The 2021 NFL Draft is now just a few days away. The Steelers currently hold the 24th overall pick in the draft. The Steelers full draft board typically contains around 200 players. Even if the Steelers do not have a major need at the position, the player will still appear on their board, because at some point they would likely become a value pick (for instance, the top wide receivers might be ranked lower on the Steelers board than they are for other teams because they don’t have an immediate need there but at some point in the draft they would be the best prospects remaining). The only things that could take a player completely off the Steelers draft board would be scheme fits, injuries, or off-field issues where the team simply has too many concerns to even consider drafting the player. The Steelers used to conduct a mock draft exercise but have moved away from that in recent years. This year, the team seems to be honing in on 24 prospects worthy of their first-round selection.
Colbert said the team's draft board is pretty set. They have some minor adjustments to make. Said the team won't do mock drafts. They'll do their own mock draft based on their rankings on Wednesday based on setting their list of 24 players they would take at 24.
— Dale Lolley (@dlolley_pgh) April 26, 2021
In this spirit, the staff at SCB got together over the last week to do our best to put together a Steelers-specific Draft Board based on both player abilities and team needs. The Steelers have needs for starting-caliber players at running back, tackle, center, and slot cornerback. They also need a #2 tight end along with rotational players at EDGE rusher and inside linebacker. Depth at safety somewhere in the draft should also be considered. The areas of least need are wide receiver and defensive line. As we mentioned on last week’s podcast, the only player we’d consider trading up for would be a quarterback (who is not named Mac Jones or Kyle Trask). With that in mind, and following how the Steelers are working through the process to set their board, here are our Top 24 players for this year’s draft class, with some thoughts on the “next best available” at the end in the event the Steelers trade down.
The Top 24
1. Trevor Lawrence (QB-Clemson)
Lawrence is without a doubt the top prospect in the draft. Given that this is likely to be Ben Roethlisberger’s final year, if the Steelers could choose just one player from this draft class to add to their team it would certainly be Trevor Lawrence. He has the arm, the accuracy, and the ability to make plays with his feet that are coveted in the modern NFL.
2. Penei Sewell (OT-Oregon)
Sewell is the top tackle in the draft and has the look of a player who can anchor an offensive line for the next decade. With Alejandro Villanueva likely signing in Baltimore after the draft, the Steelers are taking a massive risk if they enter 2021 with Zach Banner and Chuks Okorafor as the starting tackles. A Pro Bowl tackle can improve both the run game and the passing game, and Sewell has the look of a player that can match up against the top edge rushers in the league.
3. Kyle Pitts (TE-Florida)
Pitts might be the first non-quarterback taken in the NFL Draft. He tested through-the-roof athletically and has the unique blend of size and speed that can create matchup nightmares. He can be moved all around the offense and play as either a tight end or wide receiver.
4. Justin Fields (QB-Ohio State)
There are four quarterbacks generally thought of as the consensus top tier at the position. Don’t let the fact that Alabama’s Mac Jones has been discussed as a first round pick cloud the fact that the other four are better prospects than Jones. Ultimately, if we had to choose between the three after Lawrence, our preference was for Ohio State’s Justin Fields. He has the arm strength, the athleticism and escapability, and downfield accuracy that would make him a great fit for the Steelers moving forward.
5. Trey Lance (QB-North Dakota State)
After Fields, our board landed on North Dakota State’s Trey Lance. Even though he has not played a game in over a year due to FCS postponing the season, Lance also has tremendous arm strength and possibly the most athletic upside of the top four quarterbacks. Lance is also the only one of the top four quarterbacks with experience taking snaps from under center. He needs to work on his accuracy and is certainly a raw prospect, but in the right situation where he could sit for a year and learn the position, he could be set up to thrive in 2022.
6. Zach Wilson (QB-BYU)
Most consider BYU’s Zach Wilson as the probable pick at #2 for the Jets. However, he landed last among the “big four” quarterbacks on our board. Wilson had a great season in the Mountain West this past year but also saw a lot of easy matchups. He had the lowest blitz rate of the top four and threw the most passes within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage. Wilson also had a lot of play-action and designed rollout looks in BYU’s offense. The arm strength and upside is certainly there, but his accuracy can be questionable and needs improvement.
7. Patrick Surtain II (CB-Alabama)
This year may be the odd case where there are no defensive players drafted in the Top 10. If there are, the consensus top players are cornerbacks. The Steelers have a definite need at corner after Steven Nelson was released and Justin Layne’s future with the team is up in the air after his arrest. We gave the slight edge to Alabama’s Surtain II here after Colbert and Tomlin attended his Pro Day.
8. Jaycee Horn (CB-South Carolina)
Surtain and Jaycee Horn are 1A and 1B in the cornerback rankings this year. Both are vying for the title of being the first corner taken and are physical players capable of matching up all over the field against top receivers. Having a corner that can step into the slot immediately then move outside when Joe Haden retires would be a huge asset to the defense.
9. Micah Parsons (LB-Penn State)
Parsons opted out of the 2020 season, which may drop him down the Steelers board a bit. However, on the field his athleticism is undeniable. He put on a freak show testing at his Pro Day, which Tomlin and Colbert attended. Much has been made of the notion of having two rangy sideline-to-sideline inside linebackers like Tampa Bay utilized to win the Super Bowl, and Parsons could step in right next to Devin Bush.
10. Rashawn Slater (OL-Northwestern)
There was some debate among the SCB crew over whether Slater is better suited at tackle or guard. It is likely that NFL teams will be having the same debate. He may not fit the ideal mold for a tackle, and he looks like a player who could potentially have a Hall of Fame career as a guard. That said, Slater’s tape shows a very good approach to the tackle position and he is able to cover his physical shortcomings with strong technique.
11. Christian Darrisaw (OT-Virginia Tech)
Darrisaw is another elite tackle prospect. We gave some strong consideration to putting him ahead of Slater as Darrisaw has great footwork and is very well suited to a zone blocking scheme. He is strong and gritty and can move surprisingly well for someone his size. Darrisaw also has excellent arm length and wingspan but needs some work on the technical aspects of his game.
12. DeVonta Smith (WR-Alabama)
The reigning Heisman Trophy winner is also the top wide receiver on our board. There will likely be two and possibly three wide receivers taken in the Top 10 of the Draft. However, given the fact that the Steelers depth chart is currently well-stocked at wide receiver, some of these prospects fell down our board. Smith can play either inside or out of the slot and has the potential to revolutionize the slot position in the NFL.
13. Ja’Marr Chase (WR-LSU)
Chase opted out of the 2020 season after a 2019 year where he was one of the top receivers in the nation with Joe Burrow throwing to him at LSU. Chase likely would have been the unanimous top receiver if he had played this season, but with him opting out we dropped Chase behind Smith on our board. Other NFL teams may see things differently and Chase could very well go to Cincinnati at #5 for a reunion with Burrow, but in terms of the Steelers needs he slid behind DeVonta Smith.
14. Caleb Farley (CB-Virginia Tech)
Farley is one of the toughest prospects in this class to evaluate. In 2019 he looked like one of the top corners in the nation and his tape showed shut down ability. However, he opted out of 2020 and had multiple back surgeries (including another one in the last few months) to clean up a nagging injury from 2019. Just how ready will Farley be to play football in 2021 after the surgeries and the year off? Will the back issues become a lingering medical problem? We debated whether or not Farley’s medicals were a disqualifying factor and if he should even be on our board at all.
15. Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah (LB-Notre Dame)
Like with Micah Parsons, the idea of being able to throw two rangy linebackers out in the middle of the field is an enticing prospect and could allow the Steelers to mix and match their defensive coverages as necessary. The issue with JOK is that he is very under-sized for a linebacker (and oversized for a safety). Notre Dame used him as a swiss army knife, lining him up all over the defense. JOK’s speed, athleticism, and playmaking abilities show up on tape and he is certainly a game-changer defensively, he just needs to find the right fit in the NFL.
16. Jaylen Waddle (WR-Alabama)
Waddle is the third of the top tier of receivers. On tape, his speed is electrifying and he has the ability to run past defenders at all three levels of the defense. He is a bit on the smaller side, coming in at under 5’10” and 180 pounds, similar to KJ Hamler last season or Marquise Brown two years ago. Waddle’s game-breaking speed was enough for us to be willing to consider him a first-round caliber talent.
17. Alija Vera-Tucker (OL-USC)
Vera-Tucker is another player who played tackle in college but with an uncertain positional future in the NFL. He has short arms and a very small wingspan, which leads most people to believe he is best suited as a guard at the next level. Vera-Tucker tested very well in athletic drills and despite the smaller arms figures to be a high-quality NFL starter with a move to the interior thanks to his ability to move in space and short-area quickness which is rare for a man his size.
18. Teven Jenkins (OT-Oklahoma State)
Jenkins is an absolute mauler with a mean streak and the strength to back it up. He posted an impressive 36 reps on the bench press at his Pro Day. He also has a below-average arm length and wingspan, which could lead some teams to consider moving him inside to tackle. That said, he moves very well in space and gets to the second level well where he can demolish defenders.
19. Azeez Ojulari (EDGE-Georgia)
This class of EDGE rushers does not have the elite talent that prior groups have had. There are a handful of players at the top who all seem to do one thing very well but others poorly. The class also has a divide between athleticism and collegiate production. Ojulari tested through-the-roof athletically and wins with incredible burst off the ball. With Bud Dupree moving on to Tennessee, the depth at the EDGE rusher position is very thin, even with Alex Highsmith figuring to step into the starting lineup. Ojulari also dropped into coverage at Georgia, something the Steelers ask their linebackers to do on occasion.
20. Najee Harris (RB-Alabama)
Harris is the top running back in the draft class. He has the footwork and short-area quickness to make guys miss, along with the raw power to run through arm tackles. As an under-rated part of his game, Harris might also be the best third-down back in the class with his ability to both run routes as well as pick up the blitz. The only thing lacking is the breakaway speed to turn long runs into touchdowns, but he is also a player who seems to get stronger as the game goes on and the defense wears down.
21. Samuel Cosmi (OT-Texas)
The Steelers did not scout Cosmi heavily, but he is a player we absolutely love. He blew away the testing numbers at Texas’ Pro Day and measured as one of the most athletic offensive linemen in the last 20 years. Cosmi is still a bit raw but plays with a nasty edge. If he can learn the technique to refine his game he could be a perennial Pro Bowler at tackle.
22. Travis Etienne (RB-Clemson)
Etienne is not far behind Harris in terms of what he can bring to an NFL backfield. If Etienne had come out after his junior year he likely would have been the top running back taken in last year’s draft. He has a rare burst and explosiveness where he looks like he his shot out of a cannon when he gets the ball in his hands, going to top speed in the blink of an eye. Etienne’s top speed is lightning-fast and he has the ability to score any time he touches the ball. Where his game lacks is in pass protection and he is not a great blocker, but he can do everything else very well, including displaying excellent contact balance to stay on his feed through attempted arm tackles.
23. Asante Samuel Jr (CB-Florida State)
The Steelers have a need at cornerback and also love to tap NFL bloodlines with their draft picks. Samuel’s father had a great career as an off-zone corner with great burst to close on the ball and rack up a number of pick-sixes by undercutting routes. Samuel Jr has a similar athletic skillset and displays perhaps an even better knack for understanding where the ball is going and closing in. Tomlin and Colbert attended Florida State’s Pro Day and Samuel certainly seems to be on their radar. He is a player who could step in and play the slot role immediately then potentially move outside when Joe Haden’s contract expires.
24. Creed Humphrey (C-Oklahoma)
The last spot in our Top 24 goes to Oklahoma center Creed Humphrey. Even though the Steelers were not at his Pro Day and this looks like a deep draft for centers, Humphrey shines as the best in the class. He played in a power scheme in college but also tested very well athletically and has the ability to move in space as a zone scheme would require. He also can play any position along the interior of the line and the Steelers have always valued versatility in their linemen.
The Next Eight
If the Steelers choose to trade back from the 24th overall pick but remain in the first round, it is likely they will move back between 4 and 8 spots. Here are 8 more players we considered the “next best available” that could come into consideration in a trade back scenario.
25. Tyson Campbell (CB-Georgia)
Campbell is a tall, lanky corner that is at his best on the outside. He has good long speed and can run with receivers down the field and match up with them physically. Campbell has a nastiness in the run game and is willing to fly up from the secondary to make tackles. His change-of-direction
26. Pat Freiermuth (TE-Penn State)
While most internet draft boards don’t see Freiermuth as a first round pick, he would also fit the exact mold of what the Steelers want in a tight end. Of all the tight ends in this class, his game is the most similar to Heath Miller’s in his all-around abilities for both blocking and receiving. Freiermuth could step in to the #2 tight end role immediately then take over the starting role after Ebron’s contract expires at the end of this season.
27. Jaelan Phillips (EDGE-Miami)
Phillips had a bit of a rocky road to the NFL. After being dubbed the top high school recruit in the nation, he went through two injury-plagued seasons at UCLA. He was productive on the field but missed 14 games over his first two seasons with ankle and wrist injuries and a concussion. After transferring to Miami, Phillips had a monster season and lit it up athletically at his Pro Day, checking all the boxes for a potential early-impact pass rusher.
28. Alex Leatherwood (OT-Alabama)
Leatherwood was part of the best offensive line in college football last season, anchoring the tackle position. He has a massive wingspan – the third-largest of any player in the draft. Leatherwood also has the nastiness and toughness to be an asset in the running game and may be best suited for a right tackle position in the pros. There are some that would rather see him as a guard, but his massive girth and arms would be wasted on the inside and are better suited at tackle.
29. Zaven Collins (LB-Tulsa)
Collins is another linebacker prospect who may have the opposite issue of Owusu-Koramoah. While JOK is on the lighter side, Collins is on the heavier side (and gained 11 pounds since his Pro Day!). While he more naturally played off the ball at Tulsa, there may be questions as to whether he is a better fit at inside linebacker or EDGE rusher. In a 4-3 scheme, his best fit would likely be as a strongside linebacker. He has the speed and range to cover and make plays and he did reportedly meet with the Steelers whole front office over Zoom, so the interest from the team is obviously there.
30. Liam Eichenberg (OT-Notre Dame)
Eichenberg is a player that is very solid all around on tape. He doesn’t do anything particularly spectacular but he does everything very well. He is just a solid all-around player who doesn’t make many mistakes and doesn’t get beat very often.
31. Javonte Williams (RB-North Carolina)
Of all of the top running backs, Williams may be the one best suited for an outside zone rushing scheme. He does not have Najee Harris’ size or Travis Etienne’s speed, but he has excellent change-of-direction abilities and can cut and explode through the hole. Williams is also a capable receiver and might just be the ideal fit for the Steelers if they want to move to a zone rushing attack.
32. Eric Stokes (CB-Georgia)
Stokes ran a blistering 4.25 40-yard dash at Georgia’s combine. While he is not as refined in his technique as teammate Tyson Campbell, Stokes also has the athleticism and upside to be a high-quality corner in the league. He is also not as physical as Campbell but tested better athletically (on top of the insane 40-yard dash). Stokes would likely take longer to develop as his technique is still very raw, but speed like that is hard to come by even in today’s NFL.
QB – Mac Jones (Alabama)
RB – Michael Carter (North Carolina)
WR – Terrace Marshall (LSU), Kadarius Toney (Florida), Rashod Bateman (Minnesota), Elijah Moore (Ole Miss)
OT – Dillon Radunz (North Dakota St), Jalen Mayfield (Michigan)
OG – Trey Smith (Tennessee)
C – Quinn Meinerz (Wisconsin-Whitewater), Landon Dickerson (Alabama)
DL – Christian Barmore (Alabama)
EDGE – Joseph Ossai (Texas), Jayson Oweh (Penn State), Kwity Paye (Michigan), Gregory Rousseau (Miami)
LB – Jabril Cox (LSU), Baron Browning (Ohio St), Jamin Davis (Kentucky)
CB – Greg Newsome II (Northwestern), Elijah Molden (Washington)
S – Trevon Moehrig (TCU), Richie Grant (UCF)