STEELERS ROUND 1 PICK (#20 OVERALL). Is Ickey Ekownu still on the board? No? Okay, then we can proceed.
I try to explore a new angle with every one of these, and free agency has definitely opened up some new and interesting possibilities. Version 1.0 went four rounds, and I picked:
- Guard Kenyon Green;
- QB Carson Strong;
- CB Derion Kendrick; and
- WR Skyy Moore.
Not bad. Strong and Kendrick have dropped a bit as the process moved forward, and Moore has seen his stock soar toward the top of Round 2, but I can’t complain given what we knew at the time. I’m actually kind of proud about getting ahead of the curve on Moore.
Version 2.0 was a full mock:
- Round 1: CB Andrew Booth, Jr.;
- Round 2: QB Sam Howell;
- Round 3: Buck ILB Quay Walker;
- Round 4: OT Dare Rosenthal;
- Round 6: RB Zaquandre “Quan” White;
- Round 7a: WR Samori Toure; and
- Round 7b: FB/HB/TE Connor Heyward.
I could live with that mock still! Especially in Round 1, since I would take Andrew Booth Jr. in a heartbeat. But changing things up is required by the process, so this time I’m going to do the most unpleasant thing possible. This mock will examine my worst case scenario. All my favorite defensive steals, like the aforementioned Mr. Booth? Gone. All those great OT’s? Gone. No miracle talents. No strange situations where Kyle Hamilton falls because Internet pundits thought he ran too slow at his pro day. Just the toughest situation I can realistically contrive.
Here are the 19 players who are off the Board. Read ’em and weep:
- OT Charles Cross, Miss. State.
T/G Ikem “Ickey” Ekwonu, NC State.
- T/G Evan Neal, Alabama.
- QB Kenny Pickett
- QB Malik Willis
WR Drake London
- WR Jameson Williams, Alabama.
- WR Garrett Wilson
- DT Jordan Davis, Georgia.
- EDGE Aidan Hutchinson, Michigan.
- EDGE Jermain Johnson
- EDGE Kayvon Thibodeaux, Oregon.
- EDGE Travon Walker, Georgia.
- ILB Devin Lloyd
- S Kyle Hamilton, Notre Dame.
- CB Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, Cincinnati.
CB Derek Stingley Jr., LSU. CB Andrew Booth Jr. Clemson. CB Trent McDuffie, Washington.
No trading back, either! The rest of the league has sensed my dismay, and the only offers I get are laughably poor. [Sigh]. So let’s start eliminating. Here is the complete list of targets I think would be considered, with a few easy cross-outs to save some space:
T/G Trevor Penning, N. Iowa. [Small school, offensive tackle, no one at pro day]
- G/C Zion Johnson, Boston College.
- G/T Kenyon Green, Texas A&M.
- QB Matt Corral, Ole Miss.
- QB Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati.
- QB Sam Howell, UNC.
- WR Jahan Dotson, Penn State.
- WR Chris Olave, Ohio State.
WR Treylon Burks, Arkansas. [Lack of system fit in this particular year]
EDGE George Karlaftis, Purdue. [Lack of system fit]
EDGE David Ojabo, Michigan. [Torn Achilles]
- SAF Jaquan Brister, Penn State.
- SAF Lewis Cine, Georgia.
- SAF Daxton Hill, Michigan.
CB Roger McCreary, Auburn. [Too small for my personal Round 1 standards]
Interior offensive line is no longer a need, but both of these prospects project as better players than Kevin Dotson, and maybe even better than Chase Daniels. Plus there’s this: it never hurts to upgrade the offensive line! Nevertheless, the bang-for-the-buck calculation isn’t great because losing Dotson limits the amount of improvement. I still hope and believe that he can mature into a quality starter. And you know what? These are “very good” IOL prospects, not “truly great” ones like Pouncey or DeCastro. Plus IOL’s offer no consolation prize in the form of special teams value. So… no. I should be able to do better.
I like all five of this year’s top QB’s, Willis and Pickett included, but I don’t love any of them. They are sort of like those intriguing, fascinating, and beautiful young ladies you really want to date a few more times. Date, not marry. Nothing I have seen or read makes me want to invest three months rent on a ring, let alone a multiyear commitment. Even less so if I’d need to mortgage the house to pay for that ring. In Round 2? Leap for the phone. Not here in Round 1 when there is no trade back scenario to make up some value. Thank heaven I didn’t have to say “no” to all five of those QB’s! I would, but the howls in the comments would drown out all other debate.
So… QB in a pinch, but only if I can’t do better with either a WR or a Safety. These are the team’s only two needs at the moment, but I have every confidence that Kevin Colbert will plug those holes well enough to make both positions a mere “want” when draft day rolls around. OTOH, he’s likely to do that with average talent, or else a relatively short term contract. Let’s assume something for each position equivalent to resigning Terrell Edmunds on a two-year deal for $3.5 Million in the first one, and $7 Million in the second. “It’s a prove-it year Terrell, with either everything you want in Year 2 or else another shot at free agency with an increased 2023 cap.” How do things work out with two contracts like that on the books?
Olave and Dotson are both good enough to overcome my normal bias against Round 1 WR’s. Neither hits my “Oh what a steal!” button, but both are better than any QB in this class. They deserve some deeper thought, so here are the current Big Board descriptions:
|WR Chris Olave, Ohio St. (Senior). 6’0⅜”, 187 lbs. with 31⅛” arms and 9½” hands. An elegant, already professional, route running possession receiver from Ohio State with 4.3 speed that Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile describes as “buttery smooth” and “effortless in the air”? It’s just unfair. The only issue is whether he’ll be able to deal with NFL physicality. Wesley Cantliff’s gif-supported Depot scouting report digs down into deep detail, ending with a “great WR1-b” description that reminds me a lot of the 1980’s 49er star Jonathan Taylor, a fringe HOF player who was never The Man on his own but was so good that he opened the field for everyone else – including the one and only Jerry Rice. This excellent gif-supported scouting report from a Washington POV sums Olave up as “a starting level [top-three] Z receiver that you will win with in a vertical offense that allows him to run in the intermediate and deep-level routes (curls, comebacks, speed outs, post, flys), allowing him to manipulate his speed.” This Falcons-oriented scouting profile sees Olave as a tremendous deep threat who is limited to that role because of his slender physique.|
|WR Jahan Dotson, Penn. St. (RS Senior). 5’10⅝”, 178 lbs. with short 30¾” arms and big 9½” hands. [Mtg. at Combine] An oily smooth, sneaky good route runner on the smaller side, Dotson creates easy separation, has the best hands in the class to finish the catch, and has the pure speed to turn any catch into a TD if all those bigger folks don’t get a solid grasp. He tested at 4.43, but knowledgeable reviewers say he plays more like a 4.2-something on film. You only worry that he’ll get sawed in half by some over-eager Safety. This quality, clip-supported January scouting report from a Raiders POV raises a number of questions that largely center around Dotson’s lack of the high quality play strength required to break tackles in addition to avoiding them. Owen Straley’s detailed, gif-supported Depot scouting profile sounds an excited note for an early-2nd talent with “elite, sticky hands,” who could “stretch the field vertically with nuanced technique and speed.” Owen also notes that he “plays tough for his size [and is a] fundamental, very willing blocker.”|
I’ll say that Olave has the edge. But can he beat out those Safeties?
Safeties in general get a boost because they are core special teams players, which enhances the floor. And the situation I’ve described would fit these three to the proverbial T because they could see snaps in Year 1 specialty packages, while sitting behind Edmunds (or a peer) as they learned the pro game. I find that fit intriguing… And heck, this particular trio would actually provide Free Safety depth behind Minkah Fitzpatrick! Seeing him go down for a few games wouldn’t be an automatic season-death event anymore. This idea might have legs.
I direct you to this very good Giants-oriented comparison piece on Hill vs. Cine vs. Brisker for a deeper analysis of their relative strengths. All three are all-around Safeties with amazing athletic talents, but they come with different edges. Here are the current Big Board entries for a broader but somewhat shallower view:
|S Jaquan Brisker, Penn St. (Senior). 6’1⅜”, 199 lbs. with 31¾” arms and 9⅞” hands. Will be 23 as of April 20. Born and raised in Pittsburgh (Monroeville), he had to work his way up from Lackawanna College due to significant academic issues. But that doesn’t seem to have bled over into his football IQ at all. Everyone, including this long January scouting profile from PFN, agrees that Brisker “gets it” and deserves to be a Top 50 pick. Versatility is his biggest selling point. He excels in coverage, is a perfect TE-eliminator, and can play both Free and Strong Safety. Needs to improve on his tackling but all the ingredients are there. Pairing Brisker with Fitzpatrick would drive QB’s mad trying to account for both young talents as they wove, twisted, and played games to disguise the actual shell. The pre-Senior Bowl Bleacher Report scouting profile agrees, ending with a late-1st grade that could have gone up with his top 10% testing. Same for this fine January scouting profile. Alex Kozora’s gif-supported Depot scouting report loves Brisker’s ability as a TE-eraser, dislikes the missed tackles, and ends with a strong Round 2 grade.|
|S Lewis Cine, Georgia. (Junior). 6’2¼”, 199 lbs. with 32¼” arms and 9⅜” hands. Will turn 22 during his rookie season. His fabulous Combine, headlined by a 4.37 dash, resulted in a Top 1-2% athletic score. Another multipurpose Safety, Cine put on a tremendous show in the national championship game, showing coverage, pursuit, and tackling talent in a single body, against future NFL talent, under the brightest of lights. The Bleacher Report scouting profile from January describes him as a model zone Safety who’s at his best when he can read and react in space, but dislikes his tendency to go for kill shots high rather than making surer, fundamentally sound tackles around the legs. The January NFL Draft Buzz scouting profile agrees but is more positive, ending with a Round 2 grade versus the B/R Round 3. This January TDN article is close to a rave, ending with a Round 1 grade that uses phrases like “versatile chess piece” and “high-level blitzer.” Jonathan Heitritter’s gif-supported Depot scouting profile ends in something like a strong Round 2 grade for a talented “enforcer in the secondary… Pairing Cine with Minkah Fitzpatrick would create a dynamic, physical safety tandem for years to come.”|
|FS Daxton Hill, Michigan. (Junior). 6’0¼”, 191 lbs. with 32¼” arms and 9½” hands. Will turn 22 during his rookie season. He played the multipurpose Safety role in college, but one hopes he could be more limited in the pros. Not because he can’t do it all. He can, and he does. Emphatically. It’s just that sometimes you need to protect players from themselves, especially the ones like Hill who combine an outsized heart in an undersized frame. Hill is also a major team leader with a reputation for a high football IQ who simply “gets it,” Jonathan Heitritter’s gif-supported Depot scouting report describes him as a sort of Minkah Lite, who can play all over the secondary from FS to the Mike Hilton Nickel-DB role. Barring injuries, he’s got an extremely high floor as a starter somewhere in the league. This admiring January scouting profile ends with a late-1st grade, calling him the #2 Safety of the class behind Kyle Hamilton. Compare that with the 4th Round grade in this Bleacher Report January scouting profile. Came in at #23 overall in Daniel Jeremiah’s first big board, with a comparison to Darnell Savage. I have heard both Jeremiah and Bucky Brooks agree on Hill as the #2 Safety of the class.|
So… Brisker and Hill are Minkah-types who are too good to call Minkah-lite, with the ability to fill the slot-CB position too; and Cine is sort of like a classic pop-out-of-nowhere Strong Safety who is too good to call Troy-lite, and has the range to play Free Safety too if events so require.
If this is a worst case scenario, sign me up. I can life with any of those four. Olave has the highest grade by a very small notch, but the WR class is much stronger throughout Day 2. So I am going to go with one of the Safeties. Just imagine the Big Nickel packages you could create with three athletes like Fitzpatrick, Edmunds, and one of those rookies! Dazzling. And next year we could afford to let Edmunds (or his peer, yes) go without worry. Plus we’d have the joy of knowing that Danny Smith wants to kiss our toes with tears of gratified joy. But which Safety should I choose?
I will go with… SAF/NICKEL DB Daxton Hill, Michigan. He got a particularly high Steelers Depot grade (8.5 compared to Brisker’s 8.3, Cine’s 8.1, and Olave’s 8.6), he is a coverage ace who can serve as a slot-CB too, and my only real concern is his size. But honestly, what is the real difference between 6’0″, 191 lbs. and 6’2, 199 lbs.? They all share the same general build, and will only get a little more solid after working with professional trainers.
So let it be written. So let it be done. That is a flat out win when you consider that this is the single worst Board I could manage to contrive.
2:20 STEELERS ROUND 2 PICK (# 52 OVERALL). This is a wide open pick, and I can see the team going in almost any direction except RB, TE, and D-Line. The choice will be BPA for everything else: QB, OT, IOL, and WR on offense; CB, Buck ILB, and maybe even Edge on defense.
The hungry hordes descended on my QB’s and devoured them all by Pick 2:10. Drat. I really would have liked a few more dates… Quick check on Edge, and I see that the three I’d be tempted by are also gone (David Ojabo, Boye Mafe, and Arnold Ebiketie). [DIGRESSION: With the Steelers you always check on Edge talent, and this year is no different. Think it through and you’ll see that I’m right.]. The sweet spot for Buck ILB’s is Round 3, and that is a limited-snaps position anyway. CB can be dropped for now too, since Dax Hill contributes on that front in addition to his nominal role as a Safety.
There are no IOL’s a can’t do without at this point. Tackle… Daniel Faalale, Bernhard Raimann, and Rasheed Walker all deserve some consideration. I may have to come back to that one.
Wide Receiver… oh yeah. There’s my ticket. I’m still smarting from passing over Chris Olave in Round 1, so Round 2 is my chance to make amends. And look at the potential choices! They won’t all be here, but I expect to see one or more of Skyy Moore, Christian Watson, George Pickens, and John Metchie. Here are the current Big Board entries for all four:
|WR Skyy Moore, W. Mich. (RS Sophomore). 5’9⅝”, 195 lbs. with 31” arms and huge 10¼” hands. [Mtg. at Combine] A Pittsburgh boy from Shadyside, Moore was one of the main reasons why Pitt lost in a major upset. Known for his speed, quickness, route running, and hands, his Combine testing raised new questions because of surprisingly poor agility grades that drag down a 4.41 dash. Jonathan Heitritter’s gif-supported Depot scouting report describes him as a playmaker who is “dynamic both before and after the catch…, a nightmare for CB’s to cover,” and worthy of a Round 2 grade. The Bleacher Report scouting profile ends with the same Round 2 grade as JH, and also the same player comp: Golden Tate, who enjoyed a 10-year career as one of the best WR2’s in the business. The TDN scouting profile has the same grade and ends with a comp to Sterling Shepard. “[Moore will be] good for one tough as nails catch over the middle per game.” The PFN scouting profile adds: “On top of his receiving ability, Moore is simply an all-out competitor who brings phenomenal energy and competitive drive on the field.” This gif-supported, late March scouting report goes back to Golden Tate as the comp. Golden Tate for this April scouting profile too. Is anyone sensing a pattern?|
|WR Christian Watson, N. Dak. St. (RS Senior). 6’4⅛”, 208 lbs. with 32½” arms and big 10⅛” hands. [Mtg. at Senior Bowl, Combine] Looks like he ought to be a contested catch specialist, but he also runs very good routes, has surprising shiftiness, and put up a 4.36 dash at the Combine. Those are top 2% of the NFL numbers. His father was an NFL safety. Has also shown good special teams play as a punt/kick returner and also in coverage. This goes to a TDN article/interview during the Senior Bowl. This admiring and gif-supported article by Tyler Wise digs into Watson’s physicality and how much he enjoys blocking as well as pass catching. Here is the NFL.com scouting profile, which really only worries about a lack of deep bend for sudden stop/start moves. Tyler Wise’s gif-supported Depot scouting report ends in a Round 3 grade after describing what I would call a Round 2 player: someone comparable to an extremely raw Martavis Bryant with his head screwed on straight, who’s also willing to block. This long Tampa-oriented scouting profile agrees on a Round 2 grade.|
|WR John Metchie III, Alabama. (Junior). 5’11¼”, 187 lbs. with 30⅝” arms and 9¼” hands. A hard player to evaluate because he combines top production with limited measurables, and could not be tested because of a late-season ACL in 2021. Jonathan Heitritter’s gif-supported Depot scouting report makes it clear that Metchie offers a huge number of assets that Pittsburgh could really use. He’s tough, fast, physical, a ferocious blocker for a WR, and above all has the knack of getting open on a regular basis. You know those guys who’d play, “whoops; Now you see me, now you don’t?!” That’s Metchie as a route runner. Polished, with off the charts stop-start ability. There are enough drops to drive you mad, but Jonathan describes those as matters of poor technique rather than bad hands. Not “drops” so much as fixable lapses where he’ll body catch instead of snatching the ball out of the air. So the drops may be maddening, but it really comes down to his knee. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile also worries about a “lack of explosiveness,” but admires the “pro-caliber route tree,… route instincts… [and ability to] snap off route breaks at crisp angles.” This nice, Giants-oriented scouting profile ends with an easy Round 2 grade.|
|WR George Pickens, Georgia. (Junior). 6’3¼”, 190 lbs. with 32⅜” arms and 8¾” hands. [All brass were at the pro day, and Pittsburgh’s WR coach put Pickens through his drills]. Long, wiry, and fast with good hands and nice route running talent. The frame is thin enough to create injury concerns, which have been an issue. Tore an ACL in March of 2021, but managed to come back for the championship season (“a medical marvel”), albeit at a lower level than he played in 2020. Projects as a fine field stretcher on the outside who possess that acrobatic ability to twist in the air for difficult jump balls. Jonathan Heitritter’s gif-supported Depot scouting report ends in a comp to A.J. Green, and a Round 2 grade (with medical asterisk) for a “jump ball savant [who] may not have been gifted with elite deep speed [but is] difficult to catch in the open field once he gets going.” The poor (33”) vertical leap at the Combine came as something of a nasty surprise, with the 4.47 speed and the overall 93rd percentile athletic score being good ones. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile also has a Round 2-3 grade, particularly admiring the “vice-grip hand strength.” This January scouting profile describes him as “your traditional X receiver with good size and strength” but worries that he “lacks urgency when he’s not the 1st or 2nd option in the play” and needs to amp up the intensity on his role as a blocker.|
[DIGRESSION: Want a quick lesson in how to annoy the film watchers who write up those wonderful scouting reports? Watch and learn.]
So, do I want the next Golden Tate, a raw but sane Martavis Bryant, a jump ball savant like A.J. Green, or the next great WR out of Alabama? I will go with the Bryant clone. [OMG, they’re dying! Thank heavens my stage is too far away for the audience to deliver the slap I so richly deserve.]
Seriously, I don’t think you could go wrong with any of those four, and I would be personally delighted with either of the first two. I literally flipped a coin, and it came up for WR Christian Watson, North Dakota State.
STEELERS ROUND 3 PICK (# 84 OVERALL). One on defense, and one on offense. For Round 3 I am going to hit the trenches with a prospect I want to highlight. Here is the current Big Board entry:
|G/T Tyler Smith, Tulsa. (RS Sophomore). 6’4⅝”, 324 lbs. with 34” arms and big 10¾” hands. [Mtg. at Combine] Turns 21 a few weeks before the draft. I always hate this line, but here is a prospect who should have gone back to school. His lack of fundamentals – forget polish – drag down his draft stock by at least a round, despite the push he gets for unrealized potential. Absolutely dominant against smaller school competition, Smith has that “it” factor you look for on the offensive line, and the assets are there in full measure. Strength, athleticism, foot speed, ferocity, size… Every box gets checked. But the skill to make those assets work against experienced professionals? Not a bit of it. His handwork is very subpar, and his combination of balance and footwork has holes that better opponents will be able to use against him. Very high ceiling that will require at least one redshirt year before we can tell if he’s ever going to reach it, ideally with another year at Guard before he competes to earn a spot at Tackle. Earned a strong Round 2-3 grade in Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile, with the comment that he is a “big, wide and nasty power merchant” who projects well as an NFL Guard. Zierlein concludes: “The holes in his game can all be filled if he accepts coaching and brings it to the field on Sundays.” Jonathan Heitritter wrote a particularly good gif-supported Depot scouting report on this prospect, outlining both the positives and the issues en route to a late-3rd to early-4th grade. Brandon Thorn’s scouting profile (Round 3 grade) says “he is as raw as sushi,” agreeing with Jonathan on that standing tall with low hands is the primary sin. Here is a good TDN article from early January, when he declared for the draft. This thorough looking, gif-supported scouting report from a Raiders POV sees Smith as a Round 2-3 developmental OT, and devoutly hopes to see him in a Vegas helmet.|
This is a minor steal, but that’s only fair after the tribulations I put you all through in the first two rounds. And it serves to make a point that I hope we can discuss in the comments.
I believe that Pittsburgh’s recent free agency moves have managed to put together an average offensive line across the board. There will be growing pains as they learn to mesh together, but the OL is no longer an actual weak point in the chain. You can win with that, and at least you won’t lose because of it.
The problem moving forward is the lack of anyone special. Great offensive lines typically have two standard bearers whose individual brilliance raises all boats. In the recent past that was Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro. The new Pittsburgh OL may be solid enough to avoid losing, but it has no anchors who will go out there and create a win.
I started pining for Round 1 offensive linemen to serve that role back in 2021, with Rashawn Slater as my draft crush #1. This year it’s Ickey Ekwonu. Next year it will continue unless a marriageable QB shows up. We may not “need” that guy, but we darned well want him!
Since Round 1 is out, the next best thing will be a Day 2 talent of the boom-or-bust variety; the sort you can’t project as a dominant pillar on your line, but can certainly imagine in that role. Tyler Smith could not fit that description any better. I kid you not: Smith could easily have been next year’s Ekwonu if he stuck around in college and made a solid leap on the technical side. The talent and the attitude are there. It’s just that he’s a friggin’ white belt newbie who’s about to step into a league full of experienced, multi-dan black belts. Potential be damned, they would chew him up like sharks on a crippled whale.
Expect nothing out of Tyler Smith in his rookie year. Not a blessed thing. Just get him into the weight room, and the classroom, and on the practice field with assistant O-Line coaches day, after day, after day. Make a point of publicly asking Watt, Tuitt, Heyward, and the rest to spend 30 minutes per week schooling the young man on all the ways he’s failing to use what those O-Line coaches are selling. Let him learn the hard way how much those details matter! Make him take it all home, as well. Nail a rope across every door of his apartment, with instructions to bend his damned knees properly and shuffle like a pro every time he needs to take a pee, or wants to raid the fridge. Teach him to punch against one of those thrice-damned skitter bags. There’s nothing better to develop hand-eye coordination and target placement. Hell, make him chase chickens around the yard like the Penguin did to Rocky. Just spend the year stripping him down, and then rebuilding him back with all the fundamentals and little control bits that he’s missing.
That is a rookie year success story for someone like Tyler Smith.
He can start to compete in Year 2, and I have little doubt that he will – if he’s NFL-coachable. Kevin Dotson better watch out, because this kid could be an all-star Guard if he gets it. Mason Cole, it could be you too if Daniels has to move inside to play Center. Chuks? Better work on that ferocity young man, because Tyler Smith loves to move unwilling victims where they don’t want to go. Will Smith win one of those starting jobs? Hi really truly could because he really does have greatness buried deep in that gigantic frame. And if he can’t? Round 3 is a fair price to pay for the chance. And it wouldn’t be a bad pick if we need to wait for Year 3 as well.
Boom or bust baby. The pick is G/T Tyler Smith, Tulsa.
4:COMP STEELERS ROUND 4 PICK (# 135 OVERALL). Time to target one of two positions before the long dark night as we wait for the back half of Round 6. Just keep repeating, “Isaiahh Loudermilk was a darned good pick despite that maddening extra ‘h.’ Isaiahh Loudermilk showed real promise, and saves us from needing to hit the D-Line yet again.” Over and over for two rounds of so. It will help. I promise.
Which positions? I’m not leaving this round without either (A) another boom-or-bust athlete at the Corner position, or (B) a Linebacker that deserves the name.
The current CB room is actually very deep. I grade Sutton, Wallace, and Witherspoon as solid CB2’s, Maulet is a good player in the slot, and I still have real hope that James Pierre can take that next step up. Three solid CB2’s, a solid CB3, and a tantalizing young player who could still grow to be a CB1. And no, I’m not kidding about that! The fans abandoned James Pierre en masse after the Bengals made him look like a helpless, hapless target. No one is denying that day, or what happened. But hindsight shows that Pierre’s humiliation just happened to be the first game of a Burrow-to-Chase connection that went on to dominate a whole lot of other, better established Corners too. The weapon that overpowered our young Corner was strong enough to drive the Bengals – the Bengals! – all the way to the Super Bowl! James Pierre didn’t lose; he go beat. And that is a lot more excusable. Yes, he got benched after that, but it was due partly to injury and partly to the sudden emergence of Witherspoon. There is a clear path for optimists to follow here. Not a perfect path, and he still has to walk it, but a clear one nevertheless.
What’s missing in the room is a true CB1. This is why Andrew Booth Jr. may be my favorite of the semi-realistic targets at 1:20. There are no Andrew Booths down here in Round 4, but just as you can find a super-raw Ekwonu in Round 3 (Tyler Smith), you can sometimes find boom-or-bust CB prospects down in Round 4. The names to consider (many of whom will be gone) tend to be the small school titans like Josh Williams, Tariq Woolen, and Dallis Flowers, and those with a single stunning asset like Kalon Barnes’ 4.23 speed.
The other target is Linebacker. The Steelers have spent both this offseason and the draft adding serious speed on the inside of the defense, but that’s come at the expense of some oomph. Our starting ILB’s, Devin Bush and Myles Jack, are two ultra-fast, Round 1 miracle athletes. The two of them, combined, will destroy the universe if the D-Line can keep them clean. But not if that fails to happen. Both Bush and Jack are easy to contain if the opponent can scheme a way to make contact with an O-Linemen, blocking TE, or one of your old fashioned Fullbacks. Lightweight miracle athletes are the juicy bones that underfed Fullbacks live to devour. That lack of size continues into the Safeties too. Not Edmunds (assuming that he’s the short term solution), but rather my Round 1 pick Dax Hall. Hall punches well out of his weight class, but weight classes still exist for very good reason.
The solution would be a banger on the inside who can make opponents pay if they choose to go with heavy sets. An old fashioned, full sized Buck in the Vince Williams mold. The new acquisition Genard Avery profiles like he could be that guy, but he’s never done that sort of nasty, inside work to the best of my knowledge. Or at least not much of it. Buddy Johnson is on the small side, and we have no way to really know because he wasn’t on the field very often as a rookie.
The names I’m looking at here are Penn State’s Edge/Buck ILB hybrid Jesse Luketa; Penn State’s Brandon Smith, who earned a 99.9th percentile athletic score for his neck down talents, and gets an [ahem] much lower score from the shoulders on up; and an Alex Kozora special named Mike Rose. I’m going with the young Mr. Rose. Here is the current Big Board description, which ought to explain why I’m so happy about the pick:
|BUCK ILB Mike Rose, Iowa St. (Senior). 6’2⅛”, 245 lbs. with 33¼” arms and big 10⅛” hands. An Alex Kozora special! Rose is typically graded as a Round 4-5 talent, but Alex’s gif-supported Depot scouting report ends in a Round 2 grade. The issues arise from a unique defense with huge amounts of zone duties, which suited Rose to a “T” and may have covered up his limitations. Everyone agrees that he has good size, leadership, and an awesome motor. But the reports vary wildly over his physicality, tackling ability, and even his demonstrated football IQ. Alex sees an all around Buck ILB prospect who can bang, run, tackle, and cover, all in a single package. The top-10% athletic testing shows a player with good speed, tremendous agility, elite size, and piss poor physical strength (as measured by an abysmal bench press). Professional trainers can do wonders when it comes to pure country strength, so… It just might happen. The TDN scouting profile ends in a Round 4 grade based on great fundamentals and superb anticipation that covers up physical limitations against NFL-caliber agility. This January Bleacher Report scouting profile is as negative as you’ll find, ending with a Round 5 grade based on questions about his tackling, physicality, coverage skill, and ability to read deceptive run plays. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile is dead on point, praising Rose’s “quality play strength and a fight-it-out demeanor.” Exactly what Pittsburgh could use. The TDN scouting profile emphasizes the same characteristics, especially on the neck-up side: “a physical and fierce competitor [who] does not mind putting his body on the line and playing a physical brand of football… Attacks blocks with physicality… Fiery competitor that exudes high energy… Communicates assignments… Team leader in career starts. His relentless effort and versatility are infectious.”|
Let’s close that middle of the field down for good and all. BUCK ILB Mike Rose, Iowa State is the pick, and if he never sees the field on defense he will at least be a 10-year special teams captain.
6:29 STEELERS ROUND 6 PICK (# 208 OVERALL) (FROM THE CHIEFS FOR INGRAM). From here on out it’s a question of identifying personal favorites and “secret” finds. First up will be a TE3 may just be good enough to give the Steelers a unique heavy look of their own.
|TE Chase Allen, Iowa St. (RS Senior). 6’6”, 251 lbs. with long 34⅛” arms and 9⅝” hands. [Mtg. at Combine] A tall and gangly coach’s son with a multisport background, Allen is a good, sound blocker who will be even better if he adds some grown man muscle. Somewhat clunky receiver despite proper TE hands and a top 15% athletic profile headlined by good agility scores. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile prefers a comp to Foster Moreau. Likely to be especially popular among the feminine contingent of the fan base, which may be the best reason to avoid him (“Hair that no man deserves, just the right amount of naughty twinkle in his eye” according to the very Mrs. Hammer). The marks for football character simply couldn’t be higher. This November article from a local paper calls him the “dependable, durable and never-quit face of Iowa State football” after listing some astonishing physical challenges he’s overcome, and then quotes his offensive coordinator as follows: ““When I think about Iowa State football, I think of Chase Allen, just in terms of how he does everything, and the passion he plays with. I’m going to miss the kid the most.”|
Personal testimonials like that are worth their weight in gold when it comes to finding Day 3 talent with the drive and grit to claw out a spot on the roster. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a TE room that features Freiermuth and Gentry. That pairing makes for a solid 12-personnel look. But Pittsburgh carries three TE’s every year, and if that third one could be a genuine asset… who knows how to deal with that in the modern NFL?
The Round 6 pick is TE Chase Allen, Iowa State, joining his college teammate as one of the newest Pittsburgh Steelers. Who could ever have predicted a twist like that?
7:04 STEELERS ROUND 7a PICK (# 222 OVERALL) (FROM MIAMI). Next up is a camp arm QB who may turn out to be the greatest gadget player we’ve seen since Slash himself:
|QB/GADGET D’Eriq King, Miami. (RS Senior). 5’8¾”, 196 lbs. with 9¼” hands. Will be a 25 year old rookie. NOTE: grade will change if he switches positions. He’d be on the small side for a WR. For a QB? It just isn’t viable. OTOH, he has the sort of eye popping athleticism to be a sensational receiver, return specialist, or running back. Just a special, special athlete. An ACL tear in his 2020 bowl game prevented him from entering that draft. King is the phenom who kept Kyle Trask (2021 Round 2) from seeing a single start in H.S.|
No, I do not believe that D’Eriq King has an NFL future as a Quarterback. He has every ounce of the required talent. No question about that. He’s probably every bit the pure athlete Malik Willis is, and maybe even more. But at that height? Even Doug Flutie was 5’10”. He was also 180 lbs. instead of King’s 195, but even so. Good big men beat good little men. It’s just a fact of life.
The thing is, D’Eriq King (like Flutie) is a winner, and that kind of cream tends to rise to the top. This is Round 7. If his role never gets to be anything more than “camp arm,” fine. It will be one of the best camp arms you’d ever hope to see when it comes to pretty balls. He and Haskins will put on one hell of a show, even if King looks like he’s throwing out of a trench.
But I can’t help seeing the tantalizing lure of some mysterious “more.” If D’Eriq King can swallow his pride enough to accept some other role… well, the possibilities are endless. And kind of fun to consider down here in the dimmer parts of Mock Draft Land. The KING OF GADGET WORLD a/k/a “QB” D’Eriq King, Miami is the pick.
7:20 STEELERS ROUND 7b PICK (# 238 OVERALL). And now my sleeper of all sleepers. I don’t remember where or how I came across this name, but every description I read makes me wonder why there’s been such an absence of buzz. I may be the first pundit to list him as a potential draft pick rather than a UDFA, but list him I shall!
|RB/FB Alexander “Zander” Horvath, Purdue. (Senior). 6’2⅛”, 228 lbs. with smaller 8¾” hands and 32” arms. Ding ding! Sleeper alert! Often listed as a fullback because of his size, but he played RB (and apparently LB) at Purdue with good success until he fractured one of the shin bones last fall (fibula). The descriptions and the top 2% athletic profile have a sort of poor man’s Jerome Bettis vibe – the big bruiser with surprisingly nifty feet, excellent explosiveness and 20-yard speed, but discounted because he is a rumbler who never gets any faster after that initial burst. He’s gotten no buzz at all, but sounds like an ideal, power-oriented RB2 for Pittsburgh who could make his bones on special teams too. Here is our scouting report on him.|
Let’s create some buzz people! Maybe it will turn out to be a joy buzzer prank for shaking your buddy’s hand. Or maybe it will be the real thing. If anyone knows more, please share. I’m curious enough to actually talk about this young man in the final pick of my Mock Draft 3.0.
Sorry to run on so long, but by now you guys should be used to it. It’s what I do, right? Here are the picks as they ended up:
- 1:20 SAF/NICKEL DB Daxton Hill, Michigan
- 2:20 WR Christian Watson, North Dakota State
- 3:20 G/T Tyler Smith, Tulsa
- 4:COMP BUCK ILB Mike Rose, Iowa State
- 6:29 TE Chase Allen, Iowa State
- 7:04 QB/GADGET D’Eriq King, Miami
- 7:20 RB/FB Alexander “Zander” Horvath, Purdue. (Senior)
The main lesson of this exercise? Even a worst case scenario Board can yield an array of really interesting and useful players. Dax Hill is far from being the #1 target of my dreams, but the games that he would allow Tomlin and Teryl Austin to play could end up being legendary. The pre- and post-snap shifts alone would force misreads and mistakes out of even a Brady or Manning. You won’t find a consolation prize any better.
The Round 2 pick isn’t even controversial. Watson offers exactly the deep speed threat we could use the most. Round 3’s offering should make our O-Line groupies happy, and absolutely will if they spend the time to dig a little deeper. Tyler Smith might – not would, but might – turn out to be the best pick of the draft. The Round 4 pick would finally firm up the center of the defense for the foreseeable future, no matter what sort of approach the opponents might favor. And as for the last three picks… Be real here, folks! It’s the End. Of. The. Bloody. Draft! And a mock draft at that. Consider this a chance to learn about the hidden depths of the 2022 talent pool. Those are three of my hidden little secrets. Who are some of yours? Please share down below in the comments.