This is the final part of our series examining 2021 NFL draft fits for the Steelers by position group on offense. Here we look at a group that has received a great deal of attention in the pre-draft process for Pittsburgh: the tackles.
Kevin: Let’s start with a guy I believe the Steelers would run to the virtual podium to select if he somehow fell to pick 24 - Virginia Tech’s Christian Darrisaw. Darrisaw is being mocked in the teens in most scenarios and the Chargers, who pick 13th, are said to be high on him. I’ve seen mocks and simulations where he falls, however.
Darrisaw just looks like a franchise left tackle. Physically, he reminds me a lot of Ronnie Stanley. He has the length and athleticism to handle NFL edge rushers and he’d be a great zone blocker (inside, outside, mid-zone, all of it) if Matt Canada wants to go that way in the run game. Darrisaw isn’t exactly a mauler, he doesn’t play with a mean streak and his technique can be sloppy at times. But he sure passes the eye test.
Geoffrey, what do you think?
Geoff: Darrisaw is impressive for his technique, and the growth he has shown from his freshman year when he was already a starter. Darrisaw isn’t a player that has learned to get by with college level tricks, he’s been working on honing his craft and it shows. While the attitude and focus may not be ideal, he’s going to be a very good player with the technique he already has, and he’s shown that he is invested in his own improvement, so his career arc should be a good one. I agree he would be a perfect fit for a zone-heavy run game.
Kevin: Oklahoma State’s Teven Jenkins is another tackle whose name has been attached to the Steelers. Jenkins is a very different player than Darrisaw. He’s huge (6’6-320), brute strong and is a hammer as a run blocker. Jenkins finishes blocks like it’s the reason he was put on this planet. I’ve never seen so many pancake blocks from a single player. If the Steelers want to improve the run game, Jenkins would be a great start.
Jenkins is also a work in progress in pass protection. His feet are clunky and he doesn’t have the length you want in an edge protector. He’s probably a right tackle in the NFL, which means he’d get help from a back or tight end a lot. But he’s going to have to seriously improve his technique to handle some of the better edge rushers in the league.
Geoffrey, what are your thoughts on Jenkins?
Geoff: I love his film, but I have concerns taking him in the first round. First, his footwork is an issue, especially on the edge. Second, his arms are shorter than you want in a tackle. Add those together and he looks like an NFL guard to me. Which is fine, he could be a really good guard, but you don’t take Teven Jenkins the guard in the first round. Not when you can get a similar level of blocker at guard in a later round. As a guard he just isn’t that special, so while I love his game, I don’t think he’s worth the pick.
Kevin: The third tackle the Steelers could select in round one is Sam Cosmi from Texas. Geoffrey, is Cosmi a guy the Steelers should consider with their top pick?
Geoff: When I watch Cosmi a few things stand out. First his talent is undeniable. He’s a big athletic blocker who, if he gets the right amount of polish on his game, could be an incredible NFL left tackle. Picking Sam Cosmi is going to put a lot of pressure on the coaching staff to get him to that point. Because if he doesn’t, he could be a colossal bust as well. He has some footwork issues, but the big problem is he plays way too high, and he will not get away with that in the NFL. As a boom/bust prospect, you’d have to be convinced that Cosmi is a player willing and able to take those steps, and that your coaching staff can get it done. I don’t have enough knowledge of either of those factors to say if he’s worth it, but if the Steelers do take him, it means they have that confidence.
Kevin: I feel as though Cosmi would be a steal in round two but a reach in round one. I worry about guys who habitually play too high. Some do it because they’re stiff (Jenkins at times) and some because they can get lazy (Darrisaw). Cosmi is both athletic and, by all accounts, a hard worker. So has it just become habit for him? If so, that’s a problem. Leverage wins in the NFL and he’s not strong enough to afford getting out-leveraged. Otherwise he’s a really talented player. His success, then, will depend on how quickly he can fix his most notable flaw.
Geoff: Liam Eichenberg is another big-time run blocking tackle with shorter arms, his arms are even shorter than Teven Jenkins, but he has the polish on his game that gives confidence he will be a left tackle in the NFL. Eichenberg is more limited scheme-wise and isn’t going to be a good fit if the Steelers are looking for a lot of outside zone runs. On the left side with Kevin Dotson, who also is a more vertically-based blocker, it would limit the Steelers run game significantly scheme-wise. If Matt Canada is looking for an inside zone and power based run game, Eichenberg would be fine. With his limited arm length and scheme fit, I wouldn’t take him in the first round, what do you think Kevin?
Kevin: No, definitely not in the first round. There will be better prospects available, and if not, the Steelers should try hard to trade down. I really like Eichenberg as a second round pick, though. I think Notre Dame’s line was very well-coached under Jeff Quinn, who helped develop Jason Kelce and Joe Staley as college players and did a great job turning the Irish into a dominant run-blocking unit in 2020. Eichenberg is not a plug-and-play starter but is developed enough to contribute as the sixth linemen in heavy packages and step into a starting role in a year or two. I would not be disappointed with him in round two. He feels like a Pittsburgh Steeler to me.
Geoff: Jalen Mayfield has all of 15 starts under his belt, and will be 20 years old on draft day. His pro day numbers were awful, and he has seemingly fallen out of mock-draft favor. What stands out with Mayfield is his 2019 season when he faced a ton of NFL caliber edge rushers and looked great facing them at 19 years old. He’s a developmental prospect, because he is young and hasn’t played many games, but his on-the-field performance was top notch in 2019 and he looked even better in the 2 games he played in 2020. The problem with Mayfield and the Steelers is by the time Mayfield is making a real impact on the field, it’s unlikely Ben Roethlisberger will still be playing football. I look at Mayfield as an opposite of Liam Eichenberg, while Eichenberg has more limitations, he’s much more NFL ready. Mayfield could very well be truly great tackle, he’s not likely to be a quality starter in year one.
Kevin: I agree with that assessment. Mayfield presents a dilemma because, if the Steelers want to win now, he’s not going to help them. But he could be great by year three or four. The problem is, what will Pittsburgh’s offense look like that far down the road? He’d be a great pick if Pittsburgh had the luxury of letting him learn for a couple of years. I don’t think the Steelers have that luxury. If he somehow falls to round three I’d jump at him. But I think the Steelers need guys in round one and two who can make a more immediate impact.
Speaking of developmental linemen, let’s say the Steelers land a center early and look for a tackle they can groom later on. One guy I like who’s gotten pretty good buzz is Spencer Brown from Northern Iowa. He’s got an Alejandro Villanueva vibe. He’s a huge individual at 6’8 but is a little light, as ridiculous as this sounds, at 310 pounds. Like Villanueva, he’s a converted tight end who demonstrates excellent footwork. He’s a little nastier than Villanueva, however, and is more physical at the point of attack. Brown will need to get thicker and stronger to block NFL defensive linemen but he’s got a really high ceiling if the Steelers give him time to develop.
Geoff: Brown is intriguing, he’s got incredible physical tools if he gets in a system that can help him develop. These tackles all cause me to think of Mike Munchak. There was a time you couldn’t trust the Steelers to draft an NFL-ready lineman and get good play from him, then Munchak came and they all turned into world-beaters. With line coach Adrian Klemm in his first season in charge, we have to hope the Steelers can identify the right guy(s) and give them the help they need to reach their potential. The NFL Draft is all about the possibilities, but it’s the work afterwards that brings about the reality.
Kevin: Ok, let’s bring this all together. Now that we’ve examined all the position groups, what’s your ideal draft on offense for the Steelers? Give me the guys you’d most like to see them land.
Geoff: My ideal offensive draft would be Christian Darrisaw in the first round, Creed Humphrey (it’s my ideal draft, lineman are falling) and then Michael Carter and Tommy Tremble in the third and fourth rounds. In my opinion a running back pick in this draft is a reach, a first round runner should be a special talent, and I don’t think the top runners in this draft are those guys. So as I’ve been saying, scheme first, O-line second, I like Carter and Tremble in Canada’s offense, and we’d add two lineman that excel at zone running.
Kevin: For me, the ideal scenario goes something like this: Najee Harris or Travis Etienne in the first round (Etienne is my guy but I wouldn’t be unhappy with Harris) followed by Landon Dickerson (injuries be damned) in round two. That would take care of the Steelers’ two biggest needs, freeing them to select a developmental tackle (Spencer Brown?) or a tight end who can block (Tremble?) in later rounds.
I’d also be thrilled with a scenario where they landed a top center (Dickerson or Humphrey) and a physical tackle (Eichenberg or Jenkins) in the first two rounds and Ohio State’s Trey Sermon as their back in round three. He’s the only runner outside of the Big Three I’d take on day one or two.
There you have it. Buckle up, Steelers’ fans. The Super Bowl of the off-season is almost here!