With just a few weeks until free agency in the NFL is fully underway, the Pittsburgh Steelers are set to see heavy turnover within the starting ranks of their football team. Places such as the offensive line will see a major overhaul, while key starters at running back, wide receiver, outside linebacker and more are expected to depart for greener pastures.
Since our first mock draft, Pittsburgh has learned a few things: Maurkice Pouncey officially announced his retirement, Ben Roethlisberger is very likely to return for 2021, and tweets can be taken any way you please by a couple guys set to hit the market:
So, what's changed in our second mock draft? Offensive line still holds the key to success, yet running back and tight end see a nice bump in priority.
We're also still working under the assumption that the Steelers aren't very active in free agency due to the continued financial circumstances of the salary cap, making the 2021 NFL Draft even more important in terms of finding starters who can make an impact right away.
Steelers Pre-Free Agency Mock Draft 2.0:
Round 1, Pick 24: Samuel Cosmi, OT, Texas
Reasoning: Much to the chagrin of Najee Harris truthers, the Steelers again opt to bolster the line of scrimmage, with a running back soon on the way. With Zach Banner expected back at right tackle for 2021, the Steelers need to figure out who their left tackle of the future is. Is it Chukwuma Okorafor? Many tend to believe his 2020 season left a lot to be desired. In a loaded tackle draft, Pittsburgh lands their new left tackle for the foreseeable future.
What they're saying: "Overall, Cosmi’s athleticism at the offensive tackle position consistently stands out and makes him a potential impact player at the next level. He could quickly grow into a real franchise left tackle, securing one of the most important offensive positions for his NFL team. Cosmi should undoubtedly be a first-round pick in the 2021 NFL Draft and could easily challenge for OT2 behind Sewell."- NFL Mocks
Round 2, Pick 55: Javonte Williams, RB, North Carolina
Reasoning: With James Conner departing, the Steelers are in need of a high-caliber running back. Enter: Javonte Williams, a tough yet agile runner who shows real promise to be a three down running back in the NFL. The Steelers may opt for another position here in the second round, yet Williams' prowess appears to be an easy elixir for Pittsburgh's running woes.
What they're saying: "Many backs in this class have great traits but his contact balance is a special trait and should be his key to great NFL production when paired with his ability to utilize jump cuts, and spins to avoid defenders. With confirmed times and size that fit my expectations he'd be a lock to be a top two running back in this class."- 247 Sports
Round 3, Pick 87: Quinn Meinerz, OC, Wisconsin-Whitewater
Reasoning: With Maurkice Pouncey now enjoying retirement, the Steelers now have a considerably sized gap at the center position. Ideally, the center position is already addressed by this point in the draft, yet an important position such as left tackle and a highly talent running back outside of the first emerged victorious. Despite being a third-round pick here, Meinerz at worst would come in and compete with J.C. Hassenauer for the starting job, a job I believe Meinerz could win in his first season. If not, Meinerz could find himself as a potential replacement for David DeCastro sooner rather than later as well.
What they're saying: "Despite a rough start to the week, Meinerz was, without a doubt, one of the 2021 Senior Bowl winners... Meinerz was strong, controlled, and demonstrated he can play with excellent leverage. He also showed versatility in lining up at guard and center during the week. His toughness was illustrated by playing through practice with a broken hand. Despite the injury, he passionately pleaded to be allowed to play on Saturday. The kid is impossible not to root for."- Pro Football Network
Round 4, Pick 128: Sage Surratt, WR, Wake Forest
Reasoning: The (expected) loss of JuJu Smith-Schuster will see the Steelers again address the receiver position in the NFL Draft. However, with a stellar trio of receivers already in hand, the priority of a pass-catcher can wait. Sage Surratt, a big-bodied receiver who can play in or out of the slot, fits the mold that Smith-Schuster occupied in Pittsburgh, although Surratt has growth to show before any of those comparisons can begin. However, a receiver with the size and ability to stretch the field such as Surratt's could bode well in a Matt Canada offense.
What they're saying: "Surratt is a physical receiver with terrific ball skills. He excels at winning in contested situations by creating leverage, positioning his frame, and then allowing his size and ball skills to take over. The concern with Surratt is a modest athletic profile where separation quickness and long speed are missing, which limits his ceiling at the next level. For a team in search of a big-bodied target that can win down the field, Surratt is an ideal target, but there are some limitations in what he can and cannot do on the field."- The Draft Network
Round 4, Pick 141: Tony Fields II, LB, West Virginia
Reasoning: It's no secret the defensive landscape of the NFL is shifting towards athletic linebackers, and Pittsburgh's Devin Bush is a perfect example of what the new generation of players will look like. Fields' ability to shoot gaps and meet runners at the sideline in college gives hope that he can one day be a viable player in the league, although he is considered undersized and will need to fill out muscle mass to last in the NFL. Fields would provide much needed depth behind Vince Williams with time to grow into something bigger.
What they're saying: "He’s best when he’s in space and is reliable when he needs to make open-field tackles. He has plenty of remaining development still but the potential and upside are there with Fields... Getting him into an NFL strength training program will be essential for his development and upside."- Sports Illustrated
Round 6, Pick 217: Noah Gray, TE, Duke
Reasoning: The need to add a viable second option to the Steelers' tight end room simply does not get talked about enough, as Vance McDonald's retirement created another gap for the Steelers to fill. With Eric Ebron, Pittsburgh's need to draft a tight end falls behind other positions of need. However, with no NFL-caliber tight end ready on the roster and little optimism for help in free agency, Duke's Noah Gray lands here in the sixth-round to provide another big-bodied, pass-catching tight end to the roster.
What they're saying: "First and foremost, Gray is versatile. At Duke, he lined up in the slot, inline, and at fullback, and he also went through motion a lot. He’s also a willing blocker. Although he doesn’t quite have the play strength necessary to dominate, he’s fairly assignment sound, and he brings good energy... Noah Gray’s route running and solid athletic foundation gives him a decent floor as a 2021 NFL Draft prospect."- Pro Football Network
Round 6, Pick 225: Wyatt Hubert, EDGE, Kansas State
Reasoning: Depth. Depth. Depth. While Alex Highsmith shined in his small tenure as a starting player in Pittsburgh, the depth behind him simply did not when called upon. Should the Steelers again need to call upon a depth piece at outside linebacker, Hubert's ability to rush the passer at Kansas State proved to provide a solid foundation for a project at the next level. Hubert would likely see himself on special teams during his first few years in the league, but working behind the likes of T.J. Watt would certainly help his development as well.
What they're saying: "Wyatt Hubert is an undersized, but energetic edge rusher that has been plenty productive during his career at Kansas State. Playing from many different platforms, he’s excelled the most from the stand-up position, which may force NFL teams to believe that he’s a 3-4 outside linebacker. While his experience in coverage is limited, he’s a ball of energy that doesn’t contain an off switch. His aggressive play as a pass rusher often helps him overcome his limitations, but his best asset to a team on the next level will come as a pass rusher."- The Draft Network
Round 7, Pick 244: Tommy Kraemer, OG, Notre Dame
Reasoning: Here in the seventh-round, you won't find much in the crop of players. Perhaps one of the hidden gems during the final parts of the 2021 NFL Draft may be Tommy Kraemer, an absolute unit of an offensive guard. Kraemer sees himself towards the end of the draft thanks to inconsistent play, but still showed the ability to move defensive linemen last year. If you're going to roll the dice on a depth piece for the offensive line in the seventh-round, Kraemer is the way to go.
What they're saying: "Guard Tommy Kraemer and tackle Robert Hainsey might not be starters right off the bat, but they have the upside to be reliable when called upon in that role... Kraemer started 42 of 45 games at both right guard and right tackle. A body-mover in the run game, Kraemer’s combination of size, physical traits and versatility will be enticing for an offensive line coach to work with."- USA Today
Round 7, Pick 253: Jamar Johnson, S, Indiana
Reasoning: With either Mike Hilton or Cam Sutton waving goodbye to the Steelers in 2021, Pittsburgh will look to add another versatile piece to their secondary. Jamar Johnson played a nice bit of safety and slot corner at Indiana, providing excellent support coming off the edge and breaking nicely on routes to either intercept passes or force incompletions.