Outlets and analysts have been releasing mock drafts for months, but The Sporting News’ might be the most unique yet.
Instead of projecting the first two rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft themselves, they had the Madden 21 simulate the picks for them.
To ensure the mock would be as accurate as possible, the staff updated each teams’ roster to their current state post-free agency and downloaded the most realistic user-created 2021 draft class available.
While the process may have been unique, the exercise ended up with the Pittsburgh Steelers selecting a very familiar prospect in the first round.
With the No. 24-overall pick, the simulation has the Steelers drafting Alabama running back Najee Harris.
“After losing James Conner in free agency, the Steelers are in need of a new running back,” The Sporting News’ Jordan Heck writes. “Harris is the consensus pick to land with Pittsburgh in the Mock Draft Database with a fairly high 15.9%. Harris makes a lot of sense here as both a position of need, and a talented player with the 24th overall selection.”
Harris was unstoppable during his senior campaign in Tuscaloosa, rushing for 1,466 yards and 26 touchdowns. He also impressed as a receiver, snagging 43 receptions for 425 yards and four more scores in 2020.
Not only did Harris win the National Championships with the Crimson Tide in January, but he was also named a unanimous All-American and awarded the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back.
He would provide an immediate boost to a Steelers rushing attack that was the NFL’s worst in 2020.
With their second round selection, Madden projects the Steelers to draft Stanford offensive tackle Walker Little.
Measuring in at 6-foot-7, 313 pounds, Little arrived at Stanford as one of the top recruits in the country, but had an up-and-down career.
Little was named First-Team All-PAC 12 in 2018, but suffered a season-ending knee injury after just a single game his senior year. He opted out of the 2020 season.
While Little’s limited tape makes him somewhat of a project, he has demonstrated promise as both a run and pass blocker.
Steelers fans may be content with those two projections, but the simulation certainly had its flaws.
Specifically, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields and Alabama quarterback Mac Jones were both still available after the second round.
In actuality, both will likely be off the board after the first ten picks.
Still, their projections for Pittsburgh are fairly realistic, as numerous mock drafts have proposed Harris and Little to the Steelers over recent months.
The 2021 NFL Draft begins Thursday, April 29 in Cleveland.