By Jeremy Hritz
The NFL Combine is complete, free agency begins next week, and it is time for another Steelers Mock Draft. Welcome to my Mock 2.0 which reflects all that has transpired in between today and my last Mock. What you will find is that many of the players in my first edition have carried over, with just a few surprises, primarily with much adjustment in terms of where players are selected.
In between now and the NFL Draft, I should be completing at 4 more versions of my Mock before settling in to the path I believe the Steelers will take. The greatest difficulty right now is not knowing what the team will do in free agency, and as that begins to play out, my Mock will begin to take on more precise form.
With that said, please enjoy this second edition of my Steelers Mock Draft. I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!
Round 1, Pick #20: Kenny Pickett, QB, University of Pittsburgh – 6’3, 217
In my first mock, I was optimistic about this crop of quarterbacks, but as moves begin to be made league-wide at QB, and following the combine, my mindset has shifted. I now have Malik Willis as the #1 rated signal caller, and with Denver landing Russell Wilson, Willis, in my book, connects with Seattle. And based on the several valuable players available in the first 20 picks, there is a very real chance Kenny Pickett falls to the Steelers. Pickett in the black and gold would be a dream come true, as he is poised, throws with tremendous anticipation, and has an uncanny ability to put the right touch on the ball for any and all types of throws. Combine that with his athleticism and his 4.73 40-yard dash, and Pickett is the perfect blend of pocket passer and new age mobile QB that could propel the Steelers into future postseason contention.
Despite being selected as their #1, Pickett wouldn’t be called upon to start right away and would be given some time to develop as Mason Rudolph or a mid-tier free agent QB gets his shot. The Steelers may need to leapfrog the Saints for this pick, but stranger things have happened. Sure, the Steelers may have let Dan Marino sneak by them in the 80’s, but they will show they have learned their lesson.
Round 2, Pick #52: Leo Chenal, ILB, Wisconsin – 6’3, 250
The Steelers have glaring needs at the inside linebacker position, and it is highly doubtful that Joe Schobert will be retained. The team is in need of a physical, aggressive inside backer, and Leon Chenal is very much that. For everything he lacks in pass coverage, he is a ferocious hitter who shuts down the run, something desperately needed on the interior of the defense. Chenal ran a 4.53 at the Combine, and can utilize that speed in blitzing the quarterback, in addition to being a sure-thing when it comes to stifling opposing rushing attacks. Chenal, alongside Bush, can add the physicality that is missing from this team and shore up the run defense that was too often gashed in 2021. Not a day 1 starter, but a player who can break into the starting lineup by the middle of the season.
Round 3, Pick #84: Lecitus Smith, G, Virginia Tech – 6’3, 314
Not the biggest guard prospect, but thick, especially in the waist, and can definitely add size. Smith is a powerful blocker and can move bodies in the running game, while using his athleticism to get to the second level. Is effective in pass protection as well, but lack of length and power can be overcome at times. With quality coaching and emphasis on technique, in addition to continued packing on of mass, Smith has the potential to develop into a quality starting guard, with the potential of competing for and securing a starting spot in year 1.
Round 4, Pick #138: Neil Farrell, DT, LSU – 6’4, 330
The Steelers are in need of a big body in the middle of the defensive line, even if Tyson Alualu is returning this year as his injury history makes his reliability questionable. Acquiring Neil Farrell in the 4th round would be a wise move to add such a big body and to take on some snaps in year #1 to keep Alualu fresh and to allow for Farrell to grow into an eventual full-time starter at the nose position. Nearly unmovable with nice burst off the line of scrimmage, Farrell is a value pick in the 4th round who can contribute to the Steelers in his first year.
Round 6, Pick #207: Velus Jones, Jr., WR, Tennessee – 6’0, 204
This is late to address the wide receiver position, but without knowing what is going down in free agency, Jones Jr. is the guys because of his versatility. First, he provides deep speed which the Steelers desperately need (4.31 40 at the Combine), and punt and kick return possibilities. Jones, Jr. wouldn’t be expected to be an every-down receiver, but a player who can stretch a defense to keep them honest in both the run and passing game. A player who would get better every year.
Round 7, Pick #221: Logan Bruss, T/G, Wisconsin – 6’5, 309
The Steelers continue to build their offensive line depth with the addition of Bruss who has both guard and tackle position flexibility. Bruss has game experience against quality competition in the Big Ten, and he is an athletic lineman. Where he needs to grow is in his strength and size, which as a developmental pick in the 7th round, he would be afforded the opportunity to do so.
Round 7, Pick #237: Ty Chandler, RB, North Carolina – 5’11, 204
The running back depth for the Steelers isn’t great, and I have been advocating all offseason for the addition of a 3rd down running back a la Darren Sproles. Chandler can provide that and a lot more, being a serviceable backup to spell Najee Harris. Chandler ran a 4.38 at the Combine, so he has the speed to be the breakaway back the team needs. He rushed for 1000 yards last season, so he also knows how to be a featured runner which would upgrade the RB position for the Steelers. Maybe this is wishful thinking for me to have him drop to the 7th round, but if he’s around, the team must pounce.