With the Pittsburgh Steelers sitting at 2-6 coming off the bye week, many have already set their sights on next year and specifically what the 2023 NFL Draft may have in store for a Steelers team that is projected to have its highest pick in decades, currently sitting at #4 overall. Things can change and Pittsburgh can pick up more wins to drop its current draft slot, but I have taken the liberty to go through a mock draft scenario at the halfway point of the 2022 season and project who the Steelers may have an eye on given the current needs on the roster and the talent in this upcoming draft class.
ROUND 1 (#4 OVERALL) —JALEN CARTER/DL/GEORGIA
Analysis: As much as I would love a scenario where Alabama EDGE Will Anderson Jr. falls into the Steelers’ lap, I don’t see any scenario where the best prospect in the draft falls out of the top three picks. With QB likely to be a focus of some of the other teams picking in front of Pittsburgh, the Steelers benefit and have a player of Jalen Carter’s talent and pedigree there for the taking. Carter is a blue-chip prospect as a 6’3′, 300lb junior. He possesses incredible strength and power to routinely defeat blocks and wreak havoc on the LOS. Carter also is a good athlete for his size, possessing great burst off the snap as well as the quickness to put blockers in a bind.
Carter is coming off his best game as a collegiate Saturday against the top-ranked Volunteers, recording four total tackles, two TFLs, a sack, and two forced fumbles. For a team that needs to add youth and talent in the trenches on both sides of the ball, Carter is a foundational piece that Pittsburgh can have veteran Cam Heyward groom into the team’s next impact defensive lineman for hopefully the next decade.
ROUND 2 (#34 OVERALL) — O’CYRUS TORRENCE/OG/FLORIDA
Analysis: GM Omar Khan and Assistant GM Andy Weidl aren’t fooling around this offseason as they add some much-needed beef and nastiness in the trenches. While I initially wanted to slot C John Michael Schmitz here as a potential foundational piece at center, Pittsburgh more likely would opt to keep Mason Cole at the pivot and opt to address one of the key weaknesses on the left side of the offensive line. Should a player like Jaelyn Duncan be available at tackle, Pittsburgh could opt to make that selection, but with plenty of tackles expected to come off the board in the first round, Pittsburgh instead lets the board fall to them and take possibly the best pure guard prospect in the draft class.
O’Cyrus Torrence is the definition of a road grader, having the size and power to displace almost any man off his spot in the running game. Torrence also has impressive athleticism for his 6’5″, 347lb frame, being able to mirror in pass protection and find work while on the move. Torrence transferred to Florida from Louisiana this spring and ironically would replace fellow former Rajin’ Cajun Kevin Dotson at the LG spot. Adding Torrence to the OL would vastly help Pittsburgh’s ability to run up the middle while providing a solid pass protector that can develop into a long-term starter at the pro level.
ROUND 2 (#39 OVERALL) VIA CHICAGO — HENRY TO’O TO’O/ILB/ALABAMA
Analysis: The Chase Claypool trade appears to have been a huge win for the Steelers who currently have three picks inside the top 40 selections. While I considered going with an OT here, Pittsburgh will likely look to fill a potential hole at ILB with Devin Bush likely heading to free agency this offseason. Should Pittsburgh re-sign him to a cost-effective contract, they may decide to wait to address off-ball LB. However, if Bush walks and Pittsburgh opts to go find a replacement in the draft, Alabama’s Henry To’o To’o is a logical fit.
Henry To’o To’o looks and feels like a Pittsburgh Steeler, having that aggressive play demeanor paired with the athleticism and Power Five pedigree that Pittsburgh desires. He is a tad undersized, (6’2, 228lb), but he plays a physical brand of football, both by coming downhill and having the sideline-to-sideline speed to play run and chase in pursuit. To’o To’o is a capable blitzer and possesses good instincts, having a feel for zone coverage while also being able to run with backs and tight ends in man coverage. He is a steady, high-floor defender that would create a strong duo with Myles Jack at ILB and provide more consistent play than Bush has in recent seasons as the captain-capable leader on the defensive side of the football.
ROUND 3 (#69 OVERALL) — DERICK HALL/EDGE/AUBURN
Analysis: My fourth-straight selection for the SEC conference. Granted, it may feel like a little SEC bias coming in here, but given the plethora of talent at key positions of need, I have no problem following this trend with Pittsburgh going back-to-back SEC players last season with WR George Pickens and DL DeMarvin Leal along with ILB Mark Robinson on Day 3. Derick Hall’s name isn’t often mentioned alongside some of the other top pass rushers in the country, but don’t for a second let that make you think he isn’t a talented player in his own right. The 6’3″, 256lb senior is a sack machine for the Tigers, having racked up nine sacks last season and currently has 6.5 so far in 2022.
Hall is the perfect fit for a 3-4 OLB, having the size, length, strength, and explosiveness to give opposing OTs fits. He got the better of current Giants OT Evan Neal last season, showcasing impressive speed to power in his rush along with the ability to win with speed and turn the corner. He can be a more consistent run defender, but Hall’s skill set is tantalizing when watching film as Pittsburgh can bring him in like when they drafted Alex Highsmith in the third round and have him develop and provide the defense with a capable third pass rusher.
ROUND 4 (#107 OVERALL) — ZAY FLOWERS/WR/BOSTON COLLEGE
Analysis: I will probably get some flack here for addressing WR with this selection instead of taking an OT, but with Pittsburgh trading away Claypool and rookie WR Calvin Austin III missing his entire rookie season, it seems extremely likely that the team will again look to find a diamond in the rough and select another mid-round receiver prospect.
Enter Zay Flowers, who many consider to be a Day 2 prospect, but concerns regarding his lack of ideal size (5’10, 172lb) will likely push him down the board on draft day. Flowers may feel like a similar player to Austin, and that has some merit. However, Flowers is shiftier than Austin in the open field, having the ability to make multiple defenders look silly with the ball in his hands. He has legit top-end speed and can create YAC that Pittsburgh’s offense desperately needs. He would be a great fit in the slot, and if you are looking for an early tea leaf to read, Flowers is in the same WR room as Mike Tomlin’s son, Dino, at Boston College… just saying.
ROUND 6 (#181 OVERALL) — DJ TURNER/CB/MICHIGAN
Mike Tomlin gets his Michigan man on Day Three of the 2023 NFL Draft, selecting DB DJ Turner. Turner is a two-year starter at CB for the Wolverines and has been one of their best players in the secondary since earning the starting job. He only has average measurables (6’0, 180lb) and doesn’t blow you away with his athleticism, but he is a steady presence in the secondary being a willing tackler against the run as well as playing with good instincts in coverage.
His upside is limited, hence why he falls to Day Three in this scenario, but with Pittsburgh likely moving on from some members in the CB group this offseason, Turner is a young guy that can play special teams and potentially carve out a role down the road.
ROUND 7 (#222 OVERALL) — ERIC GRAY/RB/OKLAHOMA
Wait? Why spend a draft pick on a running back? Well, the odds of a seventh-round pick sticking on the roster are slim as it is for any position and given the fact that RB Benny Snell Jr. is a pending free agent, Pittsburgh can afford to take the best player available at the end of the draft. That could easily be Eric Gray who I was high on ever since his freshman season at Tennessee.
He ended up transferring to Oklahoma, and while he hasn’t ever been a workhorse back for either school, he has been extremely productive as a more slashing-style runner. He is currently off to his best season yet, rushing for 902 yards and eight TDs and 6.4 YPC while catching 24 passes for another 177 yards. Gray has more burst and juice in the backfield than current starting RB Najee Harris, and while Jaylen Warren has been effective in limited runs this season, Gray would provide a good complement in the backfield with more speed and elusiveness while bringing the pass-catching skill set to round out a strong RB depth chart.
What are your thoughts on the names listed above in this mock draft for the Pittsburgh Steelers? Does this present a realistic scenario that the team may take toward the 2023 NFL Draft? What did I get right? Where did I mess up? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section and thanks again for reading!