Since the 2022 NFL Draft is only a few weeks away, how about another mock draft, am I right? I intend to another one right before the draft takes place, but given the recent events including free agency and the Pro Day circuit, I wanted to take a crack at where I foresee the Pittsburgh Steelers are at at this juncture. All I ask is that you don’t crush me too hard in the comments, ok?
ROUND 1 (#7 OVERALL VIA TRADE) — MALIK WILLIS/QB/LIBERTY—6006, 219 LBS.
Analysis: Steelers Depot’s very own Alex Kozora highlighted potential trade scenarios for the Pittsburgh Steelers should they want to move into the Top 10 of the draft a few weeks ago. In this scenario, the Pittsburgh Steelers trade their 2023 first round selection as well as #20 overall to move up 13 spots ahead of the Atlanta Falcons, Seattle Seahawks, and Washington Commanders among other teams to select QB Malik Willis. I see the Carolina Panthers either rolling with Pitt QB Kenny Pickett or one of the top OTs on the board the pick prior due to the extensive work they have reportedly done on the OT as well as their affinity with Pickett given the ties he has back to Matt Rhule and David Tepper.
The Steelers have made no attempt to make their obvious love affair with Willis a secret over the last several months, having spoke with him and his family multiple times at the Senior Bowl, conducted a meeting with him at the NFL Combine, sending the full house of coaches an executives to watch his Pro Day, and have scheduled for him to come in for a pre-draft visit. Reportedly, Liberty HC Hugh Freeze went so far as to say in an interview with ESPN’s Todd McShay to say that Mike Tomlin loves Malik Willis, but doesn’t know if he would be there at #20 overall.
Given their obvious interest in the prospect as well as the person, the fact that they have shored up plenty of their glaring needs in free agency, and also not having to part with any additional draft capital in this years draft to go up and get him as the Giants seem motivated to trade back for additional picks in the future for a prolonged rebuild, it makes all the sense in the world for Pittsburgh to go up and get their guy who will have the opportunity to sit and learn behind Mitch Trubisky and Mason Rudolph to start as the coaching staff is tasked with helping Willis bring his immense potential to fruition as the next franchise QB.
Previous Selection: Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati
Others Considered: Sam Howell, QB, UNC; Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati; Zion Johnson, IOL, Boston College
ROUND 2 (#52 OVERALL) — GEORGE PICKENS/WR/GEORGIA—6032, 195 LBS.
Analysis: The Pittsburgh Steelers have not so subtly tipped their hand that they intend to select a WR in this year’s draft in a variety of ways. First, the let the likes of JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, and Ray-Ray McCloud all walk in free agency while bringing in only Gunner Olszewski who looks to be primarily a kick and punt return specialist. The need for a proven slot receiver as well as a guy that can challenge defenses vertically is sorely needed on the roster with only Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool as the only proven options on the team as it currently stands.
Enter George Pickens, who was considered by many as potentially the top WR in this draft class prior to the start of the season when he unfortunately tore his ACL in spring practices. Remarkably, Pickens was able to rehab enough to take the field at the end of this season for the Bulldogs, sparking an already potent offense and help put them over the top in their run to a National Championship. While not an ideal slot type, Pickens is a HWS prospect at the position, having run a 4.47 at the NFL Combine and possesses the ability to win the contested catch with ease as a red zone threat. He provides that ability to stack defenders vertically which was what Pittsburgh was hoping to have when they drafted Claypool, thus opening up the passing attack.
Given the full contingent of members of the front office and coaching staff at the Georgia Pro Day including WR Coach Frisman Jackson being the one putting Pickens through the workout. The interest in Pickens is real, especially when it was reported that the Steelers spoke to Pickens multiple times at the NFL Combine. Pickens not only provides the Steelers and element of stretching the field and being a red zone threat, but he is also an accomplished blocker, a scheme versatile player that can play outside and in the slot, and also possesses that competitive toughness you like to see as a blocker, pass catcher, as well as the fact that he managed to come back in a short time frame when he could’ve mailed it in to be there for his teammates.
It is likely that Pickens would have never had been available at this juncture had it not have been due to the injury, and given the fact that he has proven he is healthy with his testing, the thought of him being another year removed from the injury going to an team that knows how to develop WR talent could be a scary sight as a potential great value selection in the middle of the second round.
Previous Selection: Skyy Moore, WR, Western Michigan
Others Considered: Jaquan Brisker, S, Penn State; Skyy Moore, WR, Western Michigan, Lewis Cine, S, Georgia; Quay Walker, LB, Georgia
ROUND 3 (#84 OVERALL) — BRYAN COOK/S/CINCINNATI—6006, 206 LBS.
The Steelers have two glaring holes left to fill on their roster as it stands: a starting slot receiver and a starting strong safety. While I expect them to sign a veteran at both positions prior to the draft, I am beginning to think that the team is looking to deep into the college waters for a potential long-term answer at the SS position should they not sign S Tyrann Mathieu and rather re-sign Terrell Edmunds. Instead of going with a bunch of the often-linked names to Pittsburgh including Jaquan Brisker or Nick Cross, I ended up rolling with Bryan Cook from Cincinnati who the Steelers have plenty of fingerprints on thus fair in the pre-draft process.
The Steelers conducted a formal meeting with Cook back at the NFL Combine and also had coach Tomlin take him to dinner with several other Bearcats prior to sending the house to watch him at his Pro Day the next morning. Cook would be a great compliment to Minkah Fitzpatrick in the secondary as a physical tackler in run support but also has showcased the versatility to roll up and cover tight ends in the nickel as well as play single-high safety in coverage. A high-character person with the ability to wear several hats on the backend, Cook would be another great selection in the middle rounds that should expect to become a starter sooner rather than later in the league.
Previous Selection: Jamaree Sayler, OL, Georgia
Others Considered: Darrian Beavers, LB, Cincinnati; Nick Cross, S, Maryland; Nik Bonitto, EDGE, Oklahoma
ROUND 4 (#138 OVERALL)—OT RASHEED WALKER/OT/PENN STATE—6055, 313 LBS.
Analysis: It’s at this point of the draft that Pittsburgh could go in a variety of directions. They could look to draft another edge rusher to add depth behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith. They could elect to select a true nickel corner or possibly another inside linebacker as insurance behind Myles Jack and Devin Bush. However, given the recent release of Zach Banner and the lack of depth at the OT position outside of Joel Haeg, slotting Rasheed Walker here at this juncture makes a lot of sense for plenty of reasons. Walker is a large, powerful blocker that Pittsburgh has looked for at the tackle position in recent years. He has some issues in terms of technique he needs to clean up, causing him to slide a little in this draft class, but he has all the tools to become a capable starter in the league with further development.
The Steelers had nice representation at Penn State’s Pro Day and also conducted a formal interview with Walker back at the NFL Combine. He could be drafted to come in and develop as OT4 behind the staters and Haeg to start his career while possibly pushing Haeg for swing tackle duties in Year One. Should he develop over time, Walker could end up pushing Chuks Okorafor for his starting gig, potentially pairing Walker and Dan Moore Jr. as bookend tackles for the foreseeable future.
Previous Selection: Leo Chenal, LB, Wisconsin
Others Considered: Marcus Jones, CB, Houston; Danny Gray, WR, SMU; Jesse Luketa, EDGE, Penn State
ROUND 6 (#208 OVERALL) — HASSAN HASKINS/RB/MICHIGAN — 6016, 228 LBS.
Analysis: While I mentioned on Friday’s edition of The Terrible Podcast that Pittsburgh could look for a running back that possesses more speed or pass catching prowess to compliment RB Najee Harris’s skillset, it is clear that they have “a type”. That type being a big, bruising style runner that has feature back size and can carry the load in-between the tackles. Look no further than Michigan’s Hassan Haskins who comes in a shad under 6’2 and tips the scales at 228lb which matches exactly what Pittsburgh looks for at the RB position.
Pittsburgh has already shown a fair amount of interest in Haskins, having reportedly taken him out to dinner prior to his Pro Day that had Tomlin and Colbert in attendance. Haskins could come in and and push Benny Snell for backup duties as a capable goal line/short yardage back, is a strong pass protector, and also has a good amount of experience playing special teams. Haskins could come in and carry the load to give Harris a breather and potentially hold his own in spot starter duties could Harris miss any time.
Previous Selection: Cobie Durant, CB, South Carolina State
Others Considered: DeAngelo Malone, EDGE, Western Kentucky, Cobie Durant, CB, South Carolina State, Ty Chandler, RB, North Carolina
ROUND 7 (#225 OVERALL) — ALI FAYAD/EDGE/WESTERN MICHIGAN — 6020, 248 LBS.
Analysis: Even with the addition of EDGE Genard Avery this offseason, Pittsburgh will likely look to add another body to the OLB room this offseason in the form of a draft pick. If they want to address other positions early on in the 2022 NFL Draft, the EDGE position is fairly deep this year with plenty of talent going to slip down the draft board. One name that hasn’t received a lot of attention thus far in the pre-draft process is Western Michigan EDGE Ali Fayad. He comes in as a bit of a tweener and is in a similar mold as former Steeler and WMU Bronco Keion Adams standing 6’2, 248lb, but he is an accomplished pass rusher, having led the MAC in sacks last season and possesses a variety of moves to get to the QB.
An East-West Shrine Bowl invite, Fayad was surprisingly not invited to the NFL Combine in March, suggesting the league may likely view him more as a Late Day Three option. Given Pittsburgh’s willingness to dive into the MAC the last several years and especially take developmental edge rushers that are non-Power 5 schools, Fayad would be a guy that the team could target that could make the roster as EDGE4 and cut his teeth on special teams as he develops into a more proficient pass rusher and competent run defender at the next level.
Previous Selection: Joshua Paschal, EDGE, Kentucky
Others Considered: Jack Sanborn, LB, Wisconsin; Quentin Lake, S, UCLA; Chasen Hines, OG, LSU
ROUND 7 (#241 OVERALL) — CONNOR HEYWARD/H-BACK/MICHIGAN STATE— 5111, 233 LBS.
Analysis: Not going to overthink this one and stay put on my previous selection. 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: Nolan Turner, S, Clemson; Mark Robinson, LB, Ole Miss; Neil Farrell Jr., DL, LSU
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!