The first 2024 NFL Draft version of Mel Kiper’s mock draft has the Pittsburgh Steelers going back to a familiar place, and a familiar position, for their first-round pick this spring.
In his first mock draft of the cycle on Tuesday, Kiper projected that the Steelers will select Georgia Bulldogs cornerback Kamari Lassiter with the No. 20 overall pick in the second round.
Lassiter would be the fourth Georgia player taken by the Steelers in the last three draft classes, joining 2022 second-round pick George Pickens, 2023 first-round pick Broderick Jones and 2023 third-round pick Darnell Washington.
He would also be the second highly drafted cornerback in as many seasons. The Steelers used the No. 32 overall pick on Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr. last spring. Porter turned into an immediate starter and made the NFL All-Rookie Team on Tuesday, but the Steelers still have a need for a starter to play opposite the lanky legacy.
“Sure, the Steelers hit on cornerback Joey Porter Jr. with the top pick of Round 2 a year ago, but this is a defense that saw 33-year-old corner Patrick Peterson play more than 1,000 snaps, so there’s room for an injection of youth at the position,” Kiper wrote.
Peterson played in all 17 games for the Steelers, but split his time between outside cornerback, slot cornerback and safety. The Steelers would like to continue to us Peterson in that more versatile way, while shoring up the outside cornerback spot opposite Porter.
Levi Wallace, the other veteran outside cornerback on the roster, is set to become a free agent this offseason.
Lassiter could fit the bill as an outside cornerback with elite coverage skills that could pair with Porter as a long-term lockdown duo.
“Lassiter emerged as a lockdown corner for the Bulldogs in 2023, though he had just one career interception, which came all the way back in 2021,” Kiper wrote. “Still, he allowed a total of nine receptions for 91 yards as the nearest defender in coverage, and none of those passes went for scores.”
Interestingly, Porter also only had one collegiate interception. He equalled that total in his rookie season, picking off MVP Lamar Jackson in the end zone in a crucial play to beat the Baltimore Ravens in Week 5.
Lassiter is a 6-foot, 180-pound cornerback, so he’s not as big or a physical as Porter, but he might have more-developed coverage skills. Porter utilized his size and strength to his advantage in college, but that led to eight penalties in his rookie season, tied for the seventh-most among NFL defensive backs.
A Savannah, Georgia native, Lassiter played 44 games over three seasons with the Bulldogs, starting in each of his last two seasons before coming out for the draft as a junior this offseason. He finished his Georgia career with 86 total tackles, 8.5 for loss, one sack, one interception and 15 passes defended. He was a part of three SEC titles, three New Years’ Six bowl wins and two College Football Playoff national championships.