By Jeremy Hritz
I’ll admit, putting this first mock draft together was hard. There were several factors to consider being that much of the evaluation of these players is still ongoing and free agency hasn’t even begun. With that said, I tried to make the most informed decisions about how the draft will unfold as we stand here today in February, knowing that this will change several times before I compose my final draft. With that preface in place, I present to you my 2022 Steelers Mock Draft, Version 1. Please let me know your feedback in the comments below.
*This mock was put together using Pro Football Focus’s Mock Draft Simulator , which you can access here: PFF MOCK SIMULATOR. The simulator forecasts comp picks, which we don’t know yet for certain, and so please note all of the below is subject to change. I encourage you to check out the simulator and conduct your own mock, as it is a fun exercise!
Round 1, Pick #20: Desmond Ridder, QB – Cincinnati: 6’3, 215
As of today, I am of the belief that the Steelers will draft a quarterback in the first round, but the big question is who, and that will come down to availability. While Kenny Pickett and Malik Willis will end up the top two rated QBs of this class and will not be available to the Steelers at 20. However, I can see Desmond Ridder being on the board when the Steelers select. While many will point to Ridder’s accuracy issues as a reason to stay away until the 2nd round, he has many strengths that should not be understated.
First and foremost, Ridder is a proven winner and leader, amassed a record of 44-5 during his college career, and leading his team to the college football playoff, something unheard of as a small Division 1 school. Being a major part of a culture of winning makes that part of his mindset and expectation, and he will have the attitude of winning that will drive his game. This is an intangible that should not be overlooked.
Physically, Ridder has a powerful arm, mobility to buy time in the pocket, and the athleticism to pull it down and run. He is also larger in stature than the other QBs but in this class to handle the rigors of the game. As a multi-dimensional QB, Ridder would be better suited to run Matt Canada’s offense, having the ability to effectively throw on the run and run convincing play action.
There is a lot to like about Ridder, and I worry that his stock will rise in the coming months that pushes him out of Pittsburgh’s range, but as of now, as I see him being available at pick 20. Drafting Ridder means Mason Rudolph gets the start, and depending on how he plays, Ridder could get an opportunity later in the season. He will need time to develop and acclimate and cannot be thrust into a starting role, and being afforded that will give him the best chance of success with the Steelers.
Round 2, Pick #52: Leticius Smith, OG – Virginia Tech: 6’3, 321
The Steelers are in need of help on the offensive line, but the immediate demand is on the interior. Leticius Smith out of Virginia Tech can be a massive upgrade at guard, as he is powerful, explosive, and can also move at the position, creating the opportunity for pulling to open lanes for runners. Physical and aggressive, but also intelligent and able to make calls and understand defensive fronts and adjustments. Has a large lower body and can become immovable once he connects on a block.
Does lack a bit of length which can be a detriment at the position, in addition to having average lateral movement. In combination, these negative elements of his game hinder him at times on blocks at the second level.
4-year starter with ACC experience, Smith could step in as a starter in year 1 and offer an immediate upgrade to the offensive line.
Round 3, Pick #84: Wan’Dale Robinson, WR – Kentucky: 5’11, 185
The Steelers are going to be in need of a receiver, maybe even 2 depending on what happens with JuJu Smith-Schuster, and most importantly, they need a WR with elite speed. Wan’Dale Robinson is that player. While being a deep threat is not the primary element of his game, he possesses that ability; more importantly, he is slippery and able to produce after catching the football, and has shown to be just as effective rushing, giving him true utility that would be highly valuable in the Canada offense.
Some will argue that his smaller stature will result in him being overpowered by DBs, and that may be true, but he has the shake and bake to get open despite his stature. Robinson’s skillset is highly valuable, and he may not be on the board come draft time, but if he is, the Steelers should think long and hard about this addition.
Round 4, Pick #138: Leo Chenal, LB – Wisconsin: 6’2, 260
The Steelers are in need of a middle linebacker, and whether fans like it or not, Devin Bush is getting another shot next year as the starting inside Mack backer. What is needed is a physical, aggressive Buck, and that’s where Leo Chenal comes into play. Chenal isn’t the fastest, and won’t win any accolades for his coverage, but he is athletic, explosive, powerful, and a force against the run, something the Steelers desperately need. Sure, I have him slated here in the 4th round, but the reality is that he will probably go somewhere in the 3rd, if not higher, because of his football intelligence and flat-out ability to play football. Chenal is a high-motor player who can read a play and accelerate to the ball carrier. Appropriately, for the Steelers, Chenal can provide spark in the pass rush game, something that would be added value for an inside linebacker in the defense. Some analysts have even forecasted that Chenal can play on the outside, showing his versatility, which is something the Steelers covet in all of their players. Overall, if Chenal is available with the 4th pick for the Steelers, they will be all over it. Dude will be a player for sure.
Round 6, Pick #207: Rasheed Walker, T – Penn State: 6’6, 330
This is a deep draft for offensive linemen, especially tackle, and the Steelers can build some depth in the later rounds with the selection of Rasheed Walker. Not a player who will come in and compete for a starting position, Walker is a developmental player with many tools, include the physical traits desired, to be a quality tackle in the NFL. At 6’6, 330 pounds, Walker is physically imposing, and if provided time to grow and develop, he could provide late value to the Steelers.
Round 7, Pick #221: Neil Farrell, DT – LSU: 6’4, 325
The Steelers have a need on the defensive line based on last year’s performance, but much of what happens this offseason is going to depend on what happens with Stephon Tuitt. While I can see the Steelers addressing this position earlier in the draft, with the possibility of Tuitt returning, I can’t commit to an early round pick on the DL. Instead, I have opted for Neil Farrell, who would primarily be a big bodied nose tackle, who could possibly be available in the 7th round being that not too many teams in the NFL employ a 3-4 defense. As with Chenal, Farrell could be gone by this selection, but he is a player who could fit into the Steelers scheme and help provide a mass in the middle to tie up blockers and to help free the ILBs to make plays. If the Steelers are missing anything on the DL, it is girth and size, and Farrell could provide that at the nose position.
Round 7, Pick #237: Velus Jones, Jr., WR – Tennessee: 6’0, 200
The Steelers double dip at receiver assuming that Smith-Schuster does not return, and where Robinson is a more complete receiver, Velus Jones, Jr. is truly your one-trick pony who can explode the top of a defense and stretch the field, in addition to offering value in both the kick and punt return game. Drafting Jones, Jr. would eliminate the need to re-sign Ray Ray McCloud for his return value, and would provide an immediate option as a speedster on the outside to keep defenses honest.