Every year before the draft, the Steelers front office engages in a “mock draft” exercise. However, unlike typical mock draft where picks are projected for each team, the Steelers mock operates a bit differently. The Steelers organize their mock as if they have each pick in the draft. For example, “If we had the #1 overall pick, which player would we take?” Then, “If that player is gone and we had the #2 overall pick, which player would we take?” …and so on and so forth. This is a good way to finalize a Draft Board and scale players based on abilities and team need.
Based on formal reports, the Steelers have interviewed over 100 prospects throughout the process from the collegiate All-Star Games, the NFL Combine, Pro Days, Private Workouts, and pre-draft visits. The Steelers full draft board will likely have over 200 players. Even if the Steelers do not have a major need at the position, the player will still appear on their board, because at some point they would likely become a value pick (for instance, Mitch Trubisky and Deshaun Watson might be ranked in the 30s on the Steelers board because at that point in the draft they would be the best prospects remaining). The only things that could take a player off the Steelers draft board would be scheme fits, injuries, or off-field issues where the team simply has too many concerns to even consider drafting the player.
Since you can find no less than a jillion mock drafts out there today, I decided to do something different and put together a “Steelers Mock Draft” for the first round. This should essentially function like a Steelers First Round Draft Board. As detailed in my Offensive and Defensive Draft Previews, positions are relatively gauged by team needs. Player positions are noted where they would fit into the Steelers 3-4 defense, not their natural position. That being said, as I discussed in the Defense Preview, the Steelers were in their nickel defense over 70% of the time last season (and over 60% in each of the last three seasons). The time has come to start thinking of the nickel defense as the base (whether that be a 2-4-5 or a 4-2-5 alignment) rather than thinking of the 3-4 as the base. This diminishes the necessity of a true nose tackle and increases the necessity for #3 CBs and for linebackers and safeties that can hold their own in coverage.
1. Myles Garrett (OLB – Texas A&M)
Garrett is far and away the best prospect in this draft. He checks all of the boxes for athleticism coupled with collegiate production. He would absolutely be the Steelers pick if they had the #1 selection.
2. Malik Hooker (S – Ohio State)
Maybe I’m a little biased slotting the WPIAL guy (New Castle High School) at #2 overall. That said the Steelers could still use a guy on the back end with Hooker’s ball-hawking abilities and sideline-to-sideline speed.
3. Marshon Lattimore (CB – Ohio State)
Lattimore is easily the best corner in the draft. As discussed above, given that the Steelers spend over 70% of their defensive snaps with 3 cornerbacks on the field, the third corner is essentially a starter, making CB a high-priority need.
4. Jamal Adams (S – LSU)
Adams isn’t the pure single-high ballhawk that Hooker is, but he excels as an in-the-box safety that can crash against the run or man up against tight ends and running backs. He is a strong tackler who flashes on tape, able to get into the backfield quickly and close down angles against the run.
5. OJ Howard (TE – Alabama)
Tight end is not at the top of the Steelers list of needs, but Howard’s ability to be a game-changing asset to the offense makes him worthy of this spot on the board.
6. Jarrad Davis (ILB – Florida)
Davis battled through some injuries last season but is one of the most athletic inside linebackers in the draft. Outside of his 40 time, his measurables were quite similar to Ryan Shazier. With Lawrence Timmons going to Miami, the Steelers certainly have a need for another inside linebacker with coverage ability that can play on third downs and not be a liability in pass defense.
7. Solomon Thomas (EDGE – Stanford)
Thomas is considered by most to be the second-best EDGE rushing prospect in the draft. He possesses elite athleticism for his size, but could be difficult to tie to a specific position. He could play either as a 5-technique defensive lineman or as an EDGE rusher. Thomas is one of the most powerful rushers in the draft and was the dominant anchor of Stanford’s defensive front.
8. Marlon Humphrey (CB – Alabama)
Humprhey had a toe and hamstring injury last season and is one of the better tacklers in this CB class. He is a solid run defender – something the Steelers ask their corners to do heavily. His technique in coverage may need some work, but he has the length and athleticism to develop into a quality NFL starter.
9. Budda Baker (S – Washington)
Baker is another safety who excels in short areas, doing his best work in the box. He is strong against the run and capable against the pass. The only knock on him is his size, but he ran a blazing fast 4.45 40-yard dash and has above-average athleticism. The best commentary on Baker this year came from Steel City Underground’s Eric Herrmann who said, “Baker is the player everybody (falsely) thinks Jabrill Peppers can be.”
10. Zach Cunningham (ILB – Vanderbilt)
Cunningham is one of the top inside linebacker prospects and is capable in coverage situations. He can be overly aggressive in his angles to the ball, but he also never gives up on a play and will battle through blockers to make plays.
11. Carl Lawson (EDGE – Auburn)
After Garrett and Thomas, it is almost impossible to determine which order the next 9 EDGE rushers will be drafted. Since there are so many players grouped so tightly together, it is difficult to say which players the Steelers have ranked higher on their board. Based on the work that has been done by Justus Mosqueda and my own findings, EDGE rushers with elite athleticism have a better chance to be impactful early in their careers. As such, I stratified the “next 9” rushers based more on their athletic measureables than their on-field production. Lawson was a productive player at Auburn who flashed elite athleticism and possesses the size to be an impactful pass rusher early in his career. Lawson has a quick burst off the edge and plays with strong hands that he uses to beat tackles around the corner.
12. TJ Watt (EDGE – Wisconsin)
Watt was one of the stars of the NFL Combine. Watt displayed elite athleticism and was one of the highest-ranked EDGE rushers by many metrics that measture explosiveness. On the field, he was able to fly all over the field and was a quality defender against both the run and in short passing areas. He also showed burst off the edge and was able to get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
13. Derek Rivers (EDGE – Youngstown State)
Rivers absolutely stands out on tape in every single game he plays. That said, the knock on him will be the level of competition he faced against FCS opposition. That said, Rivers tested as one of the most athletic EDGE rushers at the combine. He has ideal size for an EDGE defender and was utterly dominant at the FCS level. Some NFL teams may knock his draft stock for playing at an FCS school, but he is a quality prospect that has the potential for immediate impact.
14. Haason Reddick (ILB – Temple)
Reddick is an athletic freak but his role in the NFL is a bit uncertain. He played in an edge rushing role at Temple but is a bit undersized and might be best served as a 4-3 Outside Linebacker. The Steelers like taking these type of players (Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier) and converting them to inside linebackers that are able to run with backs and tight ends down the field.
15. Tre’Davious White (CB – LSU)
White is an under-the-radar prospect whose athletic profile matches up very similarly to Artie Burns. He is strong in man coverage and can play either in the slot or outside which would give him an opportunity for an immediate impact in Pittsburgh.
16. Takkarist McKinley (EDGE – UCLA)
The Steelers brought in McKinley for a pre-draft visit and had a lot of contact with him during the pre-draft process. He tested above-average athletically but not in the elite range. He is also recovering from shoulder surgery which may limit his availability in his rookie season.
17. Taco Charlton (EDGE – Michigan)
The Steelers had a heavy presence at Michigan’s Pro Day. In addition to having one of the best names in the Draft, Charlton tested above-average athletically. He was productive as a defensive end in Michigan’s 4-3 scheme and battled through an ankle injury this past season.
18. Charles Harris (EDGE – Missouri)
Harris and Derek Barnett are front and center in this year’s debate between athleticism and collegiate production. Harris tested below average in terms of athleticism at the Combine, but his tape tells a different story. He was an impactful and productive pass rusher at Missouri, which has turned into a defensive lineman factory in recent years.
19. Derek Barnett (EDGE – Tennessee)
Like with Harris, Barnett did not test well from an athleticism standpoint but was an incredibly productive college player. Barnett dealt with a leg injury last year which is all that separated him from Harris in my eyes. They were both incredibly productive in college, but given the Steelers recent experience with collegiate production (Jarvis Jones) vs athleticism (Bud Dupree), the below-average athletes were shuffled lower on my list.
20. Obi Melifonwu (S – UConn)
Melifonwu is an athletic freak, but is much better suited to a role outside the box where he can fly to the ball and make plays in space. Inside the box, he tends to shy away from contact and has difficulty working his way through traffic to find the ball.
21. Corey Davis (WR – Western Michigan)
This board is obviously weighted based on the Steelers needs, but at some point the quality of the players at positions of lower needs outweighs the quality of the remaining players at positions of need. This year, that line fell at the 20th spot on the board. There is some debate over who the best receiver in this draft is, but Corey Davis is the one who would fit the Steelers need the best. Davis is a crisp route-runner who is still recovering from an ankle injury. He would be an excellent complement to Antonio Brown and
22. Mike Williams (WR – Clemson)
While Davis is the top all-around receiver in the class, Williams is not far behind. Given that Davis is recovering from an ankle injury and still isn’t 100%, Williams may actually be the top receiver off the board. He is the best in the class at coming down with contested catches in tight spaces.
23. Leonard Fournette (RB – LSU)
In all likelihood, running backs will be taken before Wide Receivers in this draft. That said, the Steelers have a greater need at WR than at RB. Like with WR, at some point the top RBs become the best value on the board. Fournette was a dominant back at LSU and can run with power but has quick feet to make guys miss.
24. Christian McCaffrey (RB – Stanford)
McCaffrey was an all-around star for Stanford as a running back, slot receiver, and kick returner. He can do everything and is shifty is space but has the burst and top-end speed to run away from people. McCaffrey might be the most dangerous player in the draft with the ball in his hands. He would do best in a West Coast offense where he can be a factor in the short passing game as well and get favorable matchups with linebackers in space.
25. John Ross (WR – Washington)
Ross has battled through a number of injuries over the last 3 years including an ACL tear, a meniscus injury and microfracture surgery, and a shoulder injury. There are some questions on his medicals but his speed can’t be doubted. He ran a blazing 4.22 at the Combine, the fastest 40 ever recorded at the event. His route-running could use some refinement, but he has the deep speed that teams covet and the ability to get open and create space in short areas.
26. Jonathan Allen (DL – Alabama)
Allen is widely considered one of the Top 10 prospects in the draft, but his injury history is some cause for concern. Additionally, given that the Steelers have solid depth on the defensive line, this is not a great need for them which drops him down the board.
27. David Njoku (TE – Miami)
Njoku is a monster athlete who can excel in a “flex” tight end role. He won’t bring much as a blocker but has excellent length and explosion, enabling him to get down the field and high-point the ball.
28. Tyus Bowser (ILB – Houston)
Bowser is another super-athletic player whose best role might be suited as a 4-3 outside linebacker. His technique could use some work, but he has the speed to match up in coverage but also the explosiveness to be an effective pass rusher in spot situations.
29. Josh Jones (S – NC State)
This name might be a little bit of a surprise, but the Steelers put in some work on Jones in the pre-draft process. His game somewhat resembles Mike Mitchell where he is capable of coming down into the box and laying a big hit. At the same time, his aggression can get the better of him. If the Steelers are looking for an “in-the-box” safety, Jones does fit the bill
30. Patrick Mahomes (QB – Texas Tech)
At this point, if the draft somehow falls that the 29 players listed above are all gone by the time the Steelers pick at 30th, the best player remaining on the board is likely a quarterback. The Steelers brought Mahomes in for a pre-draft visit and of the QBs in this draft he is the best fit for their offense. Mahomes has a big arm and is an absolute gunslinger who is willing to take risks to get the ball down field. He likely needs a year or two on the bench in order to learn an NFL offense, but the tools are there for him to be successful.
31. Jabrill Peppers (S – Michigan)
There have been a number of reports during the pre-draft season connecting the Steelers with Peppers. That said, news broke on Monday that Peppers had failed a drug test at the NFL Combine, which may drop him down the draft board a bit. Peppers is the most polarizing player in the draft. He is the size of a safety but played mostly as a linebacker at Michigan. He didn’t have the size to take on blockers in the run game and wasn’t an impactful pass defender. He has a long way to go as a safety but there are some that are enamoured with his versatility.
32. Reuben Foster (ILB – Alabama)
Based purely on tape and measureables, Foster is the best inside linebacker prospect in the draft. Many feel as though Foster will automatically lead his team in tackles in his rookie year. The concerns here are twofold. First, he is still recovering from a shoulder injury he suffered last season. Secondly, he had a positive drug test at the Combine, which means he will enter the NFL already in the steps of the NFL’s drug program. Foster is a high-risk/high-reward type prospect with first round talent but also some red flags.
Best Remaining Players
QB – Deshaun Watson (Clemson), Mitchell Trubisky (North Carolina), DeShone Kizer (Notre Dame)
RB – Dalvin Cook (Florida State)
TE – Evan Engram (Ole Miss)
WR – Carlos Henderston (Louisiana Tech), Zay Jones (East Carolina)
OT – Cam Robinson (Alabama), Garrett Bolles (Utah), Ryan Ramczyk (Wisconsin)
OG – Forrest Lamp (Western Kentucky)
OC – Pat Elflein (Ohio State)
DL – Malik McDowell (Michigan State), Chris Wormley (Michigan)
EDGE – Jordan Willis (Kansas State), Tim Williams (Alabama)
ILB – Raekwon McMillan (Ohio State)
CB – Gareon Conley (Ohio State), Kevin King (Washington), Sidney Jones (Washington), Chidobe Awuzie (Colorado), Quincy Wilson (Florida)
S – Desmond King (CB/S – Iowa)