Though free agency isn’t over, the first wave has come and gone. The Pittsburgh Steelers were as active as nearly team in football and have filled some of their roster’s biggest holes. Which leaves what they could do in the NFL Draft look a lot more wide-open.
It’s been exactly one month since my last mock draft. So it’s a good time for my next one. My updated thoughts and projections based on a little more data and information. Let me know your thoughts on my mock in the comments below.
If you missed it, here’s my first version of my Steelers’ mock draft.
Round 1 (#20 Overall) – Malik Willis/QB Liberty – 6004, 219 lbs.
Analysis: I didn’t mock a quarterback in my last version. But it makes too much sense not to do it here. I’ll admit it’s hard to land on a specific name, the position easier than the prospect, but many signs point towards Willis being the team’s top target. He has the highest ceiling of this class and in an AFC full of dynamic QB play, you have to bet on traits and upside.
Willis is not Day One ready but the team’s bridge/veteran options of Mitch Trubisky and Mason Rudolph affords them a year of patience. He’s got a monster arm, a dynamic runner, is able to throw on the run, has a higher football IQ than given credit for, and seems to be a good guy and teammate who impressed in Combine interviews.
I still fully believe it’ll require trading up to get Willis and if he goes Top Ten, the Steelers may not make such a bold move (though they should, if they feel he is a franchise-caliber QB). But I won’t predict trades. I’ll just say Willis is their guy. Tuesday will offer another chance to view the team’s interest. That’s Liberty’s Pro Day and the history of Tomlin/Colbert attending those workouts and first round picks is insanely strong. If one or both are at Liberty, they’ll of course be there to watch Willis.
The biggest historical factor working against Willis is the team’s tendency to draft from the Power 5. But the last non-Power 5 pick was a QB, Ben Roethlisberger in 2004, and though it’s really just an informational point, the Steelers drafted Liberty TE Eric Green in 1990. And that was a solid pick.
Others Considered: NT Jordan Davis, CB Andrew Booth Jr, SS Lewis Cine, QBs Kenny Pickett/Desmond Ridder
Round 2 (#52 Overall) – George Pickens/WR Georgia – 6032, 195 lbs.
Analysis: It really feels like you can slot one of these Day Two picks on a wide receiver. It’s what Pittsburgh has done so often in recent years: JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chase Claypool, Diontae Johnson, James Washington, Sammie Coates, and Markus Wheaton are all examples of Round 2-3 picks over the last decade.
Pickens fits the Steelers like a glove. He proved his health coming off a torn ACL and tested well at the Combine with a 4.43 40 and 10’5″ broad (his 33 inch vert at the Combine was disappointing but improved it to 34.5 at his Pro Day). He’s big-play capable, averaging exactly 15 yards per catch in college, and was a regular in the end zone. 15.6% of his career receptions went for touchdowns. He’s physical, a great and willing blocker, and comes from a Power 5 school, as all those list of names minus Johnson did.
The biggest concern here is the fit. He’s played inside and outside but projects best as a slot receiver. Right now, slot is the larger concern after losing JuJu Smith-Schuster and Ray-Ray McCloud in free agency. But the Steelers could get creative and Pickens hits a lot of boxes, especially after having Tomlin, Colbert, and WRs Coach Frisman Jackson at the Bulldogs’ Pro Day, who put Pickens through his workout.
Others Considered: CB/S Jalen Pitre, WR Skyy Moore, OT Daniel Faalele
Round 3 (#84 Overall) – Nick Cross/S Maryland – 6001, 212 lbs.
Analysis: The Steelers love their SPARQY safeties. Here are the RAS scores of some of the higher-end safeties they’ve drafted/acquired, past and present.
Terrell Edmunds: 9.89
Sean Davis: 9.79
Shamarko Thomas: 9.52
Troy Polamalu: 9.5
Minkah Fitzpatrick: 8.46
And the time or two they strayed away from a high-level athlete, they whiffed (Anthony Smith had a 5.56 RAS score). Maryland’s Nick Cross dusted them all with a 9.91 RAS score thanks to a 4.34 40, 37 inch vertical, and 10’10” broad jump. He’s also a Maryland product, where the Steelers have had some ties and roots to, who picked off three passes in 2021.
Cross is still a junior so there’s room for growth and development the Steelers like, too. Pittsburgh’s yet to address their SS position and while I expect them to add a veteran from now until April, whoever that is probably won’t be a long-term solution to the position. Cross could sit for a year as the team intended to do with Terrell Edmunds.
Look for a scouting report on Cross later this week.
Others Considered: LB Leo Chenal, WR Justyn Ross, CB Coby Bryant
Round 4 (#138 Overall) – Thayer Munford/OT Ohio State – 6056, 328 lbs.
A blend of size, experience, and competition here for the Steelers at the start of day three. Munford was a 30+ game starter at Ohio State. A lack of great athletic traits have some wondering if he’ll kick to guard but the Steelers could try him at tackle, first. He has great length, 35 inch arms, that new offensive line coach Pat Meyer holds in high regard. A semi-similar selection to Dan Moore Jr. last season though Moore tested better overall.
Pittsburgh should enter 2022 with Moore and Chukwuma Okorafor as their starters. But investing in OT is rarely a bad idea and Okorafor’s contract is essentially year-to-year.
Others Considered: OT Dare Rosenthal, CB Alontae Taylor, WR Tyquan Thornton
Round 6 (#208 Overall): Hassan Haskins/RB Michigan – 6016, 228 lbs.
Analysis: I’ll admit this is on the later end of where Haskins is projected to go. He could be taken a round or two earlier but when it comes to Day Three skill position players, they’re flavor-based and can go in pretty much any order. He put up big numbers in a full season at Michigan in 2021, rushing for over 1300 yards and 20 touchdowns. He’s got the size and workhorse productivity the team gravitates towards. I also love his former-linebacker mentality and special teams value, as evident by his 27 reps on the bench press, more than what several offensive linemen did.
Haskins is a downhill runner with lateral quickness to make one-cut and find the lane. He’s also excellent in pass protector, arguably one of the top backs in this class in that regard. Potentially, this is a redundant skillset with Benny Snell but this team loves drafting mid-late round running backs and Haskins checks all the boxes. And Tomlin loves him a Michigan man.
Others Considered: RB Abram Smith, OL Cade Mays, EDGE Jeffrey Gunter
Round 7 (#225 Overall) – Jack Jones/CB Arizona State – 5106, 171 lbs.
Analysis: I’m not entirely sure where Jones will end up but NFL Mock Draft Database has him as a late 7th round pick so this all tracks. Jones did have a nice Combine workout and profiles as a solid slot cornerback. He’s underweight and needs to get that number up to survive in the NFL, at least into the 180 range. Jones was a ballhawk for the Sun Devils, picking off ten passes in his career, including a trio of them in 2021. I like his fluidity and change of direction. Jones would carve out a home on special teams and serve as slot depth behind the likes of Cam Sutton, Tre Norwood, and Arthur Maulet.
Others Considered: EDGE Alex Wright, S Quintin Lake, LB Josh Ross
Round 7 (#241 Overall) – Ko Kieft/TE Minnesota – 6043, 259 lbs.
Analysis: Boring, practical blocking tight end to finish out the draft. Kieft is one of the best, most underrated blocking tight ends in this year’s draft and Jonathan Heitritter did a good job breaking him down in description and clips in his TE sleeper article.
Kieft wasn’t invited to the Combine. He’s an easy name to forget with just 12 career receptions for 166 yards and two scores. He tested like a pure blocker at his Pro Day, a 4.98 40. 32 inch vert, and 9’3″ broad. His 33 inch arms are attractive though for that in-line role he excels in. The Steelers, by the way, were at Minnesota’s Pro Day. O-line coach Pat Meyer was there to watch Daniel Faalele but he probably can appreciate a good blocker like Kieft.
Tight end certainly isn’t a pressing need but the team felt the benefits of having Zach Gentry emerge in that block-first role in 2021. If he goes down, the team could be in a tougher spot. There is Kevin Rader, who has proven special teams value as well, but I prefer to go either super high ceiling or super high floor in the 7th round. Kieft is the latter but he’ll last in the league.
Others Considered: S/LB Tariq Carpenter, LB Baylon Spector, H-Back Connor Heyward