I like to think that I tend to focus on the evaluation process of draft prospects and analyze potential trends of certain positions regarding if the position is deep or weak to flesh out potential scenarios of how the NFL Draft will actually occur. Sure, I may develop speculation as to who I think the Pittsburgh Steelers would take as well as what I would personally do if I were the big man in the chair, but I often keep those reservations to myself and focus mainly on player evaluation and the scouting proponent rather than the click-based mock drafts we see all over the internet this time of year.
BUT NOT TODAY, FOLKS! I have decided to jump on the train and give this mock draft thing a shot, having been at the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine the last couple of weeks and have seen both the front office staff hard at work evaluating players in practice and testing situations (Colbert and I shared an awkward glance at one another the last day of drills in Indianapolis lol) as well as having a better feel for the prospects after conducting interviews with a majority of them and having watched them practice/test.
With that being said, here is my first attempt at a mock draft for the Pittsburgh Steelers the day after returning from the NFL Combine. Let’s get those clicks rolling, boys and girls!
Round 1 (#20 OVERALL) — Desmond Ridder/QB/Cincinnati 6’3 3/8”, 211 lbs.
Analysis: BOOM! It has been a poorly kept secret that GM Kevin Colbert desires to find Pittsburgh its next franchise QB before he rides off into the sunset after an illustrious run as the Steelers GM since 2000. While Malik Willis and Kenny Pickett are often the two names associated with Pittsburgh at the QB position, the intrigue and hype surround both at this time make it feel slim that either will be there for the taking at #20.
Enter Desmond Ridder, a four-year starter for the Bearcats that is the all-time winningest QB in the program’s history, going 44-5 as the starting QB during his tenure. He possesses the traditional height and length for the position and tested better than expected in Indianapolis, running a 4.52 40, 4.29 short shuttle, a 36-inch vertical, and a 10’7” broad jump. While Ridder showcased himself as an athlete, he also displayed his ability as a passer, showing off his ability to hit the deep ball with the arm strength and touch to stretch the field, something the Steelers haven’t been able to do effectively with Ben Roethlisberger the last several years.
HC Mike Tomlin said he was looking for a QB that brings mobility to the table, and owner Art Rooney II and Kevin Colbert echoed that sentiment. However, they also want someone who is a competent passer and can be a leader of men, and Ridder has shown the ability to do that, having improved as a passer every year in college while also representing himself well as one of the best interviews at the combine according to reports.
The last time the Pittsburgh Steelers took a non-Power Five prospect in the first round was Ben Roethlisberger in 2004. Here’s saying that the proven production, the hearts and smarts, and the ability to win with his arm as well as his legs makes Ridder the next exception as the potential heir-apparent to Big Ben.
Others Considered: OL Zion Johnson, OL Kenyon Green, C Tyler Linderbaum, QB Sam Howell
ROUND 2 (#52 OVERALL) — Skyy Moore/WR/Western Michigan 5’9 5/8”, 195 lbs.
#SkyyInTheSecond. Let’s get it locked in, shall we Steeler Nation? The Shady Side Academy alumni was a high school teammate and childhood friend of Dino Tomlin, Mike Tomlin’s son. While he was spurned by not getting an offer from hometown Pitt to play on the offensive side of the ball, Moore ended up signing with the Broncos and converted to wide receiver, having played primarily quarterback and defensive back in high school. The transition proved to be a fruitful one as Moore registered 171 receptions for 2,482 yards and 16 touchdowns. In 2021 alone, Moore broke out to the tune of 95 of receptions for 1,292 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Moore may be seen as an undersized receiver, but he wins regularly against man coverage with his speed, quickness, and ability to separate from coverage with relative ease. NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah compared Moore’s game to another former MAC WR and Pittsburgh Steeler Antonio Brown based on the way “that dude just eats cushion”. I personally compared his Moore to Golden Tate in my pre-draft profile, but definitely see traces of AB and even Tyler Lockett in his game as a nuanced route runner that can win vertically down the field.
Given the uncertainty of the WR position with JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, and Ray-Ray McCloud all scheduled to hit free agency as well as the need to draft a receiver that can attack defensives vertically, Moore fits the bill, having that deep speed while also being a perfect fit in the slot. Pittsburgh has had success drafting WRs from the MAC in the past and given Tomlin’s exposure to Moore and Moore saying in his interview at the Combine that “I would go anywhere, but, yeah, I’m a diehard Steeler fan,” I’m willing to wager Tomlin makes sure that young man remains in Pittsburgh.
Others Considered: LB Damone Clark, S Lewis Cine, WR Christian Watson, DL Travis Jones
ROUND 3 (#84 OVERALL) — Jamaree Sayler/OL/Georgia 6’3″, 321 lbs.
I probably will get grilled by some for having the Steelers draft a QB in the first round, but I do expect them to fortify the trenches soon after to protect their new signal caller as well as help improve the running game to allow Najee Harris to be more effective in Year 2. I do think that Pittsburgh will look to sign a starter in free agency, whether that will be guard, tackle, or center well will see, but selecting Georgia’s Jamaree Sayler would be a good use of draft capital in selecting an experienced, versatile blocker that has taken snaps at all five offensive line positions for the Bulldogs and can be a force in the running game as one of the key members that led the charge upfront for Georgia’s rushing attack.
Along with being a powerful run blocker, Sayler also has shown to be a viable pass protector both inside at guard as well as on the blindside at tackle, having held his own against the very best including Alabama’s Will Anderson. His height and play style make him best suited for playing inside a phone booth at the next level but having that experience playing multiple positions only adds versatility to an offensive line room that may experience injuries throughout the season.
Sayler had in informal meeting with the Steelers at the Combine and also spoke to the team down at the Senior Bowl. Given his experience, having started games in Athens dating back to his true freshman season, as well as his length (33 5/8” arms and 10” hands) that new OL Coach Pat Meyer likes in his offensive linemen, Sayler could be crafted to come in and compete for one of the guard positions Year 1 with a free agent signing or with Kendrick Green, should he get moved to guard while providing a break glass option at OT where he played extensively for Georgia the last two seasons.
Others Considered: LB Darrian Beavers, OT Rasheed Walker, WR Romeo Doubs
ROUND 4 (COMPENSATORY) — Leo Chenal/LB/Wisconsin 6’2 5/8” 250 lbs.
If you guys have been following me on Draft Twitter (@J_Heits be sure to tell your friends) or have been keeping up with my draft analysis here on the site, you know that I am a big fan of linebackers including Damone Clark, Darrian Beavers, and Chad Muma. Seeing as I thought Pittsburgh would bypass one of those names to address the offensive line on Day Two of the draft, I felt that we had to bring another name into the discussion. One name that has been gaining steam as of late is Wisconsin’s Leo Chenal who tested off the charts at the Combine and figures to potentially break the bench press record at his upcoming Pro Day.
Chenal is a physical, downhill thumper that will light you up in the hole given his nearly 6’3, 250lb frame. He also is an accomplished blitzer that totaled 18.5 TFLs and eight sacks in 2021 alone. He has the strength and power to take on blockers up the middle and stack and shed against the run, but also the ability to line up as a traditional 3-4 outside linebacker and rush off the edge. Given the way Pittsburgh likes to vary up their blitz packages and new Senior Defensive Assistant Brian Flores’s history with bigger, hybrid linebackers, Chenal could be a great fit, giving snaps on the inside and out on the edge.
While Chenal tested like a freak, running a 4.53 40 and posting a 40.5- inch vert and 10’8” broad, he still has his physical limitations, most notably his ability to work laterally and change direction as well as be a fluid mover in coverage. Given Pittsburgh’s need to fill the BUCK linebacker role once occupied by Vince Williams, Chenal can step in and be that mean, nasty thumper that should at least shore up the defense against the run as well as offer some pass rush help that Vince so famously did from the ILB position in Pittsburgh for years.
Others Considered: CB Marcus Jones, S Nick Cross, C Luke Fortner
ROUND 6 — Cobie Durant/CB/South Carolina State 5’9 5/8”, 180 lbs.
For the Steelers’ first Day Three selection, I predict that they will look to address the nickel corner position that they showed interested in during the interview process at the NFL Combine. One nickel defender that Pittsburgh met with informally in Indianapolis is South Carolina State CB Cobie Durant. The 5’9 5/8”, 180lb defensive back lacks the ideal length to play on the outside at the next level, but he has the speed, running a 4.38 40, and quick twitch to match receivers in the slot as a nickel defender.
He told me that he is more than willing as a tackler and will stick his face in the fan as well as cut his teeth on special teams. Combine that with the 12 INTs he has picked off in his college career and you have a feisty defensive back with the requisite ball skills to make plays against the opposing passing game. His lack of height and HBCU status may cause him to go behind other CBs in the draft, but the Steelers struck gold last time they took as SCSU product with Javon Hargrave, so here’s hoping they do so again with Durant.
Others Considered: WR Danny Gray, RB Ty Chandler, OL Jean Delance
ROUND 7 — Joshua Paschal/EDGE/Kentucky 6’2 5/8″, 268 lbs.
Many may project Josh Paschal may go higher than this as a disruptive, versatile player in the SEC, but his lack of an ideal positional fit at the next level along with the sheer amount of depth at the EDGE position could very well push him down the board similar to the drop former Steeler Quincey Roche saw last year when he fell into the sixth round. Combine that with being a redshirt senior, modest college production along with a decent athletic profile and the fact he overcame cancer not too long ago likely limit his overall upside compared to higher potential prospects at the position. However, Paschal brings leadership as well as physical play demeanor make him a great addition to a locker room.
He has played up-and-down the LOS for the Wildcats during his time at Kentucky and will line up on the outside as a base defensive end and kick inside to rush over the guard on passing downs. He is physical at the point of attack and plays with a motor that runs hot, all things Pittsburgh needs in a rotational piece to help improve the run defense as well as provide some pass rush if subbed in for either Watt or Highsmith. Paschal may not develop into a premiere pass rusher, but his consistency against the run as well as his football character would make him a much-needed addition to the defense and the backend of the roster.
Others Considered: LB Jack Sanborn, DL Jayden Peavey, OG Chasen Hines
ROUND 7 — Connor Heyward/TE/Michigan State 5’11 1/8″, 233 lbs.
This one doesn’t need much explanation. Cam Heyward was at the Combine touting his little brother and talked about the possibility of playing with him in the pros. Whether it be with their last draft pick or as a free agent, I would be willing to bet that Heyward gets his way as now the elder statesman of the team with Ben enjoying retirement. Connor Heyward could wear multiple hats for the Steelers, serving as TE3 on the depth chart behind Freiermuth and Gentry while also playing some H-back, fullback behind Derek Watt, and even backup running back having played there for the Spartans to start his college career.
Heyward would immediately be a key contributor on special teams units and could be a unique weapon in OC Matt Canada’s offense as that TE/FB hybrid. Should Pittsburgh decide to not bring back Derek Watt after the 2022 season, Heyward could slot right in as the heir apparent at the position while still providing more on the offensive side on the ball than Watt has over the course of his tenure in Pittsburgh.
Others Considered: S Quentin Lake, LB Jeremiah Moon, RB Kennedy Brooks
What are your thoughts on the names listed above in this mock draft for the Pittsburgh Steelers? Does this present a realistic scenario that the team may take toward the 2022 NFL Draft? What picks do you agree or disagree with? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section and thanks again for reading!