For the final time this draft season, my Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2021 mock draft. It’s my last crack at predicting what I think the team will do beginning Thursday. This will be a draft for the ages, one of the most difficult ones to scout and predict. I think we’re in for some surprises this weekend. But here’s my best guess at what happens.
As always, let me know what you think in the comments below. And if you want to look back at my previous mock drafts, I’ll link them below.
Round One (#24 Overall): Najee Harris/RB Alabama — 6013, 232 lbs.
Analysis: I wanted to chart a different path here at #24. But ultimately, no one makes as much sense as Harris does here in the first round. Agree with RB or not, he would be an obvious upgrade to the position and one step in improving the Steelers’ terrible run game. He has the feature back size and ability Mike Tomlin covets. He’s got great hands, adjusts to the ball like a receiver, and he’s a tough, physical runner. Compares to Le’Veon Bell in so many ways.
He checks almost every box you’re looking for. High-character (you know the team loves the fact he drove nine hours to be with teammates his first Pro Day, even if he didn’t work out), productive, from a top school, and the Steelers sent the house to Bama’s Pro Days. Tomlin/Colbert/Canada to the first, RBs Coach Eddie Faulkner to his second.
The only concern here is his age and upperclassmen status. But that matters less for a running back. You have to accept the fact that if you get five years out of him, his rookie deal and fifth-year option, you’ve succeeded. If Harris was a 22-year-old junior, that career arc wouldn’t look any different.
If the pick, Harris is the day one starter. The big question is if he falls to #24. It feels 50/50; Miami at 18 is the biggest threat. But if they pass up on him, I could see Harris making it to Pittsburgh. Over the last two years, the earliest a RB has gone is 24th. Exactly where the Steelers are picking.
Others Considered: OT Alex Leatherwood, CB Asante Samuel Jr., C Landon Dickerson
Round Two (#55): Quinn Meinerz/C Wisconsin-Whitewater — 6027, 320 lbs.
Analysis: I struggled with the second round selection more than any other. Nearly went with Pat Freiermuth, but ultimately settled on Meinerz. He’s an unconventional pick for the team, but they’ve shown obvious interest in him. OL Coach Adrian Klemm attended his Pro Day after Meinerz’s great Senior Bowl showing.
There are factors working against him that may cause him to fall into the third round — I think that’s possible. Yes, he’s a small-school kid who didn’t play in 2020. But that makes the fact he showed up and had a fantastic Senior Bowl even more impressive. Dude came off the bench and bullied Power 5 guys who had been playing most of the fall. Has a Javon Hargrave feel, who dominated Senior Bowl practices and was picked by Pittsburgh in the third round.
Meinerz also was exclusively a guard in college. Aside from logging time there at the Senior Bowl, center would be new to him. One benefit is the fact there should be four preseason games this summer to get him ready. Worst-case scenario, BJ Finney is there as the veteran fallback option.
It’s no secret the Steelers’ line needs to be more physical. Desperately so. Adrian Klemm has said it over and over again. Meinerz is one of the nastiest linemen in this class but also tested as an elite athlete. There’s going to be an adjustment period, but the long-time reward makes him worth it. I think they take him in the second because this is around the time centers start to make a run. And the Steelers don’t want to lose out on their guy.
Others Considered: EDGE Payton Turner, OT Jalen Mayfield, TE Pat Freiermuth
Round Three (#87): Ar’Darius Washington/CB-S TCU — 5082, 176 lbs.
Analysis: For all the offensive needs, there are areas on defense that must be addressed, too. And slot corner/safety is one of them. For a team with only eight draft picks and three in the Top 100, finding guys who are versatile and could potentially wear multiple hats is crucial. That’s Washington. He can play slot corner or free safety, showing single-high range.
Though he’s very small, he plays twice his size and loves to attack the run. A very similar build and style to Mike Hilton. I didn’t personally coming away loving Washington’s game, but I could see the team replacing Hilton’s skillset with Washington. He also showed plus ball skills in 2019 with five interceptions.
Senior assistant/DBs Coach Teryl Austin attended his Pro Day. Partially to see first-round teammate Trevon Moehrig, but also to see Washington, who’s the more realistic option.
Others Considered: C Josh Myers, OT Spencer Brown, RB Trey Sermon
Round Four (#128): Janarius Robinson/EDGE Florida State — 6053, 266 lbs.
Analysis: I’ve spoken to the concern the lack of EDGE depth has been for quite some time now. No, there’s no intention on needing a starter with T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith on the roster. But all it takes is one injury, short or long-term (as the team experienced last year with Bud Dupree) to shake up the depth chart. Even if guys are healthy, the #3 OLB plays 15-20 snaps per game. Pittsburgh can’t have Cassius Marsh in that role. You’re just giving offenses 30% of your snaps to say, “Hey, run it over here!”
Robinson is a big, long EDGE (35 1/4-inch arms) the Steelers have generally gravitated towards. He’s played as a base end in an odd front, he’s played with his hand up and down on the edge, he’s been displaced from the LOS, he’s even played a little off-ball linebacker. Robinson uses his length well to create space between he and the blocker, and he sets a physical edge in the run game. As a pass rusher, he’s not going to win the edge often, but uses his power and bull to run tackles back, collapse the pocket, and uses his length to attack the football. His motor has been questioned, but I’ve seen him open it up in the open field and go after the ball. A coach like Karl Dunbar will be a strong motivator and will connect with him. Robinson is a high character player.
His production was average, and even worse when you watch the tape (his 2.5 sacks vs UNC were low-quality, his 4 TFLs vs. Clemson all came after FSU went down 42-0 and the Tigers put backups in). But I think he can be a dependable #3 OLB in the game. His upside isn’t incredibly high, but he isn’t necessarily a starter-in-waiting. So I don’t think it has to be tremendously high. I’m not making this sound like a sexy pick, I know, but that’s OK. Good depth isn’t always flashy. Higher-end version of Anthony Chickillo.
Others Considered: CB Shaun Wade, ILB Derrick Barnes, OL Robert Hainsey
Round Four (#140): Tommy Doyle/OT Miami (OH) — 6080, 320 lbs.
Analysis: Debated where I think the Steelers will take a tackle. Could come anywhere, but I think this is about the floor for it to happen. Doyle is a bit of a project, but the Steelers don’t need him to contribute right away. His career started to take off late in 2019, and he carried that into 2020 with a really strong season. He’s an impressive athlete for such a unique frame, with equal experience on the left and right side. He’s a punishing run blocker who runs his feet and plays to his size.
He needs to become more consistent and show better balance, but he didn’t start playing football until college; he was previously a defensive linemen. He’s had to add weight since coming to school, entering Miami at 270 pounds, and basically get used to his body and new position. But the upside here is high — starter-level — and he can sit for a season and potentially grab a tackle spot in 2022 if Chukwuma Okorafor isn’t retained. Plus, he’s a hockey-playing kid from Minnesota who went to the MAC. That just screams a Steelers’ pick.
Others Considered: OT Adrian Ealy, QB Jamie Newman, TE Kenny Yeboah
Round Six (#216): Luke Farrell/TE Ohio State — 6054, 251 lbs.
Analysis: Tight end drew the short straw here, sadly. But it’s in-line with a team who hasn’t used higher than a fifth round pick on the position since 2007. So might as well make it another year. Farrell was the only Combine-invited tight end who checked every box in our “what they look for” study. He has good size, length, and can be a better receiver than how he was used in college. Admittedly a low bar, considering he has nine catches over the last two seasons. Tight end is a tough position to transition to, but he’s a blocker from the Power 5 who may have an easier transition.
Others Considered: TE John Bates, OT Jaylon Moore, EDGE Daelin Hayes
Round Seven (#245): Pressley Harvin III/P Georgia Tech — 5111, 263 lbs.
Analysis: Punter alert. Hopping on the Dave Bryan bandwagon with punter. Most of the other key needs have been addressed, so I can take a flier on a specialist. I didn’t give Harvin III a draftable grade, but this is the seventh round and ensures you get him as opposed to hoping he signs as a UDFA, where the Steelers are notoriously stingy with their money. Harvin III was the 2020 Ray Guy Award winner as college football’s top punter. He flashes elite punts and graded out the best of the four punters I broke down. He has a quick operation and a strong arm for fakes, which is a nice bonus. Danny Smith attended his workout, where Harvin III reportedly impressed in less-than-ideal weather conditions. If you’re going to punt in Pittsburgh, you better be able to punt in ugly weather.
Others Considered: OL Braylon Jones, WR Trevon Grimes, EDGE Tarron Jackson
Round Seven (#254): Grant Stuard/LB Houston — 5112, 230 lbs.
Analysis: You can go two routes in the seventh round. The boom/bust “upside” guy with like, a 90% chance he flames out immediately (Gerod Holliman, Rob Blanchflower) or you can go the high-floor, low-ceiling “gamer” guy (Tyler Matakevich, David Johnson). Stuard falls into the latter camp. He’s hopefully the new Matakevich. His defensive ceiling isn’t high, and he admits he’s best fit in a 4-3 defense. But his goal is to be a strong special teamer. At the Senior Bowl, he showed that capability, nearly blocking a pair of punts. He’s a hair-on-fire dude, and easy to spot with a long, flowing mane, who joked with Kevin Colbert at the Senior Bowl that he’s the next Troy Polamalu.
Stuard was productive with about 160 tackles over the last two seasons for the Cougars. He couldn’t work out in the pre-draft process, but you know the type of guy you’re getting with him. Also high-character. Team captain and an easy guy to root for. He won’t be a home run pick. He’s undersized and not uber-athletic. But he makes your room more competitive and will be fun to watch.
Others Considered: OL Will Fries, P Max Duffy, WR Marquez Stevenson