Welcome to the Pittsburgh Steelers Mock Draft 6.0! If you haven’t been following along, we are tracking the moves of the Pittsburgh Steelers this offseason to try and determine who they will select in the upcoming 2022 NFL Draft. My goal is to have all seven Steelers selections included among all of my mocks before the draft.
We are now officially one month away and the Steelers have been very busy attending College Pro Days looking for their next crop of talent.
As always we will begin with our “assumptions”. These are the notes I give you about potential upcoming roster moves between now and draft day, or potential thought processes the Steelers are operating under/could be operating under. These assumptions help form my selections, and typically change from one mock to another so that way I can mix up my thinking.
Assumptions for Steelers Mock Draft 6.0
With some holes still on the roster, and new information coming out from the Pro Day circuit, let’s go over our assumptions for this Steelers mock draft:
- Pittsburgh will sign a strong safety who will be the starter for the upcoming season
- Pittsburgh has eyes on a QB in the first round of this draft
- The Steelers will add more WR depth before the draft
- Defensive End Stephon Tuitt will return for the 2021-22 season.
With all of that in mind, let’s get to the Pittsburgh Steelers Mock Draft 6.0!
Round 1 – Desmond Ridder QB, Cincinnati
It finally happened. In my previous five Steelers mock drafts I avoided taking a quarterback. But after top Pittsburgh brass attended Pro Days of every top QB prospect I can’t hold out any longer. My views on this QB class have been the same since the mid-point of the NFL season: this is not the year to draft a QB. When it comes to QB I’m very “get an MVP level guy, or don’t invest too heavily”. And I don’t think that guy exists in this class. However…
Pittsburgh is determined to get one. General Manager Kevin Colbert and Head Coach Mike Tomlin have been at seven Pro Days together this offseason: Georgia, Clemson, Michigan, Pitt, Liberty, Ole Miss, and Cincinnati. Those last four have arguabley the top four QBs in this year’s class. Colbert was also at the UNC Pro Day for Sam Howell. Tomlin and Colbert attending a Pro Day together is very important when it comes to Pittsburgh’s first round pick. They have been together at the Pro Day of their first round pick every year going back to 2010 at minimum. This tracking comes from Steelers Depot.
To finally talk about the prospect. Desmond Ridder is my top QB in this class. He has the high level athletic traits Pittsburgh is looking for (4.52 40, 36″ vert, 10’7″ broad, 7.15 3-cone) good size (6’3, 210 pounds) and a strong arm.
These “traits” rival that of Liberty’s Malik Willis who Pittsburgh is certainly enamored with. Willis however, is likely a top-10 pick, and Pittsburgh is more likely to sit tight at 20 than move up (although it’s possible).
Unlike Willis, Ridder is also the most ready-made for the NFL. Of all the QB prospects, he played in the most pro-style offense at Cincinnati, and has four years of production to show for it. The other top QB prospect, Pitt’s Kenny Pickett, is considered the game manager ready to play now prospect. But Pickett didn’t have high level production until his fifth-year senior season. Which calls to question how he’ll play against NFL competition.
Ridder is the right choice for Pittsburgh, and one they have a lot of interest in. Not only were Tomlin and Colbert at his Pro Day, but so were OC Matt Canada, QB Coach Mike Sullivan, VP of Football and Business Administration Omar Khan, and Pro Scouting Coordinator Brandon Hunt. Khan and Hunt are the two internal candidates for the team’s next GM position. Tomlin even went to dinner with Ridder after the workout.
Four years of production. 44-6 record in college. Size, speed, arm talent. Team interest. And he’s likely to be there at pick 20. Desmond Ridder has a very good chance to be Pittsburgh’s next franchise QB.
Round 2 – George Pickens WR, Georgia
Even if the Steelers add depth to their wide receiver room, they are in desperate need of more young talent. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Ray-Ray McCloud, and James Washington all left in free agency, and the only players with significant Pittsburgh playing time on the roster are Dionte Johnson (due for an extension this summer) and Chase Claypool (down second year after good rookie year).
George Pickens is a player the Steelers have shown interest in. He’s also a top Day 2 prospect in this strong receiver class. Tomlin, Colbert and new Wide Receivers Coach Frisman Jackson were at the Georgia Pro Day, and Jackson led Pickens through some drills.
Pickens made his mark at Georgia despite just 24 games played. He suffered a torn ACL during his sophomore season after eight games, and returned for the final four games of his junior year this past season. In his one full season as a freshman Pickens had 49 receptions for 727 yards and eight touchdowns. He was set to surpass those numbers his sophomore year where he had 36 catches for 513 yards and six touchdowns in eight games.
Pickens is an outside receiver with great athleticism. He has both good long speed (4.47 40) but also excellent short area acceleration when it comes to getting off the line. He has great hands and ball tracking ability as well. Able to make adjustments to balls in the air and go up and get them. Pickens could help Pittsburgh’s downfield issues right away, and potentially develop into a number one target.
Round 3 – Brandon Smith LB, Penn State
We’ve talked about the Tomlin/Colbert connection for first round picks. But Days 2 and 3 usually see players picked where that position coach or coordinators attended their Pro Day. Obviously with my last pick in Pickens, WR Coach Jackson was in attendance.
Here in Round 3, we see Linebacker Brandon Smith of Penn State go to the Steelers. The Steelers’ defense was well represented at Penn State’s Pro Day with Defensive Assistant/LBs coach Brian Flores, ILB Coach Jerry Olsavsky, and DB Coach Grady Brown present. Smith is one of two intriguing linebacker prospects from “LBU” (linebacker university) this year. The other is Jesse Luketa, who I mocked to the Steelers here.
Smith is a versatile linebacker with the ability to play all over the field. He has the length and athleticism to rush from the edge or cover linebackers. Smith also has the experience and tackling ability to play the run from the middle of the field. He isn’t quite ready to be a starting inside linebacker, but he has enough experience and athleticism to put there in certain run situations if he’s asked to fill a single gap. This would be a great fit next to Myles Jack or Devin Bush for him to rush from the inside to take on a block and let the other player remain free.
Smith is able to do that and rush from the edge with his size (6’3, 250lbs, nearly 35″ arms and over 10″ hands) and athleticism (4.52 40, 37.5 vert, 10’8″ broad). Right now with how he played at Penn State, he best projects to a 4-3 linebacker as a Sam or Will. But with Pittsburgh’s 3-4 scheme he doesn’t necessarily have a perfect fit. In spite of this, I think Smith would be perfect for what the Steelers need right now.
Pittsburgh is in serious need of a strong rotational linebacker, particularly on the edge. Someone who can come in as a specialist as a pass rusher for 10-15 snaps to relieve T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith. His size would also allow him to seal the edge if you don’t ask too much of him, or even play some inside linebacker to cover a single gap. His athleticism would also allow him to do a lot on special teams, a huge responsibility for a Steelers backup defender. I can see Smith starting in this role, and potentially developing into a starter with time.
Round 4 – Danny Gray WR, SMU
Now on to Day 3 of this Pittsburgh Steelers Mock Draft. Danny Gray is an explosive playmaker from the SMU offense. Lined up primarily as an outside receiver, Gray did not run a complex route tree, but was involved in the offense in ways that allowed his playmaking and athleticism to shine. He can certainly get open deep, but is an excellent “catch short – run long” receiver like Pittsburgh has liked the last couple of years.
He hasn’t played much in the slot in college, but I think his YAC ability could make him an interesting option to try it out in replacing JuJu. WR Coach Frisman Jackson also attended Gray’s Pro Day.
Danny Gray isn’t a very technical receiver right now, but that’s ok. This Steeler offense has been pretty slow and methodical the last couple of years. Getting a splashy big-play guy would do them a lot of good. And if you sign another veteran for the slot, and take a ready-made guy early (like Pickens above), Gray can be a playmaker in certain packages while he develops.
Round 6 – Joshua Ross LB, Michigan
Josh Ross out of Michigan just screams “Steeler”. He won’t ever be the biggest or fastest player. But he has all of the personality traits Pittsburgh looks for this late in the draft. Ross played in 49 games and started 23 of them at Michigan (where Pittsburgh loves to draft from). He was also voted captain in his final two years, and was a vocal and emotional leader of the defense.
Ross can be an effective run defender or blitzer from the middle linebacker position. His motor and tackling abilities will also make him an effective special teams player. Think Robert Spillane, and you’ll have Ross. Spillane is playing on a one-year deal this year.
Not only were Tomlin and Colbert at Michigan’s Pro Day, but Tomlin even took Ross out to dinner. While this isn’t a rare instance, he was the only player reported at the dinner. For a Day 3 guys that is pretty significant.
Round 7 – Andrew Stueber, Michigan
The seventh round is where I repeat myself a bit. In my Pittsburgh Steelers Mock Draft 2.0 I had Stueber in my third round. His grades around scouting websites has dropped off, making him more of a developmental prospect. This is great for Pittsburgh, as they have helped their offensive line significantly in free agency.
They can still use a tackle however to put on the roster and develop. Chukwuma Okorafor’s contract is pretty easy to get out of, and backup swing tackle Joe Haeg is in the last year of his deal. Stueber could come in and take the approach Dan Moore Jr. was meant to take last year: Make the active roster. Be the #4 offensive tackle. Develop and learn, but not dress on game day. That obviously didn’t happen. All the more reason to make sure you bring in qualities linemen and get them on your team.
Stueber is a big, strong and physical offensive lineman. At 6’7 325 he has good size and length (34″ arms). He doesn’t have the athleticism to contain speed rushers off the edge, but whether it’s practice with technique/a move to guard, he has the traits of a lineman you’d like to bring in and coach up.
Round 7 – Micheal Clemons EDGE, Texas A&M
Micheal Clemons is the third linebacker-type prospect I’m taking in this mock, but he’s strictly and edge rusher. I mocked Clemons three weeks ago in my Steelers Mock Draft 4.0, and felt even better about that when Defensive Line Coach Karl Dunbar ended up at his Pro Day last week. Clemons has a lot of size for a Steeler outside linebacker (6’5, 263lbs) but that would make him excellent at setting the edge as a run defender. Last year Pittsburgh had a problem with rotational guys coming in and giving up the edge to runners.
Clemons also has great length (nearly 35″ arms) that help set the edge, and help him get after the passer. He had a team-high 46 QB pressures last year (fourth in SEC) and has 11 sacks in the last two seasons. Clemons has played out of a two-point and three-point stance in college.
If Pittsburgh were to draft Smith and Clemons in the same draft, that could drastically help their depth at outside linebacker. This is hugely important to keeping Watt and Highsmith healthy and productive this season.
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