In order to create a mock draft, a draftnik first needs to set up a draft board. The way that I arrange my draft board is similar to how actual draft boards are set up.
First, I make a list of players who will definitely go before the Steelers’ draft slot; these are players who the Steelers would absolutely draft, but those players have no realistic chance of dropping that far. Then, I list the players who the Steelers do not need, but will assuredly go in the top part of the draft (usually this is the quarterback position). At that juncture, I generally have about a dozen names written down, so I create a tiered list of the players who the Steelers might actually draft. Last, but not least, I make a list of players that the Steelers do not need (or, whom I do not want) and every time that one of these players gets drafted, it bumps one of the players from the third list (possible picks) down towards Pittsburgh’s slot.
Without no further ado…
List #1: Players who will definitely go early in the draft that the Steelers would draft, but have no realistic chance of actually being there at #25
1. Carson Wentz, quarterback, North Dakota St.
He is the quarterback who most resembles Ben Roethlisberger. No, I am not advocating drafting Ben’s replacement, but considering how difficult it is to find a franchise quarterback, if every player in this draft was somehow available, Wentz would be my top choice.
2. Jalen Ramsey, safety, Florida St.
The best player in the draft and a major position of need for the Steelers.
3. Laremy Tunsil, left tackle, Mississippi
4. Ronnie Stanley, left tackle, Notre Dame
Aside from quarterback, the most critical position on offense is the person who protects the quarterback’s blindside.
5. Myles Jack, linebacker, UCLA
A physical specimen. If not for a knee injury, he would be the second-best player in this draft (behind Ramsey).
6. Vernon Hargreaves III, cornerback, Florida
The top player at a top position of need.
7. Joey Bosa, defensive end, Ohio St.
8. DeForest Buckner, defensive end, Oregon
I am actually not all that high on these two, but they will go early… and, as I will describe later, defensive end is indeed a position of need.
List #2: Players who the Steelers do not need/want, but will assuredly go in the top part of the draft
9. Jared Goff, quarterback, Berkeley
He is the consensus second-best quarterback in this draft, but I do not particularly think he fits with Pittsburgh’s style of offense.
10. Ezekiel Elliott, running back, Ohio St.
Two words as to why I would not draft him: Le’Veon Bell.
11. Laquon Treadwell, wide receiver, Mississippi
12. Josh Doctson, wide receiver, TCU
Even with Martavis Bryant’s season-long suspension, the Steelers are loaded at this position.
13. Darron Lee, inside linebacker, Ohio St.
14. Reggie Ragland, inside linebacker, Alabama
One could possibly say that inside linebacker is indeed a need, since Lawrence Timmons and Vince Williams are both free agents after this season. Plus, Lee is essentially a clone of Ryan Shazier (which would be nice to have). But, I believe that Vince Williams will be re-signed, making inside linebacker a non-need.
List #3: Players who the Steelers might possibly draft
15. Andrew Billings, nose tackle, Baylor
He is the best nose tackle since Dontarri Poe, and like Poe, Billings is athletic enough to stay on the field during passing downs. Why do I list him as the player who will most likely get drafted by the Steelers? Joe Greene had dinner with his parents.
16. Noah Spence, outside linebacker, Eastern Kentucky
Let’s start with the bad: he was addicted to Ecstasy and kicked out of the Big 10. That said, his former coach at Ohio St. (Urban Meyer), helped him get back on his feet/helped him get into Eastern Kentucky. Meyer did not have to do anything for Spence, but Meyer did. That means something. At the Senior Bowl, Spence was the best player on the field. There is a hefty risk involved, but he is absolutely the best pass-rusher in this draft.
17. Jarran Reed, defensive line, Alabama
He played every position on the defensive line at Alabama. Think of Cam Heyward, only better against the run, although not as good against the pass. Considering that the nose tackle was only on the field for 30% of the snaps, a player who can also be a part of the rotation at defensive end is critical.
Speaking of that rotation, last season, Cam Heyward played 88% of the snaps and Stephon Tuitt played 78%; in turn, by season’s end, they were not as effective. More importantly, when they did come out of the game for a series, teams could move the ball on the Steelers (see: Denver’s lone scoring drive during the playoff game).
18. A’Shawn Robinson, nose tackle, Alabama
Robinson is basically the same player as Billings… except that his parents did not have dinner with Joe Greene (although he has met with Tomlin and Colbert).
19. Karl Joseph, strong safety, West Virginia
The biggest hitter to come into the NFL in a while. The intriguing part is that he can play the pass, as well. Joseph was leading the NCAA with five interceptions, before he blew out his knee… and injury that pushed him out of the top ten (and into Pittsburgh’s outstretched arms).
20. Vernon Butler, nose tackle, Louisiana Tech
21. Sheldon Rankins, nose tackle, Louiseville
22. Kenny Clark, nose tackle, UCLA
Considering the need for a nose tackle who can also rotate at defensive end, these guys jump ahead of the cornerbacks.
23. Mackensie Alexander, cornerback, Clemson
24. William Jackson III, cornerback, Houston
Alexander did not have any interceptions, but he only allowed a 29% competition rate… and zero touchdowns. I will take a guy who takes away the opposition’s best receiver (over a guy who gets a ton of interceptions). On the flip side, Jackson had five interceptions and twenty-three pass breakups. Plus, Tomlin has met with both of them.
25. Paxton Lynch, quarterback, Memphis
Again, I am not trying to find Big Ben’s replacement. This pick is an insurance policy, in the event that Ben gets injured. Take 2011 as an example. Ben gets injured, and instead of resting, he rushed back, because the backup quarterbacks sucked. If Ben had been able to rest, the Steelers would have had him healthy for the playoffs. In summation, a quality backup ensures a healthy Big Ben for the playoffs.
List #4: Players that the Steelers do not need (I do not want). Every time that one of these players gets drafted, it bumps one of the players from list three (possible picks) down towards Pittsburgh’s slot
Eli Apple, cornerback, Ohio st.
He is the pick du jour for mock drafters, but I just do not get the infatuation with him. Personally, I think that he is good, but not “first round good.” If I were to go with a “reach” at cornerback, it would be Artie Burns (Miami).
Jack Conklin, left tackle, Michigan St.
Taylor Decker, left tackle, Ohio St.
I know what I said earlier, about the importance of a quality left tackle… but, Tunsil and Stanley are exceptional; whereas, these two are “merely” very good. I would rather bolster the defense.
Corey Coleman, wide receiver, Baylor
Will Fuller, wide receiver, Notre Dame
As I said before, the Steelers are deep at wide receiver. If these to go in the top twenty, it will push a defensive player down to the Steelers.
Come draft day, Steelers fans should be hoping that wide receivers and offensive tackles are drafted early. That way, more of the defensive players are pushed down towards pick #25. In all honesty though, I think that come draft day, the first round is gong to be defensive-line and defensive-back heavy, and thus the decision will be made for the Steelers; they will be left with only a handful of options. But the analysis of who the Steelers might actually pick shall be discussed on another day.