A mere three months away from the 2019 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers sit with the 20th overall selection after failing to make the playoffs for the first time since 2013.
The upcoming defensive talent in the draft has been regarded as some of the best in recent memory, a good sign for a Steelers team that desperately needs help in key positions on the defensive side of the football. It’s the year of dominant defensive linemen, as the likes of Nick Bosa (Ohio State), Josh Allen (Kentucky), Quinnen Williams (Alabama), Ed Oliver (Houston), Clelin Ferrell (Clemson) and Montez Sweat (Mississippi State) could all find themselves as top ten picks.
These players will likely not be there for the Steelers at #20 overall, yet the Steelers are happily set at defensive linemen with Cam Heyward, Javon Hargrave and Stephon Tuitt holding down the front. However, linebacker and cornerback are two positions the Steelers are projected to address in the draft, due to the sporadic and often disappointing play at both positions.
General Manager Kevin Colbert has drafted either a linebacker or cornerback in the first round the last six years running, and is favored to once again continue the trend this April.
So who will the Steelers select with their first round pick? With the NFL Scouting Combine, Pro Days for college teams and team visits still ahead, a lot of time is left for the Steelers to piece their thoughts and opinions together.
Luckily, in the comfort of my own home and no real world pressure to nail this draft, I’ve pieced together a full mock draft for the 2019 Steelers draft class. This mock draft was done with no trades, so the Steelers will stay in their original draft positions. Additionally, this mock draft is assuming the Steelers keep WR Antonio Brown.
And with the 20th pick, in the 2019 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers select…
Round 1, Pick 20: Devin White, LB, LSU
You’ll see Devin White’s name linked to the Steelers in many mock drafts, and if White falls to Pittsburgh, the Steelers should immediately pull the trigger on White. After the loss of Ryan Shazier, the Steelers have yet to find a permanent, youthful linebacker to take his place.
Devin White has received a lot of comparisons to Shazier due to his elite speed as a middle linebacker, bursting through gaps and laying hard hits on quarterbacks. White’s junior season at LSU saw him amass 123 total tackles, 3 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and 6 passes defended, good enough to win the 2018 Butkus Award for being the nation’s top linebacker. His sophomore season saw 133 total tackles, 4.5 sacks, 3 passes defended and 1 interception.
White has proven he can produce among the nation’s best, as his speedy play and quick instincts should translate well to the next level. There’s no replacing the impact Shazier had on the Steelers, yet White could come to Pittsburgh and fill an immediate need, likely making an impact right away.
Round 2, Pick 20: Trayvon Mullen, CB, Clemson
With the decline of Artie Burns the past two seasons and no real depth behind Joe Haden, the Steelers will look to the early portion of the 2019 NFL Draft to find an elixir for their secondary problems. Perhaps the Defensive MVP of the College Football National Championship could be in the mix in the second round.
Trayvon Mullen (6-1, 195 lbs) has the ideal size and frame of a prototypical NFL corner, while also possessing the physicality to play at the line of scrimmage and make tackles in the flats. Mullen does not have straight-line speed, a concern some scouts have going into the combine. Yet his hand placement on throws and body positioning make it extremely tough for contested balls to be brought down by a receiver.
Due to a phenomenal defensive front seven at Clemson, Mullen was nearly forgotten about through the 2018 season. Yet his play, traits and measurables warrant a high draft pick. With a solid combine, Mullen could potentially work himself into first round talk. However, if he’s sitting nice and pretty for the Steelers in the second round, selecting Mullen 52 picks into the draft would be considered a steal.
Round 3, Pick 19: D’Andre Walker, LB, Georgia
Bud Dupree is entering the final year of his rookie deal, and unless Dupree manages to blossom into the first round pick the Steelers thought they were getting, the Steelers may look for other options at outside linebacker. Enter D’Andre Walker, a 6-3, 245 lb outside linebacker who excels at getting to the quarterback, something Dupree has failed to do consistently.
In 2018, Walker accumulated 45 total tackles with 7.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles and 3 passes defended. Walker was slated to appear in the Senior Bowl, but could not due to a sports hernia surgery. That didn’t stop Senior Bowl Director Jim Nagy from praising Walker in his opening press conference, stating “Every time he was on the field he was disruptive,” said Nagy. “If you did a per play disruption …. every time the guy stepped on the field, he was making something happen.”
A disruptive outside linebacker is precisely what the doctor ordered for Pittsburgh, who would love a complimentary pass rusher outside of 2017 first round pick T.J. Watt. Should the Steelers elect to take Walker in the third round, they could slowly work Walker in Dupree’s position, rather than rushing him into the starting role immediately. With his pure ability to get to the quarterback, Walker has potential to become a notorious pass-rusher in black and gold.
Round 4, Pick 20: Nate Herbig, G, Stanford
Heading into the 2018 season, Nate Herbig was on nearly every preseason All-American list. However, an injury riddled junior season prevented Nate from achieving post-season honors and very well may have impacted his draft stock, as the 6-4, 350 lb guard may have been one of the top choices at his position had he played a full season.
The Steelers offensive line currently sits as one of the best in the league, yet the organization is creeping up to a decision that will make them choose between paying an older offensive linemen, or head to the draft for younger/unproven talent.
When healthy, Herbig is an absolute bull-dozer in run blocking, paving running lanes with ease. Herbig’s pass protection remains solid as well, although his strengths mainly rest in the rushing attack. With Ramon Foster wanting a big payday, Pittsburgh may need to look in the draft for his potential replacement. If all five starters are back in Pittsburgh, drafting Herbig will give the Steelers some flexibility on the offensive line, and would look to reload their dominant offensive line rather than rebuild it.
Round 6, Pick 2: Alize Mack, TE, Notre Dame
With two tight ends set to hit free agency in Xavier Grimble and Jesse James, the Steelers may look to the later rounds of the draft to draft another tight end to pair with Vance McDonald. Alize Mack’s tenure at Notre Dame can be described as a roller coaster ride, as one of his recruiting class’ highest touted tight ends failed to reach the levels he had hoped for, underachieving on the field and running into trouble off of it.
Yet Mack still possesses the physical tools (6-5, 247 lbs) and the athletic play (named on Mackey award watch-list the past three seasons) to be on an NFL roster. Mack was able to start all 12 games for Notre Dame in 2018, and despite low season numbers (34 catches, 349 yards and 3 TDs), he was still able to flash his freakish athleticism throughout the season.
Should Mack be drafted to Pittsburgh, him and McDonald would be able to create even more mismatches for the Steelers offense then the ones currently provided. Mack would provide Pittsburgh with depth at the tight end position, more versatility for offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner in terms of scheming/play-calling, and another athletic mismatch for Ben Roethlisberger to throw to.
Round 6, Pick 19: Mark Fields, CB, Clemson
Mark Fields’ career at Clemson was anything other than highlight reel worthy, as the Fields was consistently out-shined by other cornerbacks during his tenure. In Fields’ defense, it wasn’t due to terrible play, but more-so the incredible talent Clemson sees year after year (i.e. his partner in crime was taken in the second round of this mock draft).
However, Fields has proven he commands respect in terms of the draft in his own right. During practice week at the Senior Bowl, Fields showcased his abilities in one on one drills, clamping down receivers more times then not. Man to man coverage appears to be a strength of Fields’, something the Steelers run more then most teams in the league (third in using man coverage).
The general play of Fields doesn’t jump off the page like his counterpart Mullen, yet Fields would add a feisty body to a Steelers secondary that could certainly use the depth. Fields would not be expected to come in and start right away, and with time and proper development, he could become a reliable cornerback for the Steelers down the road.
Round 7, Pick 5: Mook Reynolds, S, Virginia Tech
Mook Reynolds may not last until the last round of the draft, yet if Reynolds finds himself available when the Steelers are on the clock here, it’s very possible he ends up in black and gold. Think of Reynolds as a similar prospect to Terrell Edmunds, who also played at Virginia Tech. A physical safety that can drop down and play a linebacker role while also being able to run with receivers in coverage.
The difference? You’re getting Mook on the clearance rack when compared to Edmunds, who was a first round pick in 2018. Reynolds’ off field history leads me to believe the Steelers may want to pass on him, as he was dismissed from the team due to felony charges involving marijuana.
Yet in the last round of the draft, Pittsburgh may very well take a flyer on a guy who can absolutely play when on the field. Should the Steelers roll the dice and turn Reynolds into a reliable player on and off the field, Reynolds has proven he is starting material at the next level thanks to his physicality, closing speed, tackling and coverage.
Mic Drop: Adam Zielonka of Washington Times on McFarland, Brooks
Instead of trading for a proven running back like Leonard Fournette, the Steelers simply drafted a rookie with their 4th round pick. That rookie is Anthony McFarland out of the University of Maryland. To fully explain what McFarland brings to the table, Mike Asti was joined by Adam Zielonka, who is a sports reporter for the Washington Times. Zielonka also touched Antoine Brooks, the other Maryland product drafted by the Steelers.
Colbert Explains Why He Wanted Three Rounds Added to 2020 Draft
Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert is offering an explanation as to why he wanted three rounds added to the 2020 NFL Draft.
Speaking with NBC Sport’s Mike Florio on the PFT PM podcast Tuesday, Colbert took the opportunity to clarify his suggestion.
“The reasoning was, part of it was selfish,” Colbert said. “You wanted to have a safety net because we’re dealing with less information, and the more picks you have, maybe you’ll have a little bit of a safety net again.”
With the league’s self-implemented travel restrictions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, clubs were unable to conduct their normal scouting activities prior to the Draft. This included Pro Days, private workouts and in-person interviews.
Less opportunities to watch and speak with prospects results in a larger margin for error.
Colbert went on to say that it also would have benefited some of the fringe prospects in the Draft that never had the chance to showcase themselves at a Pro Day or other setting.
“The other thing was it would give the marginal player that didn’t get his opportunity to go to a Pro Day and to perform. Maybe there will be more players drafted and then those players will then again have the chance they might not get.”
Now without rookie minicamps, the challenges are mounting for clubs and NFL hopefuls.
“Every year a team might stumble upon a tryout player,” Colbert said. “Maybe if we ever get on the field, we can think of a way to help those because there’s a big group of players that aren’t getting opportunities because of the situation.”
Colbert reminded Florio that the Steelers discovered Devlin “Duck” Hodges as a tryout in camp last year.
It is unclear when teams will be allowed to return to the practice field for their offseason programs, with clubs currently conducting theirs entirely from home.
Mic Drop: NFL Draft Recap Show
It was eat, sleep, draft coverage, repeat for Mike Asti and the Steelers Now crew this past week. And now that the draft is over, Mike Asti evaluates each pick and gives his thoughts on some moves he says the Steelers should have made.