The 2022 NFL Draft is now just a few days away. The Steelers currently hold the 20th 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.
Colbert said the Steelers did away with mocking other teams because it was guessing. "We'll have 20 guys lined up." The order will be determined in the next two days.
— Ray Fittipaldo (@rayfitt1) April 25, 2022
In this spirit of how the Steelers operate, 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 biggest need is for a long-term starting quarterback (though as we have discussed on the SCB Podcast, there are some question marks about whether any of the guys in this draft class fit that bill). All 22 starting positions are technically filled at this point, giving the Steelers some flexibility to take an eye towards the future in this draft class. On the defensive side of the ball, the health and availability of Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu will be a determining factor for needs along the defensive line. Depth is needed at EDGE rusher, inside linebacker, cornerback, and safety. On offense, the line could still use additional young talent with the future outlooks for center, left guard, and left tackle currently uncertain. The Steelers could use a running back behind Najee Harris for depth as well as additional wide receivers behind Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool. With that in mind, and following how the Steelers are working through the process to set their board, here are our Top 20 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 20
1. Kyle Hamilton (S – Notre Dame)
Hamilton is our favorite player in this draft class. If we could add any player from this year’s crop to the Steelers team, it would be Kyle Hamilton. Even with the Steelers re-signing Terrell Edmunds to a one-year deal, we would still take Hamilton over every other player in this class. Hamilton would be able to plug into sub packages as a rookie and transition into a starting role, creating a succession plan next to Minkah Fitzpatrick. While some were concerned about his Pro Day 40 time (a full tenth of a second slower than his Combine time), we are not concerned and feel this his versatility and playmaking abilities would be an ideal fit in Pittsburgh.
2. Evan Neal (OT – Alabama)
The Steelers signed Chuks Okorafor to a 3-year extension this offseason and he will presumably be the right tackle this season. Dan Moore was forced into duty at left tackle last year, and while Moore acquitted himself admirably, the tackle talent at the top of this draft class would be too much to pass up. Evan Neal is a prototypical left tackle. He has a massive 6’7″ frame and can get out and move in the outside running game. Neal is refined as both a run blocker and pass blocker and could be the anchor of an offensive line for the next decade.
3. Ikem Ekwonu (OT – NC State)
Neck in neck with Evan Neal is NC State’s Ickey Ekwonu. While he doesn’t have the hulking size of Neal, Ekwonu might be the nastiest lineman in the draft. He meets defenders with bad intentions and his tape his filled with him tossing opposing players to the ground like rag dolls. Ekwonu is a better run blocker than pass blocker and might be better suited to a right tackle spot, but he would bring a level of grit that the Steelers don’t currently have on the line.
4. Aidan Hutchinson (EDGE – Michigan)
Most mock drafts have Hutchinson as the prospective first pick and a number of outlets have him as their top available player. This is for good reason – he had one of the best three-cone times ever recorded and is an athletic freak of a pass rusher. Given that the Steelers already have one generational pass rusher, Hutchinson slid a little further down our board behind players at positions where the Steelers need anchors.
5. Nakobe Dean (LB – Georgia)
This was the first spot where our SCB draft board diverged from what most “experts” have. Nakobe Dean seems to be sliding down draft boards after not participating in all of the drills at the Combine or his Pro Day. For us, this is a situation where all you need to do is watch the tape. Georgia’s defense was filled with absolute athletic studs, and Dean stood out as consistently the fastest guy on the field. Dean may be slightly undersized, but he can fly to the ball and can get to the quarterback on inside blitzes. Dean is our favorite linebacker in the class and it would be an absolutely dream scenario to plug him into the middle of the Steelers defense. The Steelers will have to make a decision on Devin Bush’s 5th year option after the draft, and having a guy like Dean on the roster would make it easier to move on from Bush.
6. Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner (CB – Cincinnati)
Our top-ranked cornerback is Sauce Gardner from Cincinnati. A three-year starter who declared early, he is a lanky physical playmaker on the outside. He was a lock down defender in the red zone and has the long speed to trail speedy receivers across the field. Gardner showed off his versatility to defend against the run this year, racking up 4.5 tackles for loss and 3 sacks in addition to 7 passes defended and 3 interceptions on the back end. The Steelers have a relatively deep group of corners with Akello Weatherspoon, Cam Sutton, and the addition of Levi Wallace. That said, if they had the opportunity to add one of the top shutdown corners in this draft, it would certainly be a benefit to the defense.
7. Devin Lloyd (LB – Utah)
Most rankings have Devin Lloyd ahead of Nakobe Dean and we debated this quite a bit in the SCB War Room. Lloyd has a bit more “in the seat” than Dean does and can deliver big time hits in the open field. Lloyd can get overpowered by opposing offensive lines (as evidenced in the Rose Bowl). He is an explosive player that can fly around the field and cover over the middle. Lloyd showed off his prowess in pass coverage this past season with 10 passes defended and 4 interceptions to go with 22 tackles for loss and 8 sacks.
8. Derek Stingley (CB – LSU)
Stingley was in the discussion for our top corner in the draft, especially after he lit it up at his Pro Day with a blistering 40. Stingley’s best year was his freshman campaign when he had 6 interceptions. He missed parts of each of the past two seasons with injuries. When he was on the field, Stingley was a physical man corner who had the size and strength to jam and press opposing receivers. With his 40, he certainly has the speed to keep up with the burners around the league as well.
9. Kayvon Thibodeaux (EDGE – Oregon)
Before the 2021 season, Thibodeaux was largely thought of as the presumptive #1 pick. He was a unanimous All-American and put up 7 sacks and 12 tackles for loss. He has the athleticism and pedigree to be a stud edge rusher in this league. He can win in multiple ways and is a student of the game. Questions have arisen about his overall desire but when he is on his game he is borderline unstoppable.
10. Travon Walker (EDGE – Georgia)
There was some debate in the SCB War Room about whether Walker was better suited as an EDGE rusher or as a 3-4 defensive end. Measuring at 6’5″ 270 pounds, Walker could play either and has the athleticism of an early-impact pass rusher. If he gets drafted to a 4-3 team, they could play him on the outside on early downs then slide him inside on passing downs. For a 3-4 team, he could play either as a 5-tech or an EDGE rusher, and displayed outstanding athleticism in combine testing, including an incredible 6.89 second 3-cone drill.
11. Jordan Davis (NT – Georgia)
The Steelers were dead last in the league in run defense last season. Davis is an absolute space-eater on the inside. For a guy measuring at 6’6″ 341 pounds, he had an incredible combine, testing off the charts athletically for his size. Davis is a monster run defender who pushes the middle of the line and has the foot quickness to be able to carry outside zone plays down the line. He doesn’t provide much as an interior pass rusher, a weakness that Alabama exploited in the first matchup when they essentially took him out of the game by throwing the ball. That said, Davis would add youth and athleticism to the defensive line that got gashed last year. His ability to eat up blockers would free up Devin Bush and Myles Jack to rove around and make plays rather than fighting off blockers.
12. Garrett Wilson (WR – Ohio St)
The Steelers have made a living with 5’11” 185-pound wide receivers in the past, and Wilson fits the bill. He ran a blistering 4.38 40-yard dash at the Combine after a 1000-yard season at Ohio State. Wilson isn’t the sharpest route-runner, but he has the big play ability to take the ball to the house any time he gets it in his hands. He has sharp cuts and can explode out of them to create space and separation. The Steelers offense is in desperate need of big play abilities as they currently lack anyone who is a threat to score any time they touch the ball. Wilson is most certainly that and as such is our highest rated offensive skill position player on the board.
13. Charles Cross (OT – Mississippi St)
Cross is the third best tackle in the class but seems to have the widest variance on where he might be drafted. He could go in the Top 10 or fall all the way to near 20. Cross is one of the best pass blockers in the draft. He has quick feet and good hand work, which will get him a long way at the next level. His run blocking leaves a little to be desired, but he can step into a pass-happy offense and be an anchor right away. That alone is valuable and as just a 21-year old redshirt sophomore he will have time to add bulk and power to his body as he fills out.
14. Tyler Linderbaum (C – Iowa)
Linderbaum is the clear top center in the draft class and the only one worthy of a first round pick. The Steelers used a 3rd round pick on Kendrick Green last year but he was surpassed by JC Hassenauer by the end of the season. They also brought in Mason Cole to compete at the center position. That said, Linderbaum is superior to all three of those guys and would be an anchor in the middle like the Steelers have become used to over the years. Linderbaum has the athleticism to succeed in a zone-based scheme or to pull in the run game.
15. Malik Willis (QB – Liberty)
Willis is a boom-or-bust candidate but also has the highest upside of any quarterback in this draft class. He is our top-raked quarterback on the board. That said, in order for Willis to be successful at the next level he will need to be eased into an offense. It would likely be best for him to sit for a year behind a veteran to learn the NFL game and refine his technique. Willis has the arm strength and athleticism that modern NFL teams covet at the quarterback position. That said he is still quite raw and his decision-making can be questionable at times (he threw 12 interceptions this past season). All in all, if we had to stake our future on one quarterback in this class we’d take our chances with Willis, fully recognizing his boom-or-bust potential and that he needs time to continue to learn and grow before taking the full reins of an NFL offense.
16. Drake London (WR – USC)
London is coming off an ankle injury that ended his 2021 season after just 8 games. He did not do any of the running or agility drills at the Combine as he continued to rehab his ankle. He did run routes and catch passes at his Pro Day but did not do any timed drills. On tape, London looks almost like a young Plaxico Burress. He has length and rangy athleticism with long arms that can pluck the ball out of the air. He can hit big plays down the field and is excellent at tracking the ball in the air. He is also a beast to bring down in the open field. He does need to work a bit of sharpening his route-running and he had more drops (8) than touchdowns (7) this past season.
17. Chris Olave (WR – Ohio St)
Coming into this season, many thought Olave was the top receiver in the nation. He ran a sub-4.4 40 yard dash and absolutely has the breakaway speed to make him a big time playmaker at the next level. Olave is one of the better route-runners in the draft class and has some of the best hands. His teammates raved about his leadership abilities and he was a contributor on special teams with multiple blocked punts over his career. Where he comes up short is in the size department and may not be as physical as other outside receivers. That said, the Steelers have had a lot of success over the years with 5’11 190-pound wide receivers. Having someone with Olave’s homerun hitting abilities would be a huge boon for the Steelers offense that lacked big playmakers last year.
18. Jermaine Johnson (EDGE – Florida St)
Johnson was the ACC Defensive Player of the Year after ringing up 12 sacks and 18 tackles for loss in 2021. He has the prototypical NFL size but was just a one-year starter and as a redshirt senior is a bit older than what the Steelers usually target in the first round. He has decent but not spectacular explosiveness, but on tape his hand usage shines – outworking offensive tackles to win around the edge. Johnson has a relentless motor that keeps churning all his limps, swatting with his hands and arms and driving his legs until he gets to the ball.
19. Devonte Wyatt (DT – Georgia)
While Jordan Davis got most of the accolades on Georgia’s defensive line, Wyatt is capable of being a 3-down NFL lineman. He has solid size and explosiveness to play as a 3-4 defensive end who can stay on the field and slide to the 3-tech role in nickel defenses. In the age where interior pass rushers are worth their weight in gold, Wyatt rung up 7 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks this past season. If the Steelers drafted Wyatt, he could work in rotationally on the defensive line this year at any position – backing up Alualu on the inside or Heyward and Tuitt at the end spots. He could also give them snaps in sub packages and add youth to a unit where three starters are over 30 years old.
20. Andrew Booth (CB – Clemson)
While most draft boards have Washington’s Trent McDuffie as their third corner on the board, we went with Andrew Booth as being the better potential scheme fit for the Steelers. While McDuffie looks like a better zone corner, Booth plays physical on the outside and is better suited in a man coverage scheme. Booth stepped into the starting role halfway through 2020 and recorded 14 passes defended and 5 INTs over the last two seasons. He also showed physicality and willingness to crash the corner against the run with 5.5 tackles for loss. Booth isn’t afraid of contact, a trait the Steelers like to see in their corners.
The Next 10
21. Jameson Williams (WR – Alabama)
There was some dissention in the SCB Draft War Room about where Jameson Williams should land on this list. There were some who thought he was the best receiver in this draft class. Before he tore his ACL in the National Championship Game, he certainly looked the part. But our concerns over his injury situation dropped Williams just outside the Top 20 on our board.
22. Kenny Pickett (QB – Pitt)
If you’ve listened to the SCB Podcast, you know our thoughts on Pickett. He has the highest “floor” of any of the quarterbacks in this draft class and is likely the only one who could step in and start in 2022. That said, with Pickett’s age (nearly 24), we also feel he may be close to his overall potential. Pickett’s athleticism and ability to make plays with his feet add to his value. The Steelers have done a ton of homework on all of the top quarterbacks in this draft class, and they certainly have some familiarity with Pickett who spent the past five years just down the hall in Pitt’s facilities.
23. Treylon Burks (WR – Arkansas)
Burks was a bit of a difficult evaluation for us in the SCB War Room. He consistently averaged around 16 yards per reception over his 3-year career. Arkansas moved him around the formation as a swiss army knife and he clearly has the ability to make plays with the ball in his hands. That said, he did not test as well athletically as some had hoped. The Razorbacks did line him up at running back, in the slot, and out wide, causing some to draw Deebo Samuel comparisons. Overall, Arkansas’ offense was not terribly complex and Burks only ran a handful of routes but still has the size, ball skills, and playmaking ability to be a dangerous target in the league.
24. Trent McDuffie (CB – Washington)
Our fourth corner on our board is Washington’s Trent McDuffie. The Huskies have produced a number of quality corners over the years and have two more good ones in this draft class. McDuffie is a refined all-around corner who is physical at the point of attack and will stick his nose in against the run. He is technically sound and has the long speed to keep up with fast receivers. The one knock on McDuffie was his ability to get his hands on the ball – he had just 10 passes defended and 2 interceptions in 3 seasons as a starter. Overall, he looks NFL-ready on tape and could step in and play significant snaps right away.
25. Kenyon Green (OG – Texas A&M)
Green is clearly the best guard prospect in the draft. Offensive line coach Pat Meyer attended the Texas A&M Pro Day. Green played 4 different positions on the A&M line last season due to injuries, starting 2 games at RT and 1 at LT to go along with 7 at LG and 2 at RG. His best position is at guard where he is a mauler in the run game and can get out and pull to clear the road for a back behind him. He had some inconsistent games at tackle against the speedier edge rushers, but on the inside Green has thrived.
26. Dax Hill (SS – Michigan)
A three-year starter at Michigan, Hill is a versatile player who could be the kind of defender that the Steelers had hoped Sean Davis would become. He has 4.38 speed, coupled with a physicality and toughness to play in the box or in a deep Cover-2. Hill also has some coverage skills and can defend in the slot. While he does give up a little in size, his speed will enable him to match up with slot receivers rather than having to take on tight ends.
27. Desmond Ridder (QB – Cincinnati)
Ridder is a redshirt senior who is the two-time AAC Player of the year. He threw for over 2100 yards and at least 18 TDs in all four of his seasons, capping off his collegiate career with a 3300-yard 30-TD season. Ridder also ran for over 2100 yards and 28 TDs in the course of his career. Despite being a 4-year starter, he can still get stuck staring down targets and can get tentative against complex defenses (like Alabama in the Playoff). He has the athleticism of a modern NFL quarterback but needs to work on his accuracy and ball placement to succeed at the next level. Cincinnati ran a lot of zone read plays, and if Matt Canada wants to move the offense in that direction, Ridder could be a solid fit for the Steelers.
28. Trevor Penning (OT – Northern Iowa)
Penning is an extremely athletic tackle who would best be suited for a zone blocking scheme where he can get out on the edge and clear a path. He bulked up tremendously over his career at Northern Iowa and was incredibly durable, starting all 33 of UNI’s games over the last three years. His fundamentals and footwork still need some work but he has a relentless attitude and looks to exert his will on opposing defensive players every single play. He stood out at the Senior Bowl as one of the best linemen and has the combination of athleticism and physicality that will make him a solid NFL player.
29. Kaiir Elam (CB – Florida)
Elam has a prototypical NFL frame for an outside corner – checking in at 6’1″ 190 and running a 4.39 40-yard dash. Elam can get caught with double moves and biting on routes, but he is a physical press-man corner that can body up against outside receivers. In his three-year career at Florida he recorded 26 passes defended and 6 interceptions, showing he is capable of getting his hands on the football and isn’t afraid to be aggressive at the catch point.
30. Matt Corral (QB – Ole Miss)
Matt Corral was a three-year starter at Ole Miss who played in Lane Kiffin’s RPO-based offense. Kiffin’s offense tends to highlight a quarterback’s one-read abilities and doesn’t require him to scan the field as much as a true NFL attack. Corral has solid athleticism and fantastic toughness. He took some massive hits in the running game and would bounce right back. That said, his aggressiveness got the better of him in Ole Miss’ bowl game where he suffered an ankle injury that knocked him out of the game and prevented him from doing any Combine drills. He did throw at his Pro Day. Corral is slightly undersized by traditional NFL standards but has good arm strength. He is somewhat reminiscent of Baker Mayfield in that he will try to do everything himself and go full-on gunslinger but is probably best in a designed system that can maximize his abilities. He certainly needs more development before stepping into a full-time NFL starting role.
The Next Best
QB – Sam Howell (North Carolina), Carson Strong (Nevada)
RB – Breece Hall (Iowa St)
WR – Jahan Dotson (Penn St), Skyy Moore (Western Michigan)
OT – Bernhard Raimann (Central Michigan), Tyler Smith (Tulsa)
OG/C – Zion Johnson (Boston College)
DL – Travis Jones (UConn), DeMarvin Leal (Texas A&M)
EDGE – George Karlaftis (Purdue), David Ojabo (Michigan), Arnold Ebiketie (Penn St), Boye Mafe (Minnesota)
LB – Quay Walker (Georgia)
CB – Kyler Gordon (Washington), Roger McCreary (Auburn)
S – Lewis Cine (Georgia), Jaquan Brisker (Penn St)