Momma’s Mock for Real: Round 1

When I have written past editions of my mocks I’ve generally begun at the back end, so to speak, and worked my way up to the first round pick, thus hopefully generating mounting excitement and enthusiasm in my readers. (I actually typed “hopelessly” in the above sentence before correcting it. I think my subconscious is not quite as delusional as my conscious mind…) This year I’m just going to plunge right in.

And yes, I realize I haven’t yet covered Round 7 in my “Steelers interest” series, but I think we can all live with that. I’ll feature all my honorable mentions in that post, which, Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, will go up on Thursday.

I will attempt to build the excitement in today’s post by progressing through my also-rans before finally putting up my top pick, so hang in there.

As I stated in my first “Visiting the Prospects” post, I didn’t cover the two men most widely mocked to the Steelers, ILBs Leighton Vander Esch and Rashaan Evans, as they are a given. So finally they will make an appearance, assuming they meet Momma’s strict standards for a BLA pick!

This year, because of the tragic injury to Ryan Shazier, drafting an inside linebacker in the top rounds, preferably Round 1, is as close to a given as you can find in the draft. (Insert snarky remark of your preference about the Browns and a quarterback if you like.) The only lack of certainty in Round 1 is whether a sufficiently highly-valued ILB (by the Steelers, that is, not necessarily by the rabble) remains on the board. Both Mr. Vander Esch and Mr. Evans have been steadily moving up, and there is a very real possibility they will be gone by No. 28.

While the Steelers are not entirely averse to trading up, it doesn’t feel likely this year, what with their lack of a fourth-rounder already. It seems more likely they would trade down into Round 2 if neither of the ILBs are on the board, but they do that even less often than they trade up. So this mock is entirely predicated on them staying put at their given draft position, at least in the first round.

It is also predicated upon a very highly-ranked player (think Minkah Fitzpatrick or perhaps even one of the more promising quarterbacks) not falling all the way to No. 28, which would completely change the equation. That said, here goes.

ILB Leighton Vander Esch

There really isn’t much that needs to be said about Vander Esch. Perhaps the only thing that makes him not a typical Steelers pick (at least in recent years is his speed, which at a 4.65 40 time is hardly in Ryan Shazier territory. (Shazier didn’t run a 40 at the combine but timed in the low 4.4s at his pro day.) However, his instinct for the football compensates for this to some degree. (Lance Zierlein wrote) “a loose-hipped, instinctive linebacker who played in 2017 like he had a GPS tracker on the football.”

I figured that one of the Steelers’ boxes he ticks is his age, since he declared after his junior year. But it turns out he had a redshirt freshman year, so I presume he is 21 or even 22. (I couldn’t say for sure, because I wasted a stupid amount of time trying to find out his age, without success. How is this possible in the days of 24/7 draft coverage?)

Mike Mayock stated he was “perfect” for the Steelers, and the Steelers may well think so. But given his rapid ascent, he may well not be available.

As for Momma’s criteria, you can see for yourself that four years of college have not spoiled his fresh-faced charm. (They also apparently haven’t led to him graduating—he majored in “General Business.” But perhaps that is yet to come.) All in all, Momma gives him a thumbs up to wear the Black and Gold. Alas, I fear he will take his talents elsewhere.

ILB Rashaan Evans

Other than their position, one could scarcely come up with a bigger contrast to Vander Esch. Evans was highly recruited in high school and selected Alabama as his destination, while Vander Esch went to a high school so small they could only play 8-on-8, and ended up at Boise State.

Vander Esch has an inch in height and 22 pounds in weight on Evans. Evans, although he didn’t run a 40, is clearly very fast, but lacks Vander Esch’s instincts on the field. (Part of this was probably due to Evans’ limited playing time until his senior year, due to players like Reuben Foster being ahead of him on the depth chart. He was also switched inside, from OLB, after his sophomore year.)

Even the scouting process was different. The Steelers spent a great deal of time on Vander Esch and very little, apparently, on Evans, but the perceived wisdom states this was because there is so much on tape for Evans that little in the way of additional time needed to be spent with him.

They do, however, share one slightly ominous trait—both guys have injury questions, although the ones about Vander Esch came out much later. As Mike Tomlin says, the injury rate in the NFL is 100%, but given the circumstances you wonder if the Steelers might not feel a bit snake-bitten at the position. (Mind you, that is one of the knocks against free agent signing Jon Bostic. Which is probably why the Steelers could afford him.)

And while it might be smoke and mirrors, Kevin Colbert has stated that the ILB class this year lacks “impact players.” Which was an interesting statement to me.

Lance Zierlein grades Vander Esch higher than Evans—he has the 13th-highest grade in the class, as opposed to Evans’ grade of 6.10, which is the 20th highest. Which doesn’t, of course, mean they will both go before No. 28, but they might well. If one of them falls to the Steelers, it’s hard to imagine them not drafting him. And despite their very different styles, I think either would look just fine in a Steelers uniform.

NFL: Combine

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

TE Mike Gesicki

Described as a “freak” athlete after an unbelievable combine performance, Gesicki most likely priced himself out of a 2nd round bargain and into the top half of the first round. But after all, there are only 27 picks ahead of the Steelers, and as usual a bunch of (possibly unworthy) quarterbacks will use up some of those. So someone is going to fall to the Steelers. Why not Gesicki?

The NFL comparison given in his profile is Jimmy Graham, and I don’t think anyone would complain if the Steelers drafted the next Jimmy Graham. Gesicki has great hands—according to Lance Zierlein he hasn’t had a legitimate drop in the last two years. (That would be a college drop, as in the NFL nobody knows what a catch is, although perhaps we might be closer this coming season.) Gesicki isn’t really a blocking tight end, but perhaps this isn’t a big deal if he just blows past everybody and catches everything in his zip code.

I found the “personal” part of his Penn State Bio to be quite interesting, as it read more like something in an Eharmony profile than a football site. Here it is:

Enjoys playing sports, strength & conditioning, spending time with family and friends and going to the beach…

If only he liked “long walks on the beach.” Although with his looks, he can just go to the beach and leave it at that. And although he has classic beach boy looks, which he has earned, as he goes to the beach as often as possible, he’s also known as a very hard worker.

You can check out his NFL Draft Tracker profile if you like. But if neither of the linebackers are available, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Gesicki join the Black and Gold.

And finally:

S Justin Reid

Since I wrote extensively about Reid in this post, I will confine myself to saying that, should he be available, I think Reid would be outstanding for the Steelers. He would fill a hole in the backfield left by Mike Mitchell, and hopefully do a better job of it than the ultimately disappointing Mitchell. (Much of that was not Mitchell’s fault, but in a results-oriented business that doesn’t count.)

Reid is smart, hard-working, focused, and appears to know his own mind. And I’ve made up mine, as he is Momma’s top pick for Day One. The line to throw things at me begins below, in the comments…

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