By Jeremy Hritz
My most recent mock draft was just last weekend, but since today is the first birthday of The Steel Study, what better way to celebrate one year than to create another mock. Plus, in a few weeks, the draft will be over, and mocks will be on pause until next year.
Not much has transpired in between 3.0 and 4.0, other than the signings of Genard Avery and Karl Joseph, though these signings really won’t have much of an impact on their draft strategy. The Steelers still have a significant need at strong safety and wide receiver, and there is still time to address these position through free agency. They are set with starters at the rest of the positions on this team, though wherever they can improve and make this roster better, they will do so.
I’m hesitant to do a mock in which the Steelers trade up to land Malik Willis, because they cannot afford to lose the roster strengthening that will come from their 2nd and 3rd round picks, let alone a first-rounder in 2023. This is not to say that it won’t happen, but it just doesn’t seem likely for a player who will need at least a year to develop, and even then, there is no guarantee they pan out as a franchise QB.
I don’t see them trading back, either, to stockpile more picks, and while this is enticing to me, there is no historical precedent for Kevin Colbert making such a move. Ultimately, they are going to stay put, take what comes to them that is in alignment with their team goals and philosophy.
One spot I am still struggling with determining what they will do is interior offensive line. Yes, we can count on James Daniels starting, we still don’t know what to make of Mason Cole as a starting center, and whether or not Kevin Dotson is a legitimate starting guard on this team. Is there enough concern here that the team will spend a pick somewhere between rounds 1 and 4 on this position, or are they confident in where they are?
Anyways, while much may not have changed from 3.0 to 4.0, some selections are different based on changes in my logic. With that said, please enjoy my Steelers Mock Draft 4.0! I’d love to hear your comments below!
Round #1, Pick #20: Desmond Ridder, QB, Cincinnati
The more things change, the more things stay the same. I mocked Ridder to the Steelers in my 1st and 3rd editions, and that pattern continues here in 4.0. I firmly believe that Ridder is the most pro-ready quarterback in this year’s draft class, and that when his career is over, he will be the most productive and successful signal caller from the class of 2022. I written and spoken at length about Ridder’s strengths: leadership, character, fundamentals, arm strength, athleticism, there are many to name. And yes, he has his areas for growth, too: accuracy, fading velocity on deep balls, and quality of competition.
One element that haven’t spoken to regarding Ridder is his improvement from year to year which bears out in his statistics, something tangible that we can concretely identify. For instance, from 2019-2021, Ridder showed increases each year in his completion percentages (though from 20 to 21 he dipped by 1.8%), passing yards, yards per attempt, passing TDs, passer rating, and rushing yards. Not to mention in his final year, he led his team to the College Football Playoff against Alabama.
The real question surrounding Ridder is whether or not he will be available when the Steelers select at #20, and if his draft stock has elevated into the top 15.
The Steelers brought the full house to see Ridder in action at his Pro Day, and Mike Tomlin also took him to dinner, to signs that this former Bearcat QB is on their short-list.
Round #2, Pick #52: Christian Watson, WR, North Dakota State
No change here either at pick #52, as Watson satisfies what is needed most at the wide receiver position for the Steelers (deep speed), and is the best wide out available (if he’s even still around). The Steelers could realistically add 2 wide receivers in this year’s draft, but the priority has to be adding the deep threat, and Watson is just that. His best football won’t occur until after a few years in the league to add some size and to adapt to professional level play, but he will be able to contribute as a down-the-field passing threat in year #1.
Round #3, Pick #84: Marcus Jones, CB, Houston
The Steelers need to build their depth at the corner position, as Justin Layne and James Pierre are adequate at best. In my last mock, I had the Steelers selecting Zyon McCollum in the 4th round, but I’m switching it up here and prioritizing corner a pick earlier with Jones out of Houston. While he can play outside, he better projects as a slot corner, and that is something the Steelers are still looking for after losing Mike Hilton. While not a big player, at 5’8, 174 pounds, he is a fluid athlete, fast, and fearless, characteristics that would make him a nice complimentary piece on the Steelers defense. Can be a ballhawk (5 interceptions in 2021), but can also physically play the run, which fits perfectly in the Pittsburgh defense. Additionally, he is a first-class return man, both in the kick and punt return games, averaging 14.4 yards per punt return and 34.2 yards per kick return in 2021, which is added value beyond defensive contributions.
The concerns regarding Jones are his size and limitations in matching up against larger, physical receivers; and while he is not afraid to mix it up, in the NFL, when talent equals talent, size is often gives a player the edge. Jones had some shoulder issues that required surgery which has not allowed him to participate in the NFL Combine or Pro Days, but that should not be an issue come training camp. A very intriguing pick considering what the Steelers like in their slot corners.
Round #4, Pick #138: Lecitus Smith, G, Virginia Tech
Smith was a second rounder for me in my first edition mock draft, prior to the Steelers signing Daniels and Cole. Smith has since dropped in his draft ranking, though I still believe he has a lot he can offer as an interior offensive lineman. Smith is thick, powerful, and has quick feet, though he doesn’t have great length for the position. He will need time to develop, but he has the experience, (3-year starter at VT) and an explosive hand strike, along with the ability to effectively make blocks at the second level. Brings youth and depth to the position and helps with the continued re-tooling and rebuilding of this offensive line.
Round #6, Pick #208: Carson Wells, ED, Colorado
The Steelers still have not signed Taco Charlton, and it doesn’t seem likely they will at this point, making outside linebacker a possibility in this year’s draft. Wells is a high-effort, high-energy player who brings it every play and could be a contributor on special teams right away. Dependable, missing only 2 games during his four year collegiate career. Has a feel for the game, with intrinsic understanding of where the play is going and the physical ability to get there to make the stop. Ran a 4.56 at his Pro Day, but only put up 16 reps in the bench. Has qualities that make him intriguing, but is a project who will need time to develop.
Round #7, Pick #225: Dai’Jean Dixon, WR, Nicholls State
Big receiver who has a huge catch radius and excels in combat catch terrain. I think I know a coach who loves that type of profile… For everything that Dixon provides in terms of making difficult catches in traffic, he is not fast (4.62 40), and struggles to get separation, something that he will have to show he can overcome in the NFL. Caught a pass in 50 straight games, demonstrating his consistency in hands. In round 7, you are taking risks, but there may be something here with Dixon.
Round #7, Pick #241: Tre Sterling, S, Oklahoma State
Suffered an injury to his wrist that cost him majority of senior season, and there were high expectations for him after solid sophomore and junior years. Physical and willing tackler, with the instinct to make plays, but somewhat limited athletically. The Steelers need some depth at safety, and they take a chance with their final pick in the 7th round with Sterling.