My fellow Americans, we're here, it's draft week. Times have been stressful, sad, and full of the unknown. It is in such scary times like these that we need something to bring us all back home (literally) , and feel a sense of normalcy again.
Things are bigger than sports, we all know that. And I agree with that wholeheartedly.
But thank God we have something to look forward to in the sports world, and collectively take our minds off of the pandemic, even if it's just for a little while. I'll take it!
Ladies and gentlemen I say to you again, it's draft week. Get loud. And please, allow me to enlighten you on who the Pittsburgh Steelers will be targeting on Friday and Saturday. Won't you join me?
I'll admit, this mock draft was harder than most in years past. The Steelers, fortunately, are in no dire need at any position on their roster. An argument can be made for a "true nose tackle" I guess, but the Steelers often don't even need to use a true nose tackle.
On top of that, they have able bodies in that room right now.
Although, no one's up to the level of recent departed Javon Hargrave, I feel that the Steelers are comfortable with the room. Upgrade the offensive line? Sure. That's certainly a thought I had entertained, but the popular names I would like at 49 (like Lloyd Cushenberry from LSU) often aren't available in simulators, and I'm not going to reach for a position the Steelers don't even need this immediate season. So where do we go from here?
Round 2 pick #49: Tee Higgins WR - Clemson
Alright, when it came down to looking at where the team could go in 2020, I came to the conclusion that a lot of people have already arrived at; The Steelers can go in any direction they want, and their first pick is likely going to be the flat out best player available. And that player, for me, is Clemson wide receiver, Tee Higgins.
Wide receiver's gotta be one of the more polarizing positions being mocked to the Steelers early so I'm 100% prepared for the (negative) comments. Some people love it, some people hate it. The fact of the matter is Higgins in an extremely productive player (1,167 yards 13 touchdowns in 2019) , and an enticing weapon that could enhance any team's current WR room.
A couple of things that stood out to me watching him were:
- A+ contested catches
- Down the field threat, good ball tracking
- Has awareness and ability running back shoulder fades
- Natural, smooth runner
- Nose for the endzone (big-play ability+++)
- Sticks with the play when it breaks down makes himself available for his quarterback
Sounds like a player Steelers quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, would like to have in his arsenal. Am I right?
"It's not 50/50 haha, it's 80/20!!" — CBS sports announcer LIVE on air as Higgins catches a 50/50 ball from QB Trevor Lawrence.
So I'm sure you're asking yourself, "Well Zac, if he's so good how's he going to fall to pick 49?" To which I would then say, luckily for the Steelers, Higgins had himself a very underwhelming NFL combine and when that happens, talented players like Higgins tend to slip through the cracks.
Higgins clocked a 4.54 40 yard dash, which isn't even bad, and he only hit 31 inches on the vertical jump. The kid plays way better than that on tape, but NFL teams are often stupid, and those testing numbers will scare some away, trust me. And I call him a kid very fittingly, because Higgins just turned 21 in January, and we all know the Steelers value age of their top picks consistently.
And as if that weren't enough to brace yourselves for the possibility of Higgins in a Steelers uniform, both Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert were in attendance at Clemson pro day. It was one of the only ones they were able to go to before the crisis.
Also considered: Michael Pittman (USC), Chase Claypool (ND), Jeremy Chinn (SIU), Cam Akers (FLA. St)
Round 3 pick #102: Cam Akers RB - Florida State
Oh yeah, baby, you read this right: I got the Steelers going back-to-back skilled positions with their first two picks and your eyes do not deceive you, I do have Cam Akers falling to Pittsburgh at 102. The Florida State running back has been heavily tied to the Steelers in draft circles because the team has expressed obvious interest meeting with Akers (before the coronavirus outbreak) both formally and informally (whatever that means) at the combine.
With James Conner's future up in the air, and Jaylen Samuels under-performing last season, running back is a position the Steelers seem almost certain to address. Not only address, but why not add a little flare? A little "pizzaz", if you will? Cam Akers has something the current stable of Pittsburgh backs do not, and that's speed. The junior running back (there's that age factor again) has breakaway and big-play ability: something we haven't seen in the Steelers backfield in a long, long time.
Now Akers wouldn't get the starting nod immediately, that's just not how the Steelers do business. Expect Conner to still be the starter while healthy in 2020, but the coaches won't be able to keep him (Akers) and the different wrinkles he can add to the offense sidelined for long. I'd anticipate a steady increase in playing time and touches for the rookie as the season progressed. Which will ultimately lead to Akers being the bell cow next season, if not sooner.
Also considered: Kyle Dugger (ULR), Troy Dye (Oregon), Willie Gay Jr. (Miss. St.)
Round 4 pick #124: John Simpson IOL - Clemson
Here they come, your 2020 Pittsburgh Clemson Tigers! I know I'm hilarious but all jokes aside this is a serious matter and I think the selection of Simpson is a very real possibility. I'd go as far as to say it's even likely. As mentioned earlier, both Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert were at Clemson pro day. And it was reported they met with the big man before he started his drills. The interest and the need is there.
The Steelers signed veteran interior lineman, Stefan Wisniewski, this past offseason in efforts to replace BJ Finney. Finney left in free agency, and even worse, long time starter Ramon Foster retired.
Pittsburgh was able to fill the shoes of one of their departed, but there's still a Ramon Foster sized hole on the roster. I think Simpson can provide immediate above-average depth at the center and guard spots. And eventually, he can be groomed into a long-time starter along the interior for Pittsburgh. Simpson gets to go from one winning culture to another, with teammate Tee Higgins. Hollywood stuff.
Round 4 pick #135: Brandon Jones S - Texas
The second-team All-Big 12 versatile defensive back is flying under a lot of radars (Although not at Steel City Underground, where he's being mocked to the Steelers HEAVILY). Jones has been seeing playing time at Texas since he was a freshman, and as a result, has gained valuable starting experience in his time at school.
Elected a captain by his teammates, Jones reportedly "blew away a lot of teams at the combine with his football IQ" per source. The same source listed the Steelers as one of the teams who held a formal interview with the Texas Longhorn. Safety is a spot not enough people realize the Steelers need help at. They need depth. They have none.
Jones can play both free and strong safety so he would give Pittsburgh a very valuable depth piece to have, and an immediate contributor on special teams. Guys who are former captains in college always go crazy on special teams; see Tyler Matakevitch.
Round 6 pick #198: Cameron Clark T - Charlotte
With one of their final picks of the draft, I have the Steelers beefing up the offensive line in addition to the John Simpson pick. Clark fits the Steelers MO of a late-round lineman to a T. He dominated his level of competition in Conference USA, where he was voted first-team all-conference. He also was voted a team captain by his teammates in 2018.
With Al Villanueva getting older, and the team still not knowing what they have in Chucks Orkafor or Zach Banner, adding competition to the room and investing capital in the room makes sense.
Round 7 pick #232: Trevis Gipson EDGE - Tulsa
Another first-team all-conference guy, the Steelers continue to target pedigree and dominance at the level of competition with their last pick. Gipson forced 5 fumbles as a junior and followed that up the next season with 15 tackles for loss and 8 sacks (which led to his all-conference honors). That tells me the kid is a natural playmaker on defense and hustles to the ball. Good thing happens when you hustle to the ball.
Gipson stands 6"3 and weighed in at 261 pounds. Although a little on the heavy side, that's a very similar frame to both Bud Dupree and TJ Watt. Gipson also comes from a family of athletic accomplishments (Dad played basketball at Texas and Mom ran track at North Texas), which we know catches the Steelers' attention. When you're picking this late in mock drafts, it's little things like these that you can look for to try and guess if they'll be on the Steelers radar.