It’s a defensive-heavy Pittsburgh Steelers draft in NFL.com’s Chad Reuter’s latest mock. In a four-round edition, he starts things off with the Steelers taking Georgia EDGE/LB Nolan Smith 17th overall. Explaining the pick, he writes:
“The Steelers shouldn’t be concerned about Smith’s lack of elite size for the position (6-foot-2 1/4, 238 pounds) because he has the get-off and quick, strong hands to win on the outside. The team could use more help off the edge to push quarterbacks toward star pass rusher T.J. Watt, with Alex Highsmith in the final year of his rookie deal.”
It sounds like Reuter would keep Smith as an EDGE rusher in Pittsburgh, a curious choice given the lack of great size for the Steelers’ system and the team needs. While they need to add depth and Highsmith is in the last year of his rookie deal, taking an EDGE rusher at the top of the draft is far from the Steelers’ biggest need. Smith could try to move to an off-ball role but that would create a bigger projection and additional risk at the top of the draft.
Still, Smith is a remarkable athlete who wowed at the Combine, running a 4.39 at 238 pounds with a 41.5 inch vertical and 10’8″ broad. Injuries hampered him a bit and his college production was lighter, only 12.5 career sacks, but he played on an elite defense that didn’t allow for just one player to dominate. Last year’s #1 overall pick Travon Walker, part of that great Bulldogs’ defensive line, had just 13.5 TFL and nine career sacks at Georgia.
In the second round, Reuter has the Steelers starting things off with Oklahoma OT Anton Harrison. There’s no explanations for any of his picks beyond the first round but the decision here is obvious. Harrison has good size and length and was a three-year starter at left tackle with one spot start on the right side. In our pre-draft profile, Josh Carney concluded by saying:
“There’s a lot to like from Harrison, especially in pass protection. If you are aiming to run a pass-heavy offense and need a stalwart left tackle to keep your prized quarterback upright, Harrison is your guy. He’s still just 21 years old, doesn’t take penalties, rarely gets beat in pass protection and is advanced with his hand usage.
That all sounds great, but he’s a concern in the run game. He’s too inconsistent, slides off blocks too easily, doesn’t displace or drive defenders off the spot and really doesn’t make much of an impact in that area of his game. There are certainly some flashes of power and finishing ability as a run blocker in his game, but he has a lot of developing to do in that area.”
Carney gave Harrison a second-round grade. He’s in that Tier 2 list of tackles that could interest Pittsburgh at the top of the second round.
With the team’s 49th overall pick, Reuter addresses the loss of SS Terrell Edmunds by taking Texas A&M’s Antonio Johnson. Considered one of the better safeties in a weak overall class, Johnson has versatility and played the slot/overhang in college in addition to safety. But our profile on him came away underwhelmed, noticing tightness in his lower half and too many missed tackles. He also struggled to make plays in the passing game. But a box safety role is best for him and would replace Edmunds’ contributions well.
In Round Three of Reuter’s mock, the Steelers plug the middle with Baylor NT Siaki Ika, one of the widest men in this year’s draft at 6’3, 335 pounds. He had just two tackles for a loss and zero sacks last season but his role was to occupy centers and guards and free up linebackers, the same role he’d have at nose tackle in Pittsburgh. It’s a weak position with Tyson Alualu gone and Montravius Adams coming off a below-average season.
Finally, in the fourth round of Reuter’s mock, the Steelers continue with their defensive trend by taking another Aggie, Texas A&M CB Jaylon Jones. A true junior and three-year starter, he has size at 6’2, 200 pounds though below-average length. Last year, he failed to pick off a pass and had only two pass deflections. At the Combine, he ran a 4.57 40. In our pre-draft profile, we gave Jones a solid second-round grade and compared him to Martin Emerson.
To conclude, here is what Reuter mocked to Pittsburgh.
#17 – Nolan Smith/EDGE Georgia
#32 – Anton Harrison/OT Oklahoma
#49 – Antonio Johnson/S Texas A&M
#80 – Siaki Ika/NT Baylor
#120 – Jaylon Jones/CB Texas A&M
Smith at #17 seems like the wrong direction but the rest of the picks seem fine. Johnson isn’t my favorite at safety but the logic here is sound. It’s a defensive-heavy draft though given the turnover here, it’s not a bad way to approach things after going offense-heavy in 2021 and 2022.
Again, we link to Reuter’s mock here for you guys to check out.