The Pittsburgh Steelers are out to a promising 3-0 start as they head into their early bye week. Regardless of what happens with other AFC North teams this week, the Steelers will sit atop the division for at least another week. Even then, Pittsburgh has a better idea of potential needs now than they did previously. So, a Steelers bye week mock draft can give us a glimpse into the future. I took my best guess at who Pittsburgh could target, given the bevy of needs they could have after the free agency period.
Pittsburgh Steelers 2021 Mock Draft
As the Steelers entering into their bye week, a number of areas of potential need to address in a mock draft have become obvious. Some of these are immediate needs that they could even need to address at some point during the 2020 season. However, most of these needs are with an eye to the future and the potential departure of key players in free agency in 2021.
Round 1, Pick 30: Jackson Carman, OT Clemson
The Steelers are going to have to figure out their tackle situation this offseason. I suspect that an aging Alejandro Villanueva is gone after this year. Matt Feiler and Zach Banner very well could be back, but even if that were to be true, the Steelers still have a hole at the left tackle or right tackle position depending on where they wish to play Chukwuma Okorafor.
Enter Jackson Carman, who faced Chase Young last season and gave him all he could handle. Carman is mobile, polished, violent, and fundamentally sound. There are some things he will have to improve on, as will most young tackles, but Carman is the type of plug-and-play underclassmen that the Steelers love to take early on in drafts at the offensive line position. Carman fits perfectly into the growing zone running scheme that the Steelers are running on offense, and this is a slam dunk pick.
Round 2, Pick 61: Paris Ford, S Pittsburgh
Safety is that one sneaky need that is creeping in the shadows for the Steelers. Minkah Fitzpatrick is excellent. However, Terrell Edmunds is strikingly mediocre. That could be a good sign, as Edmunds has been improving and using his athleticism as a legitimate weapon on the field. Still, the Steelers have virtually no one behind Edmunds. Pittsburgh misses that third safety in this scheme, and if Fitzpatrick or Edmunds were to get hurt, only Sean Davis is there to fill in. Davis is only on a one-year deal, so there are zero guarantees he will be back.
Thus, enter Paris Ford, who the Steelers are familiar with, as he is from the University of Pittsburgh. Ford’s athleticism, ball skills, and hard-hitting style would fit perfectly into the Steelers scheme. Especially in a pattern match scheme, Ford would still be able to ad-lib to a degree and use his instincts to make plays on the back end. He gives the Steelers a defensive chess piece they did not have, and with some potential losses in the secondary after the season, Ford makes a lot of sense to boost the secondary across the board.
Round 3, Pick 94: Kenneth Gainwell, RB Memphis
Predicting when the Steelers will address the running back position is going to be the biggest question of the offseason for mock drafters. It is so vague, especially since with cap restraints, it would seem likely that James Conner will walk out those doors. So far on the season, Benny Snell looked average at best, and rookie Anthony McFarland has shown promising signs.
Pittsburgh wants to go to a more modern offensive system with zone runs and misdirection all over the field. This makes me lean away from another bigger power back. I think the Steelers may want explosiveness and speed. If they want that, Kenneth Gainwell makes a ton of sense. Gainwell’s athleticism is eye-popping, and he comes in as a polished receiver ready to produce on day one. You can already see the possibilities with Gainwell, McFarland, and Snell as a committee with Gainwell perhaps spearheading that committee. The more speed the Steelers can get in the backfield, the better it would be for the offense as they move in the direction they are moving.
Round 4, Pick 125: Ambry Thomas, CB Michigan
The Steelers cornerback situation is going to be a huge question mark as it stands. Mike Hilton and Cam Sutton have expiring contracts, Steven Nelson has struggled, and Joe Haden is not getting any younger. It would seem that along with James Pierre and Justin Layne, the Steelers would want to get a bit more youth in the cornerback room. Ambry Thomas brings that to the table.
Thomas fits the mold the Steelers may be moving to with their cornerbacks. Layne fits into this mold, but Thomas is best when he is up on the guy and can get physical. Even in pattern matching coverage schemes, Thomas’ skillset is a versatile piece that teams will still want to employ. Pittsburgh, in particular, has no trouble getting aggressive with their defensive backs. Thomas has solid ball skills and good instincts in zone coverage, which makes him scheme versatile. The fit is solid here at good value for the Steelers.
Round 7, Pick 202 (via MIA): Tre Walker, WR San Jose State
The more I see come out of both camps, the more I believe that the Steelers will be able to retain JuJu Smith-Schuster despite cap constraints. As a result, they do not need to pick a wide receiver, but one thing they could use in the room is an explosive deep threat. James Washington, Chase Claypool, and Diontae Johnson all have different deep threat abilities, but none quite like those that Tre Walker brings to the table.
In this Steelers bye week mock draft, a speedy receiver in the late rounds was something I wanted to address. Walker can be a returner, gunner, and a gadget player on jet sweeps. There is a lot of utility the Steelers can get here. That is also before diving into his impressive explosiveness and route running. Walker has a knack for defeating press coverage with his feet and hands. He may not carve out a role instantly, but down the line, Walker is one of those guys that could be a gem.
Round 7, Pick 216 (via BAL): Trey McBride, TE Colorado State
The Steelers seem not to want to invest in their tight end room high in the draft. Vance McDonald and Eric Ebron are both under contract through 2021, so this is not an immediate need, but it would be nice to have someone there. Zach Gentry has simply not shown anything yet and has failed even to get a helmet on gameday.
McBride is a nice player. While not athletic, he is the exact type of tight end that could carve out a role as a backup for a long time. McBride is tough and physical. It shows up most in his blocking, as McBride has made strides in that area each year. At this point, McBride is a very solid blocker. As a special teamer, McBride can fit in with ease. The Steelers can even slot him in as a fullback with Derek Watt’s future possibly uncertain. McBride brings versatility and value, and that is what late-round picks are all for anyways.