Following a really successful Free Agency period where the Steelers have evaluated and addressed a number of key team needs (particularly the offensive line), GM Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin have the chance to pick the best player available.
Potential team needs are – Wide Receiver (following JuJu Smith-Schusters departure to Kansas City Chiefs), strong safety, franchise QB, depth at edge rusher, depth at offensive tackle. There will be good options for the steelers at 20: Bernhard Raimann (tackle – Central Michigan), perhaps Boye Mafe (Edge – Boston College), or David Ojabo (Edge – Michigan) if he falls due to the injury he sustained in his pro day, Jaquan Brisker (safety – Penn State), Lewis Cine (safety – Georgia) or perhaps one of the wide receiver options such as Skyy Moore (Western Michigan) or Jahan Dotson (Penn State)
However, following Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement, the quarterback position has obviously been a key discussion point for Pittsburgh. The signing of Mitch Trubisky has brought a mixed reaction from SteelerNation but he definitely has the tools to be a competent option under center and based on Tomlin and Colbert’s pro-day attendances the team clearly has an eye on this year’s quarterback class.
Will the Steelers trade up to get one of these guys? Tomlin seems to have somewhat of an infatuation with Liberty’s Malik Willis and whilst he does have some good traits, he is still very raw and hasn’t been fully challenged against elite competition at college. I would suggest that trading up for Willis is too big a risk when the Steelers need to add depth at various positions and that the 2023 first-round pick will no doubt be vital next year.
I will undertake this mock draft assuming that no trade is made and look at what options may be available for the Steelers at 20. in the QB market. There is a high potential that one of the following teams may take a QB in the first round – Detroit Lions (2), Carolina Panthers (6), Seattle Seahawks (9), and Minnesota Vikings (12).
Having undertaken a number of simulated mock drafts, there is potential that Kenny Pickett could fall to pick 20, however in reality I suspect someone will take him before Pittsburgh get to pick. If this does occur, I would personally select Matt Corral rather than pick a wide receiver in round 1; rather than gamble on him not being picked before the Steelers’ round 2 selection at 52.
The Ole Miss graduate demonstrates a number of the required attributes to be a success at the NFL level. He has leadership skills in abundance and has faced a number of personal challenges during his collegiate career that have influenced his work ethic and when you add his competitive toughness to that, he is ready to lead an NFL team.
1.20 (20th Overall)
Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss
Corral has passing accuracy across all three levels of the field and completed 67.3% of his passes despite some of his receivers seeming intent not to catch the ball at times (see the Tennessee game tape). He also has a dual-threat ability, and whilst he isn’t the out and out rusher that Malik Willis is, Corral has the ability to escape the pocket and improvise when needed.
He is willing to take on a defender, perhaps a little too much sometimes. He will need to be careful with his ankle as he has already injured it in college.
Corral has vision and awareness, and a big enough arm to make the deeper throws when needed, and whilst he will not necessarily be a popular or expected pick at 20, I believe he has the best overall toolkit in this 2022 quarterback class to be successful at the next level.
So, where to go with pick 52… edge rusher Nik Bonitto is a solid option here to work alongside DPOY TJ Watt and Alex Highsmith but he would be a depth piece rather than a potential starter. Following the departures of JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington, the Steelers need to add to their wide receiver room and I would select:
2.20 (52 Overall)
Alec Pierce, WR, Cincinnati
Pierce has a highly athletic background, competing in volleyball, basketball, and track as well as football. Pierce has a good frame for a receiver being 6’3 and 213lbs. He is quick with good hands, mixed with a competitive toughness that would suit AFC North football’s rough and tumble gameplay.
He is not only effective on a vertical go route but can break off a vertical route and use a well-developed route tree to find space and separation
He could play either as a deeper option similar to Chase Claypool or could fill the slot role. He will be especially able to obtain YAC if given any breathing room by his opponents and would be an excellent pick for Pittsburgh if available in the second round.
Having taken a QB and a WR so far. Tackle or safety seem to be the best team options here. Nick Cross from Maryland seems to drop to the third round quite regularly and would be a great option here – he combines physicality with good coverage abilities and could cover for Tyrell Edmunds if he doesn’t re-sign with the Steelers. There is one tackle however left on the board that I would struggle not to select if available and that would be…
3.20 (84 Overall)
Sean Rhyan, T, UCLA
At 6’4 and 321 lbs, and with an arm length of 32 3/8ths, he may be on the borderline of being successful as a tackle at the NFL level, but if not he would make an excellent guard. He has been described on commentary as a ’run blocking menace’ and that is definitely backed up by his tape.
He demonstrates controlled violence on tape which is just what I would want to see from the trenches in the Iron City. Rhyan demonstrates excellent physicality and creates gaps with ease which would benefit Najee Harris, Pittsburgh’s first-round pick in 2021.
Rhyan kept Kayvon Thibodeaux in check against Oregon and uses powerful legs to drive opponents away from his own QB. There are some technical improvements needed, he needs to get lower and under an opponent’s pads more consistently, but if he can refine his technique then he has unlimited potential at the NFL level.
Pittsburgh received a compensatory pick at number 138 in the 2022 NFL Draft following the loss of Bud Dupree and Mike Hilton amongst other moves made in/out of the team in 2021.
Given that we didn’t select a safety earlier, I will pick a second Cincinnati player here…
4.33 (138 Overall)
Bryan Cook, S, Cincinnati
A three-season big-hitting, tackling option in the secondary. Cook has physicality and downhill explosiveness to assist in the run game. Cook’s physicality gives him the chance to take the ball away causing fumbles as well as being able to intercept or break up a pass using his length.
In his collegiate career, Cook achieved 124 total tackles with 6 of those being for a loss. He also achieved 1 sack and 2 interceptions.
Thank you for reading my mock draft article, some interesting picks that will no doubt stir some opinions and debate (which mock draft doesn’t!)