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Pro days began today and the 2021 NFL Draft is just 55 days away. Mock drafts are constantly coming out throughout the draft process, and Chad Reuter of NFL.com was the latest to come out with a mock, as he released his 1.0 four-round mock draft on Friday.
At 24th overall, Reuter has the Steelers selecting USC offensive lineman Alijah Vera-Tucker. Maurice Moton of Bleacher Report wrote an article last week where he outlined every NFL team's dream draft target in 2021, and Vera-Tucker was his pick for the Steelers.
Vera-Tucker played both guard spots and left tackle at USC. Many believe he has the potential to play either position at the pro level. Vera-Tucker won the Morris Trophy in 2020, awarded annually to the best offensive and defensive linemen in the conference, as selected by opposing players. Vera-Tucker was also named first-team All-PAC 12 in 2020 and was selected as second-team All-PAC 12 in 2019.
Below is a short summary by Reuter on why he has the Steelers selecting Vera-Tucker in the first round in his mock draft.
"Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva will be a free agent, and Vera-Tucker played well enough at left tackle for the Trojans to project there in the NFL."
For the rest of Reuter's four-round mock draft, he has the Steelers selecting Florida State cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. in the second round, Stanford center Drew Dalman, Oklahoma State running back Jermar Jefferson in the fourth round and North Texas wide receiver Jaelon Darden in the fourth round (compensatory pick).
Samuel in the second round is in an interesting pick, as Joe Haden is getting up there in age and they could lose both Mike Hilton and Cam Sutton in free agency. If the Steelers can retain Sutton, who can play on the outside, I don't think the Steelers need to select a cornerback that early.
However, if both Hilton and Sutton leave via free agency, Samuel in the second round could be in play, but I think running back is a bigger need in the second round, which is why I don't think the Steelers should wait until the fourth round to draft Jefferson as Rueter suggests.
Kevin Colbert hasn't had much success when drafting mid-round running backs as of late, as James Conner (third-round 2017), Jaylen Samuels (fifth-round 2018), Benny Snell Jr. (fourth-round) and Anthony McFarland Jr. (fourth-round 2020)) are not elite backs. Conner is just OK and the rest are complementary running backs. If the Steelers decide to go offensive tackle in the first round and miss out on running backs Najee Harris (Alabama) and Travis Etienne (Clemson), they need to draft North Carolina running back Javonte Williams, who they might just have to trade up for.
The Steelers need to rebuild their offensive line, but they also need a top-tier running back. They ranked dead last in rushing yards per game (84.4) and yards per carry (3.6) in 2020. They also have a 39-year-old quarterback, so waiting until the fourth round to draft a running back is just not prudent.
Dalman in the third round would make sense and he could fill the void at center with Maurkice Pouncey retiring last month. Although, he's more of a development center and probably not a Day 1 starter. David Andrews, Austin Reiter, Ted Karras and Nick Martin are centers that the Steelers could look at in free agency, but it would have to come at the right price. Yesterday, the Steelers re-signed J.C. Hassanauer to a one-year deal, according to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN. I see Hassanuer as just a serviceable backup, however, and not a long-term replacement for Pouncey.
I think Darden in the fourth round would be a perfect spot to draft a wide receiver. Colbert is the best in the league when it comes to drafting receivers and the Steelers could use another one with JuJu Smith-Schuster most likely to leave via free agency. There has also been some buzz about Darden being a sleeper pick and the best mid-major receiver in this year's draft.
Below are excerpts of Alijah Vera-Tucker, Asante Samuel Jr., Drew Dalman, Jermar Jefferson and Jaelon Darden by The Draft Network.
Alijah Vera-Tucker - "Alijah Vera-Tucker has aligned predominantly at left tackle this season for the Trojans offense. He has exceptional athleticism, as evidenced by his balance and body control in his pass set. He is an easy mover who demonstrates his athleticism in the passing game, particularly in his kick slide. He plays with very good competitiveness when he is bull rushed. In the run game, he comes off the ball hard to strike and he excels by getting his body in favorable positions. He’s played this year at left tackle, affording him much more value due to his ability to play that position in a pinch at the next level."
Asante Samuel Jr. - "The son of four-time NFL Pro Bowl cornerback Asante Samuel, Asante Samuel Jr. enters the NFL after a strong career in the ACC on a struggling Seminoles defense. Samuel Jr. is a touch undersized, but he is outstanding in man coverage where his natural pattern matching instincts, loose hips, and quick feet make him tough to separate from. Despite not having ideal size, Samuel Jr. is a competitive run defender and tackler that gets his work done and isn’t a liability. While his frame may suggest to some that he’s slot only in the NFL, he’s in the mold of a Brandon Flowers/Denzel Ward and fully capable of playing wide in the NFL like he did in college—although he does have some experience in the slot. Where Samuel Jr. has room to grow is in his zone coverage reps and ball skills. He played mostly man coverage in college and he isn’t nearly as comfortable in zone reps. From a ball skills perspective, he isn’t consistent finding the ball in the air and getting his head around, creating issues when challenged with his back to the line of scrimmage. Samuel Jr. has the potential to start at the next level for a defense that plays a lot of man coverage and is willing to move him around to maximize his strengths."
Drew Dalman - "Drew Dalman aligned at center for Stanford's pro-style offense. He is a sufficient level athlete with regard to his balance and overall quickness. He is a bit undersized by ideal measurables, but makes up for it with good technique and hand placement. He is a good helper in his pass set and plays with excellent awareness. He easily recognizes defensive fronts and can anticipate twists and stunts. Although he plays with good leverage, his anchor isn’t NFL ready at this point. Getting stronger would greatly benefit this player."
Jermar Jefferson - "Jermar Jefferson has been very productive as a yardage gainer in this offense and is a good athlete with regards to his agility and body control as a ball-carrier. In the passing game, Jefferson is dangerous after catching check-downs due to his ability in space and creativity in the open field. He's shown the ability to chip and effectively get out in his route when looking to release, creating match-up problems against linebackers. In the run game, he demonstrates vision and an instinctive feel. He's a tough runner who uses good footwork and runs to daylight. When he gets to the second level or out in space, he has shown the ability to hit long runs in college, but this may not be a strength of his in the NFL."
Jaelon Darden - "North Texas wide receiver Jaelon Darden is a dynamic, explosive threat with the football in his hands. Darden’s stature is likely to limit him to more of a complementary role in an offense, but his vertical receiving skills and ability to generate yards after contact with his slipperiness is difficult to overlook. Darden would benefit from playing in a spread offense that spaces the field and minimizes the congestion he’ll have to run through at the NFL level—and teams would be wise to implement him most often on quick “now” screens, bubbles, out breaking patterns, and targets vertically down the field. Darden, as an added bonus, has two years of primary punt return duties on his resume (2017 and 2019) and can contribute on the special teams units as an added boost to his 53-man roster outlook. Darden is a natural in making the first arriving defender miss and teams who need depth and help creating explosive plays would be wise to look his way in the middle rounds of this year’s 2021 NFL Draft."