Joe Kuzma’s 2022 3-Round Steelers Mock Draft 1.0: Defense 1st Round?

Following the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger, it would appear that the Steelers have a huge need at the quarterback position in this year’s upcoming NFL Draft.

However, I’d say that with the quarterback class available, and picking first with the 20th overall selection, the Steelers may view this as more of a “want” than need. Despite all of the visits with various quarterback prospects, Pittsburgh has once again positioned themselves in a “Best Player Available” situation, where they have signed key free agents in several problem areas carried over from 2021.

In their standard modus operandi, the Steelers typically sign veterans and draft rookies at positions of need. During free agency they signed a quarterback, guard, center, and inside linebacker while bringing back a defensive lineman and offensive tackle.

I’d surmise that some of these players won’t face rookie competition – and with another big hole still wide-open on their depth chart, I could see Pittsburgh go back to drafting on the defensive side of the ball.

So, with the 20th pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers select…

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First Round (20): Daxton Hill – Safety (Michigan)

I know, I know: the Steelers have a perceived need at the quarterback position. However, with Mitchell Trubisky signed in free agency and Mason Rudolph looking to compete for the job he was drafted in 2018 to takeover for, I don’t know if the team’s visits and interviews aren’t a smoke screen to select someone at a true position of need: safety.

Pittsburgh enters the 2022 NFL Draft without a starting strong safety penciled in on their depth chart. Terrell Edmunds sits available as a free agent, among others (such as Tyrann Mathieu) as teams stare down a deep class of safeties.

How deep?

Well, this goes hand-in-hand with last season, when I felt the Steelers had to jump to take Najee Harris in the first round, because he wouldn’t be around by their second round pick. That proved to be true, as Harris, Travis Etienne, and Javonte Williams were all of of the board when Pittsburgh was back on the clock.

In the second round they instead snagged the second-best tight end in the draft, Pat Freiermuth, after the top dog Kyle Pitts was taken in the top five picks.

Coincidentally, another Kyle, Notre Dame’s Kyle Hamilton, is considered the draft’s best safety, and should be long gone before pick 20 this year. That leaves several big names on the board still, where the Steelers could get a starting safety in the first round – but not if they wait until the second.

I buck the trend here in other mocks by not only going defense, but going against my gut of a quarterback pick, defensive line depth (and potential future starter) or even a stud receiver by taking Dax Hill, who projects to be a versatile chess piece who can be used anywhere on the field.

But it’s a close race with Lewis Cine, who likely won’t dip into the second round either and is a thumper that the Steelers also covet. Either way, this is the spot to guarantee your starter next to Minkah Fitzpatrick. (And if they miss, I hope the red Bat-phone is nearby to ring up the Honey Badger.)

Also considered: Lewis Cine (S – Georgia), Devonte Wyatt (DE – Georgia), Chris Olave (WR – Ohio State)

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Second Round (52): Desmond Ridder – Quarterback (Cincinnati)

I know there are mock drafts which have Ridder as high as 10th overall to the Steelers (via trade) and others which have him slipping into the second round. Similarly, Kenny Pickett and Malik Willis were easily gone in other mocks before pick 20 as well. That leaves a lot to be desired with the top quarterbacks in this class, of whom I have a hard time assigning a first round value to.

There’s an undeniable want vs. need debate with the Steelers drafting a quarterback this year. Most people believe taking a quarterback makes the rookie an instant Ben Roethlisberger replacement, and I can sympathize with those who believe building through the draft is the best way to replace the legendary Big Ben.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of busts at the position, which leaves me leery of taking a passer from this class with the 20th overall pick. I’d be just as happy passing on a QB altogether – and in some of the simulations, I nearly did, as Georgia DE Devonte Wyatt almost slips this far. (I don’t feel that’s realistic, just going by my boards.)

If the Steelers see Ridder in this spot on day two, I don’t know how they can pass him up: but they did with Mason Rudolph in 2018 too, before moving up a few spots to leapfrog a pair of Bengals picks to secure their developmental QB.

I’m uncertain the Steelers pass on Ridder here if they already do at pick 20. It’s also possible they take a receiver or snag another young prospective signal caller, like Matt Corral.

I like Ridder’s value at pick 52 a lot more than 20, and would jump at the opportunity to grab him at this spot in the draft. He was easily the preseason favorite to be the top quarterback in college football, and led Cincinnati to the College Football Playoff: no small feat for a non-Power 5 school.

Also considered: George Pickens (WR – Georgia), Matt Corral (QB – Ole Miss)

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Third Round (84): Skyy Moore – Wide Receiver (Western Michigan)

After passing on receivers in each of the first two rounds, I wasn’t going to be denied adding some more talent to a room which lost three pass catchers a month ago in free agency.

Moore checks a lot of classic Steelers draft pick boxes, should he be available at pick 84. He’s smaller (5-11) and shifty, has reliable hands, but doesn’t project to be a burner. He’s from the Pittsburgh area and played for Western Michigan, where Steelers GM Kevin Colbert has an obsession – and knack – for finding great players out of the MAC.

JuJu Smith-Schuster and Ray-Ray McCloud, who each left in free agency, operated out of the slot. Enter Moore, who is an option to replace either of those two in the slot; something James Washington was unable to do.

The Steelers may also eye someone who fits a similar profile of Diontae Johnson, who is in the final year of his rookie deal.

This pick just screams classic Steelers mid-round receiver and they’d be fortunate to pick him here.

Also considered: Khalil Shakir (WR – Boise State)

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