Hritz Mock Draft 3.0: 3/27/22

By Jeremy Hritz

Two weeks into free agency and 32 days away from the NFL Draft, things are heating up, and in a blink of an eye, April 28th will be here with the first round of the draft primed with potential, hope, and optimism for all 32 teams for the 2022 season. In my 3rd version of my mock, I have reorganized the draft priorities and strategy for the Steelers to determine, what I believe, the Steelers will do with their picks in this year’s draft.

There are a few assumptions I am making in this mock that I want to point out to provide context for my selection: 1) I am assuming the Steelers sign a starting strong safety in free agency prior to the draft and 2) I am also assuming the Steelers sign a veteran free agent wide receiver to stabilize the young core of receivers they have. Sure, these are not givens to occur, but I am mildly confident these actions will be taken to a) provide for more latitude in the draft, and b) ensure that a rookie is not the starter at FS and that Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool are not left without a seasoned anchor.

And oh yeah, about trading up into the top 10 to get in position for a QB–I think the price is just too steep, and while I am not saying it won’t happen, it’s just not likely. I will gladly admit I am incorrect if proved otherwise come the 28th of April.

With that said, enjoy my mock 3.0! Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Round 1, Pick #20: Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati: 6’3, 211 – Birthdate: 8/31/1999 (22 years old)

I’m going with The Technician at pick #20, and as I stated on The Steel Study Podcast this week, I believe that Ridder will have the best NFL career of all of the QB prospects available in this year’s draft. Ridder is fluid, with believable and smooth play action, precise rollouts and the ability to throw on the run, in addition to being an elite athlete who is more explosive and quick than defenses will give him credit for. At the combine, Ridder ran a 4.52 40-yard dash, and if you watch his tape, you can see that speed in action when pulled it down to run.

A leader, and a player who is committed to the game of football, Ridder, with time to develop and grow into a system and an organization, could pay huge dividends to a team over time, and as a selection in the first round by the Steelers, he would not be coming in with the expectation to start, but rather to sit for at least a year before getting an opportunity to compete for a starting spot. The full Steelers contingent was present at Ridder’s Pro Day, and Mike Tomlin went to dinner with the prospect, so we know the interest is there.

I have dubbed Ridder The Technician, because he is just that: precise, sound in his fundamentals, which is a result of his professional approach to the game. He also has the necessary mobility to buy time and to extend the play to allow for receivers to get open. And he’s a pure winner, leading his Cincinnati team to a 44-6 record during his tenure, including a trip to the College Football Playoff this year against Alabama.

Critics argue that Ridder’s accuracy is questionable, with a 62.1% career completion percentage in college, but let us be reminded that Buffalo’s Josh Allen’s career completion percentage at Wyoming was 56.2%, and look how that turned out. Some will also point out that his release is slow, and that he is inefficient in his pre-throw motions.

Ridder is a winner, and on top of that, a player who is driven to always improve. I see a ton of potential in him, and fully believe he can be a first-class quarterback in the NFL.

Round 2, Pick #52: Christian Watson, WR, North Dakota State – Birthdate: 5/12/1999 (22 years old)

The Steelers have significant needs at wide receiver, especially when it comes to speed, and Watson, who ran a 4.36 at the Combine, has the speed to provide the vertical threat that this team needs. Watson also has size (6’4, 208) to play a physical brand of football, and like Ridder, is a football-guy, dedicated to his craft, and willing to put in the work to be great. Provides for some versatility, as he contributed at North Dakota State in the rushing and return game, something that could be utilized to provide for wrinkles in the Matt Canada offense. Did not put up enormous stats in college, despite a 20.4 average yards per reception which shows the potential for explosiveness he possesses.

The concerns about Watson are a) that he played at a small school and b) that he wasn’t elite-level productive in terms of stats. This is sometimes attributed to his hands which are often cited as the reason teams are hesitant to draft him with a higher pick. His focus and concentration will need to develop so that he can capitalize on the natural gifts he has in terms of athleticism, and considering his work ethic, and his NFL bloodlines (father played in the league), he can become an outstanding WR for your Pittsburgh Steelers.

Round 3, Pick #84: Nick Cross, S, Maryland – Birthdate: 9/10/2001 (20 years old)

There’s a bit of uncertainty at the safety position right now with no starting strong safety currently on the roster. While I do believe the Steelers will sign someone in between now and the draft, my mindset on the position has shifted a bit, as they need to get some young depth on the roster, and depending on who they sign, a player who potentially could develop into a starter. Enter Nick Cross out of Maryland, who is physical, fearless, and a thumper. Not only that, but Cross ran a 4.34 at the Combine, so he has the speed to excel in coverage if it can be harnessed and developed through NFL coaching.

For as strong and powerful as Cross is, he is not the most athletic, and his strength is primarily a run-stuffer, with adequate but not exceptional coverage abilities; however, with patience and NFL-level coaching and development, possibly, this area of his game can be developed to become a more complete player. Let’s say Tyrann Mathieu does sign a 1-2 year deal, that would be ideal, as it could be an apprenticeship for Cross to learn and improve to be a starter by his 3rd year.

Round 4, Pick #138: Zyon McCollum, CB, Sam Houston State – Birthdate: 5/03/1999 (22 years old)

The Steelers need to build their depth at the corner position, as the ceiling for both James Pierre and Justin Layne are low. McCollum is a rangy corner at 6’2 with high-end speed (4.33 40), and though he played at a small school, his leadership, work ethic, and athleticism make him an intriguing prospect for the Steelers in the 4th round. Productive in college with 13 interceptions and also 6 forced fumbles, this nose-for-the-ball trait is something that is highly valued by the Steelers. Needs to become more physical in his game and utilize his stature and his athleticism better, but that is where NFL coaching comes into play. A project player who could pay big dividends for the Steelers if he pans out.

Round 6, Pick #208: Luke Tenuta, T, Virginia Tech – Birthdate: 9/01/1999 (22 years old)

A mammoth of a human being at 6’8, 319 pounds, Tenuta would be a project for the Steelers to develop him into a depth option at tackle over a period of time. Has played both left and right tackle, and is from a football family, as his father is a coach. Doesn’t play to his size and needs a lot of work in terms of strength and balance as a result of his size. You won’t find too many human beings who have Tenuta’s size, and with some athleticism, he is worth a late round pick to see if he can be developed.

Round 7, Pick #225: Deven Thompkins, WR, Utah State – Age: 21 years old

Deven Thompkins is lightning fast (4.35). Insanely football fast. And if it wasn’t for that speed, he wouldn’t even be worthy of consideration because of his small stature: 5’8, 155 pounds. In 2021 at Utah State, Thompkins caught 102 balls for 1704 yards and 10 touchdowns, showing that he can in fact be productive despite his size. He is worth a look in the 7th round as he could be a player who could serve as a multi-purpose player in several phases of the offensive game, in addition to providing an option in the return game. Sure, the size may scare some people away, but if his speed can translate to the NFL game, it’s a huge win for an NFL team.

Round 7, Pick #241: Connor Heyward, FB/TE, Michigan State – Birthdate: 1/22/1999 (23 years old)

I was hesitant to jump on this train because I keep seeing his name as the final selection in the 7th round in every Steelers mock draft out there. But, there’s something to be said for that, and for as much of a history there is with the organization, especially in recent years, “keeping it in the family,” Connor Heyward with the team’s final pick makes a whole lot of sense. Outside of the Cam Heyward connection, Connor is a baller, and could offer versatility to the Steelers offense as both a pass catcher and a runner in a FB/TE type-role. Gritty and high-character, Heyward fits the Steeler organization, and due to his multifaceted talents, could be a meaningful fit in the Canada offense.

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