Former Arkansas Linebacker Mocked To Steelers In First Round By CBS Sports

With the No. 17 selection in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft and then two more selections inside the Top 50, the Pittsburgh Steelers will have a lot of options about how they want to approach the draft. One option is to fill their impending gap at inside linebacker, which is what CBS Sports’ Josh Edwards has the Steelers doing in his most recent mock draft. Edwards has the Steelers Arkansas linebacker Drew Sanders with the 17th overall pick.

“Pittsburgh needs offensive tackle and cornerback help. Joey Porter Jr. makes a lot of sense considering team needs and his ties to the organization, but it also needs improved play at linebacker. A tandem of Drew Sanders and T.J. Watt gives Pittsburgh some flexibility to offer different looks pre-snap,” Edwards writes.

Cornerback, and particularly Porter Jr., have been popular selections for the Steelers in mocks. The Porter Jr. connection is clear given that his father was drafted by and played for the Steelers for eight seasons and also coached with the team. In this mock, he’s still on the board at No. 17 (unlike fellow cornerbacks Cam Smith, Devon Witherspoon and Christian Gonzalez) but the Steelers opt to address a different need. Both Robert Spillane and Devin Bush are impending unrestricted free agents, and there’s about as low of a chance as it gets that Bush is back with Pittsburgh next year.

While the Steelers likely will bring back Myles Jack at inside linebacker, he didn’t have all that impressive of a season in 2022, and an inside linebacker core of Jack, Spillane (assuming the Steelers re-sign him), and Mark Robinson doesn’t sound all that appealing.

While Gerry Dulac believes the team will assess Robinson’s readiness at inside linebacker, an outside addition at inside linebacker would make sense, and Sanders would be a good one. He came to Arkansas as an EDGE after playing at Alabama, but the former five-star recruit moved to inside linebacker with the Razorbacks. His versatility and size (6’5, 233 pounds) along with his motor would make him a good fit for the Steelers. A lot of fans might be scared off by the idea of drafting another inside linebacker early after the Bush fiasco, but Sanders’ motor, ability, and want-to when making tackles would quickly endear him to Steelers fans.

During his 2022 junior season, his lone at Arkansas, Sanders tallied 103 total tackles, 13.5 of which were for a loss. He also had 9.5 sacks and an interception, three forced fumbles, and five pass deflections. During two seasons under Nick Saban at Alabama, Sanders tallied 24 tackles, 2.5 for a loss, and one sack. His 103 total tackles this past year ranked fifth in the SEC, while his 9.5 sacks were the second-best mark in the conference.

Adding Sanders to a defense with Alex Highsmith and T.J. Watt, along with Cameron Heyward and Minkah Fitzpatrick among others, would make the Steelers’ defense really tough to beat, especially on passing downs. Given the cornerback depth in the draft, the Steelers might be wise to wait until Day 2 to address the position if they can add a player of Sanders’ caliber early. With so many picks early in the draft in addition to this being the first draft run by Steelers general manager Omar Khan and assistant general manager Andy Weidl, this is going to be one of the more interesting drafts to follow for the Steelers in a long time.

For more on Sanders, check out his 2023 Draft Profile by Tom Mead.

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