By Andrew Malkasian
The fabled draft of 1974 is an unfair benchmark for any franchise. For the Steelers front office staff, however, it can’t be easy having to see the hardware produced by that prodigious class every day as they walk into the team facility. But, this is year Bill Nunn is posthumously entering the Hall of Fame and as the architect of that historic draft, maybe we can hope that history is soon to be made again. I’m optimistic every year and perhaps even a bit delusional. I would argue that we’re all delusional to make these mock drafts, too. The draft is an inherently flawed process where emotion and gut feeling often dictate choices and overthinking creates historically bad decisions. I mean we all remember Tim Tebow, Jamarcus Russell, and my personal favorite, Tee Martin over Tom Brady.
I recently heard Mel Kiper, Jr. remark that this might be one of the most unpredictable drafts in his 40 plus years covering the event. In a literal sense that seems absurd, they’re all unpredictable, every mock is largely wrong and mostly a shot at an ego boost in retrospect. Yet, with the pandemic upending the traditional scouting routines and the combine meat-market, it’s hard to see how teams will respond. So perhaps, the Pompadour of Baltimore has a point. From the Steelers perspective, I feel as though much of their actions will be predicated upon the ways in which they’ve drafted in the past. More specifically, the Steelers will likely tap the well of schools we’re they’ve found success in the past and select players – like they traditionally do – who’ve they’ve met with individually. While that latter standard is often reserved for the first two rounds, I wouldn’t be surprised if it extended beyond that this go ‘round.
So with any luck, maybe I’ve gotten something right here:
FIRST ROUND: Travis Etienne, RB, Clemons
5’10” | 215 lbs. | 1/26/1999
I’m just going to try and stay consistent here. In my fist mock I picked Etienne simply because I think with Canada’s offensive outlook, he fits perfectly. Granted, he’s not a great interior runner like Najee Harris, but his pass catching ability and incredible speed to the edge may be exactly what the Steelers are looking for in a feature back this time around. Also, I think he’ll be a bit of lighting to the potential thunder of Benny Snell.The curious thing about taking a running back in the first round is that since 1972, they’ve only done it five times. Also, Colbert has only ever taken one running back in the first-round dating back to the 90s when he was the lead scout of the Detroit Lions. I’m not sure that’s relevant necessarily, but sometimes habits die hard. Is this the year?
FYI: Running backs taken since 1972 with first selection: Rashard Mendenhall in 2008, Tim Worley in 1989, Walter Abercrombie in 1982, Greg Hawthorne in 1979, Hall of Famer Franco Harris in 1972.
SECOND ROUND: Landon Dickerson, C, Alabama
Alabama 6’5” | 333 lbs. | 9/30/1998
Injuries are a concern, but the upside may be too high to pass on him, especially with a serious need on the offensive line. Plus, he has the ability to play multiple positions. Moreover, if he didn’t have a history of injuries, he’d be taken in the first half of the first round, if not in the top ten. And, as far as I’m concerned, he’s a prototypical smart and athletic Steelers’center. Also, the current situation at Center reminds me a bit of the transition from Mike Webster to Dermontti Dawson in the 1988 season. And let’s be honest, it’s not often the Steelers don’t have the best center in the NFL.
THIRD ROUND: Tommy Tremble, TE, Notre Dame
6’3” | 241 lbs. | 6/2/2000
There’s something that makes me think if Pat Freiermuth is available in the second round, the Steelers would celebrate and select him with no hesitation, but I fear he’s too good to fall to 55 let alone into the second round. Therefore, I think Tremble would be a great selection and good value in the third especially considering the lack of great depth at the position this year. He’s a solid blocker and can probably develop into a stronger pro than he was a college player. He’s not perfect, but neither was Jesse James nor is Eric Ebron!
FOURTH ROUND: Pete Werner, LB, Ohio State
6’2” | 238 lbs. | 6/5/1998
Jamin Davis or Baron Browning may fall more in line with the measurables the Steelers are looking for in a LB to pair with Bush, but I feel that there are too many needs for the Steelers to get one of the coveted linebackers as they’ll quickly be snatched up before the fourth round. But Werner has all the skills and tangibles to become an elite LB with the freewheeling and dynamic Devin Bush by his side. As the athletic reports, his lateral speed and coverage ability make him an absolute steal in the fourth round. I think he can be a little like Ryan Clark to Devin Bush’s Troy Polamalu. Am I reaching here, yes but who isn’t?
FOURTH ROUND: Tre Brown, CB, Oklahoma
5’9” | 185 lbs. | 9/24/1997
Perhaps he’s a bit too small, but the kids can run with the best of them. With a 4.4 forty he’s not going to be beat by those speedy receivers in Baltimore or Cleveland. He may need to perfect his game, but maybe he can be an Ike Taylor type player – another undervalued fourth round selection. Also, let’s be honest, the Steelers don’t have a solid history of selecting CBs so, my evaluation may be just as good as there’s.
SIXTH ROUND: Spencer Brown, T, Northern Iowa
6’8” | 311 lbs. | 2/28/1998
Perhaps one of the only players in the draft who could make it hard for Roethlisberger to see an open receiver in the flats. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Steelers trade up and get him in an early round. He’s a former tight end who has the athleticism and speed to play at the NFL level. He’s still learning the position, but he’s proven to be a student of the game and a disciplined player ready for any challenge.
SEVENTH ROUND: Michal Menet, C, Penn State
6’4” | 301 lbs. | 8/8/1997
Another Center? No, not necessarily, but it doesn’t hurt that he knows the position considering Dickerson’s history. While he didn’t play guard in college, he was a standout guard in high school just outside of Philadelphia and grabbing a guy that has that type of versality late in the draft doesn’t hurt.
SEVENTH ROUND: Shaka Toney, Edge, Penn State
6’4” | 242 lbs. |1/7/1998
Imhotep Charter a Philadelphia school, but also a sports powerhouse. Some of the best athletes from across the city go to Imhotep and many of them have seen success at the college level and the NFL. Currently, three Imhotep grads are currently on NFL rosters and that number is likely to rise and ShakaToney is just the next in line. He has great speed and steadily improved throughout his team at Penn State. From a Big-Ten al freshman to leading the team in sacks this past fall, the ability for him to continually improve his game is a huge plus, especially for a position of need and late round selection.
Here’s the Thursday! Let’s go Steelers!