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2024 NFL Draft

Analyst Tabs One Player Steelers Must Avoid in Round 1



Steelers Draft Khan Tomlin

With the 2024 NFL Draft just days away, Alex Ballentine of Bleacher Report did an exercise where he named one prospect that each team must avoid in the draft. For the Steelers, Ballentine thinks Pittsburgh should steer away from Alabama cornerback Kool-Aid McKinstry.

It’s not that McKinstry is bad player or anything like that, it has more to do with the fact that the Steelers have glaring needs at offensive tackle and center. It would be negligent for the Steelers to not address the offensive line in Round 1.

“Kool-Aid McKinstry is the third cornerback on our scouting department’s big board, and B/R scout Cory Giddings sees him as a Year 1 starter. The Pittsburgh Steelers may be tempted to pair the Alabama product with Joey Porter Jr. if he’s still on the board at No. 20. However, the Steelers were 10th in passer rating allowed last season with a combination of Porter, Patrick Peterson and Levi Wallace manning the cornerback spots. Meanwhile, the offense was 28th in scoring and 23rd in EPA per play, in part because their offensive line wasn’t up to snuff,” Ballentine wrote.

“The Steelers could stand to add upgrades at both left tackle and center. Given the quality of this draft class at both positions, it would be bad resource management to pass on someone like Amarius Mims or even Jackson Powers-Johnson in favor of McKinstry.

“Pittsburgh has attempted to fix its offense via several bargains this offseason. The Steelers got quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Justin Fields for discounted prices. They should pay up by spending a premium pick on protection for their new signal-callers.”

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and general manager Omar Khan were at McKinstry’s pro day in Tuscaloosa. They also met with him at the NFL Combine.

McKinstry has made a name for himself as one of the more consistent and disruptive cornerbacks in all of college football. In 2022, the sophomore forced 18 incompletions which was second-most among corners in the power-5 according to PFF. His targets were cut in half this past season, as a known commodity that opposing quarterbacks avoided like the plague.

With over 1,200 snaps in coverage, there’s more than enough evidence here that McKinstry can be a high-quality starter at the next level which means there’s not as much that needs projecting. No one is a perfect prospect, however. McKinstry is a good athlete with solid build up speed but lacks the true top-end gear that allows some of more athletically gifted receivers to stack him vertically. He possesses a very good understanding of how to use his length to control his man, but he can be a bit grabbier than his penalty numbers suggest, particularly at the break point. Lastly, for teams that prioritize their secondary turning the ball over, McKinstry’s lack of interceptions will be a talking point, mainly because he prefers to go chest to chest with receivers instead of opting to try and pick the ball off.

Cornerback is a top need for the Steelers, especially at slot corner, but it probably takes a backseat to offensive tackle, center and wide receiver. McKinstry at 20th overall is not as out there as the Brock Bowers take by Steve Palazzolo of Pro Football Focus, but cornerback seems unlikely in the first round.