We have made it, my dudes and dudettes! Draft Week is officially upon us. In just a couple of days the 2022 NFL Draft will officially kick off and Roger Goodell will walk across that stage to announce the much-anticipated first round draft selection. Will it be a QB as everyone is speculating? Will we get a curveball and the pick be another positional player?
After studying a large number of draft prospects, attending the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine, analyzing the Pro Day tracker and created by our very own Alex Kozora and the Pre-Draft Visit tracker created by Dave Bryan, and also considering the draft trends of the Steelers over the years in correlation to their current needs, here is my final attempt at predicting what the Pittsburgh Steelers will do come draft weekend. Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments section below and compliment how I will be right on every selection (LOL). In all seriousness, please contribute to the discussion on the specific prospects that are chosen, that are in consideration, as well as those you believe should be in consideration for each pick. Are you ready? Let’s go!
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.
Liberty QB Malik Willis was my selection in my last mock draft, and I am not moving off that call now. 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. All you have to do is go back to Willis’ Pro Day and see the look on Colbert, Tomlin, and Brandon Hunt’s faces to know the love affair with Willis is there.
When Pittsburgh wants a player, they make it blatantly obvious (see Najee Harris in 2021 and Devin Bush in 2019). NFL Network’s Rhett Lewis laid out a scenario in a recent edition of Path to the Draft that Pittsburgh may explore trading up with the New York Giants at #7 overall after the Panthers choose to go in a different direction like I predicted above. Given this train of thought, I am in the frame of mind that Pittsburgh will somehow end up with Willis; whether it be at #20 overall or in a trade up. ESPN‘s Todd McShay and Mel Kiper also suggested that Pittsburgh really wants Willis stating that there is a legitimate chance Pittsburgh may try and trade up if they don’t think he will fall to their current draft slotting:
“I do believe if you want Malik Willis, I think you got to go up and get him,” Kiper said. “I don’t think he falls to 20.”
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: Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
Others Considered: Sam Howell, QB, UNC; Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati; Lewis Cine, S, Georgia; Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama; Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss
ROUND 2 (#52 OVERALL) — SKYY MOORE/WR/WESTERN MICHIGAN 5095, 195 LBS.
Analysis: #SkyyInTheSecond. 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. When asked about the possibility about ending up in Pittsburgh during an interview on Pro Football Talk, Moore made no reservations about what he would choose:
“I would go anywhere, but, yeah, I’m a diehard Steeler fan,” Moore told Mike Florio and Chris Simms.
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 losses at the WR position with JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, and Ray-Ray McCloud all leaving via free agency, WR has become a pressing need that many have speculated the Steelers to address early on in the draft. They recently claimed former-Ravens WR Miles Boykin off waivers, but he is seen as a project that may not make the roster. While a name like George Pickens also makes sense here at #52, he has a similar game and play style as Boykin and Chase Claypool, whereas Moore fits the bill, having that deep speed to challenge defenses vertically while also being a perfect fit in the slot as a moveable chess piece. Pittsburgh has had success drafting WRs from the MAC in the past and given Tomlin’s exposure to Moore, I’m willing to bet Tomlin makes sure that young man remains in Pittsburgh.
Previous Selection: George Pickens, WR, Georgia
Others Considered: Jaquan Brisker, S, Penn State; George Pickens, WR, Georgia; Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State; DeMarvin Leal, DL, Texas A&M; Bernhard Raimann, OT, Central Michigan
ROUND 3 (#84 OVERALL)— NICK CROSS/S/MARYLAND — 6001, 212 LBS.
Analysis: I had this whole background written up to the selection of Cross about how Pittsburgh was interested in signing Tyrann Mathieu or bringing back Terrell Edmunds since GM Kevin Colbert isn’t the type of guy that likes to have loose ends and open holes on the roster heading into the draft. However, Pittsburgh decided to re-sign Edmunds on a one-year deal Friday afternoon, thus shoring up the lone glaring hole on the roster with a capable starter in Edmunds who has manned the strong safety spot in Pittsburgh the last four years. Still, given amount of investment and longevity of the deal used to retain Edmunds (1yr/2.5million), it only makes sense for Pittsburgh to select a safety within its first three picks of the draft as assurance.
My dark horse candidate for #20 overall is Georgia’s Lewis Cine with Penn State’s Jaquan Brisker being another logical name at #52, but another athletic freak that could be had a little later on is Maryland S Nick Cross. Pittsburgh prides itself in exceptional athletes and Cross fits the bill, thanks to a 9.91 RAS score based off of a 4.34 40-yard dash, 37-inch vertical and an astounding 10’10” broad jump. In fact, Cross was the only safety prospect that checked every single box on Kozora’s study of what the Steelers look for at the safety position. Terrell Edmunds found himself highly sought after in the 2018 NFL Draft by Pittsburgh who ended up making him their first round selection, and Cross is nearly identical as an athlete with better long speed.
Cross could be a candidate for #52 overall, but given the depth of this safety class, there is a good chance he may be available in the third round. Given the fact that he was once roommates with Dino Tomlin at Maryland, is an underclassmen with room to grow, and had Pro Scouting Coordinator and GM-hopeful Brandon Hunt at his Pro Day, that dots connect for Cross to be in serious consideration for Pittsburgh on Day Two of the draft. He can come in as a SS behind Edmunds and be a good #3 S to begin his career, having the ability to play free safety, strong safety, slot corner, and DIME backer. With Edmunds in the fold, Pittsburgh can bring along Cross slowly and not throw him into the fire right away. Should he show promise early on as a rookie, Cross could legitimately push Edmunds for the starting job at SS.
Previous Selection: Bryan Cook, S, Cincinnati
Others Considered: Darrian Beavers, LB, Cincinnati; Bryan Cook, S, Cincinnati; Nik Bonitto, EDGE, Oklahoma, Daniel Faalele, OT, Minnesota; Justyn Ross, WR, Clemson
ROUND 4 (#138 OVERALL)—DeAngelo Malone/EDGE/Western Kentucky—6032, 243 LBS.
Analysis: With QB, WR, and S off the board, the draft opens up for Pittsburgh to go a lot of different ways after addressing their three big needs. The could opt to continue fortifying the offensive line or add depth to the defensive line with the uncertainty of Stephon Tuitt’s return. Still, I personally hedge they prioritize adding a developmental EDGE rusher to add much-needed depth behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith. They still have Derrek Tuszka on the roster and recently signed LB/EDGE Genard Avery in free agency to a one-year deal, but Pittsburgh could look to add a promising prospect to the room as a long-term investment that can rotate in with Watt and Highsmith.
Enter Western Kentucky’s DeAngelo Malone who has the size, frame, and athleticism that Pittsburgh looks for at the OLB position. In fact, Malone is another player that checked every single box in Kozora’s study. Malone is a long, slender pass rusher that has been extremely productive in the Sen Belt Conference, logging over 30 sacks during his college career, winning with speed off the edge as well as with various pass rush moves. While he needs to continue getting stronger and add mass to be a more consistent run defender, Malone has shown the ability to convert speed to power, getting the best of several offensive linemen at the Senior Bowl where helped his draft stock.
With Pro Scouting Coordinator Brandon Hunt in attendance for Malone’s Pro Day, Pittsburgh likely has interest in the small-school EDGE prospect that has some eerie similarities to Alex Highsmith coming out of Charlotte as a talented pass rusher that needed some refinement and added functional mass to become a quality NFL player. Malone wouldn’t be expected to start right away, but could come in on obvious passing downs to give Watt or Highsmith a blow as he continues to build up his body earn a bigger role on defense.
Previous Selection: Rasheed Walker, OT, Penn State
Others Considered: Marcus Jones, CB, Houston; Danny Gray, WR, SMU; Jesse Luketa, EDGE, Penn State; Rasheed Walker, OT, Penn State; Dominique Robinson, EDGE,Miami (Oh.)
ROUND 6 (#208 OVERALL) — HASSAN HASKINS/RB/MICHIGAN — 6016, 228 LBS.
Analysis: I thought about changing up this selection for a different running back and I did mention in a previous episode 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 skill set. However, much like in the dating scene nowadays, it is clear that Pittsburgh has “a type” when it comes to the RB position. 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: Hassan Haskins, RB, Michigan
Others Considered: Tyler Badie, RB, Missouri; Ty Chandler, RB, North Carolina; John Ridgeway, DL, Arkansas; Jeffrey Gunter, EDGE, Coastal Carolina; Damone Clark, LB, LSU
ROUND 7 (#225 OVERALL)— COBIE DURANT/CB/SOUTH CAROLINA STATE —5095, 180 LBS.
Analysis: The Pittsburgh Steelers did a great job shoring up the CB position for 2022, re-signing Ahkello Witherspoon and Arthur Maulet while also adding Levi Wallace as an outside free agent. Still, the team will have Cam Sutton as a pending free agent after this season and could look to add a true nickel CB to the fold. Therefore, I predict that they will look to address the position late on Day Three in the draft like they did last season with Tre Norwood and select South Carolina State CB Cobie Durant. Pittsburgh showed interested in Durant with an informal meeting in Indianapolis at the NFL Combine. 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 at the Combine 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 late on Day Three.
Previous Selection: Ali Fayad, EDGE, Western Michigan
Others Considered: Jayden Peavy, DL, Texas A&M; Quentin Lake, S, UCLA; Chasen Hines, OG, LSU; Ali Fayad, EDGE, Western Michigan; ZaCoby McClain, LB, Auburn
ROUND 7 (#241 OVERALL) — CONNOR HEYWARD/H-BACK/MICHIGAN STATE— 5111, 233 LBS.
Analysis: Connor Heyward has been my final selection in my last two mock drafts, and just like the Willis selection earlier, I’m not going to switch it now. 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.
Previous Selection: Connor Heyward, H-Back, Michigan State
Others Considered: Joey Blount, S, Virginia; Mark Robinson, LB, Ole Miss; Neil Farrell Jr., DL, LSU; Eric Johnson, DL, Missouri State; Joshua Ross, LB, Michigan
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!