As the NFL Draft is now a mere two weeks away, NFL front offices across the league are likely putting the final coating of paint on what they hope will be a draft board that yields them a Lombardi Trophy. All the man hours spent scouting and visiting college campuses nationwide, the combine workouts and the Pro Day circuit all comes to fruition April 28. For a team like Pittsburgh who recently watched their future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger ride off into the sunset that is retirement, the writing is on the wall that they need a succession plan. Whether the heir to #7 is free agent signing Mitch Trubisky or a rookie, many draft analysts have married the team to a signal caller.
However, according to ESPN draft analyst Jordan Reid’s latest seven-round mock draft released earlier this morning, he has the team opting to continue their efforts to fortify the trenches in Round 1 with their selection of Boston College guard Zion Johnson. Reid had the following to say of his selection:
“Even after adding James Daniels in free agency, the Steelers could continue to add along the offensive line. There hasn’t been a player that I’ve been more impressed with throughout the pre-draft process than Johnson. With versatility at guard and tackle throughout his career, he gained experience at center during the all-star game circuit and didn’t suffer any type of drop-off. He could compete with free-agent signing Mason Cole for the top center spot.”
The 6-foot-3, 312-pounder seems better suited for a power scheme, where he can use his strong, wide base and impressive upper-body mass to bury opponents. This might not be the sexiest pick, but it’ll likely have Najee Harris smiling ear-to-ear, as the improvements across the offensive line should only improve the 1,200 yards and 3.9 YPC he posted his rookie season. In Round 2, Reid shows he’s of the mindset “it all starts up front” with his defensive line selection of Alabama’s Phidarian Mathis, who not only will get the youth movement started up front, but will provide insurance against the Stephon Tuitt situation.
“With his body type (6-foot-4, 310 pounds), strength at the point of attack and pass-rush improvement during his senior season, Mathis checks the boxes of the qualities the Steelers search for in defensive linemen.”
The body type Reid mentions seems to scream “Steelers’ five-technique” with his length and body composition. Think Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne of the Washington Commanders as the typical Nick Saban-style run pluggers. However, Mathis does offer some sizzle to the pass rush, as clearly evidenced by the 12 tackles for loss and nine sacks he posted in 2021, en route to garnering second-team All-SEC accolades. As mentioned, the great thing with this pick is the insurance it provides. Tuitt will turn 29 prior to the season, and he’ll be the youngest starter along the team’s defensive front, as Cameron Heyward and Tyson Alualu will turn 33 and 35, respectively. Simply put, the team needs to get younger in that position group.
Reid’s Round 3 selection again proves the mentality that he’s thinking is needed of Pittsburgh’s draft with the selection of mountainous Minnesota offensive tackle, Daniel Faalele.
“The Steelers should continue their offensive line overhaul, and the 6-foot-8, 384-pound Faalele could compete at right tackle after some time adjusting to the NFL,” Reid said. “With Dan Moore, Jr. and newly-resigned Chukwuma Okorafor manning the starting tackle spots, he could be brought along slowly as a development option.”
At the college level, Faalele was able to get away with using his sheer mass to simply erase the opposition, but he might need to fine-tune his techniques, especially in pass pro as the edge rushers he’ll face at the next level are an entirely different beast than the ones he’s used to. Still new to the game as he’s only played four seasons of football, his arrow is clearly pointing up, and if a prototypical right tackle could be built in a lab, it would undoubtedly mimic Faalele.
In Round 4, Reid finally adds a speedy playmaker to help offset the losses of JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington, and Ray-Ray McCloud in the form of Baylor wide receiver Tyquan Thornton. Thornton set Twitter on fire after his performance at the NFL Combine, where he blazed a 4.28 in the 40. A second-team All-Big 12 pick after leading the Bears with 948 yards, 10 touchdowns, and a 15.3 YPC average, Thornton no doubt can blow the lid off defenses and will provide a deep speed element perhaps not seen in Pittsburgh since the Mike Wallace days.
With no fifth-rounder due to the Avery Williamson trade during the 2020 season, Reid’s attention now shifts to Round 6, where he pairs up the team with in-state product, linebacker Ellis Brooks from Penn State. More of a developmental-type, he projects best as a special teams and depth add, as he’s a bit on the small side at 6-foot-1, 226 pounds. A second-team All-Big Ten pick after leading the Nittany Lions with 100 tackles while filling the shoes left by NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, Micah Parsons, Brooks did an admirable job when given the chance. There’s also the element of being a native of the Virginia Beach area, and we know the affinity Mike Tomlin has for not only Big Ten players but also that geographic region.
To round out his mock, with their first of two Round 7 selections, Reid has the team again going to the defensive line well in the form of Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa from Notre Dame. If the last name sounds familiar, it should, as Myron is the cousin of Dolphins’ QB Tua Tagovailoa and his brother, Taulia, who plays at Maryland. He has a bit of a tweener body-type at 6-foot-2 and 270 pounds, and his effort and motor exceeds his athletic limitations. He was a team captain for the Irish and plays the game like his hair’s on fire. He exhibits a nice spin move which might let him latch onto the end of a roster, perhaps as a sub-package producer.
With his final selection for the team, Reid finally addresses cornerback depth with his selection of Kyler McMichael out of North Carolina. A larger corner at six feet and 205 pounds, McMichael moves well for his size, and also displays good technique and physicality. A former four-star recruit who enrolled at Clemson before transferring to UNC, it’s possible his best football lies ahead, but he may struggle with speedier, shiftier receivers at the next level.
With a clear emphasis on supplementing the lines on each side of the ball, it’s clear Reid envisions the team getting back to their physical brand of football. However, is there any position you feel he neglected, perhaps a backup to Najee Harris to minimize his workload? Or do you think he made a mistake opting for Johnson in Round 1 instead of a QB? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.