For the past several years, projecting the Steelers' first-round pick was about as predictable as Sidney Crosby and the Penguins playing hockey beyond the regular season. But as is the case with the Penguins' current team (which is currently one point out of the Eastern Conference's final wild card spot), the Steelers' first-round pick in this year's draft is anything but a sure thing.
While its plans are slightly less clear than in recent years, it's safe to assume that Pittsburgh will use some of its top picks in the draft to address needs in the secondary, defensive line, receiver and offensive tackle. When these needs get addressed during the draft, however, is the less predicable part.
With the draft just around the corner, here's a rundown of our Steelers seven-round mock draft. Thanks to NFL Mock Draft database's seven-round mock draft machine, we were able to run through a full draft acting as general manager Omar Khan.
While we decided on not pursuing or accepting any trades during our simulated mock draft, don't be surprised if Khan decides to trade up in the first round, something he said he is open to doing if the right opportunity presents itself. Pittsburgh may also elect to move into the fifth or sixth round as it currently does not have a pick in either round.
Let's see how we fared.
Team needs: IDL, DB, OT, OLB, WR, RB
Round 1, Pick 17
Round 2, Pick 32 (from CHI)
Round 2, Pick 49
Round 3, Pick 80
Round 4, Pick 120
Round 7, Pick 234
Round 7, Pick 241 (from MIN and DEN)
Round 1 (No. 17 overall): DL Calijah Kancey, Pittsburgh
- Prospect ranking (overall): 32
- Position rank: 4
For a second straight year, the Steelers use a first-round pick on a former Pitt Panther. Kancey was selected instead of another former Pitt standout, receiver Jordan Addison, who during enjoyed a prolific partnership with Kenny Pickett during their time together in Pittsburgh.
Kancey is Pitt's best interior defensive line prospect since Aaron Donald back in 2014. The 6-foot, 275-pound Kancey was extremely adept at getting to the passer at Pitt as he collected 14.5 sacks during his final two seasons in college. He also recorded 34.5 tackles for loss while being a consistent presence in opposing backfields. Pittsburgh would present an ideal situation for Kancey as he would be flanked on the Steelers' line by perennial Pro Bowler Cameron Heyward and fellow veteran Larry Ogunjobi.
Round 2 (No. 32 overall): DB Brian Branch, Alabama
- Prospect ranking (overall): 16
- Position rank: 1
Multiple draft simulations were run in an effort to see if Branch still being available here was actually a legitimate possibility. Sure enough, Branch will still be available with the No. 32 pick (a pick the Steelers acquired in the trade that sent Chase Claypool to the Bears) after multiple simulations. This would be an ideal pick for the Steelers, especially if the team does not select a defensive back with the No. 17 overall pick.
Versatility is one of Branch's main calling cards, which happens to be one of the things the Steelers are coveting when it comes to their defensive backfield. Pittsburgh recently signed eight-time Pro Bowler Patrick Peterson with the thought that he may make the switch to free safety while allowing Minkah Fitzpatrick to move to strong safety. This would create a void at cornerback that Branch, a safety by trade, could fill if he is able to make the switch.
Throughout his time at Alabama, Branch made plays that would indicate that he is capable of thriving wherever he is asked to play at the next level. Branch made plays in each level of Alabama's defense that included his prowess as a tackler. This would be a big addition to a secondary that wants to get back to being among the league's best units.
Round 2 (No. 49 overall): OT Matthew Bergeron, Syracuse
- Prospect ranking (overall): 41
- Position rank: 6
Pittsburgh finally addresses its lack of depth at tackle after spending the last two offseasons heavily investing in the interior of the line. In Pittsburgh, Bergeron could provide solid depth behind starters Dan Moore Jr. and Chukwuma Okorafor while competing for playing time with recent free agent pickup Le'Raven Clark.
A native of Montreal, Bergeron broke into Syracuse's starting lineup as a freshman and remained there through his senior season. Hailed for his body control, Bergeron also has solid mobility that serves him well in both run blocking and in pass protection.
The need for more development in some areas of his game is one of the reasons why Bergeron isn't ranked higher among his peers. But in Pittsburgh, he would have time to develop the other areas of his game while playing behind the Steelers' starting tackles.
Round 3 (No. 80 overall): WR Rashee Rice, SMU
- Prospect ranking (overall): 78
- Position rank: 8
Emmanuel Sanders, the last wideout the Steelers drafted from SMU, enjoyed a highly successful NFL career that included a Super Bowl win with Denver. Sanders was one of many talented receivers Pittsburgh drafted during Kevin Colbert's 22-year run as team GM.
Rice would join a receiving corps that already includes Diontae Johnson and George Pickens. Along with creating more space for Johnson and Pickens, adding Rice gives Pittsburgh's added insurance with Calvin Austin III coming back after missing his entire rookie year with an injury.
At 6-foot-1 and 189 pounds, Rice had a knack for finding the end zone in college. He scored 19 touchdowns during his last two seasons as a Mustang while averaging a solid 13.4 yards per catch. While ball control could use some improving, Rice consistently showcased his big-play ability in college that included his knack for making defenders miss in the open field.
Round 4 (No. 120 overall): EDGE Isaiah McGuire, Missouri
- Prospect ranking (overall): 126
- Position rank: 17
This becomes less of a need if the Steelers bring back Bud Dupree. Regardless, Pittsburgh could use reliable reinforcements behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith while further bolstering the pass rush. McGuire, a productive pass rusher in college, would be an ideal pick for the Steelers at this point in the draft.
The 6-foot-4, 266-pound McGuire racked up 14.5 sacks, 28 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles during his last two seasons with the Tigers. He finished his college career on a high note after registering two sacks and two tackles for loss during Missouri's two-point win over 20th-ranked Arkansas.
McGuire's ability as a run stopper should allow him to stay on the field beyond passing situations at the next level. His versatility and overall athleticism would complement the the rest of the NFL's highest-paid defense.
Round 7 (No. 234 overall): OT Carter Warren, Pittsburgh
- Prospect ranking (overall): 279
- Position rank: 23
The Steelers need depth at tackle, so why not reunite Pickett with the player who protected his blind side at Pitt? While injuries limited him to just four games last season, Warren started in each of Pitt's games in 2021 while helping Pickett win the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, among other awards.
There's several things to like about Warren, including his ability as a pass protector, his physical attributes and his hand technique. Warren put questions regarding his health to bed after playing in January's Shrine Bowl.
Round 7 (No. 241 overall): RB Keaton Mitchell, East Carolina
- Prospect ranking (overall): 157
- Position rank: 10
With Benny Snell unsigned, the Steelers need more depth at running back behind starter Najee Harris and top backup Jaylen Warren. In Mitchell, the Steelers would get a back who averaged a whopping 6.5 yards per carry during his time in college. Last fall, Mitchell ran for 1,452 yards and 14 touchdowns while averaging 7.2 yards per carry.
Like many smaller backs, the 5-foot-9, 194-pound Mitchell relies heavily on his blazing speed. He raised eyebrows after running a 4.37 in the 40-yard dash during last month's NFL Combine, so it's highly likely that the Steelers would possibly have to trade up in order to draft him. But if Mitchell is still available this late in the draft, Pittsburgh would surely pounce at the chance to add him to its offense.