Christina Rivers’ 2021 4-Round Steelers Mock Draft
After weeks of high speculation across social media platforms, the 2021 NFL Draft is nearly upon us. In just a few days, fans of all 32 teams in the league – including Pittsburgh Steelers fans – will find out who their organization chooses to bring in from the collegiate ranks and help bolster their rosters ahead of yet another competitive NFL season.
The Steelers would like to grab the top spot in the AFC North again this upcoming season, and that has made predictions about how they’ll draft, for lack of a better word, “unpredictable”, to say the least.
Early mocks had the Steelers picking positions from all over the board. Even after hearing from Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin, the plan seems to remain focused on selecting the players they feel can play the Steelers way.
Admittedly, I ran around 20 different mock drafts using various simulators over the past few weeks.
I finally feel relatively certain that, although I am more likely to miss more than I am to hit, the Steelers will focus, not on a “hot” position fans have been pleading for in the first round – but, on a position they feel they can pick a player who can make an early impact and be someone that they feel can pick up their system of play without one-to-two years of training behind a current impact player.
First Round (24): Eric Stokes – CB (Georgia)
Trust me, I am sure a lot of booing is happening right off the bat because so many Steelers fans are dead set on having Asante Samuel, Jr., become Pittsburgh’s number one pick off the draft board this year. With so much hype, though, it’s not a stretch to think that other teams that are in need of a top cornerback won’t be looking at Samuel as well… and earlier than No. 24.
Stokes fits very well in a blitz-heavy defense, however, and it doesn’t appear – at least for now – that Keith Butler is going to get away from applying pressure against every opponent the Steelers face in 2021-22. Stokes’ top asset is his versatility; he plays well in both man- and zone-coverage and isn’t shy about making plays on the ball.
He tracks the ball even after pressing his man which led to him breaking up numerous passes as a Bulldog. Stokes wraps up his tackles and is an effective, and willing, run defender off the snap.
His ability to close on ball carriers and receivers in stride would give the Steelers a player that could replace Steven Nelson or Mike Hilton who both departed during the offseason. At 6-feet-1, his long arms help him in press and when extending to prevent the ball from reaching its target, and his foot speed would allow him to go head-to-head with top receivers in the league.
Also considered: CB Assante Samuel Jr. (Florida State), RB Najee Harris (Alabama), OT Alex Leatherwood (Alabama)
Second Round (55): Liam Eichenberg – OT (Notre Dame)
This year’s draft looks to have a run on both cornerbacks and offensive tackles. While I’d love to see the Steelers grab Leatherwood with this pick, I don’t realistically see that happening.
There are a lot of offensive linemen, as Colbert inferred this week, that are available in this year’s draft.
It depends on the sense of urgency the Steelers have when No. 55 comes around whether they pull the trigger on building their offensive front, grabbing a potential starting-quality rusher, or position they feel must be filled early.
Eichenberg would be a good fit with the Steelers. A Cleveland, Ohio, native, Eichenberg progressed well each year of his collegiate career. Hitting the desired size and frame requisites NFL scouts love to see in a blind-side protector, Eichenberg shows good balance between patience and keeping his body squared to athletic edge rushers.
He has hustle and enough of a mean streak to play until the whistle is blown to end a play. He’ll need to grow and improve his game when playing in space but his size and athleticism should give the Steelers a player they can plug into their offensive line that would give them juice, not just in pass protection but also in the run game.
Also considered: OT Jalen Mayfield (Michigan), RB Michael Carter (North Carolina), RB Trey Sermon (Ohio State)
Third Round (87): Quinnn Meinerz – C (Wisconsin – Whitewater)
The fact that the Steelers lost Maurkice Pouncey seems to loom larger as a “need to fill” position issue than returning to a run-by-committee situation in the offensive backfield, in my opinion. It’s a discussion I’ve gone back and forth on with several people in the backchannels at Steel City Underground.
As a fast-rising, potential Day One prospect, Quinn Meinerz may be just who the Steelers need to quarterback their offensive line of the future. A lot of people will balk over the pick because of the fact that he’d never played center, his fall season in 2020 was cancelled, and he broke his hand during Senior Bowl practices.
Meinerz ignored the injury and showed a ton of strength at the point of attack alongside great athleticism.
With more experience at offensive guard, the fact that he attended a Division III school won’t be a factor in keeping him off of an NFL roster. His experience as a high school wrestler has also led Meinerz to be something of a beast in the weight room.
Also considered: C Creed Humphrey (Oklahoma), RB Trey Sermon (Ohio State), RB Kenneth Gainwell (Memphis)
Fourth Round (128): Trey Sermon – RB (Ohio State)
In several mock drafts, Sermon wasn’t still on the board at No. 128. If the Steelers choose to at least add a potential No. 1 rusher to their offensive backfield, Sermon could fill that need well if he’s there on draft day.
Sermon excels in balance in power as a rusher, especially when he scoots between the tackles. He has good vision and burst to make cuts and change direction while fighting off arm- and high-tackles.
Sermon struggles to maintain that burst on the perimeter, however, against quick defenses that move fluidly, sideline to sideline.
Sermon could be worked into a rotation with Pittsburgh.
He has been credited for being able to pick up blocks and shake loose as a check-down, or hot, receiver for his quarterback. A north-south runner, Sermon and Benny Snell would make a tough-to-tackle one-two punch for the power run game and free up Jaylen Samuels and Anthony McFarland, Jr., to work the perimeters.
Also considered: RB Kenneth Gainwell (Memphis), RB Kahlil Herbert (VA Tech)
Fourth Round (140): Monty Rice – LB (Georgia)
At Georgia, Rice was a run-and-chase linebacker who showed explosiveness and the ability to close the gap in pursuit, quickly. With the return of Vince Williams at interior linebacker on a one-season deal, Rice would be a good pick to pair up with Robert Spillane and Ulysees Gilbert III in rotation behind Devin Bush.
Rice works to the perimeters and stops ball carriers from making the edge. He also has solid instincts when dropping into zone and coverage.
Rice would be a strong sub-package player and that fits what Keith Butler has utilized over the last couple of seasons.
While Rice could use some bulk in the weight room at the next level, as well as some work on managing run defense in the middle, Rice has shown he can stay with tight ends in pass-heavy offenses.
Also considered: LB K.J. Britt (Auburn), LB Ernest Jones (South Carolina), EDGE Cam Sample (Tulane), S Divine Deablo (VA Tech)
The Steelers reportedly had safety Divine Deablo on their radar as a potential pick. It would not surprise me if he were to put on the black and gold during the 2021 NFL Draft but I’m not sure he’s a lock, even in the late rounds.
With the Steelers having no fifth-round selection, they’ll have three picks left (two in the seventh round) to try and round out their draft class.
Pittsburgh may double-dip at the cornerback and linebacker position this year. My most-educated guess would be that they at least add depth at EDGE/outside linebacker.
There are also questions as to whether the Steelers feel they need to add anyone else to the receivers/tight ends room. The seventh round might be the perfect time to do just that.