Steelers make a shocking selection in latest 2021 mock draft

Tommy Jaggi
Jaylen Waddle #17 of the Alabama Crimson Tide (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)
Jaylen Waddle #17 of the Alabama Crimson Tide (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Steelers are going to lose some players after the 2020 season, but here’s why their selection in the latest 2021 NFL mock draft comes as a surprise.

It’s hard enough to predict the position a team will take a month before the draft; let alone to narrow it down to the exact player. Yet fans around the globe take an interest in mock drafts – even if we are still eight months away. The Steelers will likely have some major needs to fill after the 2020 season.

Unlike years past, Pittsburgh may not be able to work their magic with contract extensions in 2021. Thanks to the pandemic, it’s likely that the salary cap decreases to the projected floor next year. If this is the case, the Steelers could be in big trouble.

Headlining the long list of players set to hit free agency next year are JuJu Smith-Schuster, Cameron Heyward, Bud Dupree, and James Conner. In addition, starting offensive linemen Matt Feiler and Alejandro Villanueva are both unrestricted free agents, while role players like Mike Hilton and Cameron Sutton have expiring contracts also.

There have been a number of 2021 mock drafts over the summer, and nearly all of them have the Steelers taking an offensive lineman in the first round next year – an area they will undoubtedly need help filling. However, a recent mock draft from Sporting News has Pittsburgh going an entirely different direction.

According to Vinnie Iyer of Sporting News, the Steelers are going to be in the market for yet another wide receiver. He has Pittsburgh selecting Alabama product, Jaylen Waddle with the 27th overall pick. Here’s what Iyer had to say:

"There’s a feeling the Steelers may not re-sign JuJu Smith-Schuster, who’s in the final year of his rookie contract. Should that scenario develop, they can go after Waddle, who should produce a lot more big plays from 33 catches, 560 yards and 6 TDs with Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III gone to the NFL. Waddle would be a great fit working off Diontae Johnson."

This is an incredibly bold prediction for a number of reasons. For starters, this is based around the assumption that Smith-Schuster will not return to the team beyond the 2020 season. While this is certainly a possibility, there is no chance Waddle is selected if JuJu is still there.

In addition, the Steelers have invested high at the position regardless. Chase Claypool and James Washington were both second-round picks, while Diontae Johnson is a third-rounder who has already outplayed his draft status. Pittsburgh hasn’t invested a first-round pick into a receiver since 2006 when they took Santonio Holmes, and they really prefer to get guys they like in rounds two through four.

Furthermore, the Steelers haven’t taken an Alabama player in the first round since they selected fullback Butch Avinger in 1951, according to Pro Football Reference. While their draft trends could change in an unusual year without much college football, they usually stick to programs they trust.

Jaylen Waddle is a solid football player who projects to be much more productive this season for Alabama. At 5’10” and 182 pounds, Waddle is a smooth mover who is good after the catch. However, this pick just doesn’t seem very realistic to me.

Next. Pittsburgh Steelers roster locks heading into 2020 season. dark

We won’t truly start to figure out Pittsburgh’s intentions next April until the months leading up to the draft. While selecting a player like Jaylen Waddle seems very unlikely, it’s not completely out of the question at this point.