Here is Andrew Shaver’s final Pittsburgh Steelers’ mock draft, predicting what he thinks the team will do this weekend.
ROUND 1 (#20 OVERALL) TYLER LINDERBAUM/C/IOWA – 6021, 296 lbs.
Let’s address the bigger topic first – why not QB? Suspicions are the top QB target(s) Colbert & Co. have on their board will be gone and the price it will cost to move up is too rich. When thinking of the reality of finding a trading partner within the top 19 picks, who is truly willing to make a deal with a franchise like Pittsburgh, who has been both stable and good for so long not only by record but at the QB position as well, compared to many of the teams ahead of them in this draft. Coach Cowher once said it best – misery loves company and think for a moment how many QB’s each franchise selecting ahead of the Steelers in first round have drafted a high QB since Roethlisberger was picked and how many who are also searching for answers at the position still in recent years. The price determination in my estimation for the Steelers is a costly one right now regardless of how you view supply & demand as it applies to potential first round talents within the QB market. Also, with this being Colbert’s last draft at the controls, it leaves me thinking he won’t mortgage the franchise’s draft capital of the near future to make a move and will look to possibly find a good bargain to fit the Steelers needs.
With all of that said, Colbert and team will take the best player available with Tyler Linderbaum also addressing another need. True, the Steelers went a bit aggressive early in free agency for solutions on the offensive line but landing a player like Linderbaum eliminates a lot of heartburn experienced from last season. The Steelers ran inside zone at the 4th highest rate last season in hopes of showing their 2020 first round selection’s talents at RB in Najee Harris. If looking for an anchor in the middle of the line with vast experience who excelled with this concept, Linderbaum fits very well. Pass blocking he’s no slouch either, allowing just a 1.7% pressure rate during his career at Iowa. In contrast, the Steelers overall as a team allowed a 3.3% rate from the center position in 2021 and newly signed free agent Mason Cole yielded the 2nd highest rate in the league at 6.7% when lined up as a center. If Linderbaum is there and the QB’s desired are gone, then it makes too much sense.
Other Considered: George Pickens, WR, Georgia; Jalen Pitre, CB/S, Baylor
ROUND 2 (#52 OVERALL) CARSON STRONG/QB/NEVADA – 6033, 226 lbs.
The consolation prize for not moving up in the first round to wait and grab a QB in the second round is a good one. Now it may take a move that’s higher than the 52nd overall pick to land Carson Strong but the premium paid will pale in comparison to that of a Thursday night deal. Chances are the Steelers could indeed stay at no. 52 and select the Nevada product. What’s a little eerie at this point is the buzz surrounding Strong is a quiet one as several other QB’s are receiving top billing. The small amount of chatter could be both good and bad.
With many having tabbed this draft as a Top 5 QB conversation – Willis, Pickett, Ridder, Howell, Corral, Strong and his play may also have something to say. Let’s go ahead and say it’s a true Top-6 QB discussion with Strong and sort out the knowns vs unknowns. The known for each QB is none of them are very good against pressure. In fact, though, Strong has the lowest turnover worthy percentage among the group when under duration while also choosing to scramble the least. Strong may not take a shot for a big play when the defense is bearing down on him, but he will make the safe and smart plays while ultimately not costing his team along with taking extra hits as well. Take away pressure and measure each QB against one another, and it’s Strong once again winning the ribbon in terms of lowest turnover worthy play % but also while having the distinction of highest completion percentage at 74.2% among the group. Who is the best at making throws downfield? Looking at passes 10+ yards downfield, and the QB with both the highest average depth of target (22.5 yards) and highest air yard percentage at 86.9% – it’s Carson Strong. What type of late game performer would you prefer? The obvious answer is a reliable one and Strong has proven just that among the six QB’s in conversation. In all games during 4th quarter and OT, Strong once again has the lowest turnover worthy play% and over his career he had just 4 INT’s compared to 19 TD’s during the 4th / OT.
This strategy of waiting to see who falls to Pittsburgh in the second Round may not be a popular choice at face value. Everyone wants brand name when shopping, but the Steelers could justify a lower price at the position and call it a win. Back when Ben Roethlisberger was selected in the 2004 draft, he was a relatively unknown at the time due to playing at a small school without much exposure. The Steelers then did their homework to land a franchise QB and the parallel of doing so once again this year exists with Strong as a candidate among some more popular advertised QB’s.
Other Considered: Roger McCreary, BC, Auburn; Jaquan Brisker, S, Penn State
ROUND 3 (#84 OVERALL) KHALIL SHAKIR/WR/BOISE STATE – 5117, 196 lbs.
Pittsburgh needs both a field stretcher and someone who can run any route from any spot on the field. Shakir is that type of WR and can also give you production from the backfield or jet motion plays. Shakir also checks off a lot of boxes, having missed out on just (1) in regards to the 3-Cone drill time based on Alex Kozora’s study of what Pittsburgh prefers at the position.
Not many WR’s are a threat at every level in the passing game but Shakir in fact is. Shakir can beat you on Go, Post, and Seam routes downfield, harass defenses on Out, Crossing, Slant, and Hitch routes, or even frustrate on Wide Screens and Speed Outs – he has nearly everything in his arsenal. Selecting a pass catcher on Day 2 of the draft has also become old hat for the Steelers and expect no less this time around.
Other Considered: Jalen Tolbert, WR, South Alabama; Danny Gray, WR, SMU
ROUND 4 (#138 OVERALL) AKAYLEB EVANS/CB/MISSOURI – 6017, 201 lbs.
Evans played in many different coverages during his college career after four seasons at Tulsa and one final season at Missouri, most notably Cover-1 and Cover-3. Evans doesn’t offer a ton of position flexibility as he mainly has experience outside. One given with Evans is he’s going to make the tackle, having missed only (2) tackles over the past couple of seasons. Interceptions were rare which is part of the reason why a player like Evans will be available this late. The possibility of this selection also bodes well when taking a look at what the Steelers look for in drafting a CB with Evans missing one criteria.
Other Considered: Tycen Anderson, S, Toledo; Dane Belton, S, Iowa; DaRon Bland, BC, Fresno State;
ROUND 6 (#208 OVERALL) SMOKE MONDAY/S/AUBURN – 6016, 207 lbs.
If the Steelers plan on continuing to use Cover-3 coverage at a high rate, then look no further than Smoke Monday to possibly step in and help. With the Steelers re-signing Terrell Edmunds to just a one-year deal, it also means a need still for the immediate future of the franchise at the position. Monday is versatile enough and can provide coverage at various depths and positions. He may not have created a bunch of turnovers in college and if he did, his draft grade would have been a bit higher. What Monday will provide however is solid Cover-3 play with minimal big gains in coverage.
Other Considered: Cordell Volson, OT, North Dakota State; Sterling Weatherford, S, Miami-OH; Chris Paul, OL, Tulsa
ROUND 7 (#225 OVERALL) ERIC JOHNSON/DL/MISSOURI STATE – 6043, 299 lbs.
Reported as a pre-draft visitor, there’s obviously something Pittsburgh is interested in or at least curious about in regards to the Missouri State Bears product. Johnson is going to fill the B-Gap and give some assistance in the A-Gap if needed.
Other Considered: James Houston IV, EDGE, Jackson State; Jeffrey Gunter, EDGE, Coastal Carolina
ROUND 7 (#241 OVERALL) MARK ROBINSON/LB/OLE MISS – 5114, 230 lbs.
Robinson will be a project at LB, but in his one year playing the position at Ole Miss after transferring from SE Missouri State as a RB. The organization has reportedly brought him in as a pre-draft visitor and Robinson has also stated having dinner with Coach Tomlin at his pro day.
Other Considered: Braylon Sanders, WR, Ole Miss; James Houston IV, EDGE, Jackson State; Tyree Johnson, EDGE, Texas A&M