For a final time this draft season, my predictions of what the Pittsburgh Steelers will do during this week’s 2022 NFL Draft. Based on all the information we know, my best guess as to what will happen Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.
Again, to make it super clear. This is what I think Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin will do during the draft. This is not my list of ideal picks I would make if I ran the team. Keep that in mind when commenting below but of course, let me know your thoughts and what you would change.
If you’d like to look back, here are my previous three Steelers’ mock drafts.
Round 1 (#20 Overall): Desmond Ridder/QB Cincinnati – 6033, 213 lbs.
Analysis: I’ve debated and wrestled with the first round pick more than any other selection in this mock and more than any other first round pick in years. Quarterback still feels like the favorite to me to be picked based on all the pre-draft interest in the position though picking at #20 creates so many variables.
Let me start off by saying this. Similar to 2019 with Devin Bush, while I didn’t officially mock it, I believe the team will try to make move up for Liberty QB Malik Willis if he slips past #6. I think Mike Tomlin is smitten with Willis’ talent and personality and if there’s one guy they want to take a swing on, it’s him. Will a trade happen? Who knows. But I think he is their #1 quarterback.
Onto Ridder. There’s little doubt he impressed them at Pro Day dinners and his pre-draft visit with his maturity and leadership skills. Ridder has attractive physical traits too with his straight-line speed and a good overall arm. He’s a gamer, a winner, and turned around the Bearcats’ program. He’s also bigger than some of the other quarterbacks in this class. And for whatever it’s worth, his was the only Pro Day we know the entire Steelers’ offensive staff attended, including QBs coach Mike Sullivan.
A lack of accuracy is the biggest concern here given Kevin Colbert holds it in such high regard. But Tomlin should be driving this bus more than Colbert. He’s the one he will be coaching longer than Colbert will be GM’ing. With a good QB coach like Sullivan and now a dedicated assistant, Pittsburgh probably believes they can coach Ridder’s mechanical flaws in his year on the bench. It’s a good situation to come to.
Honestly though, you could convince me any of the top five QBs could/would be the guy at #20. I strongly thought about them all, including Kenny Pickett and Sam Howell. I think Pickett is off the board at #20; if I was a little less convinced of that, I might’ve included him here.
Of non-QBs, Georgia NT Jordan Davis or Notre Dame S Kyle Hamilton falling sure would be interesting. Safeties like Georgia’s Lewis Cine or Michigan’s Dax Hill are also in play. But I don’t want to hedge more than I already am. Ridder is my pick.
Others Considered: QB Kenny Pickett, NT Jordan Davis, SS Lewis Cine
Round 2 (#52 Overall): Nick Cross/S Maryland – 6001, 215 lbs.
Analysis: This may feel a round too early. But it felt a round too early for Terrell Edmunds. Cross checks virtually all the boxes. From the Power 5, hyper-athletic (9.87 RAS score, just how the Steelers like ’em) and I believe the youngest player in this class at still well under 21 years old. He was also college roommates with Mike Tomlin’s son Dino, providing an interesting connection.
Cross is raw and needs time to develop and become more consistent. But with Terrell Edmunds back in the fold, Cross can be a sub-package player out of the gate. Things begin to look a bit crowded but too much secondary depth is better than not enough and Cross could take over next year when he’s 21 and a year in the league.
Others Considered: S Jaquan Brisker, WR Skyy Moore, OT Daniel Faalele
Round 3 (#84 Overall): Marcus Jones/CB Houston – 5080, 177 lbs.
Analysis: Secondary-heavy at the top of this draft. Pittsburgh re-signed Ahkello Witherspoon and added Levi Wallace but they’re outside options. Jones would be the slot corner they’ve been searching for since Mike Hilton left following the 2020 season. Jones isn’t quite the uber-physical player Hilton was but Pittsburgh struggled to find a dependable slot option last year, rolling through guys like Arthur Maulet, Tre Norwood, and Cam Sutton and never quite getting comfortable with anyone. Norwood is promising but I don’t know if he’s an everydown slot guy. Jones is another good athlete with ball skills and though it’s doubtful Pittsburgh uses him there, an excellent return man.
Jones was brought in for a pre-draft visit, signaling interest. He did have surgeries on both his shoulders and couldn’t workout in the pre-draft process, which is not great for a small dude, but I don’t think it excludes the team from taking him.
Others Considered: EDGE Drake Jackson, WR Danny Gray, DL DeMarvin Leal, CB Damarri Mathis
Round 4 (#138 Overall): Justyn Ross/WR Clemson – 6035, 210 lbs.
Analysis: Wrestled with putting Ross or Baylor’s Tyquan Thornton (coached by Steelers’ WR coach Frisman Jackson) here. Ultimately, I tilted towards Ross. He has serious medical flags but Jackson personally worked him out at the Tigers’ Pro Day, signaling he’s still on their radar. The doctor who performed Ross’ rare spinal surgery was the Steelers’ neurosurgeon, potentially creating more comfort with where Ross stands medically.
Before his injury, Ross was a dominant player and had an incredible two years with the Tigers. He missed the entire 2020 season due to injury but came back in 2021, though he fought through a foot problem. At his best, he’s got a large catch radius and is a big-frame to body smaller DBs. He moved to the slot later in his Clemson career and would play there in Pittsburgh to replace JuJu Smith-Schuster. JuJu tested better than Ross but his workout numbers weren’t outstanding and he wasn’t coming off the injuries Ross has that may have hampered his testing.
None of that sounds like a ringing endorsement but here’s the 30,000 foot view. If Ross can get back to being healthy, he was a first-round caliber player his first two years at Clemson. Even just going through a couple clips, his movement skills and YAC ability were so much better in 2018-2019. That foot bothered him quite a bit throughout the season and if he’s 100%, you’re potentially getting Top 32 talent in the fourth round. Not a bad gamble.
He also was really good in Clemson’s bowl/playoff games. 6/148/1 and 6/153/1 against Notre Dame and Alabama in 2018 and 5 for 76 in a 2019 loss to LSU. As we wrote in an article introducing Frisman Jackson, he said bowl game production is something he values highly in evaluating prospects. So Ross is my choice here. Tigers’ head coach Dabo Swinney has also consistently spoken highly of Ross. Swinney and Colbert/Tomlin have a close relationship.
Determining Ross’ draft slot is tough to do given the medical history. But fourth round sounds about right. I wouldn’t personally love the pick but I can see the Steelers being the team who drafts him.
Others Considered: WR Tyquan Thornton, CB Tariq Castro-Fields, CB Cordale Flott, S Joey Blount
Round 6 (#208 Overall): Eric Johnson/DL Missouri State – 6043, 299 lbs.
Analysis: I’ve previously left d-line out of my mock drafts but haven’t discounted the idea entirely given Stephon Tuitt’s ongoing uncertainty. It’s just been hard coming up with a name who fits. It feels like there’s only a handful of candidates, especially to play over tackle/4i. Johnson coming from a small school doesn’t help his odds of being drafted but his pre-draft visit with the team says a lot about their interest.
Johnson has near-prototypical size at over 6’4, 299 pounds with long 34 1/4 inch arms. A Combine snub, he turned in a 4.87 40 at his Pro Day, a stellar number for a man of his frame. He also flashed the ability to step up against better competition in this year’s Senior Bowl and in his 2021 contest against Oklahoma State where he held his own. He chases the ball hard and could play up and down the line, two things the team will value.
Others Considered: DL Jayden Peevy, EDGE Jeffrey Gunter, RB Hassan Haskins
Round 7 (#225 Overall): Leddie Brown/RB West Virginia – 6001, 215 lbs.
Analysis: Gone back and forth with running backs throughout my mock drafts. I really wanted to put Hassan Haskins somewhere on here but couldn’t make him fit so I went back with Brown. My criteria for choosing a RB is simple. From the Power 5, big, and has carried a heavy workload. It leaves me with just a few choices. Brown made the most sense late on Day Three. 6001 at 213 pounds, he carried the ball 233 times for the Mountaineers last year and rushed for over 1000 yards in back-to-back seasons. He lacks burst and big-play ability but catches the ball cleanly and checks the Steelers’ boxes. Assistant Blaine Stewart put Brown through drills at his WVU Pro Day.
Others Considered: OL Cade Mays, LB Josh Ross, OL Tyler Vrabel
Round 7 (#241 Overall): Chris Oladokun/QB South Dakota State – 6012, 213 lbs.
Analysis: Big curveball down the middle to finish out this mock draft. This isn’t an oversight. Two quarterbacks, one mock draft.
As they do every year, the team will go into camp with four QBs on the roster. There’s two on it heading into the draft – Mitch Trubisky and Mason Rudolph. I’ve added Desmond Ridder at the top as the third and now Oladokun is the fourth.
Taking two QBs isn’t unprecedented. Washington did it more aggressively with Robert Griffin III and Kirk Cousins in 2012. Indianapolis did it with Andrew Luck and Chandler Harnish in 2011, making QB the first and last pick of the entire draft (Harnish was Mr. Irrelevant). Green Bay did similar in 2008, taking Brian Brohm in the second round and Matt Flynn in the 7th. It was Flynn who wound up having the better career.
Pittsburgh’s shown interest in Oladokun, attending his Pro Day and bringing him in for his pre-draft visit. He’s garnered plenty of buzz over the last month with several workouts and visits with other teams. If the Steelers want to guarantee they get him, they need to draft him. Pittsburgh doesn’t exactly pay well in the UDFA pool either.
Quarterback is the most important position and the Steelers need their room to be as strong as possible. So while this is an unusual move you probably won’t like, I could see Pittsburgh sandwiching their draft with the position given its weight.
Others Considered: LB Baylon Spector, LB Mark Robinson, S Nolan Turner