Joe Kuzma’s 2020 7-Round Steelers Mock Draft 1.0
Another year, another mock draft I’ll likely get wrong!
As we head into the 2020 NFL Draft, less and less is known of who is interested in who based on the limited amount of contact teams have had with draft prospects due to the current coronavirus pandemic.
That leaves a lot to guess – and especially so with a Steelers team with huge gaps between picks!
This year’s first round pick was spent early in 2019 to acquire Minkah Fitzpatrick, which makes the 2020 draft a win already for the Steelers. It also means we’ll be bored on the first day of the draft, where I don’t expect a Steelers franchise with limited draft capital to make the type of splash they did last year when they moved up ten spots to draft Devin Bush.
With that in mind, the Steelers pick first at 49, then wait about another 50 picks before getting their second selection. They have two picks in round four, none in round five, and close out the draft with a single pick in the sixth and seventh rounds.
I don’t see a lot of “play now” needs when I look at the roster, however, which gives me some flexibility in terms of choosing the best player available while focusing on the near future and what that roster makeup could be like.
Here are my best guesses as to where the Steelers could end up, including some “also considered” picks.
Note: I based a lot of my mock draft on using FanSpeak’s Mock Draft Simulator, utilitizing Matt Miller‘s big board and a combination of “needs” between the site’s contributor and user picks. In some instances players were either available or unavailable, so as with any mock draft, keep in mind this is rooted in fantasy and may have a different reality come draft day!
Second Round (49): J.K. Dobbins – RB (Ohio State)
I don’t see running back as a necessary pick in 2020, however, when given an opportunity to upgrade any position, I could see the Steelers sweeping in for a running back or a wide receiver with this pick.
The reason I went running back is simple: I believe this is a deep WR draft class and that the Steelers could find someone in the later rounds to help compete with what is already a fairly packed receiver room. I also believe that JuJu Smith-Schuster has a better chance of being a Steelers in 2021 than James Conner.
Conner enters his fourth, and final year on his rookie contract. While he’s flashed Pro Bowl playmaking potential, there’s always the question marks about his health and availability that will leave us wondering if he should be relied upon to be a feature back.
Benny Snell was drafted last season to shoulder the load and could likely do so. Jaylen Samuels is more of a utility player, which leaves some question marks should Conner get hurt again, or isn’t re-signed beyond 2020: that would mean the Steelers are right back where they were last season with their lack of a running game.
As a complete insurance pick, any of three names would get me excited, between Dobbins, Jonathan Taylor and Cam Akers – though Taylor’s wear and tear would leave me with similar concerns as Conner.
Dobbins would fit my homer pick bias, and that of a Steelers team with a track record of going after former Buckeyes too.
I could see Dobbins sharing carries and he could be a complete three-down back that Pittsburgh has rolled with in spite of the league favoring committees. A committee in 2020 could help keep Conner healthy, further develop Snell and whet the appetite of a rookie coming in with the prospect of taking over the following season.
Regardless, I feel there’s no doubt that the Steelers are going to address the offense in some way with their first pick of the draft.
Also considered: RB Jonathan Taylor (Wisconsin), RB Cam Akers (Florida State), G John Simpson (Clemson), WR Chase Claypool (Notre Dame), WR Laviska Shenault Jr. (LSU)
Third Round (102): Robert Hunt – OG (Louisiana-Lafayette)
As you may have noticed above, I was already looking at offensive line. With the departures of Ramon Foster and B.J. Finney, the Steelers have a need for some fresh, young blood to come in and compete in the coming years as their rock-solid line play left a little to be desired last year, but still has a lot left in the tank.
Stefan Wisniewski was signed in free agency to compete at left guard and is a capable backup center. Matt Feiler, the team’s right tackle for the last year and a half, is naturally a guard too. That leaves former third round pick Chuks Okorafor and Zach Banner competing as the backup tackles.
Why not add to that mix with a position flexible player such as Robert Hunt, who has played right tackle most recently but also has experience at left tackle and left guard?
Position flexibility is key in the NFL, particularly with linemen and the massive Hunt would fit the bill to help the Steelers further figure out where the aforementioned Feiler, Okorafor and Banner factor into their plans.
Also consider that Feiler and Banner were both restricted free agents this offseason, and the apparent need for someone to step in where available is more of a need than going after a receiver… yet.
Also considered: G Damien Lewis (LSU), G Shane Lemieux (Oregon), G Jonah Jackson (Ohio State)
Fourth Round (124): Brandon Jones – S (Texas)
The Steelers have a glaring need at safety, despite the addition of Minkah Fitzpatrick and adding Terrell Edmunds with their 2018 first round pick.
The need isn’t because of the play of either of those two starters, rather, if one of them should get injured.
Enter position flexible Jones, who the Steelers have had their eye on during the draft process. He could fill a need as a nickel or dime down back, while also filling a hole where current safeties on the roster (such as Jordan Dangerfield and Marcus Allen) cannot.
Pittsburgh has gambled for too long with castoffs such as the AAF’s Kameron Kelly, the on-and-off the roster Dangerfield, or Allen (who has been cut a few times himself) to risk not having a better option behind their two solid starters, making safety a target in the middle rounds of the draft.
Also considered: (See next pick)
Fourth Round (135): Van Jefferson – WR (Florida)
Where does one go from here?
I’ve felt as if the tight end class this year was a weak one, which leaves two intriguing prospects (listed below) as potential additions who could develop into playmakers without needing them on the field on day one in 2020. Beyond this season, I’m not sure the Steelers (at this time) can rely on either Vance McDonald or Eric Ebron both being on the roster in 2021.
That would have me jump at Thaddeus Moss, but I’m still feeling a bit of risk here. The team’s third tight end wouldn’t likely see the field, much like when Jesse James was a rookie out of the fifth round years ago. The team may not be willing to give up on last year’s fifth rounder Zach Gentry just yet either, which means it’s time to look at family pedigree and another skill position to add a weapon to.
And I don’t mean Thaddeus Moss… though he was considered (the Steelers would be able to sit on and develop him with McDonald and Ebron ahead of him.)
That’s where Jefferson falls in, whose father Shawn was a 13-year pro and is a current coach with the Jets. Jefferson is a versatile receiver who can be moved around the field the way the Steelers like. He’s a bit bigger than last year’s chess piece Diontae Johnson but with he, JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington figuring to be the top three on the depth chart, Jefferson can bide his time for some playing time and potentially snag it from the Steelers other receivers at the bottom of the depth chart, Ryan Switzer and Deon Cain.
In fact, Jefferson could fit somewhere between Washington and Johnson’s roles, allowing the Steelers to be more flexible on offense while also maybe moving on from Switzer as a slot-only type option who quickly fell out of favor as a special teamer early last season. It also addresses Smith-Schuster entering the final year of his rookie contract and Washington needing to continue his ascent in his third year as a pro.
At some point the Steelers always address receiver and this year’s draft will be no different.
Also considered: WR K.J. Hill (Ohio State), WR Quintz Cephus (Wisconsin), TE Albert Okwuegbunam (Missouri), TE Thaddeus Moss (LSU)
Sixth Round (198): Shaquille Quarterman – LB (Miami)
I’m really feeling the pressure of going offense with three of the first four picks, so it’s time to rebound back to the defense after a long hiatus from going to the podium over the last 63 picks.
This time I’m torn between a safety and a linebacker: with the former covered already, I think the latter is more than necessary.
Tunch Ilkin once told me the lifeblood of the team is linebacker. With Mark Barron released and Tyler Matakevich moving on to a new team, the backers are looking younger than ever with second year pros Devin Bush and Ulysses Gilbert.
There’s a hole here that needs filled and likely a number of players to pick from with however this year’s process unfolds. In most of my mocks, I’ve been prone to look at someone with several years of playing time from a bigger school to fill that role. (Though MAC schools have also been a target, I’m unfamiliar with any of those prospects jumping out in this year’s process.)
Therefore, I went with Shaquille Quarterman from Miami, a four-year starter who is a thumper and a willing tackler who could be in the vein of Vince Williams.
That also leaves a liability as far as linebackers who can pass cover – a given on day three anyway. My hope here is that the team is high on Gilbert as a reserve, but shouldn’t have to see anyone other than Bush in those situations!
That means Quarterman gets to toss his hat into the special teams pile, where he’ll likely flourish as a mid-round pick.
Also considered: LB William Gay Jr. (Mississippi State), S K’Von Wallace (Clemson)
Seventh Round (232): Derrek Tuszka – EDGE (North Dakota State)
With Anthony Chickillo released, the Steelers have Ola Adeniyi and Tuzar Skipper as their primary backup edge rushers heading into camp. While those are both developmental players, so would be anyone taken in the seventh round.
So, why not go after a highly productive FCS player and let him compete?
Tuszka was a first-team Associated Press All-American and Missouri Valley Football Conference Defensive Player of the Year in 2019, as well as a three-time National Champion with NDSU.
As an FCS standout he may not get the same attention as others and will likely be here in the last round of the draft: or go undrafted. That’s due to being a bit undersized as a 4-3 defensive end for the NFL, yet there’s some thought, as the Steelers have done with players such as Chickillo, LaMarr Woodley and others in the past, that Tuszka could push over to a 3-4 outside linebacker, where his 6’4″ 250lbs. frame may be better suited for a system such as Pittsburgh’s.
I’m honestly throwing a dart here near the end of the draft, and seventh rounders are typically longshots to make the roster. However, this is one position that hasn’t been largely address and the only other area where I feel the team has a “need” to bring someone to camp to compete for a roster spot. (I would consider offensive line a similar need, but thinking a UDFA could fulfill the same as it has in year’s past.)