The mock drafts are coming in fast and furious as we get closer and closer to the real thing, with the 2021 NFL Draft now nearly just around the corner. We have seen a wide variety of first-round selections so far for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Most of them address offense at running back or offensive line, and occasionally quarterback. But some on defense, as well.
Former NFL running back Maurice Jones-Drew’s second mock draft of the offseason comes down on the defensive side of the ball for the Steelers, projecting that they will boost their pass rush with the addition of Georgia edge defender Azeez Ojulari, writing:
As much as Pittsburgh needs help along the O-line and in the backfield, Mike Tomlin can’t help but draft a pass rusher resembling the departed Bud Dupree. Ojulari is great at the point of contact and should be a Day 1 contributor.
Dupree, a first-round pick by the Steelers in 2015, emerged as a Pro Bowl-level player for the defense over the course of the past two seasons. He signed the biggest contract of the offseason (he is currently projected to yield the team the highest possible compensatory pick, at 97th overall).
He made quite a pairing with star T.J. Watt, who has been a frontrunner for the Defensive Player of the Year award for at least the past two years. He failed to ultimately win it both times, first losing to cornerback Stephon Gilmore and then defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
While Watt is a star in his own right, every team wants a complementary pass rusher. The Cleveland Browns have Myles Garrett, but they still went out and just grabbed Jadeveon Clowney, for example. The Steelers currently really only have second-year third-round pick Alex Highsmith and all of his two career sacks to fill Dupree’s shoes.
That’s not to say that there isn’t legitimate and fair belief that Highsmith will develop into a good player. And the reality is that you can’t have stars at every position. But there is no doubt that Ojulari would certainly be a major addition to this defense. And there’s a fair chance he would represent the best player available at 24 if he is actually… available.
Jones-Drew is not the first one to mock him to the Steelers, as one of Pro Football Focus’ many, many mock drafts published this offseason did the same, this one courtesy of Andrew Erickson. Erickson noted that he has the highest pass rush grade of any player coming out of this draft class and that he has a tremendously high ceiling, especially if paired with a player like Watt.