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Mel Kiper NFL Mock Draft 1.0: Steelers go cornerback in Round 1

The NFL Draft expert released his first mock draft of the season Tuesday.

Kamari Lassiter #3 of the Georgia Bulldogs defends on a pass intended for Luther Burden III #3 of the Missouri Tigers during a game between the University of Missouri and the University of Georgia at Sanford Stadium on November 4, 2023 in Athens, Georgia. Photo by Perry McIntyre/ISI Photos/Getty Images

NFL Draft expert Mel Kiper of ESPN has officially released his first 2024 NFL mock draft of the year, projecting picks for each of the 32 NFL teams in Round 1 — for now, without any projected trades.

At pick No. 20, Kiper had the Pittsburgh Steelers selecting cornerback Kamari Lassiter of Georgia.

Sure, the Steelers hit on cornerback Joey Porter Jr. with the top pick of Round 2 a year ago, but this is a defense that saw 33-year-old corner Patrick Peterson play more than 1,000 snaps, so there’s room for an injection of youth at the position. Lassiter emerged as a lockdown corner for the Bulldogs in 2023, though he had just one career interception, which came all the way back in 2021. Still, he allowed a total of nine receptions for 91 yards as the nearest defender in coverage, and none of those passes went for scores. He could form an elite duo with Porter.

Most recent NFL mock drafts have projected the Steelers either selecting a cornerback or offensive tackle in Round 1 of the 2024 NFL Draft, both big-time needs despite having drafted OT Broderick Jones and CB Joey Porter Jr. with picks inside the top 32 just last season.

Porter Jr. made a splash as a rookie, having been named to the 2023-24 PFWA All-Rookie team for his efforts, including a 46.4% completion rate and 67.0 NFL passer rating allowed in coverage. Pairing him with another shut-down corner that could lock up the secondary for the years to come would be a smart move, especially as an aging Patrick Peterson mulls over a potential position change to safety. Other cornerbacks that could potentially be available in the 20 range include Ennis Rakestra Jr. (Missouri), Cooper DeJean (Iowa), Kool-Aid McKinstry (Alabama), each of whom have been mocked to the Steelers in recent weeks.