Free agency is well underway and the 2021 NFL Draft is a month away. While the Steelers have done well to retain some of their own guys (Cam Sutton, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Tyson Alualu, Zach Banner, Robert Spillane) and bring in some outside free agents for depth (BJ Finney, Miles Killebrew, Joe Haeg, Rashaad Coward) they will still need to address several key positions in the draft with the expectation that some of those guys can step in and play Day 1. While there are several different routes the team could go, their plan of attack seems at least a little more clear as we sit here today. Using Pro Football Network’s draft simulator, I made this Steelers mock draft according to how I think things will play out if the draft was happening today.
Round 1, Pick 24
Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson
Najee Harris was off the board and Travis Etienne wasn’t. That’s why I made this pick in this Steelers mock draft. Listen, as I stated above there are certainly multiple ways this pick could go but I think if the Steelers ideal draft begins with either Harris or Etienne being available for them. It’s not necessarily the route I would like to see them go, but the fact they haven’t addressed the position in free agency while also stating their performance in that area was unacceptable makes me think they’ll run the card to the podium if either of those two are available.
I’m not sure if Harris or Etienne is RB1 on their board, but I do know that they sent the house to Clemson’s pro day where Etienne put on a show. He also seems like the perfect fit in Matt Canada’s system. Everyone and their mother know the Steelers need to improve the run game and take pressure off of their aging quarterback. Getting a running back who can also contribute in the pass game, is a great step in that direction.
Others considered: Zaven Collins, Pat Freirmuth, Trevon Moehrig
Round 2, Pick 55
Landon Dickerson, C, Alabama
If not for a plethora of injuries that hampered his college career, Dickerson would be a borderline first round pick. THis Steelers mock draft assumes he slips to them near the end of the 2nd. The Steelers can get him at pick 55 due to the laundry list of injuries Dickerson has endured. Think about this from their perspective for a second. They had the league’s worst rushing attack last season and that just isn’t acceptable. Now with your first 2 picks, you get 2 players who immediately help in that area and are considered to be top 2 prospects at their respective positions. Dickerson is a nasty blocker in short space and has perhaps the highest football IQ of this class of Centers. They will take the gamble on him staying healthy and hope to continue the team’s long standing history of having elite play at the center position.
Others considered: Aaron Robinson, Ronnie Perkins, Nick Bolton
Round 3, Pick 87
Dillon Radunz, OT, North Dakota State
Great value here in this Steelers mock draft. The Steelers have Banner and Okorafor back and penciled in as their starting tackles but Banner is coming off an ACL injury and Okorafor is a free agent after the 2021 season. He also is coming off an underwhelming season where you would’ve hoped to see him take the Year 3 leap. The team has made some depth moves and in a pinch maybe they have an in house option on the roster, but now they have a long-term piece that hopefully develops into the left tackle of the future. While the door hasn’t been completely shut on Alejandro Villanueva returning (it should be), the team needs to invest draft capital into the position in hopes of finding a long term solution.
Others considered: Dylan Moses, Hunter Long, Cameron McGrone
Round 4, Pick 128
Tommy Tremble, TE, Notre Dame
Eric Ebron is back for another season as the team’s primary pass catching tight end. He doesn’t offer much as a blocker though, and the cabinet is bare behind him. With only Zach Gentry and Kevin Rader also on the depth chart, the team needs to invest in the position in the middle rounds. Tremble is great value here. He’s one of the best blocking tight ends in the class, but that doesn’t mean he can’t be an asset in the passing game.
He’s a good enough athlete at the position and has the ability to operate down the field. If he can improve his route running a little bit, he can be a complete tight end. Something the team has been lacking since Heath Miller hung up the cleats. While he may not come into the league as a finished product, with time and coaching he can be a long-term starter at a position where the Steelers desperately need one.
Others considered: Paulson Adeebo, Shaun Wade, Anthony Schwartz
Round 4, Pick 140
Elerson Smith, Edge, Northern Iowa
I have a similar feeling with Smith this year that I did with Highsmith last year. He just seems like a Pittsburgh Steeler to me. He is a great athlete with good size off the edge, who uses his hands and flexibility well. Where he lacks is his strength. He could certainly stand to add more mass to his frame and learn how to set the edge in the run game. He could come in and be a third pass rusher behind Watt and Highsmith while also contributing on special teams. Just as it is the case with tight end, behind the starters there isn’t much depth. Smith would be a welcomed addition to the edge depth and could develop into an important piece down the line.
Others considered: Charles Snowden, Divine Deablo, Shakur Brown
Round 6, Pick 216
Justin Hilliard, LB, Ohio State
The team needs to add a linebacker at some point in this draft and as you can see by my “Others considered”, I almost did it as early as Round 3. Yes Robert Spillane is back and penciled in as the starter next to Devin Bush. I still don’t think that will prevent the team from adding an elite talent at the position should one fall in their lap (i.e. Micah Parsons). That didn’t happen here though, and for that reason we need to address the depth behind Bush and Spillane.
Vince Williams is out the door. Ulysees Gilbert has the coverage skills that would be coveted in today’s game but hasn’t been able to stay on the field. Marcus Allen is a good athlete at the position, but the converted safety gets destroyed in the run game. Listen, there just isn’t much depth behind the starters….or at least options you can trust. Hilliard has just one year of starting experience but operated as a three-down guy at Ohio State. He quickly picks up coverage assignments and is quick to diagnose. He will be more than a serviceable option should he have to step on the field. While his main role to start out will just be getting his feet wet on special teams, there is room for him to grow and his best ball might be ahead of him.
Others considered: Tamorrion Terry, Robert Jones, Jamar Jonson
Round 7, Pick 245
Darren Hall, CB, San Diego St.
Mike Hilton is gone. Steven Nelson is gone. Joe Haden is about to turn 32 and in the last year of his deal. Cameron Sutton is back and by the sounds of it will get a shot to replace Nelson on the outside, opposite of Joe Haden. That still leaves a hole left by Mike Hilton that is going to need to be addressed. The Steelers are going to get a nickel defender at some point whether that be in free agency or the draft. If it were up to me (I guess it kinda was), I would’ve addressed it much earlier, but the board just fell differently than I was hoping.
Hall has already met with the Steelers at the Senior Bowl. The most attractive thing to the Steelers will be his effort in the run game. We all know how good Mike Hilton was around the line of scrimmage despite his size limitations. Hall has good size for a nickel defender and good enough ball skills to make some splash plays. The biggest concern is his deep speed and tendency to bite on a double move. This is good value in the 7th round though and is somebody who could see the field with some regularity, even in year 1.
Others considered: Christian Uphoff, Khyiris Tonga
Round 7, Pick 253
Israel Mukuamu, S, South Carolina
Mukuamu played a good bit of cornerback but would be best suited as a safety at the next level. The Steelers have their starters in Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds, but the impending losses of Sean Davis and Jordan Dangerfield means the depth takes a hit. He doesn’t have great speed and is slow to react on occasion, but he offers great length and uses his size to physically impose on the opposition. The most attractive trait to the Steelers though will be his relentlessness. The dude works as hard as anyone on and off the field. That workman like approach will be a welcomed addition. I can definitely see a path to Mukuamu carving out a role for himself on special teams and could see a role in dime packages at some point down the line.
Others considered: Malik Herring, Mustafa Johnson, Wyatt Hubert