Joe Kuzma’s 2021 7-Round Steelers Mock Draft 1.0

The 2021 offseason has been a difficult year to peg down the upcoming NFL Draft as any. In particular, with no NFL Combine, it’s been harder to figure out which players may be coveted in certain areas as opposed to others.

The Pittsburgh Steelers also face a difficult task of finding future starters and depth prospects at several positions, where we typically feel they can choose a “best player available” based on how the board falls to them.

I feel that the Steelers will not be in the market for a few positions this draft, namely (and no matter what the talking heads on TV say) the quarterback position. With four quarterbacks on the roster currently, there’s no need to spend a pick on one.

The needs are otherwise obvious.

The sexy pick will be a running back, but based on who the Steelers have spoke with, that selection could happen anywhere in the draft. Offensive line should be the primary focus, but Pittsburgh has also talked to all of the top cornerbacks in this draft class as well – signaling that replacements are needed for Steven Nelson and Mike Hilton.

As mock drafts go, this is what I would do if I were in charge of things. Tread lightly Steelers Nation, this is a tough one to predict!

For more predictions I used a mix of different big boards and draft simulators to make some educated guesses on where certain players may fall. Keep in mind, this is all wishful thinking!

Here are those wishes:

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First Round (24): Teven Jenkins – OT (Oklahoma State)

I’ll be very forward in saying that I’m struggling with the risk associated with passing on certain players and positions here. The gamble is that one of the top three running backs makes it down to the Steelers second round pick.

For a first round pick I’d prefer a potential ten-year starter who can anchor the offensive line. Kevin Colbert had built the line similarly a decade ago by drafting Maurkice Pouncey, Marcus Gilbert, and David DeCastro, though a few darts had to be thrown when picks such as Mike Adams didn’t work out.

Here he should have a selection of players such as Jenkins, a nasty mauler who projects as a right tackle.

With Zach Banner slated to play at left tackle and Chuks Okorafor entering his final year of his rookie contract, I’d like to play it safe and get a stud tackle who could end up in either player’s spot as necessary.

Also considered: OT Dillon Radunz (North Dakota State), CB Assante Samuel Jr. (Florida State), RB Najee Harris (Alabama) 

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Second Round (55): Najee Harris – RB (Alabama)

I’ve assessed my risk and believe that more teams will not be in the market for a running back early. My biggest concerns lie with the Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, and Jacksonville Jaguars. Each of those teams is in a rebuild mode with a bunch of picks – the latter two have new coaching staffs who may not cling to the previous regime’s players.

In the case of the Jets, that’s last year’s pick LaMichael Perine and for the Jaguars, undrafted standout James Robinson. The Dolphins also have Myles Gaskin on their depth chart, but all three teams can seek to improve their backfield.

My hope is that they do not, allowing the Steelers to steal one of the top three backs in the draft, between Najee Harris, Travis Etienne, and Javonte Williams.

Of the three, Williams has not been reported to have met with the Steelers.

I’d be totally fine with either Etienne or Harris, but if neither are available, then I may jump the gun on the center position, which I’m also gambling with landing in the third round.

Also considered: RB Travis Etienne (Clemson), C Landon Dickerson (Alabama)

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Third Round (87): Creed Humphrey – C (Oklahoma)

My guesstimations here are based on team needs – and three centers going in the first 100 picks is incredibly rare, especially when the draft class is considered weaker as it is in 2021.

By pick 87, the Steelers should have at least a running back and an offensive lineman in tow. If they miss on Harris or Etienne in the second round, any of the available centers could be their pick at 55 with a running back here instead.

Don’t ask me why, but I feel like Humphrey is the player likely to be available here. In my mocks he could be gone, with Wisconsin-Whitewater’s Quinn Meinerz available instead.

What I’m truly trying to mold is the next great Steelers offensive line. With a tackle and center added this year, those players could play in 2021, but I’m also looking ahead to solidifying this unit with more picks in 2022 depending on who pans out.

I’d prefer a Power 5 school product for this pick regardless.

Also considered: RB Kenneth Gainwell (Memphis), RB Trey Sermon (Ohio State), C Quinn Meinerz (Wisconsin-Whitewater)

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Fourth Round (128): Cameron McGrone – LB (Michigan)

Did you think I was only picking offense in this draft?

While I feel an itch to snag a tight end, I’m trying to play my cards right in when to do so. That’s why it’s time for defense, and pairing this Michigan product alongside another in Devin Bush makes too much sense.

Yes, I’m aware that Vince Williams is back – as is Robert Spillane. But each may only be around one more season and we’ve seen what happens when the Steelers lose their starting inside linebackers to injury.

McGrone can be a nice compliment to Bush who also improves the Steelers pass coverage ability at the position over Williams and Spillane.

I’m also uncertain if Ulysses Gilbert has a shot of making the roster this season, after missing so much time with injuries, so depth and the future at this position must be addressed.

Also considered: TE Tommy Tremble (Notre Dame), WR Amari Rodgers (Clemson)

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Fourth Round (140): Patrick Jones II – EDGE (Pittsburgh)

They see him across the hall and are in need of some depth at outside linebacker – now the Steelers net their guy in the fourth round with the extra compensatory pick with Jones II.

With Bud Dupree and Ola Adeniyi both departing, edge rusher will have to be considered at some point in the draft. I see Jones’ value all over the place in different big boards, but I feel this could be a landing spot for him in the middle rounds.

Also considered: TE Tommy Tremble (Notre Dame), WR Amari Rodgers (Clemson)

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Sixth Round (216): Tre McKitty – TE (Georgia)

After passing on Tremble, who I feel can have a future as a better blocker, the Steelers land a playmaking prosect in McKitty who can be the future fill-in for Eric Ebron.

It’s worth a shot at this point in the draft, and for the few secondary tight end snaps available, and with two at the position getting a helmet on game days, McKitty won’t be asked to contribute right away either. The Steelers can be patient and develop him as time goes on.

Also considered: TE John Bates (Boise State)

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Seventh Round (245): Jaylon Moore – OT (Western Michigan)

The Steelers won’t go this draft without selecting a player from a MAC school either.

Enter Moore, a 6-4, 311 lbs. three-year starter at Western Michigan, who appears to have more issues with fundamentals than talent.

Read: his perceived pre-draft problems can be fixed by coaching, making him a solid developmental player to take in the seventh round.

Also considered: OT Carson Green (Texas A&M), OT Tommy Doyle (Miami, Ohio)

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Seventh Round (254): Avery Williams – CB (Boise State)

Williams isn’t really on anyone’s radar and could be an undrafted college free agent – much in the same way Mike Hilton was.

That’s where I project Williams to be tried out at, a nickel cornerback who could line up with slot receivers.

Williams is also a special teams standout as a returner and has over 30 career college games played. His experience and versatility may make him a sleeper pick late in the draft… it may not happen overnight, but when you’re this close to Mr. Irrelevant in the draft, anything is worth a shot.

Also considered: WR Ben Skowronek (Notre Dame)

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Final Thoughts

I hope my logic is sound and the board follows as I’d like – but my gut feeling still tells me that taking tackle with the top pick may not happen and the Steelers might have to pull the trigger on a running back and center a pick earlier than my mock.

Should that happen, a few other picks could slide up the board as well, including a linebacker and edge rusher.

Absent from my draft is a higher pick for a cornerback: Pittsburgh only talked to the top prospects, whereas, they looked at tackles and running backs who could be picked on any day of the NFL Draft.

For the first time in awhile wide receiver is absent from the mix too, but the passing game gets a boost from any of the running backs on my radar as well as the selection of McKitty (who may not see the field anyway in year one).

I doubled down at tackle much like when Colbert did the same in 2012, taking Mike Adams and Kelvin Beachum after getting David DeCastro in the first round. I like any pairing of at least two offensive linemen and a running back in the top four picks.

After that, getting some help for the defensive depth is still crucial.

Jones won’t start over Highsmith, and McGrone will be groomed to takeover for Williams and/or Spillane.

There still isn’t a defined answer to replacing Nelson or Hilton, but my last pick should help the Steelers find out if they’d prefer Cameron Sutton or Justin Layne as their top option as an outside corner opposite Joe Haden. My guess is Sutton’s position flexibility, combined with other team needs, puts cornerback on the backburner until next year’s offseason, unless the team strikes with one of the top five players with their first round selection.

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