NFL Draft

Kitchen: 2021 Steelers’ Mock Draft (Final Version)

Paulson Adebo

The NFL Draft begins in five days. In seven days, we are through all seven rounds and a frenzy of UDFA signings. If you’ve got a final mock draft, now’s the time to burn it. So ahead of my complete first round mock I always publish the week of the draft, it’s time for a final Steeler-specific mock before the big days.

My first mock went pretty well considering the death of my overall strategy before I could even make a pick. Hopefully, this time I will get the chance to follow my plan, which was to target a franchise left tackle in the first round, and then a Pro Bowl-caliber running back on Day 2. Other needs I intended to fill at some point on the draft (on a best player available basis) were a starting nickel corner, a starting center, and depth at linebacker and edge rusher.

Once again, I used the mock draft simulator on The Draft Network’s website, finding its results and available players to be the most realistic for Pittsburgh at 24th overall. As an added bonus for my final Steeler mock of the season, I listed the top 10 players available each time I selected

Round 1, Pick 24: Najee Harris, RB, Alabama

I am almost entirely against first-round running backs. Starters and Pro Bowl backs can be found with consistency on Day 2, so unless a team has very few needs (i.e. Kansas City, Tampa Bay) outside the position, I will always advocate for taking an elite talent at another position, and saving RB for the second or third.

So why break my own rule here? Well, the elite talent is gone at other positions where an immediate impact starter is necessary. All the tackles worth a first round selection went well before 24, as did every cornerback worth the draft slot. Alijah Vera-Tucker gave me considerable pause, but he is small to play tackle, and I can’t make that pick projecting a move to center after he never played there at USC.

So, I grit my teeth and make the call here. If I’m going to break my rule, it’s going to be for the best back in the class, someone who fits my scheme, and has massive star potential. Harris checks all three boxes to me. He is a powerful runner, more than capable receiver, and a true threat to score on any touch. His play style fits perfectly with the type of back the Steelers want to use. As a rookie, I would consider a Pro Bowl a likely outcome, and he should immediately receive every-down status in the backfield.

And then there is Harris’ character. The man did reps at the Senior Bowl because he refused to be there and not participate in some way. He drove nine hours overnight to support his Alabama teammates at the school’s Pro Day, despite not participating himself. That type of attitude and drive off the field is the same that he displays on it, and will make him an instant fan favorite in Pittsburgh.

I still don’t like taking a running back in the first. But if I’m going to, it’s a player like Harris who I’m doing it for.

Top 10: Christian Barmore (DT), Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (LB), Alijah Vera-Tucker (G), Kwity Paye (EDGE), Azeez Ojulari (EDGE), Harris, Joe Tryon (EDGE), Trevon Moehrig (S), Elijah Moore (WR), Jamin Davis (LB)

Round 2, Pick 55: Creed Humphrey, C, Oklahoma

I hesitated before making my last selection. Didn’t even flinch clicking “Draft” this time.

Humphrey in the second would be a dream scenario for the Steelers if they go running back in the first. He is a dependable blocker who may not have the ceiling of a Maurkice Pouncey, but should do well not to let down the legacy of the center position for this franchise.

His Relative Athletic Score is the best in the history of those being done (since 1987), showing an elite blend of size and athleticism. Not a foolproof indicator of on-field success, Humphrey showed over a three-year starting career at OU that he is an anchor in the middle of the line. Twice an All-American, Humphrey is a smart player who impressed at the Senior Bowl.

Humphrey paired with Kevin Dotson and David DeCastro at either guard spot will prevent any defensive tackle short of Aaron Donald from getting shots in on Ben Roethlisberger, and should open up plenty of holes alongside those two for Harris to hit. No hesitation here, Humphrey is my pick, and I don’t think I’m getting better value at any point in this draft.

Top 10: Javonte Williams (RB), Humphrey, Levi Onwuzurike (DT), Wyatt Davis (IOL), Ronnie Perkins (EDGE), Gregory Rousseau (EDGE), Joseph Ossai (EDGE), Jevon Holland (S), Nick Bolton (LB), Jabril Cox (LB)

Round 3, Pick 87: Paulson Adebo, CB, Stanford

I’m watching the tackles go just before my pick each time, but I’m not forcing one a round or two early. I also see one of my favorite players, Chazz Surratt, sitting there, but my confidence in a Robert Spillane/Vince Williams duo to play LB is immeasurably more than my confidence in a Justin Layne/James Pierre pairing to be my third corner.

So my pick here is Adebo, a player who at one point in his college career was getting some buzz as a first-round prospect. As profiled by our Owen Straley (link below), Adebo is somebody who fits a lot of what the Steelers like from their cornerbacks, and has common traits to Mike Hilton and Steven Nelson, losses from this offseason.

Adebo plays his targets physical, and brings that same mindset to get involved in run defense in a similar manner to Hilton. In coverage, he will attack the ball and fight for interceptions, replacing something that Nelson brought to the secondary.

My only hesitation is Adebo’s potential need for development after opting out of the 2020 season, something that isn’t a guarantee given Pittsburgh’s track record at cornerback specifically in the draft. I avoided Benjamin St-Juste with this pick for that exact reason. But Adebo showed some serious upside in his two-year college career, and enough that is ready to play that I’m comfortable with this selection, and starting him on Day 1 over Layne and Pierre.

Top 10: Chazz Surratt (LB), Davis Mills (QB), Michael Carter (RB), Kenneth Gainwell (RB), Quincy Roche (EDGE), Kellen Mond (QB), Adebo, Ben Cleveland (G), Trey Sermon (RB), Trey Smith (G)

Round 4, Pick 128: Walker Little, OT, Stanford

The second pick I have no hesitation making. Truthfully when I was thinking of who I would force at the position in the third, Little was the player I would have gone with.

An uber-recruit and the top player in his class, Little did not achieve quite those heights in his Stanford career. An injury wiped out his 2019 season, and he opted out of 2020. I still believe in his ceiling as a franchise tackle and Pro Bowler, but there is much that he has to improve upon that those two missed seasons could have addressed.

Little struggles handling faster rushers along the arc on the edge, and will get beat in a variety of ways by them. He is a large player who will bully interior rushers and players who try to win with power. If it were only those players he would face, I’d have complete comfort starting him at LT as a rookie. Even some snaps against faster rushers, he looks like an elite tackle who can handle anybody.

But there’s a lot Adrian Klemm has to address with him, and getting to practice against a fast rusher like T.J. Watt is phenomenal for his development. I’m not looking for a starter on Day 3, even though I’d consider playing him over Chukwuma Okorafor right away. I’m looking for a high ceiling, and Little’s could reach potential All Pro level with proper instruction.

Top 10: Cameron Sample (EDGE), Rhamondre Stevenson (RB), Dayo Odeyingbo (EDGE), Israel Mukuamu (CB), Kendrick Green (IOL), Patrick Jones II (EDGE), Kylin Hill (RB), Talanoa Hufanga (S), Robert Hainsey (OT/OG), David Moore (G)

Round 4, Pick 140: Dylan Moses, LB, Alabama

You’re going to notice with my Day 3 picks, I love to bet on upside. And 12 picks after gambling on a former first-round lock who slipped in part due to injury, I’m doing the same with Moses, who has a strong chance to jump both Williams and Spillane sometime this season and become Devin Bush’s long-term running mate at LB.

Moses would already have been a first round pick in 2020 had a torn ACL not convinced him to return to school. He is an outlier and freak athlete as a linebacker, somebody who can run a sub-4.5 40 that allows him to range sideline to sideline, and stick to RBs and other players in coverage.

There is a nastiness to his game, and he was a noticeably big hitter for the Crimson Tide. But consistency is something that will need addressed, as he needs to play up to his top level more frequently than he did in school. When he does, yet again I will say this for one of my picks, there is the upside to potentially see a Pro Bowl.

Even moreso than consistency, Moses has to stay healthy. Not only did he lose his entire 2019 season to injury, but he acknowledged that he played 2020 hurt and considered quitting football. I’m not one to automatically question his love for the game just because he admitted that, but there is the concern that a future injury may rekindle those thoughts of early retirement.

But, a healthy Moses with some coaching to more consistently play at his top level is an incredible value to end the fourth round.

Top 10: Sample, Jones II, Hill, Moses, Adetokunbo Ogundeji (EDGE), Drew Dalman (IOL), Tre Brown (CB), Rodarius Williams (CB), Daelin Hayes (EDGE), Keith Taylor Jr. (CB)

Round 6, Pick 216: Wyatt Hubert, EDGE, Kansas State

I struggled with this pick more than any other, not because of deciding between two names, but because no one jumped out as an immediate candidate here. I considered names at receiver like Demetric Felton, Simi Fehoko, and Sage Surratt here, along with Avery Williams at corner. But in the end, the need for someone to compete with Alex Highsmith took precedence.

Hubert isn’t someone I give a large chance of beating out Highsmith, or starting at the NFL level. But he flashed on occasional reps at the Senior Bowl, showing a pass rush profile built around speed, burst, and athleticism to make up for being undersized.

His lack of size will force him away from the line and into more of a role that Highsmith is attempting to fill this season. As far as upside, he doesn’t match Moses and Little on Day 3 as someone who can be a well above average starter for a long time. But his brief moments of excellence in Mobile have me intrigued enough to bite in the sixth round. If nothing else, his athleticism should make him someone who can contribute right away on special teams.

Top 10: Simi Fehoko (WR), Deommodore Lenoir (CB), Patrick Johnson (EDGE), Hubert, Demetric Felton (RB/WR), Malcolm Koonce (EDGE), Avery Williams (CB), Jaelon Darden (WR), Rachad Wildgoose Jr. (CB), Marlon Williams (WR)

Round 7, Pick 245: Avery Williams, CB, Boise State

It takes until my second-to-last selection to repeat a pick made in my last Steeler mock. I’ll echo many of my points from that entry.

Williams is a star already made as a returner. He was as dangerous as anyone in college football fielding kicks and punts, and is one of the few players who you know is truly a threat to house any touch he gets on special teams.

As a cornerback, Williams isn’t somebody who is starting as a rookie. He has significant work to do to defend at the NFL level, and his size probably limits him to a ceiling of a nickel corner, if not a No. 4.

But as a return man, wow is he worth every bit of this pick. Ray-Ray McCloud has not been awful in the role for Pittsburgh, but Williams would give the Steelers a weapon back there that hasn’t been seen in some time. His speed and quickness can break off some big plays, and even if he never sees the field as a defender, I’m not upset one bit about spending a pick on a pure returner. Not when he brings All-Pro upside to a position that’s been a weakness for years for the team I am drafting for.

Top 10: A. Williams, Darden, Wildgoose Jr., M. Williams, Michael Strachan (WR), Brandon Smith (WR), Austin Watkins (WR), Tay Gowan (CB), Sage Surratt (WR), Manny Rugamba (CB)

Round 7, Pick 254: Shaun Beyer, TE, Iowa

I am cheating slightly here. There are five picks after this one before the draft ends, and several receivers whom I have plenty of interest in (headlined by Sage Surratt and Steelers Depot favorite Tamorrion Terry). I don’t intend to leave a historically deep class at the position without a receiver or three among my picks, but I know I have a very good chance at getting one or more of my targets as a UDFA. I can’t say the same, though, for tight end.

The Steelers desperately need a second tight end to back up Eric Ebron. No one else on the roster should be taking that role, and the lack of a fifth-round pick cost me my dream target, Central Missouri’s Zach Davidson. Also gone as I targeted other positions were Boston College’s Hunter Long, Boise State’s John Bates, and Duke’s Noah Gray.

Beyer this late in the seventh is a positive pick for me, though. He displayed dependable receiving ability at the College Gridiron Showcase in Fort Worth, and isn’t a liability as a blocker. Beyer is exactly what a team like Pittsburgh should want from its second tight end: Someone who reliably makes catches, hits blocks, and avoids mistakes.

Coming from Iowa only helps Beyer’s pedigree to play tight end at the next level. He may never get the starting role or be the marquee name fans clamor to see, but Beyer could very, very easily outlast the majority of his fellow draft picks on the Steelers’ roster.

Top 10: Wildgoose Jr., M. Williams, Strachan, Watkins, Gowan, Surratt, Rugamba, Tim Jones (WR), Camryn Bynum (CB), Dax Milne (WR)

My high-priority UDFA targets

QB: Feleipe Franks (Arkansas)
RB: Josh Johnson (UL Monroe), Jake Funk (Maryland)
WR: Watkins (UAB), Surratt (Wake Forest), Trevon Grimes (Florida), Terry (Florida State), Jacob Harris (UCF)
OT: Kayode Awosika (Buffalo)
IOL: Michael Menet (Penn State), Jimmy Morrissey (Pittsburgh)
EDGE: Chris Rumph II (Duke), Tarron Jackson (Coastal Carolina)
LB: Grant Stuard (Houston)
CB: DJ Daniel (Georgia), Brandon Stephens (SMU), Nate Hobbs (Illinois)
S: Lamont Wade (Penn State), Darren Hall (San Diego State)
Note: Kickers and punters are not included in TDN’s draft simulator. I would not have drafted one, but absolutely would have several punters listed here as UDFA targets.

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