Longtime followers of my work know I often put together mocks leading up to the NFL Draft. It’s a process that allows me to zero in on who might be available when the Steelers pick.
After all, it’s easy to say, for example, they should take player such-and-such, who happens to be the top-rated player at a position of need. It’s completely different, however, when the needs of other teams are factored into the equation.
For the same reason, I don’t get involved in doing the lazy seven-round team specific drafts. You know the ones that show you players the team will take with each of its picks, again failing to take into account that those players might not be there.
I also don’t mock any trades that haven’t yet happened. I might mention some trades I think might happen, but until they do, we’re staying true to the board here.
So without any further ado, here’s how the first round could go when it kicks off April 26. Remember, this is just my first run. Like many of the others out there, I’ll mock some other ones moving forward:
1. Cleveland, Josh Allen, QB, Wyoming — The Browns are taking a QB first, and Allen has the biggest arm and perhaps the most upside of the group.
2. N.Y. Giants, Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn State — The Browns went QB hoping the Giants and Jets would, as well, so they could get Barkley. But the Giants aren’t ready to give up on Eli Manning or Davis Webb just yet. This spot also is open for a trade. But I don’t project trades in my mocks.
3. N.Y. Jets, Sam Darnold, QB, USC — The Jets just keep drafting QBs, hoping to get it right. This spells the end of Christian Hackenberg in New York.
4. Cleveland, Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Alabama — With Barkley off the board, the Browns go for another huge need. Fitzpatrick could be a safety or corner and the Browns need both.
5. Denver, Quenton Nelson, G, Notre Dame — After signing Case Keenum, the Broncos will pass on a QB. This is also a trade-down spot, especially if Josh Rosen and Baker Mayfield are still on the board.
6. Indianapolis, Bradley Chubb, DE, N.C. State — The Colts would have liked Nelson to fall to them. But they’ll take a pass-rushing defensive end.
7. Tampa Bay, Derwin James, S, Florida State — James gives the Bucs a playmaker in the secondary, something that’s sorely needed in a division that includes Matt Ryan, Drew Brees and Cam Newton.
8. Chicago, Denzel Ward, CB, Ohio State — The Rosen-Mayfield fall continues in this scenario as the Bears fill a need in their secondary with a feisty corner.
9. San Francisco, Mike Hughes, CB, UCF — Yes, the 49ers signed Richard Sherman, but he’s also in his 30s. Hughes gives them a young corner to pair with Sherman and really upgrade the secondary.
10. Oakland, Tremaine Edmunds, LB, Virginia Tech — As tough as it will be for Jon Gruden to pass on a quarterback, getting a playmaker such as Edmunds will ease his mind.
11. Miami, Baker Mayfield, QB, Oklahoma — The Dolphins won’t be a team that trades up for a QB. But if something like this were to happen, they’d gladly take Ryan Tannehill’s replacement.
12. Buffalo, Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA — Buffalo is primed to move up and get a QB. But as you can see, if nobody moves up, the Bills could have one fall into their lap.
13. Washington, Vita Vea, DT, Washington — The Redskins play in a division that will include Ezekiel Elliott and Barkley. Getting a run-stuffer will be a must.
14. Green Bay, Jaire Alexander, CB, Louisville — The Packers have seemingly been taking defensive backs every year. And it continues this year, though an edge rusher would make sense, as well.
15. Arizona, Lamar Jackson, QB, Louisville — Sam Bradford is a Band-Aid. Jackson can sit and learn behind him for a (short) while.
16. Baltimore, Roquan Smith, ILB, Georgia — This is an Ozzie Newsome-type pick, even though Smith went to Georgia, not Alabama. Smith was originally seen as a top-10 pick but has some medical red flags.
17. L.A. Chargers, Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama — The Chargers have their edge rushers, now they get more stout up the middle.
18. Seattle, Marcus Davenport, DE, UTSA — The Seahawks never pass up a pass-rushing specialist. And Davenport is a long, lean special athlete.
19. Dallas, Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise State — The Cowboys need to be ready for the end of Sean Lee, who is seemingly always hurt anyway. A receiver also would make sense, but Vander Esch is a special talent.
20. Detroit, Derrius Guice, RB. LSU — The Lions haven’t had a running game since Barry Sanders retired.
21. Cincinnati, Will Hernandez, G, UTEP — The Bengals allowed their two best offensive linemen to leave in free agency last year and paid the price. Rashaan Evans also would make sense here.
22. Buffalo, Mike McGlinchy, OT, Notre Dame — The first offensive tackle doesn’t usually come off the board this late. But that should tell you something about this tackle class.
23. New England, Rashaan Evans, LB, Alabama — Evans can line up inside and outside, something that will make him attractive to the Patriots.
24. Carolina, Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama — Ridley is a tough playmaker who will give Cam Newton another much-needed weapon.
25. Tennessee, Christian Kirk, WR, Texas A&M — The Titans didn’t get much out of Corey Davis last season and still need help at receiver.
26. Atlanta, Taven Bryan, DT, Florida — The Falcons lost Dontari Poe after just one season, so help up front is needed.
27. New Orleans, James Daniels, C, Iowa — Daniels is an athletic center who could be a 10-year starter at the position for the Saints.
28. Pittsburgh, Ronnie Harrison, S/ILB, Alabama — At 6-3, 215 pounds, Harrison is the perfect hybrid-type player the Steelers are looking for. They would prefer a true inside linebacker, but Harrison is basically the next best thing. Harrison will play right away in the nickel and dime packages. In the past two seasons, he had 157 tackles, five interceptions, 2.5 sacks and 11 pass breakups.
29. Jacksonville, D.J. Moore, WR, Maryland — After losing Allen Robinson and releasing Allen Hurns, the Jags could use some receiver help.
30. Minnesota, Connor Williams, OT, Texas — The Vikings still need to fix their offensive line. Williams would help that.
31. New England, Kolton Miller, OT, UCLA — The Patriots get a replacement for Nate Solder.
32. Philadelphia, Mike Gesicki, TE, Penn State — Gesicki won’t block anyone. But that’s OK. He could star in Philadelphia’s run-pass option offense.
So there it is. Mock me if you must. This is just one way that the draft could go. And I’ll probably change my mind on a lot of these picks the next time I do one. In fact, I wound up mocking a player to the Steelers I didn’t see myself doing when I sat down for this process. But that’s how it goes when you put together a mock draft.