Zach Metkler’s 2020 Steelers Mock Draft
I’m not quite sure how we got here so quickly but it is finally time for the 2020 NFL Draft. The 2020 NFL Draft has the makings of one of the more intriguing drafts in recent memory, largely due to the unique circumstances surrounding the draft with the current COVID-19 pandemic. Considering that the bulk of the pre-draft process has been conducted virtually via platforms like Zoom, FaceTime, and Skype, many teams have kept their potential plans and potential targets in the dark away from the media. The Pittsburgh Steelers are no exception to this.
Because of this, it has been unusually difficult to determine which direction the Steelers will go in the 2020 NFL Draft. Without a 1st-round pick this year, and by addressing some crucial needs in free agency, the Steelers are left in a position where they could select a variety of players.
Regardless of all the mystery surrounding the team, I have put together my one and only Steelers mock draft for this year.
1st Round (18): Minkah Fitzpatrick – All-Pro S – Alabama
As far as I’m concerned, this is the only pick in this draft that truly matters.
Just kidding. But seriously. Minkah Fitzpatrick! Anyway. Moving on.
2nd Round (49): Cam Akers – RB – Florida State
As this entire process has gone along, I have convinced myself that the Steelers will look to add a running back early in this draft. My gut tells me that if Jonathan Taylor is available, he has a strong possibility of being the pick here but it is hard to gauge where he will go due to the high mileage he has put up while at Wisconsin.
Enter Cam Akers.
While Akers doesn’t carry the fanfare that guys like Taylor, J.K. Dobbins, or D’Andre Swift bring with them, I truly believe that Akers should be in the same conversation in terms of talent and long-term upside. Much of the success and production that Akers found at Florida State stemmed from the talent he possesses as a runner, not because of the talent he didn’t have around him. Akers brings with him great vision, instincts, smooth feet, and deceptive speed and elusiveness. What stands out to me, though, is his desire to punish would-be tacklers on every play. He comes with some fumbling concerns that shouldn’t be overlooked but if that can be corrected, he fits the mold of a Steelers running back.
Other prospects considered: Jonathan Taylor – RB – Wisconsin; Jalen Reagor – WR – TCU; Lloyd Cushenberry – IOL – LSU
3rd Round (102): Quartney Davis – WR – Texas A&M
Considering the depth of this 2020 receiver class, it would come as a massive surprise to me if the Steelers didn’t address the position at some point in the draft. The need to pull the trigger on a receiver is even more important when you consider the question marks surrounding JuJu Smith-Schuster‘s long-term future in Pittsburgh. The Steelers could select a receiver if one they like falls to them at 49 but somewhere in the 3rd or 4th round feels more likely.
In my scenario, the Steelers take Texas A&M’s, Quartney Davis. In what has been described as one of the best receiving classes of the last decade or more, Davis has been a receiver who has been largely overlooked for one reason or another. But, when looking at this draft as a whole, Davis deserves to be in the conversation as one of the best route-runners in the entire class, where he shines as a technician with his footwork.
Beyond his route running, Davis has a natural sense of feeling spaces in coverage once he has broken off of defenders, which is a big part of why he found such consistent success in the slot in college. While Davis won’t be confused with vertical deep threats with blazing speed, he has solid speed and explosive get-offs from the line of scrimmage. With his size (6’1″, 201 pounds), toughness, and willingness to play in the middle of the field, Davis would make a lot of sense starting out in the slot early on but has the flexibility to move around the field – something the Steelers require of their receivers.
Other prospects considered: Bryan Edwards – WR – South Carolina; Zack Moss – RB – Utah; Bradlee Anae – EDGE – Utah
4th Round (124): John Simpson – IOL – Clemson
Even though the Steelers signed Stefen Wisniewski in free agency, there is a high likelihood that they will add at least one body up front along the offensive line via the draft. I expect Matt Feiler to bump inside to guard for the short term, so the Steelers could add a tackle here. But, if they choose to keep Feiler at tackle, going after a guard like John Simpson seems like a good fit.
Simpson is a monstrous man who plays like a bulldozer on every play. The power he has to create running lanes is enough to make any offensive line lover blush. While the straight-line power of his game is well documented, what makes Simpson an intriguing prospect is his ability to pull, work in space, and smoothly climb to the second level on zone plays. At 6’4″ 321 pounds, those are all great traits to have. Combine these traits with an already strong technical foundation, and the Steelers could have a future long-term starter at guard on their hands.
Other prospects considered: Alex Highsmith – EDGE – Charlotte; Leki Fotu – IDL – Utah; Darrynton Evans – RB – Appalachian State
4th Round (135): Brandon Jones – S – Texas
The Steelers have their two starters already in place in the form of Minkah Fitzpatrick and (like it or not, yinzers) Terrell Edmunds. But the depth behind both is anything but solid, and if an injury were to occur, the secondary would take a massive blow. Beyond that, the Steelers (much like the rest of the NFL) spend plenty of time in sub-packages and like the flexibility of utilizing a third safety.
Brandon Jones fits the mold of a traditional third safety who could easily fit into the defense as well as provide a nice boost on special teams. While at Texas, Jones gained experience playing all around the secondary, which is something the Steelers like in their defenders.
Realistically, in the NFL, Jones will spend most of his time playing in the deep middle of the field, where his speed and range will be on full display. This also plays into his strength as an open-field tackler, where he routinely makes fantastic tackles and delivers big blows for a player who is 5’11”, 198 pounds. Jones might never be a starter in the NFL but as a third safety and special teams ace, he could carve out a nice role for the Steelers’ revamped defense and allow some flexibility with where Fitzpatrick and Edmunds line up each play.
Other prospects considered: Amik Robertson – CB – Louisiana Tech; A.J. Dillon – RB – Boston College; Alex Taylor – OT – South Carolina State
6th Round (198): Rashard Lawrence – IDL – LSU
Of all the positions on the team, the one that doesn’t have a current “starter” lined up is nose tackle. While Daniel McCullers has performed admirably over the last two seasons since the arrival of defensive line coach Karl Dunbar, the Steelers will miss the presence of Javon Hargrave; he signed with the Philadelphia Eagles.
While the Steelers don’t spend a tremendous amount of time in their base 3-4 defense, that is still a role that is important for the team, particularly on obvious running downs. Rashard Lawrence checks a lot of boxes physically and mentally that the Steelers love in a defensive lineman, all while making his mark in the always tough SEC.
When you watch the tape, his motor is constantly ramped-up all the way and is constantly hustling no matter where he is on the field. Lawrence knows his role on defense and is willing to do the dirty work of eating up blocks for other players to flow freely but he has also shown the ability to jack up offensive linemen, slip the block, and pursue the ball. Everything he does comes with a “team-first” mentality and his leadership in college is well-documented.
Lawrence doesn’t come without flaws, as there is concern over his ability to maintain his leverage and control at the point of attack and potential limitations as a three-down player (which I think could drive his value down from what would otherwise be a day-two pick) but the tools and technique are there to develop into a quality defensive lineman in the NFL.
I’m not fully convinced that the Steelers will even take a defensive lineman this year and I don’t realistically think that Lawrence will be there this late but, if they do and he is, Lawrence is a quality addition on and off of the field.
Other prospects considered: Tanner Muse – S/LB – Clemson; Benito Jones – IDL – Ole Miss; John Hightower – WR – Boise State
7th Round (232): Austin Hall – LB – Memphis
Mocking players in the 7th round is often a challenge, considering that you never know who will really be there. In recent years, the Steelers have made it a habit to bring in under-the-radar prospects pre-draft that could flourish on special teams and provide some upside in a depth role.
This year, a few names have circulated around the Steelers and one of them is Austin Hall. The Steelers made a splash in the 1st round of the 2019 draft, trading up for Devin Bush. But after the release of Mark Barron, and Tyler Matakevich signing with the Bills, the Steelers are left with just Bush, Vince Williams, Ulysees Gilbert III, and Robert Spillane at (interior/middle) linebacker.
If the Steelers are interested in finding a player who can add utility on special teams and some rangy flexibility as a hybrid defender, similar to the role Barron filled, Hall could be a nice late-round pick-up. Hall was used all over the field in Memphis’ system and seems to fit the mold of a linebacker/safety hybrid. Athletically, his Pro Day turned heads, boasting a 4.5 second 40 time and a 40-inch vertical to go along with solid production during his time in Memphis, two things the Steelers like in late-round selections. Hall comes with some growing to do, in the league, but presents some competition for Gilbert and Spillane and has plenty of traits to work with as a hybrid defender.
Other prospects considered: Sewo Olonilua – RB – TCU; Dehonta Hayes – S – Eastern Washington; Khaleke Hudson – S – Michigan