Perfect Picks: Pittsburgh Steelers
With the NFL Draft approaching we will be looking at each team and evaluating where they need to improve. In this particular series we will run a seven round mock using the Draft Network Mock machine and find the ‘Perfect Picks’ for each franchise.
We will highlight four players that could help each team. This will feature picks 1 and 2, a mid round gem and a late round sleeper.
The Steelers appear stuck. For the most part 2020 was a successful year until the wheels came off in the final straight. Now it seems Big Ben will return for one more year. Whether that is a good or bad thing is yet to be seen.
Round 1 - Pick 24 - Jaelan Phillips, Edge, Miami
Jaelan Phillips retired from football in 2018 due to health reasons. However, he gave football a second chance after transferring to Miami. Without the three concussions in his past, it would be fair to consider Phillips the best edge prospect in this draft. Long, powerful, fast and with a brutal swim move, Phillips tape is a must watch. The problem is that some NFL teams will already have him off their board.
If the medicals are clear then it wouldn’t be surprising to see someone take a gamble on Phillips in the first round. The Steelers in particular do need a replacement for upcoming free agent Bud Dupree. Pairing Phillips with TJ Watt would give their AFC North rivals plenty to worry about.
Round 2 - Pick 55- Ifeatu Melifonwu, CB, Syracuse
It seems like the Steelers have been looking for an elite cornerback for too long. Joe Haden has stepped in to provide adequate cover but age is catching up with him. Cam Sutton is a solid nickelback but finding a reliable second outside corner is a must. In a division with Baker Mayfield, Lamar Jackson and Joe Burrow, the Steelers must find a way to stymie the aerial attack.
Syracuse cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu has NFL ties in his family. Brother Obi was selected by the Raiders in Round 2 of the 2017 draft. Ifeatu is arguably the better of the two. He is long but that doesn’t affect his mobility. He is super fluid, allowing him to provide tight coverage. That blend of length and stickiness is held in high regard in the NFL.
Mid Round Gem - Pick 141 - Tony Fields II, LB, West Virginia
The Steelers had major injury issues at the linebacker position last year. It culminated in safety Marcus Allen converting to linebacker to help out. With Avery Williamson a free agent and Vince Williams going into his final year, finding a partner to patrol the second level with Devin Bush is necessary.
Tony Fields won’t provide the punch that Devin Bush does but is the athletic style linebacker the NFL is turning to. While he struggles to take on blocks and can’t get free of offensive linemen, Fields is a quick run and chase linebacker. He has the ability to provide decent coverage and should find a way into the lineup through special teams initially.
Late Round Sleeper - Pick 217 - Austin Watkins, WR, UAB
If Austin Watkins had been a Power-5 player I don’t think he would be available at this point in the draft. As it is, the UAB receiver could be classed as somewhat of a dark horse. There isn’t much to dislike about the cousin of Kansas City Chiefs wideout Sammy Watkins. Austin is physically imposing but also a solid route runner, as demonstrated in the Senior Bowl. Unless the hype around him builds, in a deep receiver class, he could be a steal.
The Steelers have a good record with drafting the position and have plenty of talent in Chase Claypool, James Washington and Diontae Johnson. There will be a JuJu Smith-Schuster hole next year so adding Watkins as WR4 is a logical move. Watkins has the long term potential to be a starter on the outside.
Draft In Full:
24. Jaelan Phillips Miami (DE)
55. Ifeatu Melifonwu, Syracuse (CB)
87. David Moore, Grambling State (IOL)
128. Robert Hainsey, Notre Dame (OT)
141. Tony Fields II , West Virginia (LB)
217. Austin Watkins, UAB (WR)
240. Luke Farrell, Ohio State (TE)
249. Malik Herring, Georgia (DT)
formerly writing for the inside zone, rory will be breaking down college tape and keeping you up-to-date with all things CFB for the touchdown. an avid bengals fan, you can also find some of rory’s work at stripehype.com.