Steelers mock draft: Pittsburgh finds running back help early

Travis Etienne #9 of the Clemson Tigers. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Travis Etienne #9 of the Clemson Tigers. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) /
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The Steelers will have Ben Roethlisberger returning to the lineup in 2021. Here’s why they will look to get him offensive help early in the NFL Draft.

Now that it appears that Ben Roethlisberger will be returning for the 2021 season, this could really change things in April. With Ben’s return, Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert may try to get some extensions done with some of their older players and I’m guessing they will at least attempt to re-sign left tackle Alejandro Villanueva to protect Roethlisberger’s blindside.

Though the ramifications of Roethlisberger returning to the team may not be felt until next year, I think there’s a good chance that it alters Pittsburgh’s draft strategy this April. Instead of trusting a rookie offensive tackle to protect Big Ben, they may want to go with some veterans this year.

In addition, Roethlisberger will no doubt be lobbying for more skill position talent around him – especially if both JuJu Smith Schuster and James Conner leave in free agency. Here’s the direction I have Pittsburgh going in my latest Steelers seven-round mock draft:

Round 1 (pick 24): Travis Etienne, RB, Clemson

This isn’t the running back that has routinely been mocked to the Steeles in round one, but Najee Harris (perhaps the most mocked player to Pittsburgh in the first round) is off the board at this point. Travis Etienne doesn’t seem like the type of back Tomlin and Colbert typically covet early in the draft, but that could change – especially with Matt Canada now calling the plays.

At roughly 5’10” and 210 pounds, Etienne is significantly smaller than a player like Harris, but he’s also a full year younger with noticeably more top-end speed (think Cowboys running back Tony Pollard). Other than weight, Etienne checks most of the boxes Pittsburgh looks for in the first round. Drafting a running back this early goes against trend, but the Steelers have a glaring hole and Etienne would be a perfect fit in Canada’s offense.