We’ve gotten through the major portion of the free agency period. The Steelers staff is currently on the road hitting all the top spots and getting an up-close look at the rookie class. Omar Khan has put his stamp on his first full offseason as the General Manager. However, there are still holes to fill and I thought it would be my turn to take my first stab at how the draft may go.
I will not predict any trades in this version, but I expect the new regime to move around quite a bit. I personally think there are not a lot of first-round graded players in this draft so moving down could be a possibility. Plus, I think most of us hope the Steelers can add an additional pick or two to help fill in the gaps. I think the deepest part of this draft is with role players who will provide depth to the NFL roster and not be relied upon as starters initially.
ROUND 1 (#17 OVERALL): Broderick Jones OT Georgia 6053 311
Analysis: Right out of the gate, this one is bit of wishful thinking but let’s go with it. The Steelers currently have only three tackles on their roster, so the position is a big need. Jones is not a finished product but that is okay. He won’t have to start in year one and offensive line coach Pat Meyer can take a year to mold him.
Jones is athletic and long and won’t turn 22 years old until May. If you’re going to draft a tackle in the first round it should be one that can certainly play left tackle if not both tackles spots. Dan Moore Jr. and Chukwuma Okorafor each are under contract through 2024. Jones could push them for a starting spot.
Others Considered: Bryan Bresee DL Clemson, Deonte Banks CB Maryland, Brian Branch S Alabama
ROUND 2 (#32 OVERALL): Mazi Smith DT Michigan 6030 323
Analysis: The run defense has not been up to the standards we would like over the past few years. The Steelers brought Larry Ogunjobi back, which was the correct move. He played well last year. Tyson Alualu struggled last year and is not expected to return. Chris Wormley is recovering from a knee injury. He may not return either. The Steelers need a stout body in the middle to complement and eventually unseat Montravius Adams.
Smith is quick and athletic and can control blockers in the middle of the defense with his hand strength. His pass rush is not fully developed but if he can improve his snap quickness he should see improvement there.
Others Considered: Kelee Ringo CB Georgia, Darnell Washington TE Georgia, Drew Sanders LB Arkansas
ROUND 2 (#49 OVERALL): Anthony Johnson Jr. S Iowa State 6000 205
Analysis: There was some thought that Terrell Edmunds might re-sign but he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles. That creates a need for drafting a safety if a veteran cannot be signed. Johnson is a former cornerback who is athletic enough to play in the slot and has the physicality to play in the box. He’s a downhill player with an affinity for hitting people.
The Steelers showed significant interest at the Iowa State Pro Day with Mike Tomlin, Omar Khan and Teryl Austin in attendance. Austin put Johnson through some drills and the defensive back inferred that the team sees him as a safety/nickel defender.
Others Considered: Jack Campbell LB Iowa, Tuli Tuipulotu EDGE USC, Clark Philips CB Utah
ROUND 3 (#80 OVERALL): Dorian Williams LB Tulane 6010 228
Analysis: Out with the old and in with the new. This position group is completely revamped with the Steelers bringing in Elandon Roberts and Cole Holcomb in their latest attempt to fix the position. We can all hope Roberts and Holcomb will be an improvement, but the Steelers also need to add some youth and speed to the group.
Williams is another player the Steelers have shown interest in during the Pro Day circuit. New linebackers coach Aaron Curry was at Tulane to watch and the two men had crossed paths before. Clocked at 4.49 at the Combine, Williams has the speed this group needs and projects as a Mack linebacker. He can play behind the veterans and hone his game as a rookie.
Others Considered: Darius Rush CB South Carolina, Byron Young EDGE Tennessee, Jayden Reed WR Michigan State
ROUND 4 (#120 OVERALL): Luke Schoonmaker TE Michigan 6052 251
Analysis: Zach Gentry is still unsigned and the Steelers need a number two tight end who can block. Neither Pat Freiermuth nor Connor Heyward are excellent blockers, but they still have room to grow. After the second-half success last year, we could expect more two-tight end offensive looks. The use of two-tight end sets doubled after the bye week; three tight-end sets went up from 8 to 29 in the second half of the season.
The Steelers drafted Gentry from Michigan in 2019, so why not return there for a more athletic version? Schoonmaker may be what they hoped Gentry would develop into. Schoonmaker is a very effective blocker, understanding positioning and very aggressive with his hands. As a receiver, I think the best is yet to come.
Others Considered: Clayton Tune QB Houston, Habakkuk Baldonado EDGE Pittsburgh, Puka Nacua WR BYU
ROUND 7 (#234 OVERALL): Viliami Fehoko EDGE San Jose State 6040 276
Analysis: Depth behind T.J. Watt and Alex Hightower has been lacking for some time. The Steelers don’t need a star, just need someone who can be serviceable against the run and add a quality pass rush when the starters need a break. They seem to have an eye on pass rushers during this draft process and may take one earlier.
Fehoko weighed 13 pounds heavier at the Combine than his listed playing weight. He was rehabbing a knee injury after the season so that may have been the reason. He has the strength to set the edge against the run, has a good burst and recorded nine sacks last year as the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year.
Others Considered: Carrington Valentine CB Kentucky, Jadon Haselwood WR Arkansas, Lonnie Phelps EDGE Kansas
ROUND 7 (#241 OVERALL): Cory Durden DL N.C. State 6042 292
Analysis: The Steelers have a history of taking defensive linemen late in the draft. They look for players that fit a physical mold that they can attempt to turn into a rotational defender. I’ll take a stab here at a player I admittedly do not know a lot about.
Durden played in the NFLPA Bowl and with his size and length (34.5-inch arms) he fits as a defensive end in Pittsburgh’s scheme. Doing a little research he began his career at Florida State before transferring to N.C. State and has played up and down the defensive line. He totaled 20 tackles for a loss and 11 sacks in his career.
Others Considered: Myles Brooks CB Louisiana Tech, Jacob Copeland WR Maryland, Mark Evans II OT Arkansas-Pine Bluff