Since this is a long-winded article, I decided to keep this introduction short. As far as mock drafts go, we’re all taking a guess at what the Steelers will do as well as what other teams will do.
With that in mind I used Fanspeak’s mock draft simulator utilizing NFL.com’s needs list with Matt Miller’s big board. The results were interesting, as noted below, and I go into some detail on team needs as well as my reason for choosing players at each position.
No trades were involved, and no yinzers were harmed in the making of this mock. The Steelers have ten picks and this is how I used all ten of them….
Round 1 Pick 20. T.J. Hockenson, TE - Iowa
This would certainly be the surprise of the 2019 NFL Draft...
Noah Fant went before Hockenson… and then Hockenson fell to pick 20. What would you do?
At this point both Devin White and Devin Bush are gone. Cornerbacks Greedy Williams, Byron Murphy, and Deandre Baker are also off of the board. I’m not looking to force a need here four or five of my targeted defensive players already selected. At the same time, I’m not panicking to replace Antonio Brown with Metcalf or Harry, and I’m content with waiting on a receiver.
Yet, if I go with “Best Player Available” (or BPA) I can’t ignore that Vance McDonald has failed to play a full season and that Jesse James left via free agency. If McDonald gets hurt, that leaves the Steelers with Xavier Grimble and Bucky Hodges.
I feel the WR room has plenty of depth right now with JuJu Smith-Schuster, Donte Moncrief, James Washington, Eli Rogers and Ryan Switzer: that’s five more than capable bodies there.
This factors into my decision to add a great chess piece to compliment McDonald and those receivers. Hockenson can ease into the NFL by not having to start full-time on day one. He’ll likely work his way into playing half of each game, which was the volume Jesse James was used to. Unlike James, I feel Hockenson is a better athlete, capable of more yards after the catch as well as being a better blocker. He’s an instant upgrade and another big target for Ben Roethlisberger in the red zone.
While there are defensive positions needed, I still have nine more picks to round out my roster and I'm crossing my fingers one of my "other considered" players falls to my second round slot.
Other players considered: Chase Winovich, Mack Wilson, D.K. Metcalf, N'Keal Harry, Rock Ya-Sin
Round 2 Pick 52. Chase Winovich, EDGE - University of Michigan
While we all want Ryan Shazier’s replacement, there’s no denying that the outside linebacker position is very thin for the Steelers. Bud Dupree enters a contract year while aside from T.J. Watt, the defense has no solid options. Anthony Chickillo is a capable player, but when you have an opportunity to improve depth and potentially have a replacement for your starter in 2020, there’s no way I could pass on Winovich.
I have a hard time believing he will be available in this spot come draft day: I nearly made him my first round selection. The Steelers had a dinner visit with Winovich which is all but the “chosen one” sign when it comes to who they’re looking to add on draft day.
Winovich is compared with former Packer Clay Matthews – perhaps because of his long flowing locks, but I see a tenacious pass rusher who could wreak havoc alongside Watt in a rotational scheme. The value is too good to pass up here as all of my other “players considered” from round one are now off of the board.
Other players considered: No one. This was my wish and I got it.
Round 3 Pick 66. Darnell Savage, Jr., S - Maryland
Another Maryland safety! This time it’s Savage, a versatile safety who fits right into what the Steelers are trying to do on defense.
I’m well aware that fans want an inside linebacker here, but the thought of having free agent addition Mark Barron as well as Savage as potential players roaming around in DB-heavy subpackages makes my mouth water.
I’m also preparing for Sean Davis’ contract year here with a potential successor or some concept of shifting bodies around yet again with new DB coach Teryl Austin. He gets a pick here to play with, as Savage is a playmaker capable of covering all over the field.
With the loss of Morgan Burnett, this third round selection would be a huge value pick.
Other players considered: Juan Thornhill, Amani Oruwariye, David Long Jr.
Round 3 Pick 83. Amani Oruwariye, CB - Penn State
Now fans are really going to be mad! No linebackers through four picks! However, I have to consider another need: cornerback.
Steven Nelson was signed to pair along with Joe Haden, but there's no guarantee Haden will play forever... or beyond 2019, in a black and gold jersey. Though that's not likely to happen, this draft pick shores up any worries over Haden or Nelson getting injured: behind those two starters are Artie Burns and Cameron Sutton. Sutton has flashed, but has he flashed enough? And do you want to risk starting Burns again in the worst case scenario? (Mike Hilton isn't considered here since he's a slot corner.)
Enter Oruwariye, who can sit and learn behind those two veterans. Oruwariye doesn't fit the typical smaller Steelers selection: at 6'2" and 205 lbs. he projects as a press corner that the Steelers need to jam opposing receivers. He's comfortable in zone schemes (where the Steelers are still heavy at using their corners) and not a liability against the running game.
With tight end, safety, and edge already in the bag, the secondary could still use some depth, as well as can the special teams unit. As the second of my third round picks, I'm totally comfortable with the upside Oruwariye, especially for depth purposes.
Other players considered: Ben Banogu, JoeJuan Williams, Juan Thornhill, Lonnie Johnson, Te'Von Coney
Round 4 Pick 122. Andy Isabella, WR - UMASS
Folks, here’s your potential AB replacement.
I know, the Steelers already have their share of smaller receivers. Even James Washington clocks in at 5’11”, but Isabella offers speed and splash play ability that merit taking a shot here in the fourth round. He runs a 4.31 40-yard dash and possesses shiftiness on film that make you instantly think about Brown.
I mentioned there’s a loaded WR room, but the Steelers have rostered six over the last few seasons. Isabella can take some time to work himself onto the field and if one of the other players on the depth chart were to get hurt, or simply not pan out (Moncrief or Washington) this could be a huge addition.
Other players considered: None. At this point I sprinted to the podium.
Round 5 Pick 141. Mike Weber, RB - Ohio State
The Steelers love their Buckeyes and I'm going offense again now, risking some potential linebacker additions in the process.
For me, Weber is a backup option only. He'll likely become a kick returner on special teams and someone who could help shoulder the load to give James Conner or Jaylen Samuels a breather. We already know Samuels can be a monster playmaker behind the Steelers offensive line, so Weber projects to be the third back on the depth chart and some insurance if Conner goes down. Regardless, if he sees the field, he's capable of picking up yards, block, and also be effective in the passing game: a must for a Steelers running back.
Round 6 Pick 175. Sione Takitaki, LB - BYU
My next two picks address what everyone was waiting for.
I went with Takitaki first, but I'll end up doubling down on the inside linebacker position soon due to the number of picks remaining and equally liking (and disliking) certain traits and each of these players game.
Takitaki is a tackling machine who can also get behind the line of scrimmage. He's not an answer for Shazier, but then again who is?
With linebackers uber-important in the Steelers schemes, and some upcoming concerns about special teams depth, Takitaki can definitely be a force in kick and punt coverage at the very least, which merits this sixth round pick.
Round 6 Pick 192. Ben Burr-Kirven, LB - Washington
Another backup option who may fit the description of Tyler Matakevich, Burr-Kiven is a bit undersized but plays with instincts and a tenacity that's larger than his measurables.
At this point, I was trying to decide which of the two linebackers I wanted most and just pulled the trigger on both. Bring them both to camp and see who sticks!
Other players considered: Joe Giles-Harris, Gary Johnson
Round 6 Pick 207. John Cominsky, DL - Charleston
A highly productive small college standout, Cominsky can nearly walk right onto the Steelers roster replacing L.T. Walton.
I believe his career trajectory is similar to that of Javon Hargrave, though with even less pedigree playing at Charleston. According to NFL.com, [Cominsky] was the Mountain East Defensive Player of the Year in 2018 by posting 67 tackles, 16.5 for loss, three sacks, and two forced fumbles.
Again, this late in the draft I'm trying to guess who will not make it to the undrafted free agent list. Cominsky is worth a shot here.
Round 7 Pick 219. Hjalte Froholdt, G - Arkansas
Finally, Pittsburgh plucks this large, versatile Dane so he doesn't end up elsewhere.
The former defensive lineman moved to the opposite side of the ball and has played both guard and center. While B.J. Finney offers the same, there's no guarantee that Finney remains with the team. A second-round tender was placed on Finney, who may become the heir apparent to Ramon Foster, should the former sign his tender.
Regardless, the Steelers have loaded up on tackles in recent years and Froholdt gives them a prospect who can provide depth on the offensive line. Some of his knocks should be coachable, which is less of a sure thing with the departure of Mike Munchak, but new OL coach Shaun Sarrett has been around long enough, and also sat under Munchak's tree too, where he can coach Froholdt up.
Therefore taking this lineman in the final round isn't all that risky.
I know some folks will be upset at my ignoring the inside linebacker position, but hear me out: the players I wanted to fall where I wanted them to fall reminds me of the actual draft last year. There wasn’t an inside linebacker I valued more than other positions/players in each of these spots, within reason of course.
I'm also thinking the addition of Barron and Savage, plus last year's fifth round pick Marcus Allen could all play a role as an inside linebacker or dimebacker. These are all hybrid-style players that best fit the Steelers current defensive schemes. Also keep in mind that the Steelers still have Jon Bostic, last year's free agent who was penciled in as a starter but lost time to L.J. Fort. Fort is gone, but Bostic isn’t.
The overall look is improved depth at offensive weapons, the pass rush, and the secondary: you can’t go wrong here if at least two, or more, of these picks were to pan out.
Tell Me Why
Why I passed on linebacker for so long?
With Barron, Vince Williams, Bostic, and Matakevich all on the roster, the two late round linebacker picks may have to fight for one spot – rather than spend a higher pick on that one spot, I opted to stick with what the Steelers have and shore up some other areas of depth/concern.
Why I passed on specialists?
Well, the Steelers invested a lot of money in Chris Boswell. It stands to reason that with ten picks they could use one on a kicker or a punter, but rarely are either position drafted. Typically teams will use a later pick to guarantee that player doesn't hit free agency and can sign anywhere.
Since Boswell and Berry were both undrafted and added to the team as free agents, there was no need to reach for a kicker or punter who may not make the roster over some of the other value picks chosen.
Andy Isabella: there's a knock on him, but if he were to fall this deep into the draft I'm all over it. There's little risk, even in the fourth round, for the Steelers jam-packed receiver room to add another big-play threat.
I really like my top three picks. Hockenson has Pro Bowler written all over him in the right system. Even if he plays behind McDonald for a few seasons, he could end up being a long-term Pittsburgh Steeler well beyond Roethlisberger's years. Winovich could surpass Dupree for playing time even as a rookie and Savage will easily make us forget about signing, and releasing, Morgan Burnett.