Updated: Apr 22, 2021
(Photo by John Bunch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
The 2021 NFL Draft is about a week away and the anticipation continues to build on who the Steelers will select at 24th overall. Many believe it's going to be either a running back or offensive tackle. Running backs Najee Harris of Alabama and Travis Etienne of Clemson have been linked to the Steelers in the first round in a lot of mock drafts, likewise for Oklahoma State offensive tackle Teven Jenkins.
With Mike Hilton signing with the Bengals in free agency and Steven Nelson getting released as a cap casualty, the Steelers have a need at cornerback, but they'll probably address the position in the mid-to-late rounds, as the positions of running back, offensive tackle and center should be their top priority. Haden turned 32 earlier this month and Cam Sutton is expected to be the starting cornerback opposite of him. Behind Haden and Sutton, it's kind of an unknown with 2019 third-round pick Justin Layne and James Pierre, who signed with the Steelers as an undrafted free agent last year.
There hasn't been a lot of mock drafts where the Steelers went cornerback in the first round, however, in Pete Schrager of NFL.com's latest mock draft, he has the Steelers selecting Georgia cornerback Eric Stokes at 24th overall. Schrager had Etienne getting selected by the Washington Football Team at 19th overall and did not have Harris getting picked in the first round. He had Jenkins going to the Dolphins at 18th overall.
Below is Schrager's explanation on why he believes Stokes would be a good fit for the Steelers in the first round.
"There hasn't been as much press for Stokes as we've seen for some of the other top corners in this draft, but he can definitely play. Perhaps the fastest CB in this class, he can cover a ton of ground. Pittsburgh could address its run game woes in Rounds 2-4."
Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert were at the Georgia pro day, so they witnessed Stokes display a 4.25 time in the 40-yard dash.
In 2020, Stokes had four interceptions and returned two of them for touchdowns, along with four passes defended. He was named to CBS Sports/247Sports All-America First Team and was selected as First Team All-SEC by the Associated Press last year.
Below is a scouting report on Stokes by The Draft Network.
"From 2019 to 2020, Eric Stokes has certainly improved at being more opportunistic with regards to securing turnovers. He can mirror from a press position, but he can afford to clean up his technique—particularly his eye discipline in man coverage and getting “grabby” at the top of the route. He has shown the ability to play in man or zone from a press and occasional off position, but he does not play to his high-level timed speed with his play. He's not a dynamic closer at the top of the route and lacks elite short-area, stop-and-start agility. His skill set may be best suited in a predominantly zone situation where he can play with vision and utilize his ball skills to make plays."