One of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ biggest needs is along their defensive line, and with three picks within the top 50 selections of the NFL Draft, it’s one they’ll likely address early. NFL.com’s Chad Reuter released a three-round mock draft Monday that has the Steelers addressing the defensive line early and often, as with their first selection at No. 17 overall he has the team selecting Iowa defensive lineman Lukas Van Ness, while at No. 32 he has the Steelers drafting Baylor defensive lineman Siaki Ika. A No. 49, Reuter has Pittsburgh selecting Oklahoma offensive tackle Anton Harrison, while going running back at No. 80 with Roschon Johnson out of Texas.
“Pittsburgh often ends up with a bargain landing in its lap in Round 1, and Van Ness certainly qualifies here. The Iowa defender has great potential at the five-technique for the Steelers or even standing up on the edge at times. The leverage he gets on offensive linemen is quite impressive, and he can shed and chase plays from the back side,” Reuter wrote about the Steelers’ projected selection.
Van Ness had no shortage of success at Iowa, playing in all 26 games during his redshirt freshman and sophomore seasons. As a redshirt freshman, he racked up 33 total tackles, 8.5 of which went for a loss, along with seven sacks and a pass deflection. During his redshirt sophomore season in 2022, he had 37 tackles, 10.5 for a loss and six sacks. His sack total has ranked sixth in the Big Ten in sacks each year, while his 10.5 tackles for a loss were the ninth-best in the Big Ten in 2022. While his sack totals went down, he chalked up 43 total pressures in 2022 after totaling 28 pressures in 2021. He also had 29 QB hurries, up from 14 as a redshirt freshman.
He spent more time on the interior in 2021, but he moved to play more of an EDGE role in 2022. Against Iowa State in 2022, Van Ness also blocked two punts against Iowa State in Iowa’s second game of the 2022 season, and at 6’5, 275 pounds he has legitimate NFL size. His ability to play all along the defensive line will certainly enhance his value, especially with the Steelers who could value that versatility. The team used DeMarvin Leal in a variety of roles this season, but it might be best to keep Leal at one position moving forward.
Van Ness is intriguing due to his versatility and pass-rushing chops. As Reuter noted, his ability to gain leverage is super impressive, and his instincts, athleticism and quickness all blend together to make him a solid first-round option for any team looking for help along the defensive line. He would definitely be a solid selection at No. 17, and it also wouldn’t be surprising if he was off the board by the time Pittsburgh selected. Still, there’s a lot of time between now and the draft for guys to raise or lower their stock, but as it stands now getting Van Ness would certainly seem to be a potential win for the Steelers.
If the Steelers do take Van Ness and the first and Ika in the second, their usage of the two could be interesting. Ika was a member of LSU’s national championship team in 2020, but transferred to Baylor after the season. At Baylor, Ika had a career year in 2021, with six tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks. He had 70 tackles in his collegiate career and 10.5 total sacks. At 6’4, 350 pounds, Ika would be a massive space eater at nose tackle and could be the ideal replacement for Tyson Alualu, who is expected to retire.
Getting Harrison at No. 49 would be a potential steal, as some mocks have him going to the Steelers at No. 17. The highly-productive offensive tackle could be a great developmental piece for a year before eventually taking over for Chukwumu Okorafor or Dan Moore Jr. at left tackle.
Johnson in the third round is an interesting idea from Reuter, as the Steelers really aren’t expected to take a running back this year. With Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren all but assured to be RB1 and RB2 this year, there wouldn’t seem to be much need to spend an early pick on a guy who would be no better than the third running back on the roster. Johnson was productive at Texas, running for 2,190 yards on 392 carries for an impressive 5.6 yards per carry. He was useful as a pass-catcher as well with 56 receptions for 420 yards over four seasons. While he could be a talented pro, I think the Steelers will look to address another position, like cornerback, in this spot instead of taking a running back who might struggle to see the field early in his career.
Going back-to-back defensive linemen would certainly shore up most concerns about the Steelers’ ability and depth at the position, but it would come at the expense of filling holes at cornerback, inside linebacker, or along the offensive line. I don’t hate the idea, however, and Ika and Van Ness would be two really solid picks early. Harrison at No. 49 would be really nice, and while I don’t agree with the Johnson selection, if the Steelers were to for some reason take a running back, someone who can do it all the way Johnson does would be ideal.
It’s tough to speculate too much on whether or not this is what the Steelers could look to do on Day 2, as their Day 2 selections will at least be somewhat influenced by what they do in free agency. If Pittsburgh adds a cornerback alongside Cameron Sutton in free agency while not touching the defensive line, this is a reasonable enough outcome. But I think it’s more likely the team adds depth along the defensive line in free agency and ends up drafting a cornerback in the second round than taking back-to-back defensive linemen. We obviously don’t know yet what the team is going to do though, but given what we current about the team’s needs, I like what Reuter has the Steelers doing in this mock, outside of the Johnson selections.