The Steelers have several needs to fill this offseason. Here’s why I have Pittsburgh going with a tight end in the second round of the NFL Draft.
Mock drafts are always a shot in the dark this time of year. A lot can happen between free agency and the NFL Draft, and we will have a much clearer picture of the Steeler’s needs in a few months.
However, tight end is a position that has been rumored to Pittsburgh this offseason, and it’s not hard to see why. Nick Vannett is an unrestricted free agent who may or may not return next season, while Vance McDonald is due $14.2 million over the next two seasons.
Even if both tight ends return, the Steelers could still use an upgrade at the position, and McDonald’s will be 30 years old this season. In my latest mock draft, I have Pittsburgh going with Purdue standout tight end, Brycen Hopkins.
Here’s what The Draft Network had to say about Hopkins:
PROS: Very fluid and natural as a route runner and ball carrier in the open field for a player his size — think Evan Engram. Is explosive off the line and brings that into strong blocking, as well. Will be a tough matchup for any linebacker to keep up with consistently due to how fast and how smooth he is at route running. Can be a mismatch player in the slot. Good feet which gives him the ability to be precise in cuts, which is not always the case, even with receiving tight ends. More powerful than he looks.
CONS: More thin in the frame. Not a total liability with strength, but the worry is there. Bigger defensive end will likely be able to limit how much you can put him in-line. Doesn’t have a ton of experience with targets in the red zone – something he’ll need experience and a comfort level with in the NFL.
At 23 years old, Hopkins is an older player than the Steelers typically look for early in the draft, and Pittsburgh is known for taking underclassmen high. However, without a first-round pick in 2020, some sacrifices must be made.
Hopkins is a very good receiving threat with incredible production during his redshirt senior season at Purdue. In 2019, he managed 61 receptions for 830 yards and 7 touchdowns. Hopkins also boasts a remarkable 15.0 yards per reception at the tight end position throughout his college career.
Hopkins has some speed to his game, and he has a quick burst in and out of his breaks. He can lineup next to the tackle, but is mainly moved around in the slot. Despite his five college seasons, Hopkins isn’t a punishing blocker, but he is willing to get his body involved. He projects best as a move tight end at the next level.
Unlike some of the shorter tight ends who may be drafted before him, Hopkins has good size for the position at 6’5” and 245 pounds. His height and length advantage will give him the upper hand in most matchups against linebackers, and he possesses the ability to put his foot in the ground and go up for the ball.
McDonald was a receiving threat for the Steelers in 2018 but took a big step back last year without Ben Roethlisberger at the helm. Even if McDonald returns to form, Pittsburgh needs to start grooming another receiving threat behind him, and 2018 rookie Zac Gentry likely isn’t the answer.
If everything works out perfectly for Hopkins, he could be a player in the mold of Zach Ertz. With his college experience and receiving ability, Hopkins could find the field as a rookie and help contribute as a number two tight end right away.