Let the offseason begin. It's mock draft SZN timeeeeee.
This, obviously, will be the first look at who folks have the Steelers taking with the 24th pick of the 1st round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Will probably do an update every couple weeks leading up to the draft to get a better idea of what to expect the black and gold to do with that spot.
Before we get into it here's some of my thoughts:
1. O-line, O-line, O-line
Twitter is losing it's collective mind over running backs Trey Sermon and Najee Harris and how good they would look in a Steelers uniform. That may be the case, but it's time to rebuild upfront offensively. Give me top lineman and depth, anything to help start to turnover one of the oldest offensive lines in the league.
2. Don't forget about cornerback.
Cam Sutton and Mike Hilton are both free agents this offseason along with Joe Haden who could be let go for cap reasons. That leaves Steve Nelson the only returning starter and he's only got one year left on his deal. Meaning Justin Layne and James Pierre are your cornerback depth to slide in if Haden is let go and both Hilton and Sutton leave to cash in somewhere else. Wouldn't be surprised if they pulled the trigger on one especially if a guy slides to them at 24.
Here we go:
CBS Sports: Christian Darrisaw - Tackle, Virginia Tech
"The Steelers are primed for a complete overhaul due to salary-cap concerns and expiring contracts. Darrisaw is a physical, athletic tackle who would be part of the rebuilding process in Pittsburgh."
Off to a hot start. Makes sense with Al Villanueva being gone heading into 2021 and Chuks Okorafor struggling at right tackle down the stretch. Building upfront begins.
The Athletic: Mac Jones - Quarterback, Alabama
"Ben Roethlisberger’s future in Pittsburgh is uncertain and the Steelers already know his successor isn’t on the roster. Jones is a tough prospect to evaluate because of the perfect situation around him at Alabama, but he deserves credit for his poise in the pocket and consistent decision-making."
WHOOOOOA BABY. Now the draft season has officially begun. Already a QB slated in the first round as Big Ben's successor coming out. Mac Jones tore it up big time in his only season as a starter for Bama. Absolutely lit the country on fire. But it was almost tough not to for him. I mean good lord he had DeVonta Smith, Najee Harris, the best O-line in the country at the best program of all time. This would certainly be interesting, and it will continue to be all the way leading up to April.
I wrote on Monday that it's probably for the best that we may have seen Big Ben's last snap at Heinz Field. So I'm not totally against drafting a QB, but it does concern me that the Steelers would then be getting the fifth best quarterback coming out of the draft instead of maybe the first or second best o-lineman or corners. Keep an eye on it.
Pro Football Network: Liam Eichenberg - Tackle, Notre Dame
"At some point, the Steelers will have to address the future of their quarterback position. But for now, they can settle for improving the supporting cast around the quarterback. Alejandro Villanueva is a free agent this offseason, and it’s unclear if Chukwuma Okorafor is part of the future. Getting a steady, technically proficient tackle like Liam Eichenberg could help increase Pittsburgh’s stability at one of the most important positions."
Now we're talking. Would love this. Notre Dame is an offensive lineman machine. They pump out starters and All-Pros what feels like every year. Mike McGlinchey, Quenton Nelson, Ronnie Stanley, to name a few over the last few years. Any guy upfront coming from Notre Dame should be a day 1 starter and a automatic hit in the draft.
247 Sports: Travis Etienne - Running Back, Clemson
"In a stunning playoff loss to Cleveland, Pittsburgh's "great era … appears to be finally over," Jim Wexell wrote for 247Sports. A rebuild should start with the drafting of Ben Roethlisberger's replacement. But can the Steelers find a worthy heir apparent with the draft's sixth-best QB? The team decides it can't. Instead, the Steelers look to up their ground game with Travis Etienne. In four years for Clemson, the running back racked up nearly 5,000 rushing yards and 70 touchdowns."
Annnnnd the first running back on the board. Etienne is a hell of a player. Explosive. Legendary career. Can catch the ball out of the backfield with the best of them. But damn, man, if the o-line isn't fixed then it'll be the same old story. Plus, a four year starter with over 5,000 yards already tread on those tires? It would be a "sexier" pick, but I don't think I'd be the happiest about it.
PFF: Rashawn Slater - Tackle, Northwestern
"Slater can play anywhere along the offensive line at the next level, including right tackle — where current Steelers tackle Chukwuma Okorafor has struggled.
The Northwestern lineman opted out of the 2020 season, but he put up an elite 90.0 PFF grade at left tackle in 2019. He allowed only five pressures on the year while posting an 89.1 run-blocking grade."
Sounds good to me. Feed me o-line, o-line, o-line.
So a little bit of everything in the first look on January 12, 2021 two days after the season ended. Definitely less cornerbacks than I thought we'd see, but as free agency plays out in a couple months and Cam Sutton or Mike Hilton or (hopefully) not both sign somewhere else I'd imagine more of the final mock drafts will have more corner prospects up there.