2023 NFL Draft

Pavelle: 2023 Pittsburgh Steelers Mock Draft (Version 2.0)

Okay, look. We all know that everything related to wants and needs is going to change after free agency shuffles the deck, and I am honestly sick of debating what-ifs, maybes, and as-of-nows that are bound to be closed by draft day. I am therefore going to assume the following free agency moves that are designed to leave a viable roster that can be improved in many ways but has no “needs” that would require a reach for particular positions. I have run the numbers to the best of my ability, and I believe that all of the following will add up to be cap neutral for 2023.

NOTEI am NOT trying to say these are specific moves the team will make! All I care about is the result. There are no pressing needs when the draft begins, which means the team is free to pick the best player available at each spot with little regard to position.

  • At Safety, Terrell Edmunds signs a 2-year contract for $8 Million, payable 0-then-4 with $4 Million as a bonus. Cap cost $2 Million in 2023. Damontae Kazee departs to the collective mourning of all who loved those 3-Safety sets.
  • At ILB, the Steelers make their splash. Myles Jack is released, Devin Bush departs, and free agent Mack ILB Germaine Pratt comes in on a 3-year, $24 Million contract containing $9 Million as a bonus and 50% guaranteed money for Year 2. Cap cost is $3 Million in 2023, with a savings of $8 Million from Jack’s contract. Net cost = $5 Million saved.
  • At Corner, Cam Sutton gets $9 million/year over 3 years with 50% as a signing bonus. The 2023 cap hit is $5 Million when combined with a 2-year contract for James Pierre that is structured as a 1-then-3 with a moderate signing bonus that allows the team can get out in 2024 if he plateaus.
  • Corner, Cont. Levi Wallace returns but Witherspoon and WJ3 are released, yielding a combined cap savings of $16 Million.
  • At Defensive Line, Alualu retires and Ogunjobi departs. Chris Wormley gets a 1-then-4-then-4 contract for 2023-2025. A middle-of-the-road DT like Shy Tuttle (Saints) or Hassan Ridgeway is added for around $5 Million. When hounded by the press, the Steelers brass makes vague references to Loudermilk, Leal, Adams, Jonathan Marshall (to great scurrying sounds), and the ability to dumpster dive as needed. Total cap cost in 2023 of $6 Million.
  • At EDGE, An effort has been made to extend OLB Alex Highsmith, but nothing happens before the draft. A dumpster-dive-special is brought in to be OLB3, at a $3 Million cap hit.
  • At Tight End, Zach Gentry gets offered a Jesse James deal and departs.

All other free agents depart or sign very small deals that do not significantly alter the calculations. Total free agency expenditure for 2023 cap purposes is $2-5+5-16+6+3 = $5 Million savings. Add back $5 Million as a safety margin to account for my errors, and the result is $0. (All very approximate, rounded off, etc. but it should be good enough for government work). Got it? Good. Let’s go.

Pick 1:17 – DT Bryan Bresee, Clemson (Soph.). 6’5”, 300 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. 21, turns 22 in October.

Two minutes after the Steelers send in this card, Nostrafandamus makes the following predictions:

Fans will spend all training camp gloating about this steal of steals, especially when they see how real the athleticism is. The mood will then sour during the season as he logs 200 snaps instead of the fan expected 2,000, and has trouble holding up against the run because he plays too high. Hopes will abound for a Sophomore Leap, but a combination of injury and continued problems with pad level prevent a significant change in the stats. The fans who cheered loudest after the draft begin to howl for Omar’s head and Bryan’s guts, chanting, “I told you so” in 90-part harmony. Then Bresee will play in Year 3 like people expected for Year 2, with solid but unspectacular production outside of several eye-popping splash plays. The howls will continue unabated, with a few swearing eternal hatred in almost frightening tones after a hard-fought divisional round loss in the playoffs. The discord will hit its fever pitch going into 2026, when the Steelers exercise Bresee’s 5th-year option, and Cam Heyward all but announces his final year on the team. By January of 2027, everything will have done a 180-degree reversal. The tearful farewells for Heyward will have the same volume as the outrage that Bryan Bresee got stiffed for his well-earned all-pro selection. Bresee will then sign a big money contract, which he will proceed to outplay over Years 5-15. Draftniks immediately begin to foretell utter disaster because Bresee may be able to replace Heyward, but there is no depth outside of superior journeymen like Loudermilk, Leal, an unloved Nose Tackle, and three talented but very raw prospects on the practice squad. “We only made it to the Super Bowl because of the Heyward-Bresee dynamic duo, and now we are lost, Lost, LOST!!!”

I dare you. Read the scouting reports, consider the growth curve of DTs across the league, of DTs here in Pittsburgh, and the history of our fan base when confronted with the early years of Cam Heyward, Bud Dupree, Najee Harris, and Ryan Shazier. What scenario could be more likely? The real question is this: would you object to a pick at #17 overall who produced that career? I would love it, and thus the pick at 1:17.

Bottom Line: Bryan Bresee is a genius athlete with a couple of severe but fixable flaws: He plays too high, and he needs to build both endurance and strength. They are very common flaws too, which is part of why so many highly touted rookies disappear during their rookie year, and they typically take 2-4 years to fix completely. Bresee is only different because his potential at the end of the road is so much higher than almost anyone else. In my opinion that makes him a fine, if long-term value.

Also considered: Wait for future editions. There are a lot of potential steals who are likely to be available at 1:17. I count three OLs and four CBs, in addition to two DLs (Bresee and the fantasy named Jalen Carter), a number of Edge Rushers, and of course the QB’s. Mock 1.0 looked at things when CB Christian Gonzalez fell. This one looks at Bresee. Later mocks will look at other options.

Pick 2:01 (#32 overall) OT Dawand Jones, Ohio St. (Senior). 6’8”, 360 lbs. with vinelike 36⅛”” arms and enormous 11⅝” hands. 21, turns 22 in August.

Tackle is an odd position this year because there are three good ones who may, but probably won’t, make it to 1:17, and then few if any who might be picked before Round 2. Dawand Jones is the best of those and would fit Coach Pat Meyer’s specifications down to the penny. Here is the current Big Board entry:

A brutal giant of a Right Tackle who has every asset you want except good COD skills. Jones also has the two-sport basketball background that Pittsburgh prefers, and experience at both left and right Tackle. According to Ross McCorkle’s gif-supported Depot scouting report, Jones is actually better at pass protection than he is at run blocking because his crazy length, overall size, and smooth vertical set make it extremely hard to get the edge. May be a particular fit for the Steelers because his aggressive approach and independent hand usage line up perfectly with the philosophy of O-Line coach Pat Meyer. Mirrors well, especially for a man his size, but can get grabby. Too slow to be good at pulling and climbing in the run game, but he does handle reach blocks well, pins an edge just fine, and his size/strength combination should eventually make him good at digging people out.

Again, I am approaching this as a pure BPA pick rather than looking at the position any differently than other spots. I’m not as worried as some about Dan Moore Jr. and do not believe that Jones will beat out either of him or Okorafor as a rookie, but the big man would certainly force both starters to compete for their jobs. Mike Tomlin views competition as the next best thing to religion, so he would love this pick too. It would also give the team a swing Tackle, and would pretty much guarantee an improved line from 2024 on by continuing the competition with better skills under his belt. The team would be better even if Moore and Okorafor manage to hold him off for a second time.

Also considered: TE Michael Mayer, WR Rashee Rice, EDGE Isaiah Foskey, Dereck Hall, and Lukas Van Ness, ILB Trenton Simpson and Drew Sanders, ILB/EDGE Nolan Smith, and CB Kelee Ringo and Emmanuel Forbes.

Pick 2:18 (#49 overall): CB Clark Phillips III, Utah (Junior). 5’10”, 185 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. 21, turns 22 in December.

The current Big Board summary will describe why I like this pick so much:

The sort of Corner who could use a sound effects bubble over his film. It would feature a lot of flick!, whoosh!, boing!, snap!, and grrr!, but not much bang! or pow!. The best Nickel CB in the draft if he can improve his tackling, which we can safely assume given his attitude. The impact of his actual height and weight will decide whether he has the potential to play outside as well. The TDN scouting profile catches it well: “his impact and elite competitive spirit are impossible to deny. He is a dog!… continuously showed up with impact plays in the biggest stages [but] while he competes well above his weight class, teams were not shy about forcing him to play off contact and tackle.” This Vikings-oriented January scouting profile lauds his “incredible click-and-close ability” and ends in a late-1st grade. This January scouting profile describes Round 1 quickness, savvy, and film, but ends in a mid-late 2nd grade based on play strength concerns. In a parallel vein, this terse January scouting profile sees a wonderful zone/slot corner due to his reaction time, instincts, quickness, and attitude, but again worries about the actual size and length.

I am all on board with the idea that Pittsburgh wants a true CB1 who can compete with the likes of Ja’marr Chase on the outside, but that is a Round 1 talent who won’t be available after #17. Clark Phillips III represents the next best thing; a football player who happens to be a CB, and would significantly upgrade the coverage of super-quick route runners from the Diontae Johnson mold. It isn’t a “need” by any means. I make the pick because CP3 is the sort of player who will definitely make the team, earn snaps, and make the overall defensive unit better.

This mid-2nd pick is a tough one because it coincides with several clusters of very solid talent: the earliest Guards and Centers in particular, but also a dense group of 1-flaw Corners. I went with Phillips because he would be the best of them all in my honest opinion.

Also considered: G Andrew Vorhees, G Cooper Beebe, G O’Cyrus Torrence, C/G John Michael Schmitz, C Luke Wypler, WR Jalin Hyatt, WR Cedric Tillman, CB DJ Turner, and SAF Jordan Battle.

Pick 3:17 (# 80 overall): EDGE Zach Harrison, Ohio St. (Senior). 6’5”, 265 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. 21, turns 22 in August.

DT, OT, and CB picked. That leaves a huge set of options for Round 3:

  • OC Sedrick Van Pran
  • OC Olusegun Oluwatimi
  • G Cody Mauch
  • T/G Warren McClendon
  • EDGE Zach Harrison
  • EDGE Will McDonald IV
  • EDGE Keion White
  • EDGE K.J. Henry
  • EDGE Dylan Horton
  • EDGE Andree Carter II (cosmic potential, subpar skills)
  • ILB/EDGE Nick Hampton
  • ILB DeMarvion Overshown
  • ILB Jack Campbell
  • ILB Owen Pappoe
  • SAF Jammie Robinson
  • SAF JL Skinner
  • SAF Brandon Joseph
  • WR Kayshon Boutte

All of those could be there in the mid-3rd, and many/most will not. But it’s a mock, so I get to have my pick. My favorite for today, with the big free agency move to bring in a Mack ILB, is going to be Harrison.

Maybe I am still traumatized by what happened in 2022 when TJ got hurt. Maybe I live in fear of what would happen if the negotiations with Highsmith fall through. Maybe I’m just as afraid of the team’s almost complete lack of depth at what is usually called the most important position on the defense. Or maybe it’s just the fact that 2023 offers an enormous number of Round 1-2 pass rush talent, and Keep your eye on this one because there are a lot of Blues Clues between his profile and the things that Pittsburgh looks for. He is a tremendous, Ohio State-level athlete whose only real flaw is a moderate amount of bend at the top of his rush, many more pressures than sacks, and the need to build both strength and technique. At the same time, those are fixable issues and he has extraordinary length that he’s only beginning to master. Also known as a classy young man off the field.

A couple of those really hurt to pass over, especially because I believe that none of them will be available a round from now. But you can only pick one, so there it is.

Also considered: See the list above.

Pick 4:18 (# 117 overall): WR Puka Nacua, BYU (Junior). 6’1”, 205 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. 21, turns 22 in May.

Sometimes you just get a feeling – an early draft crush – and there’s not much you can do about it even though you know it’s uninformed. That’s the case with Puka, who is my #1 guy to watch in the upcoming Senior Bowl reports. At least I can tell you the reason.

Every scouting report and description I found made me say, “That sounds like Hines Ward!” A tough, nasty physical possession receiver. Check. Fine hands, but comes to the NFL needing to work on his route running. Check. Has average athletic talent when measured against NFL receivers, but plenty good enough to count as “average.” Check. Team player supreme who delights in blocking DB’s so much that every single one walks away from the game swearing to get revenge for at least a dozen plays. Check, check, and check again.

Pittsburgh has a decent enough WR room with Johnson, Pickens, the returning Calvin Austin III, Olszewski, and Sims. My only complaint lies in the fact that all of the final three share a basic prototype, and it isn’t too terribly far away from DJ’s. Nacua would bring a different type of receiver, and with an attitude like that he has “special teams demon” as the lowest floor I can imagine.

Also considered: Not a soul. I wanted to put Nacua’s name out there before the Senior Bowl in order to claim precedence. He may end up being a Round 3 target when all is said and done (sayeth he who with the crush).

Pick 7:17 (# 235-ish overall): QB Tyson Bagent, Shepherd (Senior). 6’2⅛”, 215 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. 22, turns 23 in June.

A West Virginia native who set the NCAA record for most TDs, but did it at a tiny Division II school (where he also set the all-time D-II record for passing yards). The son and grandson of all-time great arm wrestlers, Tyson has a good chance of carving out some kind of NFL career. What kind? That, alas, is impossible to really guess at. It reminds you of the Duck Hodges story, except Bagent has NFL size and the ability to make every throw. Not particularly mobile, but has a quick release. His ability to step up all the way in NFL complexities, speed, and power are total guesses, which is why he will most likely fall to the end of Day 3. This goes to a nice December article from The Athletic.

Also considered: Are you kidding me? You expect a list of Round 7 prospects in January?! Like I said last time: go bother Heitritter.

Pick 7:24 (# 245-ish overall): OT Carter Warren, Pitt (RS Senior). 6’5”, 320 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. Turned 24 in January.

The man on Kenny Pickett’s blindside in college, Warren is big, strong, long, and athletic, but lost his 2023 to an unidentified injury back in October that was severe enough for him to still be going through rehab in February. A team captain and a fine human being off the field, he could do with being a little nastier while he’s on it. His dimensions suggest the ability to move inside if he needs to. One hopes the injury isn’t bad enough to push him down this far, but what the heck? It’s worth reminding people that he exists.


What would happen if free agency cleared away the primary concerns well enough to let the team really focus on BPA, and then DT Bryan Bresee fell to 1:17? That was the premise of this exercise and I’m quite happy with the result. Going defense again for 2a and then grabbing an IOL at 2b would work better from the pure cluster-chasing POV, but Jones would be hard to resist because of his fit with Coach Meyer. What are your thoughts? Let me know down below.

  • 1:17 DT Bryan Bresee
  • 2:01 OT Dawand Jones
  • 2:18 CB Clark Phillips III
  • 3:17 EDGE Zach Harrison
  • 4:18 WR Puka Nacua
  • 7:17 QB Tyson Bagent
  • 7:24 OT Carter Warren [falls due to injury]
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