• Round 1, Pick 23: S Kamren Kinchens, Miami (Fla.): Kinchens has good size and athleticism and is an all-around type of defensive back, as evidenced by his diverse snap counts. He's played 203 snaps in the slot, 263 snaps as a box safety and 740 snaps as a free safety.
• Round 2, Pick 55: CB D.J. James, Auburn: James is a bit slender in his build at 6-foot-1 and 165 pounds, but his body control and movement skills are impressive and will suit man coverage. He has earned coverage grades of 85.7 and 89.2 over the past two seasons. He has the mentality and production of a guy who could be a Year 1 starter.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers are still in the playoff hunt, but they’re next in our team-centric mock draft series. Even with their winning record, we can see areas of the roster they’ll likely hone in on for draft selections next April.
Round 1, Pick 23: S Kamren Kinchens, Miami (Fla.)
In my previous mock drafts, I have gravitated toward cornerback with the Steelers' first-round pick. But I wanted to try a different approach for this mock (after all, this is what mock drafts are all about at this time of year).
Pittsburgh does have a need at cornerback, and we’ll get to those later. But outside of Minkah Fitzpatrick, they need new playmakers in the safety room. So, as safety is not as deep as cornerback in this upcoming class, I tried something new.
Kinchens is one of maybe two safeties I see as potential first-rounders in this class. We might not get any safeties in the first round, but he is one of the guys who could make it. He has good size and athleticism and is an all-around type of defensive back, as evidenced by his diverse snap counts. He's played 203 snaps in the slot, 263 snaps as a box safety and 740 snaps as a free safety.
He's earned career-high PFF grades in run defense (82.2) and as a pass-rusher (74.3) in 2023, while his 90.7 coverage grade from a season ago ranked first among all safeties in the nation.
If the Steelers want to infuse starting-caliber talent into the secondary, the first round might be the place to do it.
Round 2, Pick 55: CB D.J. James, Auburn
I mentioned that we would get to a cornerback in this mock draft, and I couldn’t have you wait too long, as that is likely Pittsburgh’s most pressing need.
Pittsburgh drafted Joey Porter Jr. in the second round last offseason, and he is coming along as a starting-caliber outside cornerback already, which is great. But you need much more than just one outside cornerback to make an effective cornerback unit.
James is a bit slender in his build at 6-foot-1 and 165 pounds, but his body control and movement skills are impressive and will suit man coverage. He has earned coverage grades of 85.7 and 89.2 over the past two seasons. He has the mentality and production of a guy who could be a Year 1 starter.
Round 3, Pick 87: C Sedrick Van Pran, Georgia
The Steelers look like they have a hit with offensive tackle Broderick Jones. But the youth movement along the offensive line should not stop there. Isaac Seumalo and James Daniels have been fine along the interior, but getting an experienced center prospect like Van Pran to take over for Mason Cole next year or the year after his contract is up could be a good “get ahead” move.
Van Pran has played over 2,500 snaps at center throughout his three seasons as a starter at Georgia. He’s more power than he is finesse, but that leadership and experience from him is a skill in and of itself.
Round 4, Pick 107: CB Max Melton, Rutgers
I decided to double-dip at cornerback in this draft because the Steelers could definitely stand to get more than one cornerback they like. Plus, Melton gives you some versatility in where you can play him.
The 6-foot, 190-pounder has primarily played as an outside corner for Rutgers, but I believe his skill set could also be counted on as a slot defender. He’s smooth in his movements and pretty sticky in coverage in space. Long speed might be an issue for him, but I also like how physical he can be in run defense. If he doesn’t work out as a starting slot, he’d provide good depth at wide corner.
Round 4, Pick 123: WR Ricky Pearsall, Florida
Ever since Pearsall hauled in one of the craziest one-handed catches through contact we’ve ever seen, the NFL draft chatter around him has increased. He’s more than that spectacular catch, though.
The 6-foot-1, 192-pound senior has been more of a slot player in his career, but this season, he has played 358 snaps in the slot and 314 out wide.
The slot is where he’ll find a home at the next level. His strong hands — he has caught 91.4% of his catchable targets — and ability to create separation as a route runner should make him a preferred mid-round pick.