AZEEZ OJULARI, the defensive pass rusher that starred at the University of Georgia, is who the Courier’s Mike Pelaia believes the Steelers should select with their first-round pick, April 29. (Photo courtesy University of Georgia)
by Mike Pelaia, For New Pittsburgh Courier
It’s that time of year again. The time when everyone thinks their team is a Super Bowl contender. The time in April when all fans dust off their favorite jerseys and throw them on for three days to get a glimpse of football.
It’s the time of year where the Pittsburgh Steelers try to reload, not rebuild, and put together a roster that will win the division and advance deep into January and hopefully February; something that hasn’t been done in over a decade in the Steel City.
This year has a different feel. In all likelihood, it’s Ben Roethlisberger’s last ride. His final chance to pick up his third ring and ride off into the sunset. Pittsburgh is certainly not the favorites in the AFC where teams like Kansas City and Buffalo loom large. They really aren’t the favorites in the division with Cleveland and Baltimore looking to get better.
Yet, despite all that, they believe they can not only make the playoffs, but advance in 2021 and with the right draft, I think they have a shot as well.
The Steelers have had a busy offseason thus far, watching Bud Dupree depart for Tennessee, Mike Hilton to Cincinnati and releasing Steven Nelson as well. Yet they managed to lose and then gain back Tyson Alualu, cut Vince Williams and then re-sign him, bring back Cam Sutton and JuJu Smith Schuster and solidify Roethlisberger as the quarterback for 2021.
As they head into the draft, everyone knows they must improve the offensive line, which was very weak last season, step up the run game (James Conner recently left for Arizona), provide depth at the EDGE position on defense and fill in any other gaps they may deem a need.
Many people want the Steelers to draft a running back in Round 1. I don’t think that’s necessary and I believe the Steelers will and should draft the best available player to fill needs, since they are all-in for 2021.
Based on that logic, here is my 2021 Steelers mock draft. Remember, the NFL Draft begins Thursday, April 29. The Steelers will make their first-round pick on April 29, and the other picks they have will be made in the subsequent two days:
Round 1, Pick 24: Azeez Ojulari – EDGE Rusher – Georgia
Ojulari is athletic, quick and can get to the quarterback with ease. He’s a redshirt sophomore so he’s still a bit young into his collegiate career but certainly worthy of a first-round pick. Many will say they need an offensive lineman or running back here but Ojulari provides depth behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith and can be used immediately.
Round 2, Pick 55: Alex Leatherwood – Offensive Tackle – Alabama
The Steelers fill a much-needed hole by drafting Leatherwood. He’s played both Tackle and Guard and is a very strong run blocker, something the Steelers desperately need. In my opinion, the team needs to fix this hole before they worry about their running back.
Round 3, Pick 82: Michael Carter – Running Back – North Carolina
The Steelers finally draft their running back in Round 3. Carter provides great value here and can start immediately. He’s quick, reads his blocks well and finds the end zone regularly. Carter is also a very good receiving back and can provide a safety net for Roethlisberger.
Round 4, Pick 128 – Aaron Banks – Offensive Lineman – Notre Dame
The Steelers further invest in building the offensive line and add Banks who stands 6’3” and 338 pounds is a strong run blocker and provides a burst of speed off the ball. He will translate to a long-term starter for Pittsburgh.
Round 4, Pick 140 – Tre Brown – Cornerback – Oklahoma
With their second pick in the fourth round, I see the Steelers drafting Tre Brown, a CB out of Oklahoma. With the loss of Mike Hilton and Steven Nelson, Brown fills a need for a player who can play both outside and nickel. He may be developmental at first but the Steelers can invest the time in him with a pick here.
Round 6, Pick 216 – Demetric Felton – Wide Receiver – UCLA
The Steelers don’t have a fifth-round pick so they will add depth at the WR position with their sixth-round pick of Demetric Felton out of UCLA. Felton is a good route runner and slot receiver. He’s a bottom-of-the-depth-chart pick but he can be used in packages and gadgetry plays and is worth bringing into camp to see if he can play special teams as well.
Round 7, Pick 247 – Josh Kaindoh – EDGE Rusher – Florida State
The Steelers add a second EDGE rusher in the seventh round to again provide more depth at a position of need. Pittsburgh believes you can never have too many EDGE guys and I buy into that belief as well. Kaindoh won’t see much action in year one but he will be developed and play some special teams until he’s ready for a bigger role in 2022.
Round 7, pick 254 – Shaun Beyer – Tight End – Iowa
The Steelers can really use depth at Tight End and Beyer can provide that. He’s athletic and finds the ball well and a guy who I think could be a second tight end option behind Eric Ebron. I think the Steelers will be delighted if they can grab Beyer with their final pick on Day 3.
All in all, the Steelers will look a lot better heading into their 2021 season if the draft falls this way. They will add depth at the EDGE Rusher position, improve the offensive line, get their starting running back and add depth at other positions that need it.