it can be easy to justify the interest in the potential feature back.
The Steelers have lacked that consistent, all-purpose skillset in the backfield since Le’Veon Bell held out for the entire season back in 2018. Since then, Pittsburgh has struggled to put together a successful run game, watching its rushing yards per game and YPC stats drop significantly over the past three seasons.
Owner Art Rooney II emphasized that Pittsburgh will never be as bad in the run game as it was in 2020 ever again. While beefing up the offensive line could be a solution, it would still lack that dynamic runner in the backfield that can create for himself on broken plays on top of getting what is blocked for him. GM Kevin Colbert has acknowledged the depth of OT in this class, suggesting they may wait until Day 2 or Day 3 to get a player they see of great value. However, should they want a top back, the likes of Najee Harris, Travis Etienne, and Javonte Williams could all likely be gone by the time they make the pick in the second round.
That being said, adding Najee Harris to the backfield would energize the running game with a proven player that can carry the workload, but also can contribute as a receiver out of the backfield and split out wide, much like Bell did during his time with the black and gold. Personally, I only see Harris not being the pick should the Dolphins choose to take him at #18 overall. However, given their needs at LB and EDGE, I foresee them passing on Harris and taking another player at that spot, having him fall to Pittsburgh where they will gladly make that selection to instantly revamp the run game with a workhorse back.
Others Considered: Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson; Landon Dickerson, C, Alabama; Asante Samuel Jr., CB, Florida State
Round Two (#55 Overall): Jalen Mayfield, OT, Michigan, 6052”, 326 lbs.
Analysis: From drafting an experienced running back to taking a young, developing OT with their second pick, Pittsburgh goes to address offensive line on Day 2 by selecting Jalen Mayfield. While the Steelers may prefer to go center at this juncture, I expect the likes of Creed Humphrey and Landon Dickerson to be taken given their value and the teams needing a starting presence on the interior in front of them.
However, Mayfield is a great consolation prize, having played both LT and RT during his time in Ann Arbor and showcasing his ability to be a dominating force in the run game. He is physical at the point of attack, looking to drive his man back and create big running lanes for his tailback. He can play with some nasty, looking for takedown blocks reminiscent of Teven Jenkins of Oklahoma State, and also is a pretty good mover for his size, having an active kick step in pass protection and a strong punch to neutralize defenders when he gets hands on. Mayfield does need to work at keeping speed rushers from getting the corner and have better reaction to pass rushers trying to cross his face inside, but this can be improved with repetition on his footwork and slimming down a little to be more agile in pass protection.
Tomlin, Colbert, and OL Coach Adrian Klemm were on-hand for Mayfield’s Pro Day, where he didn’t have great testing numbers, thus likely causing him to slide into Day 2. However, he mentioned that he had been in contact with Pittsburgh and can play all five spots on the OL. While center is likely a stretch, I do forsee Mayfield being a quality starter at tackle early on in his NFL career, and can kick inside and be a great guard if necessary.
Due to the depth of the tackle board, it’s a realistic scenario that Mayfield is here with Pittsburgh ready to make their selection. If it wants a player that can come in and push Banner and Okorafor for playing time his first season as he takes over at one of the tackle spots in year two, Mayfield could be a good value pick that has good upside to bring much-needed youth and physicality to the offensive line.
Others Considered: Joseph Ossai, EDGE, Texas; Quinn Meinerz, C/G, Wisconsin-Whitewater; Dillon Radunz, OT, North Dakota State
Round Three (#87 Overall): Josh Myers, C, Ohio State, 6052, 310 lbs.
Analysis: While it would be great to see fan favorite Quinn Meinerz here in Round 3, I am hesitant that he would be available given the hype surrounding him post-Senior Bowl and Pro Day that has the entire league buzzing on his transition to the pros. However, I would expect one of he or Josh Myers to make it to #87, and I have Myers being the selection here based on that thought process. Originally recruited as a guard, Myers started at center for two seasons for the Buckeyes, manning the middle of a good offensive line.
He plays with a great anchor in pass protection and is a strong, well-built player that does a great job moving defenders off of their spot and creating seals in the running game. He can combo off to the second level effectively, and has a strong punch to shock defenders back in the run game or pass protection. His movement skills are fairly limited in terms of moving out in space and moving his feet laterally in pass protection, meaning he will be better against size and strength rather than quickness and speed on the interior.
As Alex highlighted in his previous mock draft, Myers has nearly identical measurables to Maurkice Pouncey from a size/length perspective. This shouldn’t be the end-all be-all, but if Pittsburgh has a prototype they want to have at the position, Myers could fit the bill.
Myers has an athletic background with his mother and father both playing Division I sports, and had Tomlin, Colbert, and OL Coach Adrian Klemm on-hand for his Pro Day. Add in the fact that he has tape as a two-year starter for a Power Five program the Steelers have an affinity for in Ohio St., and it can be easy to suggest that Myers could be on their short list. He may not be the next Pouncey, but he has that position flexibility on the interior and his consistent play and strong base in pass protection project him to be a capable starter sooner rather than later in the league.
Others Considered: Spencer Brown, OT, Northern Iowa; Elijah Molden, CB, Washington; Nico Collins, WR, Michigan
Round Four (#128 Overall): Kary Vincent Jr., CB, LSU, 5100, 185 lbs.
Analysis: Besides Vincent Jr., every player in this mock draft played in some semblance during the 2020 season. While I do think that Pittsburgh will weigh heavily on this for their selections, I can see Vincent Jr. being the pick here for a couple of reasons.
First, he is a phenomenal athlete at the position, being a nationally-renowned track athlete in high school and running on the LSU track team, helping the Tigers to gold in the SEC Conference meet in the 4×100-meter relay in the 2018 and 2019 outdoor seasons. This speed pops on film, and he moves his feet effortlessly in pass defense with smooth quick transitions, and will run in-stride with nearly every receiver and can beat them to the break point with his pure speed and athleticism. It also must be considered that Area Scout Mark Gorscak, who runs the 40-yd. dash drill annually at the NFL Combine, was the personnel member at the LSU Pro Day where Vincent Jr. had a great workout.
Second, he was very productive in the slot for the Tigers during their championship run in 2019, recording four INTs and multiple PBUs while showing a willingness to come downhill and be a violent hitter for his size, not shying away from contact. He also has played some deep center fielder as a safety, having the range and versatility to be deployed all over the secondary. Third, his father played for Texas A&M and was drafted in the sixth round by the New Orleans Saints, meaning he has the athletic bloodline that Steelers covet.
Should Pittsburgh want to find a replacement in the nickel for Mike Hilton, Vincent would be the ideal choice as a player that can be physical near the LOS, but frankly is better in coverage than Hilton ever was due to his athletic traits. He does need to improve his route anticipation and not get lost on double moves, but he can come in Day 1 and push to be the starting nickel, having the ability to run with nearly anyone in the slot and also allow Minkah Fitzpatrick to come play down near the LOS on occasion due to his ability to play on the back end, thus allowing Pittsburgh to disguise more coverages than they have in the past. Within his first three seasons, I see Vincent becoming a top-tier nickel defender in the NFL.
Others Considered: Trey Hill, C, Georgia; Tommy Tremble, TE, Notre Dame; and Shaun Wade, CB/S, Ohio State
Round Four (#140 Overall): Derrick Barnes, LB/EDGE, Purdue, 6003, 238 lbs.
Analysis: While the Steelers were successful in bringing back Vince Williams, he is only on a one-year deal, as are Robert Spillane and Marcus Allen. Currently, Pittsburgh doesn’t have a succession plan to find a running mate next to Devin Bush in the middle of the defense, and could stand to add an ILB earlier rather than later in the draft. Enter Purdue’s Derrick Barnes, a physical player that brings experience playing in the box and also as an edge rusher.
He is a great athlete for his size, having the speed and explosiveness to close on ball carriers in a hurry, and shows wonderful pursuit of the football, whether it be in the run or chasing down the QB as a pass rusher. Barnes is effective at making zone drops in the middle of the field and has the capability to run with backs and tight ends in man coverage with room to grow in this area. He also has vast experience on special teams, making him an immediate contributor if selected, which will keep him active on game day.
Barnes can struggle a little in terms of quickly diagnosing the play at times, and can take cleaner angles of pursuit to the ball, being able to avoid trash and work around or through blockers near the LOS. However, given that ILBs coach Jerry Olsavsky was the one putting Barnes through drills during his Pro Day, it would suggest that the Steelers are interested in bringing him in to develop under Bush and Williams, with the idea of him taking over that BUCK position down the road.
In the meantime, he can be brought in to provide a pass rush from the box or even potentially off of the edge as he has done with the Boilermakers, giving Alex Highsmith and T.J. Watt a breather on occasion. He also would be a four-phase special teams demon, and can be looked at much like Vince Williams was when he was drafted. The only thing is, Barnes is a much better athlete that Williams ever was, and his ability to wear multiple hats and be the potential solution on the inside going forward next to Bush would help Pittsburgh alleviate the need at ILB this season and going forward.
Others Considered: Janarius Robinson, EDGE, Florida State; JaCoby Stevens, LB/S, LSU; Robert Hainsey, IOL, Notre Dame
Round Six (#216 Overall): Shaka Toney, EDGE, Penn State, 6024, 242 lbs.
Analysis: It may be a little later than desired to grab EDGE depth in the sixth round, but the addition of Barnes as a potential hybrid off-ball linebacker and pass rusher helped fill the hole and another need on the defense. However, Shaka Toney on Day 3 would be a great addition here as an often-overlooked defender in this EDGE class. He is a senior prospect and a Pennsylvania native, having been a steady contributor for the Nittany Lions, and has made an impact on defense all four seasons played.
He is a great speed rusher off of the edge, having fantastic get-off on the snap, and can challenge tackles on their vertical pass sets, having the speed and quickness to counter back inside if he gets the blocker to overset. Toney uses his hands well as a rusher and plays with a fair amount of bend to get the corner. He lacks ideal size and mass, leading to him struggling vs. size and power in the run game and getting pushed back relatively easily. However, his pass rush prowess and his history of making an impact blocking kicks make him an immediate special teams contributor, and give him the chance to be active on game day as a rookie.
Tomlin and Colbert were on-hand to see Toney in-person in Happy Valley. With Micah Parsons likely off the board when they pick, and the debate being out on taking Jayson Oweh early on Day 1, Toney would be a great consolation prize that has actually been more productive than his teammates off the edge, and could spell Watt and Highsmith as a designated pass rusher while he continues to develop and get stronger in the pros. He also checks every box in Alex’s study in what Pittsburgh looks for in edge rushers, meaning that the fit is there should he be on the board.
Others Considered: Malcom Koonce, EDGE, Buffalo; Justin Hilliard, LB, Ohio State; Quinton Morris, TE, Bowling Green
Round Seven (#245 Overall): Trevon Grimes, WR, Florida, 6040, 220 lbs.
Analysis: I was skeptical whether or not Trevon Grimes would make it to the league after spending the summer of 2018 with the Florida Football Program in the Strength and Conditioning Department. He was transferring from Ohio State and came off as young and immature. However, after getting to know the man and what he had been through, my outlook on Grimes changed. He changed as well, showing maturation as a player and as a man during his time with the Gators, culminating in him having a good senior campaign and showing us a glimpse of the immense talent the WR possesses.
A top-five recruit in his class, Grimes has the traits and measurables you love to see in a developmental receiver prospect. He is a big-bodied threat that can win down the field, along the sideline, and in the red zone as a jump ball, contested catch receiver. His long speed is average, and his releases need work to be a more consistent route runner, but he wins over the middle a fair amount as a consistent chain-mover and a guy that is willing to take a hit and can hold on to the ball.
Grimes mentioned in an interview that he had been in contact with the Steelers and that he models his game after Chase Claypool. Another physical specimen, Grimes can come in as the fifth or sixth receiver on the depth chart initially, occasionally seeing time on the outside in red zone situations, but will make an impact on special teams as a gunner on kick and punt coverage units, hopefully taking Claypool out of this role to focus more on offense.
With James Washington slated the be a free agent after the upcoming season, Grimes could figuratively take over as the team’s Z receiver in 2022, presenting the likely QB of the future with another large playmaker on the outside that can win combative catches. The Steelers are known for getting value later on at the WR position. Grimes can be a guy that is a better player in the league than he was in college.
Others Considered: K.J. Britt, LB, Auburn; Deommodore Lenoir, CB, Oregon; Jonathan Adams Jr., WR, Arkansas State
Round Seven (#254 Overall): Avery Williams, DB/KR/PR, Boise St., 5083, 187 lbs.
Analysis: Danny Smith gets his selection here and is happily chewing his bubble gum, as Dave always says, sending in the card to select Avery Williams. Williams has been a solid CB for the Broncos the past few seasons, but it is his work on special teams that is the draw to selecting him on Day 3 of the draft.
Through four seasons in Boise, Williams has nine total kick and punt return TDs to his credit, along with several blocked kicks and punts that have led to scores. He is a natural with the ball in his hands, whether intercepting a pass or returning a kick/punt, displaying great vision and the speed and elusiveness to get into open space. For being a smaller player, he also has good contact balance as a runner, able to bounce off of arm tackles and stay upright.
While a solid defender that is physical near the LOS and has proven ball production, Williams isn’t the best in transition as a DB, and can be slow to react to what is happening in front of him, and isn’t too comfortable moving in a backpedal. While a move to the nickel could help cover up these issues, Williams did go through RB and WR drills at his Pro Day as well, suggesting a position switch to the offensive side of the ball may be in the cards given his playmaking ability.
I make the same suggestion in my profile on Williams as well, with an interesting pro comparison. Given Danny Smith was in attendance and actually texted Williams good luck the night prior to his Pro Day, he is in the crosshairs to be an impact special teamer as a returner as well as on coverage units and on field goal or punt block units. Offensive or defensive position may be up for debate, but Williams screams Steeler. If Danny Smith gets his say, this guy is wearing black and gold by the end of the weekend.
Others Considered: Luke Farrell, TE, Ohio State; Drue Chrisman, P, Ohio State; Carson Green, OT, Texas A&M