NFL Draft

Bryan: 2022 Steelers Mock Draft: Version 1.0 – Mid-Pro Days

Steelers NFL Draft logos

Are we there yet?

Now that the 2022 Pro Day circuit is in full swing, it’s finally time for me to release my first Pittsburgh Steelers mock draft of the offseason. If you must know, I did not use any simulator for this mock draft. Instead I just went off of my own rankings and where I think players should or might be drafted, and where I think the Steelers might draft them.

As usual, I urge you to critique the players I have in this mock and not the round or overall selection I have them being drafted. It gets tiresome having readers focus more on a player not being in a certain round or spot than discussing the player in general and if he would fit with the Steelers. It makes for a better exercise for all of us if you do that. Tell me what you like, dislike or hope to learn more about each player.

DISCLAIMER: Remember, my mock drafts are what I think the Steelers might do, not what I would do.

1st Round (5th Overall Via Trade) — QB Malik Willis — Liberty

I hate projected trades in mock drafts, but I really think there is no way around it in this one. Personally, I believe Willis is the apple of the Steelers’ eyes this offseason, and I have thought as much dating back to the Senior Bowl. I believe the Steelers will do everything in their power to draft Willis in the first round. That might require them trading up ahead of the Carolina Panthers in the first round, if indeed Willis isn’t picked in the first four overall selections. This is why I have them trading up to the fifth overall spot with the New York Giants, who have two first-round selections this year in the top 10.

Willis, in my opinion, has the highest ceiling of all the quarterbacks in this year’s draft class. He certainly has the tangible tools to make it the NFL, but he needs a ton of refining and coaching to reach his fullest potential. If drafted by the Steelers, I could see Willis spending a good chunk of, if not all of, his rookie season as the No. 3 quarterback behind Mitch Trubisky and Mason Rudolph. Remember, that is what the Steelers had in mind for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger when he was drafted back in 2004. Injuries, however, forced the Steelers’ hand, and Roethlisberger wound up becoming the starting quarterback just a few games into the 2004 season, and the rest is history. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has talked a lot about the need for a quarterback to have mobility in today’s NFL. Willis has that and a big arm. He’s a great kid and I bet the Steelers really want him. To get up to the fifth overall, I have the Steelers trading the Giants their first-round and third-round draft picks this year in addition to their first-round draft pick in 2023. Alex Kozora has smartly broken down that particular trade up option in a post a few days ago.
BIO: https://www.liberty.edu/flames/player/malik-willis/
RAS: https://relativeathleticscores.com/ras-information/?PlayerID=21035

2022 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Liberty QB Malik Willis

2nd Round (52nd Overall) — S Jaquan Brisker — Penn State

As of right now, the Steelers have a huge question mark when it comes to their 2022 starting strong safety spot. The depth chart is very light at the position and that’s concerning. Even if the Steelers were to re-sign Terrell Edmunds on the cheap, he’s not a long-term option past 2022. So, enter Brisker, who seemingly had the Steelers attention at the Penn State Pro Day on Thursday. Brisker should check several boxes when it comes to what the Steelers look for in their safeties. He was even a team captain in 2021. Brisker can both play the run and cover down in the box. According to PFF charting, Brisker was the only Power Five Conference safety with 80+ grades in both man and zone coverage in 2021. Additionally, his 12 forced incompletions since 2020 led the Big 10 Conference. PFF also reports that Brisker only allowed one touchdown in his Penn State career in 962 total coverage snaps.

BIO: https://gopsusports.com/sports/football/roster/jaquan-brisker/11534
RAS: https://relativeathleticscores.com/ras-information/?PlayerID=21069

2022 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Penn State S Jaquan Brisker

4th Round (138th Overall) — CB Alontae Taylor — Tennessee

I’m not sure how Taylor is getting lost in the pre-draft shuffle this year, but he is. Taylor, who was at the Senior Bowl this year, is an uber-experienced SEC cornerback with 45 games played and 31 starts over four seasons. For his career, Taylor had 162 tackles, four interceptions, 19 passes defensed, three forced fumbles, and two defensive touchdowns. His senior season was his best with 60 tackles and two interceptions. He fits what the Steelers look for in their cornerbacks. He is a willing tackler and has experience in both zone and man coverages. He needs some grooming, but Taylor hasn’t yet reached his ceiling, even though he’s not too terribly far from it. Smart and a team leader to boot, and that should serve him well at the NFL level. I’m willing to bet the Steelers have him on their draft board as a mid-round cornerback option.

BIO: https://utsports.com/sports/football/roster/alontae-taylor/13380
RAS: https://relativeathleticscores.com/ras-information/?PlayerID=20989

2022 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Tennessee CB Alontae Taylor

6th Round (208th Overall) — WR Danny Gray — SMU

Well, it sure would have been great to have that third-round pick, but that is obviously gone in the wind. The Steelers certainly will draft at least one wide receiver this year, and as things stand currently, they could use both a Z with speed and a slot. Enter Gray, who can function as both a Z and a slot wide receiver and possibly even as an X as well. Gray was a Senior Bowl participant this offseason. At the Senior Bowl, Gray registered the top GPS speed (22.01 mph) among offensive players. Over the past five years, the only faster Senior Bowl prospects were Terry McLaurin and Tre’Quan Smith, both 22.14. The Steelers had new wide receivers coach Frisman Jackson at the SMU Pro Day on Thursday, so there’s that. 15 of the 82 total receptions that Gray registered at SMU resulted in gains of 25 yards or longer. Thirteen of his receptions were good for touchdowns. He was very good when it came to stacking yards after catch, as well. This is a very deep wide receiver class this this year, and that’s why a few players such as Gray will fall into the third day.

BIO: https://smumustangs.com/sports/football/roster/danny-gray/12306
RAS: https://relativeathleticscores.com/ras-information/?PlayerID=21005

2022 NFL Draft Player Profiles: Southern Methodist WR Danny Gray

7th Round (225th Overall) — EDGE DeAngelo Malone — Western Kentucky

The Steelers could use another young edge rusher in this year’s draft, one with upside that can also start out playing a little on special teams as a rookie. As we saw a few years ago, with Alex Highsmith, the Steelers aren’t scared to draft edge rushers from small schools. Malone showed earlier this year at the Senior Bowl that he can play with top competition. He uses speed to power very well. Malone has good quickness off the edge and the agility to turn the corner. His college production of 349 tackles, 59 tackles for loss, and 32.5 sacks is very hard to ignore. He needs to develop more as a dropper and edge setter, but he should be a nice batch of clay for a 3-4 team to work with.

BIO: https://wkusports.com/sports/football/roster/deangelo-malone/3845
RAS: https://relativeathleticscores.com/ras-information/?PlayerID=21079

7th Round (241st Overall) – FB/HB Connor Heyward – Michigan State

You knew I would find a way to get Heyward in my first mock draft of 2022, right? He is of course the younger brother of Steelers defensive tackle Cameron Heyward. While officially listed by most as a tight end, the younger Heyward is more of a hybrid player. He can function as a lead blocking fullback, H-back, ball carrier, flex tight end, and even occasionally as an end-of-the-line tight end in the right situations. He’s a Swiss Army knife player and can even function as a core special teams player. After 2022, the Steelers might be through with fullback Derek Watt, and if that’s the case, the younger Heyward should be able to assume that role after likely spending his rookie season on the practice squad. For his college career, Heyward registered 211 rushes for 825 yards and five touchdowns. He also caught 96 passes for another 711 yards and six touchdowns. That’s over 307 total touches at the college level and in the Big 10 at that. It’s easy to picture him as a late round Steelers draft pick this year.

BIO: https://msuspartans.com/sports/football/roster/connor-heyward/11228
RAS: https://relativeathleticscores.com/ras-information/?PlayerID=21091

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