The school to know in this year’s draft might not be among your traditional schools. Alabama, Georgia, Wisconsin, you get the idea. Of course, all those schools have big talent this year but the North Dakota State Bison could have three draft picks in this year’s class. And they’re players the Pittsburgh Steelers could all be interested in. Off the top, the “big three” are OL Cody Mauch, TE Noah Gindorff, and RB/FB Hunter Luepke.
Mauch is a name fans should know given Pittsburgh’s interest in him, the rare FCS and below player brought in for a pre-draft visit. Perhaps the Steelers’ interest partially stemmed from Mauch’s good Senior Bowl showing, a competitive mauler in the run game who played all five positions throughout the week. A tackle in college, he saw work at guard and center. His can-do attitude that’ll endear itself to coaches and a lack of elite arm length projects him inside the next level. For Pittsburgh, he could be viewed as a big center and make for one heck of a run blocking interior line, flanked by James Daniels and Isaac Seumalo. Don’t rule him out at #32 though #49 would be an ideal place to take him.
Gindorff is the blocking tight end draft classes typically lack. Tight ends who get drafted are normally receiving types or guys who are rare with traits but need plenty of development. Before Zach Gentry became a blocking type, he was a receiver first with his blocking super underdeveloped. That took time. There is no waiting with Gindorff. He’s out-of-the-box ready as an in-line blocker, comfortable in a three-point stance after blocking most of the time in the Bison’s run-heavy offense. At 6’6, 253 pounds with nearly 34-inch arms, he creates movement on base blocks and can even lead block as a puller through the hole.
Though he won’t run away from anyone, he displays soft hands and good body control to make grabs thrown outside his frame. A recurring ankle injury is his biggest red flag, but he was healthy enough to work out last week in front of a handful of NFL scouts, though it appears Pittsburgh wasn’t there.
There, he ran a respectable 4.71 40, better than Gentry at the Combine (4.90) or his Pro Day (4.77). Still, he’s viewed as a seventh-round pick and is worth taking the chance on, similar to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafting blocking-specialist Ko Kief in the sixth round a year ago and getting over 200 snaps out of him as a rookie.
Finally, there’s Luepke. Viewed as the top-ranked fullback in the class, he carried the ball plenty at North Dakota State, 98 times last season and averaging more than six yards per carry. In fact, his career average hovered over that mark and he found the end zone on nearly 9% of his career carries. They weren’t all short-yardage/goal line work either, showcasing big plays and making an impact in the passing game with four receiving scores as a senior. The dude just has a nose for the end zone. He’s hard-nosed and physical and I can see him doing everything at the NFL level. Catch, block, run, and play on special teams. He may sound too similar to Connor Heyward but having versatile back-end players is a good thing, not a bad one. He’ll go higher than Gindorff but he’s a Day Three pick.
This isn’t to say Pittsburgh needs to draft all three of these plays. They don’t and they of course won’t. But come away with any of these three and you’re going to make your roster better. For a Steelers offense wanting to develop an edge in the run game with physicality and a break-your-will mentality, these are the types of guys you want to add.