The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2022 season is officially in the books with the team finishing with an 9-8 record but failing to make the playoffs. With the season now in the rearview mirror, many will turn their attention toward the offseason and more specifically the 2023 NFL Draft. Now that Pittsburgh has officially been eliminated from playoff contention, they are slotted to pick 17th overall in the first round and own the top pick in the second round thanks to the Chase Claypool trade with the Chicago Bears.
While we still have the all-star games, NFL Combine, and Pro Day upcoming prior to the draft this spring, 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. In this scenario, I project the Steelers to go trench-heavy, drafting four linemen on the offensive and defensive sides of the ball with only one player not being on the OL or the front seven of the defense.
ROUND 1 (#17 OVERALL) — TRENTON SIMPSON/LB/CLEMSON
Analysis: The Steelers have several notable needs on the roster, but ILB may be the biggest one at this moment in time. Devin Bush and Robert Spillane at slated to hit free agency and Myles Jack is coming off a down year, having dealt with injuries and is owed a notable cap hit in 2023. The Steelers needs speed and splash at off-ball linebacker, and they take their shot in the first round at Clemson LB Trenton Simpson.
Simpson is a sight to see as a HWS specimen, standing 6’3, 240lb with impressive speed and burst. He has played both off the ball and on the edge, showing he can rush the passer as a hybrid playmaker on the defensive side of the football. His scheme fit will be the key regarding his ability to produce at the next level, but having logged 23 TFLs, 13 sacks, three forced fumbles, and five PBUs the last three seasons, Simpson is that athletic run-and-chase defender that can make plays and is only scratching the surface of what he can become.
ROUND 2 (#32 OVERALL)—JOHN MICHAEL SCHMITZ/IOL/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. Still, I do think that the team will stick with Cole for another year, but that doesn’t hinder them from taking a center prospect that can play guard as well. They take potentially the best interior offensive lineman in the draft 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 He could slot in at LG, providing a more reliable player than Kevin Dotson in the starting lineup, having the size (6’4, 320lb) to play there and potentially move back to center down the road.
ROUND 2 (#49 OVERALL)—GERVON DEXTER/DL/FLORIDA
Analysis: While the Steelers could address nose tackle here, they may put more of an emphasis on adding a true 3-technique/4i as they lack a true starting option of the future opposite Cam Heyward at DE. They manage to land DL Gervon Dexter who has impressive size (6’6, 312lb) along with his strength to manhandle blockers. He has long arms and can be a handful to block when he plays with technique and leverage, but struggled with consistency this season, having moments where the motor would run hot and cold and would become a non-factor in games. Still, Dexter has traits you can’t teach at his size and presents Pittsburgh with a high upside pick on the defensive line.
ROUND 3 (#80 OVERALL)— ZAY FLOWERS/WR/BOSTON COLLEGE
Analysis: I will probably get some flack here for addressing WR with this selection, 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 Two prospect, but concerns regarding his lack of ideal size (5’10, 172lb) may 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.
ROUND 4 (#119 OVERALL)— ISAIAH MCGUIRE/EDGE/MISSOURI
Analysis: The Steelers need to add quality edge depth to the roster, having relied on non-factors at the position the last several years behind Alex Highsmith and T.J. Watt. They nab a solid, high-upside pass rusher in Round 4 by selecting Missouri’s Isaiah McGuire. McGuire has fantastic size and length (6’4, 275lb), presenting the package of a power rusher that can overwhelm OTs with his speed to power as well as his violent punch. He is built in a similar mold to Preston Smith and Za’Darius Smith and could be a notable riser during the pre-draft process. He could give Watt or Highsmith a breather and potentially kick inside on third downs to take advantage of guards as a pass rusher.
ROUND 7 (#236 OVERALL)— CARTER WARREN/OT/PITTSBURGH
Analysis: The Steelers seem to be content with their starting tackles in Dan Moore Jr. and Chukwuma Okorafor, albeit the top tackle in the draft class falls into their lap as a clear upgrade at #17. However, this team desperately needs to bolster the depth along the OL, especially at tackle with no clear options under contract in Pittsburgh next season. They address that need by staying in their own facility, draft former Pitt Panther Carter Warren. Warren has great size and length (6’5, 325lb), having shown promise as a pass protector and the strength and power to be a quality run blocker. He had an injury that kept him to only four games played in 2022, likely suppressing his draft stock to Day Three.
ROUND 7 (#248 OVERALL)— JERROD CLARK/DL/COASTAL CAROLINA
Analysis: The Steelers addressed base DE earlier in the draft with Dexter and round out their draft class by selecting Coastal Carolina’s Jerrod Clark. This selection is made under the impression that the Steelers sign a starting NT in free agency with Clark adding depth to the defensive line, especially at NT. He has the size and frame you desire in the middle of the defense, standing 6’4, 340lb to take up blocks and hold his own at the point of attack. Clark also provides some pass rush, having had 3.5 sacks in 2022 and 7.5 sacks over the last three seasons. Clark can come in and develop more, but the defender has the measurables and skill set to one day become a starter.
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!