The Steelers have been on the road and on their phones for the past few months putting together a big board in an effort to come out with the best draft possible. After all, with Ben Roethlisberger returning, they want to push for a Super Bowl before Roethlisberger walks off into the sunset for good. With that said, these projections are hard to make. There are not a lot of cues to follow this year, so it is hard to predict. Nonetheless, here is a seven-round mock draft that could get the Steelers back atop the NFL.
Round 2, Pick 49: Ashtyn Davis, S, California
Throughout the process, as more holes have been filled on the Steelers, safety has crept up the needs list surely and slowly. Now, it is on red alert with no depth behind Terrell Edmunds and Minkah Fitzpatrick. With the loss of Mark Barron, the Steelers also lost their dimebacker and a sub-package defender in the middle of the field.
Enter Ashtyn Davis, who steps in and fills multiple needs at once. Davis has experience in the box, slot, and as a single-high safety. That will make him a chess piece that would give the Steelers a ton of flexibility on the back end of the defense that they desperately need. Davis allows the Steelers to move Edmunds into a hybrid dimebacker role where Barron once was in in 2019.
A track star, Davis is an elite athlete for the position and brings playmaking upside with great hit power and ball skills. He can be used in man-to-man coverage out of the slot as well. Davis is a plus special teamer, which will excite Mike Tomlin. As a whole, Davis gives the Steelers so much flexibility in the secondary that if he is there and Antoine Winfield is gone, this pick is a slam dunk.
Round 3, Pick 102: Alex Highsmith, OLB, Charlotte
This is one that just makes a lot of sense. The Steelers do not show a lot of interest in small-school guys and when they do, it means something. Brandon Hunt and Dan Colbert are two guys that usually handle some under the radar guys like this, and they have shown they have a lot of pull in the draft room.
When watching Highsmith, it becomes apparent that he is very much like a Steelers outside linebacker. His first step off the line is great and the man has some of the best bend in the entire draft class. Granted, that is mainly all he is right now, but that is a heck of a baseline to work with coming into the NFL.
The Steelers will have to mold his hand usage, pass rush plan, and counters, but the natural quickness, burst, and bendiness with get Highsmith on the field from day one regardless. With so many meetings with some pass rushers, it seems the Steelers hold this as a higher need than most do, and they address it here with Highsmith.
Round 4, Pick 124: Darrynton Evans, RB, Appalachian State
Here is another guy that the Steelers have met with virtually over the course of this process. Evans is another small-school guy that most certainly is connected to Hunt and it is not hard to see why. In terms of speed backs, Evans fits the Steelers mold about as well as anyone does in this draft.
With electric punt and kick return experience, Evans is the exact type of running that the Steelers look for when they take a look at home run hitters. The Steelers need speed on the offensive side of the football anyways, and Evans certainly would add that and more with good vision and contact balance.
Best fit in a running back by committee, Evans has receiving ability and will flourish as being a change of pace for James Conner and Benny Snell in the offense.
Round 4, Pick 135: John Simpson, IOL, Clemson
With Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert at Clemson Pro Day, it feels like there is inevitably going to be a Clemson player selected somewhere in the draft class. It could be at safety with K’Von Wallace or Tanner Muse, but here the Steelers go out and add a mauler at offensive line to fill out the interior offensive line depth that they need to address.
Stefen Wisniewski joining the team is a nice boon with center and guard capability, but a guy for the future and another option would be helpful. Simpson has some of the strongest punches in this class and great lower body strength and hand usage. The issues with him are some athleticism concerns, but in the Steelers gap scheme, he can work through it just fine.
In pass protection, Simpson is a high IQ football player who passes off twists. As a communicator, Simpson is seen pointing things out pre-snap. Stuff like that is exactly what Tomlin looks for in his players. As such, the Steelers shore up the key depth along the offensive line with a potential starter down the road in Simpson.
Round 6, Pick 198: Quez Watkins, WR, Southern Mississppi
Wide receiver has to be addressed somewhere in this draft. The Steelers might have three quality young receivers, but they lack speed and could always use another good depth option on the roster. Watkins is unlike any receiver they have currently on the roster and has experience being a gunner, so there are early special teams returns here.
With good hands, elite speed, ability to win after the catch, and the size to still win above the rim, Watkins will go later than he should go off the board in a deep receiver class. That is the Steelers opportunity to steal him in the sixth round as a late day three Z-receiver who can stretch the field.
Watkins would enter the receiving room as the fastest receiver on the roster immediately and would fight it out for a roster spot. With his skillset, I would count on him winning that battle and if he can grow his game to beat press, Watkins can have meaningful playing time in the NFL.
Round 7, Pick 232: Shaun Bradley, ILB, Temple
Another player that the Steelers have had a virtual meeting with is Shaun Bradley out of Temple. Bradley ran a 4.51 40-yard dash at the Combine and the athleticism shows up on tape. He is fluid, rangy, and explosive out there in the middle of the defense. That fluidity gives him a lot of coverage upside and he has some really nice quickness to also do nice work in zone coverage.
The biggest issue with Bradley is his instincts. His processing is as raw as sushi on the field. Bradley struggles to go through his keys and make the correct reads, which often leaves him out of position and mitigates his athletic ability as a whole due to his gaffes in that area. He also needs to learn how to get off blocks better.
Those issues are why Bradley is a seventh-round prospect in the first place. He can be a nice special teamer and depth right off the bat with some developmental upside, which is all the Steelers can ask for in a seventh-round pick.