The Steelers are approaching the most important weekend of the offseason calendar. In a month, Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin, and company will select the prospects they believe will help lead the team to a successful 2022 and beyond.
In this exercise, I will make player selections based on positions I think the Steelers will be targeting in each round, and the players that could be available for selection. We’ll hit every pick and detail some different scenarios which could impact the Steelers’ draft plans.
Let’s get to it!
ROUND 1, PICK 20
QB: Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati
The Steelers have been tilting their hand in the direction of QB in Round 1 for a while now. Their fascination with Malik Willis is well-documented, but in this Mock, we assume that Willis is long gone before pick 20 with Pittsburgh unwilling to trade the necessary capital to move up. This brings us to Ridder, a standout 4-year starter for the Bearcats with superb athleticism and an NFL arm and NFL size. He can struggle with accuracy and inconsistency, but his upside is undeniable. Yes, this is a reach and the Steelers know it, but they’re willing to make the move to get their guy. A guy that won’t be there at 52 when they pick next. What could change this? In my estimation, only a top level talent like DT Jordan Davis or CB Derek Stingley, Jr. falling further than expected.
ROUND 2, PICK 52
WR: Alec Pierce, Cincinatti
This pick is a win-win for the Steelers if he is still available at 52. Ridder’s main man at WR in Cincinnati following him to Pittsburgh would be an ideal match and would aid in the development of both players. The Steelers have done this before in 2018 (James Washington & Mason Rudolph, OKST), and may choose to do so again with more coveted options at WR likely already off the board (Skyy Moore, Christian Watson). As a prospect, Pierce is a big, physical WR (6’3”, 213lbs) with plenty of speed to take the top of a Defense. According to PFF, Pierce accounted for 13 deep receptions in 2021. That’s game-breaking ability the Steelers need on Offense. He isn’t as polished a route runner as other Day 2 receivers, but his big-play potential is top-notch. On the other side of the ball, ILB is very deep on Day 2. The Myles Jack signing probably lowers the urgency at this position group a little however, which leads me to the WR selection. Don’t sleep on a DT with this pick either (Travis Jones).
ROUND 3, PICK 84
SS: Nick Cross, Maryland
Pittsburgh has yet to address their SS position in Free Agency. As we sit, it is a huge need. The most likely outcome is a reunion with 4-year starter Terrell Edmunds, who is more than capable of playing quality starter snaps at SS. If the Steelers have to get creative at this position though, look no further than Cross, a big, nasty hitter with a nose for the football and ridiculous speed. One of my favorite players in this entire draft, Cross’s length and tenacity allow him to make plays anywhere on the field, and he is versatile enough to play either S position on the back end. Pairing Cross with Minkah Fitzpatrick would allow new DC Teryl Austin to mix and match coverages easily. If he falls this far, he would most definitely fit the “Best-player-available-at-a-position-of-need” philosophy that the Steelers have recently adhered to. Cross is my 4th ranked S in this class. Again, I could easily see an ILB (Darian Beavers, Channing Tindall) be the pick here.
ROUND 4, PICK 138
OT: Matt Waletzko, North Dakota
The Steelers take Day 3 of most NFL Drafts to take fliers on “Traits” guys with the physical tools to be top-level talents if they can be coached to improve their technique and execution. Waletzko is the epitome of this type of player; He boasts incredible size (6’8”, 320lbs) and length (35” arms) and on tape was a pile mover vs. fellow FCS defenders. Even though his competition level was sub-par, the Steelers are one of the few teams who believe in their ability to “coach-em-up”. With the Steelers failing to bring in any outside help at OT during Free Agency to this point, a developmental selection at this position early on Day 3 is almost inevitable.
ROUND 6, PICK 208
CB: Akayleb Evans, Missouri
Evans falls to Round 6 because of a lengthy injury history and because he’s a raw prospect with a very inconsistent tape. However, he checks every box from an athleticism standpoint. At 6’2” and 201 lbs with true 4.4 speed, Evans could be a major steal for Pittsburgh if they are lucky enough to select him in the 6th. He is a very good run defender on the perimeter and plays receivers tightly and physically in man coverage. Although he shows inconsistency as a lockdown corner, there is enough there to work with, and Teryl Austin is the man for the job. The Steelers will also look for LB or EDGE defenders around this point in the draft, but another “traits” guy at a position of need in Evans falling in their lap is too good to pass up here.
ROUND 7, PICK 225
RB: Abram Smith, Baylor
One of my draft crushes in 2022, the Baylor product is lightning in a bottle and could be a huge asset in the running and passing game behind Najee Harris. Smith is built like a bowling ball with a low center of gravity and quick feet. A fantastic pass-catcher as well, Abram Smith can sub in on any down and be an effective playmaker. He has plenty enough speed to get to the edge and he won’t be run down from behind. As a runner, he has great vision and hits the hole with intensity. Although RB may not be the Steelers biggest need in this draft, the team understands it can’t run Harris as much as they did his Rookie year. Smith provides the perfect change-of-pace back this team needs in 2022. We still haven’t addressed DT or LB in this mock, so those positions are also definitely in play.
ROUND 7, PICK 241
ILB: Merlin Robertson, Arizona State
If you listen to the Steelers Draft Fix hosted by myself and BTSC Draft Guru Andrew Wilbar, you’ll hear us talk about the BUCK linebacker position about 10 times per show. It’s a huge piece of the Steelers defense traditionally, and the team currently doesn’t have an ideal player on the roster for that role. A BUCK LB is a versatile defender boasting length and power to plug rushing lanes and help get to the QB. The Steelers ask their BUCK to drop into coverage a lot as well. Enter Robertson, a developmental talent with great size (6’3”, 240lbs) and instincts, but would need to increase his speed and athleticism at the next level to become an impactful NFL player. The Steelers take a flyer on this position late with the hope that Robertson can develop in an ideal developmental system in Pittsburgh. By the way, don’t be surprised if the team selects a prospect with Steeler bloodlines with this pick, like S Quentin Lake (son of Steeler great Carnell Lake) or Cam Heyward’s little brother, Connor, the versatile TE/H-Back out of Mich. St.
The Steelers have a lot of needs at many positions heading into the draft. This is a direction I could easily see the team going draft weekend, with the focus on selecting an athletic but developmental QB prospect early and then building young, explosive talent around him on offense. Depth pieces on defense were a priority in this mock draft as well. If the team foregoes QB early in the draft, look for them to take a CB much earlier than I have in this exercise.
For more on this mock draft, as well as Andrew Wilbar’s mock draft, check out the Draft Fix podcast below:
So let’s hear it Steelers Nation. Should the Steelers go QB in Round 1, even if the consensus top options are off the board? Are CB, ILB, or DT higher priorities than I have listed? Let me know what you think in the comments below.