As we count down the final hours to the NFL Draft, I offer up my final mock draft for your perusal (and ultimate criticism). To simulate the draft board and make a more accurate scenario, I used the “On the Clock” simulation at Fanspeak.com.
For my final mock, I took strongly into account the Steelers history of selecting players they meet with during the pre-draft process, whether at the combine, at a pro day or a private visit to the team facility on the South Side.
1st Round, 22nd overall: Kevin Johnson, Cornerback, Wake Forest – Considering the off-field issues with multiple corner prospects like Jalen Collins (failed drug tests), Marcus Peters (kicked off the team) and P.J. Williams (DUI arrest, which was later dropped), I figured the Steelers needed to go with a safe pick with fewer red flags. I would’ve been happy with Byron Jones from Connecticut, but he was already off the board by then. Johnson is solid in press coverage or off the line of scrimmage and has the speed, ball skills and athleticism (41.5-in. vertical leap) to make plays on the ball in the air. He can contribute immediately on special teams as a gunner and is capable of quickly becoming a productive NFL starter.
Other players considered: LB Randy Gregory (Nebraska), LB Eli Harold (Virginia), OL Andrus Peat (Stanford)
2nd Round, 56th overall: Nate Orchard, Defensive End/Linebacker, Utah – Once again the Steelers get a double-whammy with this pick; a mature player with a sterling off-field reputation (he’s already married with a daughter) and impressive on-field production. He was second in the nation last year with 18.5 sacks and also recorded 21 tackles for loss. He takes pride in playing well against the run and is reliable playing over the tight end, which makes him a potential replacement for Jason Worilds. He needs work with dropping into coverage as he transitions into playing from a stand-up position, but showed during the week of the Senior Bowl he’s capable of learning quickly.
Other players considered: WR Nelson Agholor (USC), TE Maxx Williams (Minnesota), WR Devin Smith (Ohio St.)
3rd Round, 87th overall: Henry Anderson, Defensive Line, Stanford – I was surprised to see him fall outside of the top 80 picks. In a draft class with very few good five-technique defensive ends, he’s one of the few you can feel good about off the jump. He’s tall (6-foot-6), long (32-inch arms) lean and versatile. He can shed blocks well and be a run stuffer as well as create pressure as a one-gap pass rusher. He’s got a good repertoire of pass rush moves which make him useful in a base or sub package. He would help make a formidable defensive line rotation alongside Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt.
Other players considered: DL Xavier Cooper (Washington St.), G Tre Jackson (Florida St.), CB Steven Nelson (Oregon St.)
4th Round, 121st overall: Sammie Coates, Wide Receiver, Auburn – To get a 2nd/3rd round value like Coates in the 4th would add another chapter to great value picks for the Steelers at wide receiver like Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant. Coates left after his junior season, but was a two-year starter at Auburn. He’s got good speed (4.43 40-yard dash) and a willingness to go across the middle to make plays. His hands have been inconsistent at times, though, which means he would probably have to earn his daily bread as a slot receiver to start out. He’s incredibly raw but has a tremendously high ceiling and could be a weapon for Ben Roethlisberger on third downs.
Other players considered: LB Hau’oli Kikaha (Washington), TE Blake Bell (Oklahoma), WR Jamison Crowder (Duke)
5th Round, 160th overall: Jesse James, Tight End, Penn State – This was one of the easier players to choose, since the team met with him at his pro day and a personal visit. Another underclassmen entry, but has good size (6-foot-7, 261 lbs.) and athletic ability. He has strong, reliable hands and can use his frame to shield off defenders and make catches. He can make catches in traffic, underneath, down the seam and in the red zone. He gives good effort as a blocker and he’s willing to get physical, but could use some improvement in his technique to hold his blocks. Not a perfect understudy for Heath Miller, but very close.
Other players considered: TE Nick O’Leary (Florida St.), RB Jeremy Langford (Michigan St.), LB Davis Tull (Tenn.-Chattanooga)
6th Round, 199th overall: Max Garcia, Offensive Line, Florida – The Steelers go with the broken record pick of another former Gator to join Maurkice Pouncey and Marcus Gilbert. He was a two-year starter at Florida and for one year at Maryland before transferring. He can play all five positions on the line and has the length and agility to both hold blockers off and get to the second level. He caught scouts’ attention at the Senior Bowl blocking against projected 1st-round defensive tackle Danny Shelton (Washington). He has big strong hands to get position in the run game, but needs work on his feet to be a better pass-blocker.
Other players considered: WR Mario Alford (WVU), S Jordan Richards (Stanford), CB Dexter McDonald (Kansas)
6th Round, 212th overall): Dexter McDonald, Cornerback, Kansas – He’s more of a long-term project, but has good size (6-foot-1, 200 lbs.), speed (4.42-40) and strength to be an aggressive in press coverage. He has quick feet and strong hands to jam receivers at the line, but can be slow to track the ball down the field. He also needs to be more reliable against the run to be considered as a starter. He needs to sharpen his techniques and avoid penalties to develop into more than a solid depth corner.
Other players considered: OL Ben Beckwith (Mississippi State), CB Nick Marshall (Auburn), CB Bryce Callahan (Rice)
7th Round, 239th overall): Justin Cox, Free Safety, Mississippi State – Ourlads Scouting Services describes him as “a safety with a corner’s feet and ball skills.” He’s also built big enough (6-foot, 191 lbs.) with enough speed (4.36-40) to adapt to the pro game. But his experience betrays him; he started only nine games for the Bulldogs after transferring from a junior college. At best, he’s a potential ball-hawk safety who can make plays on the ball downfield. At worst, he’s a developmental guy with some red flags off the field and might not make it through training camp.
Other players considered: DE Corey Crawford (Clemson), RB John Crockett (North Dakota St.)