In one week, the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine will get underway, meaning we’re that much closer to the start of the much-anticipated 2023 NFL Draft in Kansas City.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, a lot of moving parts remain in flux this offseason, with more than 20 players pending free agents at the start of the new league year in March, not to mention a handful of players that could be salary cap casualties to help the franchise open up some cap space.
While I strongly believe that cornerback Cameron Sutton, defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi, linebacker Robert Spillane and safety Terrell Edmunds will be retained, and cornerbacks Ahkello Witherspoon and William Jackson III will be cut to save money, there will be a number of holes to address in the first draft in charge for GM Omar Khan and assistant GM Andy Weidl.
Below is the second version of my seven-round mock draft, pre-Combine edition. In case you missed my first mock draft of the season, you can find that here.
As a reminder, this is what I believe the Steelers will do in the draft, as far as players and positions targeted. As always, leave your thoughts in the comment section below, and thanks for reading!
ROUND ONE (17TH OVERALL) – BRYAN BRESEE/iDL/CLEMSON – 6050, 305 LBS
Analysis: With Cameron Heyward still playing at an elite level but not getting any younger, and names like Chris Wormley, Tyson Alualu and Larry Ogunjobi entering free agency, there’s a huge hole to fill on the defensive line. In steps Clemson’s Bryan Bresee, a name that they’ll be connected with a lot this offseason leading up to the draft.
When you put in the film of Bresee at Clemson, you see a big, long, fast, and explosive defender that backs up the pedigree. That’s what the defensive line room needs.
While I do think the Steelers will find a way to retain Ogunjobi, Pittsburgh still needs to add some high-end, young talent to the position. That’s Bresee. He still needs to develop a bit, especially his hand usage and pad level, but the athleticism for his size is quite impressive and would pair nicely as a rotational piece early while he develops under defensive line coach Karl Dunbar.
Previous Selection: Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois
Others considered: Brian Branch, S, Alabama; O’Cyrus Torrence, iOL, Florida; Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon
ROUND TWO (32ND OVERALL) – DARNELL WRIGHT/OL/TENNESSEE – 6060, 335 LBS
Analysis: I am largely lower on the need for offensive line help than most right now, just based on the way the offensive line progressed in the second half of the season for Pittsburgh under Pat Meyer. Continuity goes a long way, but there is very clearly some interest in Tennessee’s Darnell Wright from the Steelers’ perspective.
He’s a big, physical specimen with good footwork and light on his feet. He had some terrific reps against Alabama’s Will Anderson last season and was forged in the fire of the SEC over the last few years against outstanding pass rushers overall. While he can certainly function as a right tackle in the NFL, I see him more as a guard at the next level, kicking inside.
In Pittsburgh, he would be direct competition for Kevin Dotson right away at left guard. That doesn’t mean he’s written off at tackle either, just that he’s largely a better fit inside at the next level, and it sounds like that’s the way the Steelers view him. He’ll need to continue to work on his hand placement and overall physical demeanor, reaching that punishing level as a run blocker, but the size, length, footwork and experience are intriguing traits.
Previous Selection: Dawand Jones, OT, Ohio State
Others considered: Trenton Simpson, ILB, Clemson; Drew Sanders, ILB, Arkansas; Cody Mauch, OT, North Dakota State
ROUND TWO (49TH OVERALL) – DERICK HALL/EDGE/AUBURN – 6030, 256 LBS
Analysis: After being without T.J. Watt for seven games last year, the need for a dependable third OLB is a great one for the Steelers. As of now, Auburn’s Derick Hall seems to check nearly all of the boxes the Steelers look for at the position. While 49th overall might seem a bit high for the Steelers to grab a third OLB, they cannot afford to be cheap behind Highsmith and Watt. They are far too important to the success of the defense and need depth behind them.
That’s where Hall comes in. While he has some issues getting off blocks at times against the run, he has the size, strength, and explosiveness to be a real weapon as a pass rusher as well as the ability to defend the run and drop into coverage. His effort on tape is astounding as well as his leadership which is well-documented both on-and-off the football field.
He just screams “Steelers OLB” right now. Pittsburgh was able to get a good look at him in Mobile at the Senior Bowl, too, and they’ll likely meet with him at the Combine. Keep an eye on Hall.
Previous Selection: Keeanu Benton, iDL, Wisconsin
Others considered: Felix Anudike-Uzomah, EDGE, Kansas State; Emmanuel Forbes, CB, Mississippi State; Noah Sewell, LB, Oregon
ROUND THREE (80TH OVERALL) – JULIUS BRENTS/CB/KANSAS STATE – 6030, 202 LBS
Analysis: After taking Senior Bowl guys with the last two picks in Wright and Hall, I couldn’t shy away from the talent that was in Mobile again at No. 80 overall, going with Kansas State’s big, physical cornerback in Julius Brents.
Brents is a rare combination of size and length for the position at 6030, 202 pounds with 33 3/4-inch arms. His aggressive, physical playing style is particularly effective in man coverage, where it can challenge and disrupt receivers, making it difficult for them to execute their routes. He reminds Steelers Depot’s own Tyler Wise of former Steelers great Ike Taylor, which makes all the sense in the world with the length and physicality he brings to the position.
While this is admittedly later than I wanted to go with a cornerback, Brents is a guy that can see the field rather quickly on the boundary in the NFL, addressing depth and talent at the position in the Steel City.
Previous Selection: Henry T’oTo’o, iLB, Alabama
Others considered: Joe Lippmann, iOL, Wisconsin; Eli Ricks, CB, Alabama; Sydney Brown, S, Illinois
ROUND FOUR (119TH OVERALL) – CARTER WARREN/OT/PITTSBURGH – 6053, 323 LBS
Analysis: While I see Wright, who I selected at No. 32 overall as more of a guard, there’s no denying what Pittsburgh’s Carter Warren is at the next level, that being a tackle that can play on both sides of the line. Though he missed most of the 2022 season and the All-Star circuit with an undisclosed injury, Warren had some great tape in 2021 and early in 2022.
As a run blocker Warren needs a lot of work staying on blocks and displacing defenders. In pass protection though, Warren is rather advanced. He has very good feet and uses his hands and clear length rather well in pass blocking situations. That was evident on his tape throughout the 2021 season and early in 2022. He mirrors very well, is comfortable using the traditional two-hand punch or the independent hands in pass sets, and really moves laterally with grace to stay in front of his defender.
Add in his familiarity with current QB Kenny Pickett, and add in the fact that he’s been in the same facility next to the Steelers the last five years and is well known, there’s some dot connecting that should occur, especially on Day 3 in the trenches.
Previous Selection: Nathaniel “Tank” Dell, WR, Houston
Others considered: Isaiah McGuire, EDGE, Missouri; DeMarvion Overshow, LB, Texas; Xavier Hutchinson, WR, Iowa State
ROUND SEVEN (236TH OVERALL) – MITCHELL TINSLEY/WR/PENN STATE — 5116, 207 LBS
Analysis: Much like cornerback, this is admittedly a bit later than I wanted to address the receiver position, but landing a guy with the skillset of Penn State’s Mitchell Tinsley late on Day 3 is a good consolation prize.
A late add to the 2023 East-West Shrine Bowl mid-week, Tinsley hit the ground running and showed off some sound route running and really good hands on the boundary and out of the slot. Though he played just one season at Penn State and had slightly underwhelming production in a new system, he was dominant at Western Kentucky in 2021, putting up an 87-catch, 1,407-yard season with 14 touchdowns.
He’s solid out of the slot, good hands over the middle and is tough after the catch. We’ll see how he performs at the Combine.
Previous Selection: Jerome Carvin, iOL, Tennessee
Others considered: Jerome Carvin, iOL, Tennessee; Spencer Anderson, OL, Maryland; Anfernee Orji, LB, Vanderbilt
ROUND SEVEN (248TH OVERALL) – DANTE STILLS/DL/WEST VIRGINIA – 6034, 289 LBS
Analysis: I started the mock draft with defensive line help, and I wanted to close it with some defensive line help, adding a versatile piece in the trenches with some pass rush juice.
Stills was a guy that flashed quite a bit during the week in Las Vegas at the East-West Shrine Bowl. He has a motor that runs hot and has some impressive flashes of athleticism and burst in the trenches. In five seasons at WVU, Stills recorded 137 tackles, 53.0 tackles for loss and 24.5 sacks, forcing five fumbles and picked off one pass in 53 career games.
He’s a bit light entering the Combine and his arms are a bit shorter (32 1/8″) than the Steelers are typically comfortable with, but the physical attributes and production in the Power 5 are rather intriguing. The Steelers need an infusion of those types of players along the defensive line.
Previous Selection: Andre Jones, EDGE, Louisiana
Others considered: Charlie Thomas, LB, Georgia Tech; Viliami Fehoko, EDGE, San Jose State; AJ Finley, S, Ole Miss