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Exploring Trade-Up Scenarios for Pittsburgh Steelers in the First-Round of 2021 NFL Draft

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Last week, we broke down the Pittsburgh Steelers’ chances of trading down in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft (link here). In short, the Steelers haven’t traded down from their original draft position in the first-round since 2001, as general manager Kevin Colbert and the rest of the front office favor staying put with their original pick as opposed to moving back.

When it comes to the Steelers moving up in the first round, the track record in recent history may lead us to believe moving up is a more conceivable plan, should the right player become available.

The last time Pittsburgh climbed the draft board? Just two years ago, where the Steelers moved into the top-ten to grab linebacker Devin Bush in the 2019 NFL Draft.

Steelers received: Pick number 10

Broncos received: Pick number 20, 52 (second-round) and a 2020 third-round pick

Prior to 2019, the Steelers have also traded up in the first round two other times during the Colbert era.

In the 2006 NFL Draft, the Steelers moved from pick 32 to pick 25, drafting eventual Super Bowl XLIII MVP Santonio Holmes.

Steelers received: Pick number 25

Giants received: Pick number 32, 96 (third-round) and 129 (fourth-round)

In the 2003 NFL Draft, the Steelers moved from pick 27 to pick 16 to draft Hall of Fame safety Troy Polamalu.

Steelers received: Pick number 16

Chiefs received: Pick number 27, 92 (third-round) and 200 (sixth-round)

As for the 2021 NFL Draft, all possibilities remain on the table for the Steelers, who currently sit at pick number 24 in the first round. Although Pittsburgh may opt to stick in the mid-20’s and simply take the BPA (best player available) route, the Steelers may feel tempted to make a splash move in what appears to be a closing in Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl window with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on the verge of retirement.

So, who could the Steelers potentially move up for?

A quarterback may certainly be in play, and like previously mentioned in an article discussing the Steelers’ future plan at quarterback, the 2021 NFL Draft may be the team’s best opportunity to grab their gun-slinger of the future. The only problem? Barring any Laremy Tunsil-like slides, sitting at the back end of the first-round simply won’t strike gold at the quarterback situation. It’s very possible the first four picks in the draft may be quarterbacks, with a fifth quarterback may also be taken in the top ten as well.

With Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson penciled in as the first two picks of the draft, the rest of the group (Justin Fields, Trey Lance, Mac Jones) may go in any particular order through the top-ten.

Moving into the top-ten to draft a quarterback would be quite the jump from the pick number 24, yet recent history shows it’s not nearly an impossible task.

In 2017, the Kansas City Chiefs jumped from pick number 27 to number 10 to grab Patrick Mahomes, giving up that year’s first-round pick (#27), third-round pick (#91) and a 2018 first-round pick in the deal to Buffalo.

Just two picks later in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Houston Texans moved from pick 25 to 12 to select Deshaun Watson, giving up only their first-round picks in 2017 and 2018 to Cleveland.

Using Pro Football Reference’s Draft Pick Trade Value Chart (mimicking Jimmy Johnson’s), the Steelers may be able to get any of the following deals done to move into the top-ten:

Steelers receive: pick number 8

Panthers receive: pick number 24, 2022 first-round pick, 2022 fourth-round pick

This trade mimics Houston’s jump in 2017. The only problem? The Steelers are jumping three more spots and into the top-ten, and a mere first-rounder next year may not be enough to convince Carolina to move all the way back. The Steelers could potentially throw in a mid-round pick to sweeten the deal and get their guy.

Steelers receive: pick number 10

Cowboys receive: pick number 24, 55 (second-round), 2022 third-round pick

Although the Steelers are slightly overpaying based off the draft pick value chart (who uses math anyways?), getting a potential franchise player without giving up multiple first-round picks could be a steal.

Should the Steelers be content on their quarterback situation but still have their sights set on a player in the teens (regardless of position), the team could also look into moving up to grab their guy. Perhaps a legitimate left tackle or cornerback find themselves still waiting in the green room?

In 2018, following trades saw teams picking in the 20’s jump into the teens:

  • The Buffalo Bills went from pick number 21 to 12 (and also received a sixth-round pick) in exchange for their original first-rounder (#21), a fifth-round pick and a veteran tackle (Cordy Glenn) before ultimately trading the pick to Tampa Bay.
  • The Bills eventually moved from pick number 22 to 16 (plus a fifth-round pick) in exchange for their original first-round pick (#22) and a third-round pick (#65).
  • Just two picks later, the Green Bay Packers climbed from pick number 27 to 18, giving up picks 27, 76 (third-round) and 186 (sixth-round) to make the move with Seattle. The Seahawks gave the Packers a seventh-round pick in the deal as well.

If the Steelers are feeling froggy enough to leap into the teens in the 2021 NFL Draft, the following deals could potentially take place:

Steelers receive: pick number 14, 199 (seventh-round pick)

Vikings receive: pick number 24, 55 (second-round pick)

According to the chart, the Steelers are winners by a mere one point in trade value. While the trade is even on paper, the people in the greater Pittsburgh area may feel this is too large of a jump to give up their first two picks of the draft.

Steelers receive: pick number 18

Dolphins receive: pick number 24, 87 (third-round pick)

This deal appears to be slightly more plausible. The Steelers jumping six spots in the first round for a third-round pick may be too steep for some pockets, yet Pittsburgh could use their fourth-round pick compensatory pick to move back into the mix.

Say the Steelers are only a handful of picks away and they’re in fear that their guy may be taken? Moving up a short amount of spots in the 20’s won’t break the bank by any means. The 20’s are right where many expect either of the top two running backs (Najee Harris or Travis Ettiene) to go, and with the Steelers still in search of a three-down running back, there’s certainly a possibility one of their guys may go ahead of them.

In the 2019 NFL Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles moved from pick 25 to pick 22, forking over an additional fourth and sixth-round pick to Baltimore in the deal. In the 2016 NFL Draft, the Texans moved up one spot from pick 22 to pick 21 in a swap that gave Washington a sixth-round pick in the following draft.

Should the Steelers be eying a close but crucial move into the prior spots of their original selection, these deals may get the job done:

Steelers receive: pick number 20

Bears receive: pick number 24, 2022 fourth-round pick

The Steelers keep their fourth-round pick this year, and with an additional compensatory pick likely to come in the form of a third or fourth-round pick in 2022, the Steelers feel comfortable sending their fourth-round pick next season to move up and get their guy.

Steelers receive: pick number 22

Titans receive: pick number 24, 128 (fifth-round)

Pittsburgh has two picks in the fifth round, so parting with one to ensure a prominent player ends up in black and gold shouldn’t be a second thought in the Steelers’ front office.

The Steelers have plenty of options when it comes to moving up in the draft. Whether it be grabbing a potential franchise-altering player in the top ten or simply grabbing their draft crush a few picks early, Pittsburgh will certainly call and do their due diligence once the draft unfolds.

Will the Steelers trade up? That remains to be seen. We knew the organization was very high on Devin Bush prior to trading up ten spots to grab him. However, the Steelers have done an extraordinary job on hiding what players are on their radar.

If the NFL Draft has shown us anything in years past, we do know this: All it takes is one phone call to change the course of everything. 

Donnie Druin is a Deputy Editor with AllSteelers. Follow Donnie on Twitter @DonnieDruin, and AllSteelers @si_steelers.

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