Recent Pittsburgh Steelers first-round mock drafts are all over the board
While a majority of the United States feels like “‘Tis the season” all over again, without the gifts and holiday joy, due to the nasty winter weather they’ve been enduring, it is the season for 2021 NFL mock drafts to drop; kind of like the temperatures recently. While our Steel City Underground team has some hearty discussions during this time, dipping into creating individual mock drafts, analysis of recent outside source first-round mock drafts for the Pittsburgh Steelers are all over the board, kind of like vehicles on icy roads. We’ll look at a few that may make Steelers fans warm up nicely or just feel cold chills.
There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Steelers due to the salary cap, restructuring, upcoming free agency, and the oft-mentioned situation with the organization and the future with, or without, veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Whether that is why there are so many mocks that are across the full football spectrum is not clear.
Charlie Campbell (WalterFootball): Najee Harris (Alabama) – RB
Their statement: “The Steelers need a difference-maker in the backfield. Harris would be a great fit and bring bell-cow back potential to the Pittsburgh offense… Harris flashed at times, but some scouts didn’t feel Harris was the same caliber as other recent Alabama running backs like Josh Jacobs, Damien Harris, or Derrick Henry.”
Analysis: Harris has been a favorite of many a mock draft because he’s seen as a power rusher, something Pittsburgh has been without. If James Conner signs with another team, running back may be a position the Steelers will draft but Harris will come at a premium. Would the Steelers pull the trigger with Benny Snell and Anthony McFarland already in their backfield due to their past two NFL Drafts? Would they focus on that position with the offensive line such an uncertainty? Most of the discussion at Steel City Underground has centered on why running back would be a risky pick in the first round for Pittsburgh.
Steve Palazzolo (PFF): Asante Samuel, Jr. (Florida State) – CB
Their statement: “There’s a roster overhaul heading to Pittsburgh this offseason, and the cornerback position is one that may look different in 2021. Samuel is a good fit for the Steelers because he works well in off-coverage and zone schemes with his eyes on the quarterback, all leading to a forced incompletion percentage of 20.2% over the last two seasons, seventh among 157 recent NFL prospects.”
Analysis: Granted, the Steelers will be making adjustments on their roster but it’s a stretch to fall for the idea that the defensive backfield will be the team’s first priority. Name recognition may play a part in this pick. Samuel has the stats that should translate in the NFL but he plays best in man-coverage and many scouts are saying he’ll be a second-to-third-round pick. Seeing him in black and gold with the No. 24 overall pick, however, is more than a longshot.
Daniel Jeremiah (NFL): Jalen Mayfield (Michigan) – OT
Their statement: “The Steelers will be restructuring the offensive line this offseason with center Maurkice Pouncey retiring and left tackle, Alejandro Villanueva, potentially departing in free agency.”
Analysis: While it’s true that the Steelers will be retooling their offensive front, there was next to no information as to why Jeremiah chose Mayfield for Pittsburgh. One of the first things that several scouting sites have pointed out about the redshirt sophomore was that he has the versatility to play at guard, as well as tackle, due to his athleticism. The Steelers are looking for an upgrade at run-blocking, however, and WalterFootball.com said Mayfield is “not overpowering as a run blocker”. With just 15 starts, Mayfield would not be someone that Pittsburgh could instantly plug into the line. That poses the question as to whether they’re ready to count on Chuks Okorafor and Zach Banner should Villanueva depart.
Austin Gayle (PFF): Jaelan Phillips (Miami, FL) -EDGE
Their statement: “Phillips was regarded as the No. 1 overall recruit by the 247Sports Composite coming out of Redlands East Valley High School. Phillips combined for 218 tackles and 30.5 sacks and two interceptions in his junior and senior season… Phillips suffered three severe concussions early in his UCLA career that led to him retiring from football ahead of the 2019 season. He eventually returned to the game to play for Miami (Fla.) in 2020 and turned in one of the better seasons of any pass-rusher in the country.”
Analysis: This pick seems a bit desperate at this point. Were Bud Dupree to not remain with the Steelers, Alex Highsmith proved to be capable at the edge position opposite T.J. Watt, especially as a rookie. His potential for a second-year breakout is there. If Dupree were retained, this would be a wasted pick in the first round. With concerns over concussion issues, Phillips’ stock is likely to fall and Pittsburgh could still acquire him, if wanted, in later rounds.