(Editor’s Note: Before reading further, look at the date on the device you have in front of you.)
With the 2020 NFL Draft literally right around the corner (less than four weeks away), things are certainly in full-swing in-terms of rising and falling stocks, analysis, speculation and rumors.
And with the first big wave of unrestricted free agency already behind us, I figured I’d ramp up my own analysis and speculation with my latest Steelers mock draft (Steelers Mock Draft 24.0). What do they need? What positions should they address early and/or often? Will having no first-round selection decrease their odds of finding an impact player? Could they possibly trade back into the first round? We will cover all that and more in my latest Steelers Mock Draft (24.0).
Let’s get started, shall we?
Round 1 (2nd, overall), Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Alabama
That’s right, the Steelers finally find their quarterback of the future in Tagovailoa, the consensus number one overall pick heading into the 2019 college season. Unfortunately for the lefty slinger, he suffered a severe hip dislocation that required surgery and wiped out the rest of his junior year. Fortunately for all the Steelers faithful out there, Tagovailoa’s recovery went so well, he decided to forgo his senior season and declare for the 2020 NFL Draft and his back up there at the top of most big boards.
You might be asking how and why the Steelers, a team that lost its first-round pick last September when it traded it to Miami for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, could draft a player in that round at all, let alone second overall? As you well know, that move to acquire Fitzpatrick—trading a future number one pick—was out of character for the Steelers. But then, they’ve done some very “unSteeler-like” things in the very recent past. Take last year’s draft, for example, when Pittsburgh traded its first and second-round picks in 2019, along with its third-round pick of this year’s draft, to move up from the 20th spot to the 10th spot to select inside linebacker Devin Bush from Michigan.
The Steelers went into last year’s draft with a major need at inside linebacker, and they knew the Devins—both Bush and White—were the only two prospects really capable of filling it. So they did what they had to do.
I see the same thing happening this year. With the Dolphins sitting at three and clearly coveting Tua, the Steelers simply have no choice but to act boldly and swiftly and give the Redskins, who own the second pick, a bounty in return. How much of a bounty, you ask? Try Stephon Tuitt, along with their 2021 first-round pick and their 2021 second-round pick. Steep price? Not when you factor in things like Tuitt’s injury history. Yes, moving Tuitt would leave the Steelers with over $15 million in dead cap money, but like the guy from Bleacher Report said in his article about cutting Ben Roethlisberger, the team should just look at that figure as a sunk cost and move on. As for those premium picks from next year’s draft? Hey, the Steelers need to find Big Ben’s heir apparent sooner rather than later. History shows that the best way to do that is either by signing an established and high-priced veteran in free agency or with a top-five draft choice.
I think it’s in the Steelers’ best interests to go the latter route.
Round 1 (8th, overall), Josh Jones, OL, Houston
That’s right, the revamping of the once-dominant and decorated offensive line begins now. With Alejandro Villanueva struggling off and on the past two seasons, and with the right tackle position a bit of an unknown at the moment (could Matt Feiler jump to guard in 2020?), the Steelers need to think about who will emerge as Tua’s future protectors on the outside. One of those could easily be the 6’5”, 319 pound Jones.
Yes, the Steelers are back in the first round yet again. This time, their trading partners are the Cardinals, a team more than willing to accept the services of cornerback Steven Nelson (he can be the replacement for the always disgruntled Patrick Peterson), as well as Pittsburgh’s second and third-round picks in the 2020 NFL Draft (the third-round pick is compensatory).
Trading Nelson might seem like an unorthodox move, but the Steelers drafted Justin Layne in the third round last year for a reason: To start at corner sooner rather than later. If it’s a little later for Layne, well, isn’t it about time they take the floaters off of Cameron Sutton, a third-round pick in 2017, and find out if he’s figured out how to swim by his fourth season?
Round 1 (14th, overall), Justin Jefferson, WR, LSU
The Steelers love drafting wide receivers, but not since 2006, when they traded up to select Santonio Holmes, have they done so in the first round. That changes now with the tall and fast Jefferson, who led the National Champion Tigers with 111 receptions in 2019. According to his NFL.com Draft Profile, Jefferson has a chance to excel as both an inside and outside possession receiver, plus he has the ability to make the contested catch and do so quite well. Let’s see, 111 receptions, great on both the inside and outside, loves the contested catch. Jefferson is also 6’1” and 202 pounds. Does that remind you of anyone? It should, and his name is JuJu Smith-Schuster. And with Jefferson teaming up with JuJu, and the two of them being complemented quite nicely by James Washington and Diontae Johnson, the Steelers receiving corps will be the envy of the NFL for many years to come.
No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you, my friend. Yes, I have the Steelers selecting in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft for a third time. And this time, their trading partners are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a team that just landed the services of the legendary Tom Brady and already has a fairly-stocked cupboard in terms of weapons for him to throw to. But what the Buccaneers don’t have is a bookend outside linebacker to go along with Shaquil Barrett, who recorded 19.5 sacks a year ago. Barrett is the Bucs’ T.J. Watt, and just who could be their Bud Dupree? I got it, how about Bud Dupree? Yes, I know Tampa Bay just placed the franchise tag on Barrett to the tune of $15.8 million, but the Buccaneers have plenty of room under the cap, certainly enough to take on Dupree and his $15.8 million franchise tag. The question has been asked a bunch of times in recent weeks: Should the Steelers tag and trade Bud? Here’s your answer.
In addition to Dupree, the Buccaneers also get Pittsburgh’s initial fourth-round pick in this year’s draft (124th, overall), its third-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and its second-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Round 1 (30th, overall), Cole Kmet, TE, Notre Dame
The fourth time is the charm for the Steelers taking players in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. At best, Pittsburgh finally gets its big-play tight end in the still improving Kmet. At worst, it gets some insurance for both Vance McDonald and the newly-signed Eric Ebron and their histories with injuries and drops.
Thankfully, the price the Steelers have to pay the Packers for moving into the latter portion of the first round isn’t quite as steep as earlier in the first round. Instead of active players, Pittsburgh parts with its second fourth-round pick in 2020 (135th, overall), sixth-round pick (198th, overall), fourth-round pick in 2021 and first-round pick in 2022.
Round 7 (232nd, overall), Sterling Hofrichter, punter, Syracuse
The Steelers finally find their replacement for Jordan Berry.
There you have it. My latest Steelers mock draft. There’s still a ways to go before the actual draft begins on April 23, of course, but check back with me frequently for many more mock drafts between now and when the real thing begins.