With the Pittsburgh Steelers currently sitting at 3-7, 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 their highest pick in decades, currently sitting at #8 overall. Things can change and Pittsburgh can pick up more wins to drop their current draft slot, but it’s never too early to go through mock draft scenarios and project player/prospect fits who the Steelers may be interested in given their current needs on the roster and the talent in this upcoming draft class.
ROUND 1 (#8 OVERALL) —OLU FASHANU/OT/PENN STATE
Analysis: While LT Dan Moore Jr. has been playing better as of late, he still lacks the upside of a franchise LT in the NFL. For a team that needs to prioritize protecting QB Kenny Pickett and improve the running game, placing a premium on a blue-chip OT should be considered at the top of the draft. Olu Fashanu fits the bill as a high potential pick as the talented blocker from Penn State is only 19 years old, but possesses great size, length, and athleticism for the position. He has been impressive all season long for the Nittnay Lions and could be Pittsburgh’s answer to protect Pickett’s blindside for the next decade as a player that is still developing into the player he can become.
ROUND 2 (#34 OVERALL)—JOHN MICHAEL SCHMITZ/C/MINNESOTA
Analysis: C Mason Cole hasn’t been bad this season, but Pittsburgh has always had a history of dominant players at the pivot position. They take their shot at the next potential great center by selecting John Michael Schmitz out of Minnesota at the top of the second round. JMS is one of the most dominant blockers in all of college football, leading the way as a punishing run blocker that is strong enough to displace people off the LOS while having the movement skills to work to the second level and in space. A sound pass protector with a stout base, JMS would provide Pittsburgh’s OL with a tone setter in the middle as a player I compare to Chiefs C Creed Humphrey.
ROUND 2 (#39 OVERALL)—EMMANNUAL FORBES/CB/MISSISSIPPI STATE
Analysis: The Steelers tried to go the cheap route and invest two-year deals with an average yearly value of $4 million into CBs Ahkello Witherspoon and Levi Wallace this offseason. While Wallace has played well at times, neither cover man should be considered a #1 CB. Enter Emmanuel Forbes who has been one of the most productive players in college football since stepping on campus. Forbes picked off five passes as a freshman and has six so far in 2022. With 14 career INTs and 18 PBUs in three seasons, Forbes is as good as a ball hawk as you are going to get, having the length and instincts to cover the opposition’s best receiver with a knack of producing turnovers.
ROUND 3 (#70 OVERALL)—TULI TUIPULOTU/DL/USC
Analysis: The Steelers have improved the defensive line from last season, but with the status of Tyson Alualu, Larry Ogunjobi, and Chris Wormley all up in the air after this season as free agents, Pittsburgh should continue to inject youth into the trenches. Enter USC’s Tuli Tuipulotu who is having himself a breakout season, registering 38 stops, 19 TFLs, 11.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles in 11 games played. He can play up-and-down the LOS, having real pass rush juice both inside and even out on the edge. Adding Tuipulotu to a defensive line led by Cam Heyward with rookie DeMarvin Leal already flashing in his first season, Pittsburgh will be ushering the next wave of defenders at the LOS.
ROUND 4 (#107 OVRALL)— K.J. HENRY/EDGE/CLEMSON
Analysis: Henry may not be the most heralded pass rusher for the Tigers, but he is an athletic specimen that has plenty of tools to make a smooth transition to the pros. He has great size and length (6’4, 255lb) who is comfortable playing on his feet and has experience dropping into coverage. He provides good effort against the run and ranks near the top of college football in pressures and pass rush win rate this season. He only has 12.5 sacks in five seasons with the team, but his burst, athleticism, effort in pursuit suggest he has more room to develop into a capable third pass rusher behind starters like T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith.
ROUND 6 (#185 OVERALL)— IVAN PACE JR./LB/CINCINNATI
Analysis: The Pittsburgh Steelers invested a Day Three selection in LB Mark Robinson last season, and given the status of upcoming FA Devin Bush and the uninspiring play of Robert Spillane, the team could use a difference maker beside Myles Jack. Enter LB Ivan Pace Jr. who should be drafted far higher that this selection based on his play and production this season, but his last of ideal size and overall athleticism likely will cause him to fall down draft boards like plenty of other undersized off-ball LBs.
However, Pace is one of the most disruptive players in college football, having recorded 106 total tackles, 18 TFLs, eight sacks, and four PBUs so far in 2022. Pace was the MAC Defensive Player of the Year last season before transferring from Miami of Ohio to play with his brother in Cincinnati. The lack of size will deter some from selecting Pace, but his tenacity and relentless pursuit of the ball as a defender should make him a special teams’ ace at worst with the chance to earn first-team reps.
ROUND 7 (#226 OVERALL)—JOHNNY WILSON/WR/FLORIDA STATE
Analysis: The Steelers traded WR Chase Claypool to the Chicago Bears in a deal they couldn’t refuse, nabbing a high second round pick for the underperforming WR. Pittsburgh has a knack for finding receivers later in the draft, and they do so again by selecting Johnny Wilson out of Florida State. Wilson transferred from Arizona State and is having a strong season with the Seminoles, posting 33 receptions for 649 yards (19.7 YPR) and five TDs. Wilson is a physical freak, possessing a bigger frame than Claypool did (6’7, 235lb) that he uses to win jump ball situations as an ideal red zone weapon.
Having deceptive run-after-catch ability, Wilson would be a great replacement for Claypool and provide Pittsburgh with a physical presence on possession downs and hopefully provide a more reliable jump ball weapon for Pickett than Claypool was able to provide during his tenure with the team.
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!