Little more than halfway through the 2021 season, it’s already clear that one of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ top needs in the 2022 NFL Draft will be along the offensive line. So, it’s no surprise that Pro Football Focus (PFF) has Pittsburgh using its first-round pick (No. 23 overall) on a fast-rising offensive tackle in its new mock draft, published Monday November 22.
In PFF’s world, Cross—6-foot-5 and 305 pounds—is the fourth offensive lineman off the board, and the second tackle, behind 6-foot-7 Evan Neal (Alabama), who is mocked to the Miami Dolphins at No. 14.
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“Cross is one of the most improved players in college football,” writes Anthony Treash about the third-year sophomore. “After allowing 44 pressures in the Bulldogs’ Air Raid offense in 2020—his first year starting at the Power Five level—he has given up just 14 in 2021. The 2019 five-star recruit has earned a grade above 85.0 as a run- and pass-blocker this year and even kept a perfectly clean slate in pass protection against Alabama.”
Some draft prognosticators predict that Cross will be selected even higher. During this past offseason, ESPN’s Todd McShay projected him as a Top Five pick.
Meanwhile, Draft Dive describes him as “a brick wall in pass protection,” with the “prototypical size, arm length, and strength that you would look for from an NFL offensive lineman.”
Finally, Pro Football Network’s Oliver Hodgkinson notes that Cross combines elite athleticism with a violent play style. “Cross looks to punish his opponent every play, whether in pass protection or as a mauler in the ground game,” writes Hodgkinson.
Pittsburgh’s Needs Along the Offensive Line
That sounds a lot like the “necessary violence” that Steelers offensive line coach Adrian Klemm wants to see from his charges. And Cross has yet to turn 21 years old, which fits the Steelers’ preference for drafting players who are underaged, in the hope that they have still more upside/room to grow.
Never mind that as of today, Pittsburgh’s top need on the offensive line looks to be at right guard, as current starter Trai Turner, 28, might only be a one-year stopgap.
As for offensive tackle, a lot may depend on how the Steelers view rookie fourth-round pick Dan Moore Jr., who is currently starting at left tackle. The future is more in doubt at right tackle, as Chukwuma Okorafor will be an unrestricted free agent after this season. The team also has Zach Banner under contract through the 2022 season, though Banner has yet to appear in game this year, having suffered a torn ACL in the 2020 season opener against the New York Giants.
Four QB’s Off The Board Before The Steelers Pick
Of course, the Steelers also figure to take a long look at the quarterbacks available in the 2022 NFL Draft. But if Pittsburgh’s first pick comes in the 20s or later, it’s much less likely that a QB they like will still be available.
PFF projects Sam Howell (North Carolina) to be the first quarterback off the board next year, going No. 10 overall to Washington. Then Treash has Matt Corral (Ole Miss) going to the Carolina Panthers at No. 12, with Malik Willis (Liberty) mocked to the Denver Broncos at No. 13. Finally, PFF pairs Nevada quarterback Carson Strong with the New Orleans Saints at No. 19.
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