Yes, before you even ask, this is actually real. This is not an April Fool’s joke (that was weeks ago). This is not satire. I’m actually serious this time and have done a real mock draft for you to praise, criticize, mock (no pun intended), whatever.
Why? For starters, out of all the satire I’ve done as a writer over the years, the angriest I have made folks is when I've decided to post fake mock drafts—even though all mock drafts are technically fake, right?
Also, it seems like mock drafts just generate so much traffic, talk and reaction, there’s really no point in being a phony about one; I can actually get the reactions I’m looking for simply by being authentic and giving an honest effort to pick players.
Of course, I didn’t do this draft all by myself (that would be crazy). I enlisted the help of the Pro Football Network Mock Draft Simulator and allowed it to pick for each team before and after the Steelers in every round, while I studied the pool of players available to make Pittsburgh’s selection. I waived every trade request that popped up and just selected a player in the first, second, third, fourth, sixth and seventh rounds, respectively. (The Steelers did not have a fifth-round pick thanks to a trade during last year’s draft that enabled them to select Isaiahh Loudermilk.)
Anyway, I’ve rambled on long enough. Time to get to it:
Round 1 (20th, overall), Trevor Penning, offensive tackle, Northern Iowa
That’s right, I decided to go the offensive tackle route and give the Steelers a legit prospect at the position. It’s true that Dan Moore, a fourth-round pick from Texas A&M in 2021, made the team and started 16 games at left tackle last season, but who’s to say Penning can’t step in and be an immediate upgrade, while Moore moves over to the right side and beats out Chukwuma Okorafor, his new contract be damned?
There were some interesting names still available when Pittsburgh’s time on the clock commenced—including Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder, Iowa’s Tyler Linderbaum and Washington’s Trent McDuffie, but the cries for improving the offensive line haven’t died down since last offseason despite the Steelers honest effort to do just that. Also, Pittsburgh does seem to be in better shape along the interior of the offensive line than it does at tackle. As for corner? I wasn’t sure if that was a true position of need or not. Finally, I may have gone quarterback here if Malik Willis and/or Kenny Pickett was still available, but not only were both gone but so was Matt Corral.
I could have been reactionary and just taken the fourth quarterback on the board, but I gambled on Ridder still being there in the second round.
Round 2 (52nd, overall), Desmond Ridder, quarterback, Cincinnati
Sure enough, my gamble paid off. I don’t know how many feel about Penning in the first round, but I think it’s hard to argue with snagging one of the top quarterback prospects—someone the Steelers supposedly have had their eye on during the pre-draft process—in the second round.
Round 3 (84th, overall), Calvin Austin, wide receiver, Memphis
While I gambled on a good quarterback prospect still being there in round two, my gamble that one of the top half-dozen or so receivers still being around in the third round didn’t work out in my favor. But Austin is no slouch, even if he is a bit undersized at 5’8” and 170 pounds. However, Austin’s 40 speed—4.3—was too good to ignore, same with his production during his last season at Memphis, when he caught 74 passes for 1,149 yards and eight touchdowns. I like Austin’s shiftiness, and I’m confident that he could step in and be a major contributor as part of a Pittsburgh receiving corps that was depleted by free agent defections.
Round 4 (138th, overall), Kyren Williams, running back, Notre Dame
Quality depth at running back behind Najee Harris is of great concern to Steelers fans.
Williams isn’t the fastest or biggest running back in this year’s class, but he was a team captain and leader at a marquee school and was certainly productive during his only two seasons as a full-time starter, eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark each time. Williams also caught a combined 77 passes over his final two seasons at Notre Dame and could be the perfect complement to Harris when and if Mike Tomlin decides to go a little easier on his top back.
Round 6 (208th, overall), Micah McFadden, linebacker, Indiana
I made it to this point without addressing the Steelers' safety position (you can't address all the needs at once), but by the time the sixth round rolled around, there didn’t seem to be a safety on the board who was better than what McFadden could possibly be for the defense at inside linebacker and on special teams. Do I expect McFadden to start or even make the team? I can't see the first thing happening, but if McFadden does make the final cut, he could be a valuable role player.
Round 7 (225th, overall), Chandler Wooten, linebacker, Auburn
Like McFadden, I don’t expect a ton from Wooten, but the Steelers can certainly use depth at outside linebacker, and someone like Wooten could be that diamond in the rough that makes the team and becomes a consistent contributor as a backup and on special teams.