We are officially less than a month away from the 2022 NFL Draft, and as we get closer, you’ll notice more and more talking heads offering up their spins on how the first round will play out. For Pittsburgh, the overwhelming majority are marrying them up with a quarterback to fill the vacated spot of future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger. The team hasn’t been shy of their affinity for Liberty’s Malik Willis, whose mobility would bring an element the likes of which hasn’t been seen at the position since the days of Kordell “Slash” Stewart. That’s exactly the route Oliver Hodgkinson of Pro Football Network has the team taking in his latest four-round mock draft, but not without paying a premium.
In his version, he has the New York Giants as the Steelers’ dance partner, where Pittsburgh sends not only their picks at 20 and 52 in this year’s draft, but also mortgaging both their first and second-rounders in the ’23 draft as well. A very hefty price to pay, but Hodgkinson noted multiple factors which seem to align the two, including the multiple meetings by the team’s brain trust and the Mike Tomlin chicken wing dinner.
“Having traded with the Giants, Pittsburgh pounces for their Ben Roethlisberger replacement,” Hodgkinson says. “Willis gives the Steelers a big-armed quarterback with game-changing creativity on the ground. The recent signing of Mitchell Trubisky means Willis doesn’t need to start immediately, removing pressure and allowing him the time that he’ll need to develop.”
Such a bold trade would likely cause some discontent among Steelers’ faithful, with several needs to be addressed and a short amount of draft picks to begin with. However, GM Kevin Colbert’s history has shown, if he’s interested in a player, he’ll likely exhaust his options to do so, although the track record isn’t very long.
Obviously with no second-round pick, the focus in this edition now shifts to Round 3, where Hodgkinson has the team selecting safety Leon O’Neal from Texas A&M. A bigger safety prospect at six feet and 204 pounds, O’Neal was a threw-year starter for a talented Aggies defense. His style may remind many of former Steeler Ryan Clark, from the way in which he throws his body around with reckless abandon. However, sometimes this has led to missed tackles from him, as he’s always looking for those monstrous car crash hits. His play will need some refining, but he could be a nice long-term solution next to All-Pro Minkah Fitzpatrick on the back end.
To finish off his mock, Hodgkinson has the team finally adding to its wide receiving corps in the form of SMU speedster Danny Gray. Our own Tom Mead profiled Gray back in March, and compared him to former Steelers burner Mike Wallace, and it’s not hard to see why. Their 40 times of 4.33 are identical and at six feet, 186 pounds, they’re roughly the same size. A first-team All-American Athletic Conference selection in 2021, he led the Mustangs with 803 yards on 49 grabs, and sported a very impressive 16.4 YPC average. While Chase Claypool is plenty fast, the addition of Gray would add an extra gear to the Steelers’ offense, and for Mitch Trubisky/Malik Willis (for the sake of this mock) to play pitch and catch with, while helping to blow the lid off opposing secondaries.
What are your thoughts on this mock? Did the team give up too much to acquire Willis? Let me know your comments below.