2023 NFL Draft

CBS Sports Mock Draft Has Steelers Selecting Edge Rusher At #17

Entering the offseason, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ biggest needs include the offensive and defensive line, the corner position, and the linebacker position. On a Sunday mock draft, Ryan Wilson of CBS Sports projects that the team will select Iowa edge rusher Lukas Van Ness, a name and position that are not typically mocked to Pittsburgh.

“Van Ness never started a game at Iowa but that’s not the point,” Wilson said. “The point is that NFL teams love his size, his athleticism and where his game could be a couple of years from now. Purdue’s George Karlaftis went at the end of Round 1 a year ago, and USC’s Drake Jackson went a round later; both players were high-upside prospects who exceeded expectations as rookies. Van Ness is in the same conversation, but could be the best of the bunch.”

Van Ness is by no means a bad prospect, and is widely expected to go in the first round. He has experience playing as a stand-up edge rusher and with his hand on the dirt, and only playing two years potentially indicates a higher ceiling. At 6’5″ and 275 pounds, he is indeed a prototypical edge rusher, and it’s not unlikely for him to pan out in the NFL as Karlaftis and Jackson did.

However, the Steelers’ need at the edge is far from their biggest, and not worthy of a first round investment this draft. Granted, the team’s lack of depth at the position came back to bite them with the injury to T.J. Watt. However, acquiring edge depth is simply not worth a first-round investment.

If the team does select Van Ness, he would likely be a rotational edge rusher behind Alex Highsmith and Watt. Odds are, he would be excellent at that role. However, Highsmith is coming off a break-out 14.5 sack season, and is still 25 years old and on his rookie contract. The scenario of a team selecting Van Ness likely sees Highsmith walking in free agency after his rookie contract expires in 2023. As of now, there is no reason to believe that the team is unwilling to extend him.

Another reason to doubt the team selecting an edge rusher is the urgency of other roster holes. The team selected Kenny Pickett with their most recent draft pick, and it’s not unlikely for them to pick an offensive lineman to protect him. The team also has uncertainty along the defensive line, as there is no clear starter alongside Cameron Heyward, who is 33 years old. At the Senior Bowl, Steelers’ head coach Mike Tomlin had a clear interest in both sides of the trenches. Not to mention, the team suffered from not having a number one corner in 2023, and needs a starter alongside Myles Jack at the middle linebacker position with Devin Bush potentially leaving in free agency (assuming Jack is retained).

All in all, the Steelers usually opt to select positions of need with their first round picks, rather than bolstering an already stout position group. However, crazier things have happened, and anything is possible on draft night.

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