With yesterday’s 2023 Senior Bowl in the books, we are moving right ahead with draft season. By the end of the month, the NFL Combine will be here with Pro Days following immediately after. So far this draft season, I’ve yet to publish a mock draft, always playing catch-up to draft season, switching from an in-season focus to an offseason one. The Senior Bowl is a great chance for me to learn and study a large group of prospects and right now, they’re generally the group I feel most comfortable with.
All that said, here’s my first Steelers’ mock draft – Senior Bowl edition. It’s *very* important to note I am making this mock only using the players who participated in this year’s Senior Bowl. Future mock drafts will include the entire class but I’ll make this one through the lens of the players I just watched up close and personal.
Generally speaking, I’ll be making this mock without concerning myself with what the Steelers will do and focus on the players I like and fit. There will be plenty of time for us to put on the other hat.
Round One (17th Overall) – O’Cyrus Torrence/OG Florida
Off the top, I gotta be honest that I don’t love this pick. The Senior Bowl’s class wasn’t quite as strong at the top as it was last year and probably will only produce a couple of first round picks. Some top names accepted invites but pulled out at the last second due to injury or personal reasons. Torrence is one of the few prospects with real first round chops and would upgrade the Steelers’ offensive line. A mountain of a man at 337 pounds, he’s a powerful run blocker and big guards always work better than small guards in Pittsburgh. Being able to function out in space is a concern in his game but Pat Meyer’s system had more inside zone/duo blocks last year that didn’t ask their guards to pull or play in space a lot.
Kenny Pickett’s training wheels will hopefully come off in 2023 but the Steelers’ offense will still be centered around the ground game. Adding Torrence will help in those efforts.
Round Two (32nd Overall) – Keeanu Benton/DL Wisconsin
Yeah, you knew he was going to be on this list. And listen, I’m not pretending Benton is an incredible, A+ prospect. I know we were one of the first to identify him as a likely Steelers’ target, and he most certainly is, but he’s not without flaws and I am a bit worried he’ll garner too much hype, an early draft season prospect we all latch onto and never let go. Benton isn’t an upper-tier pass rusher or great athlete who doesn’t have great foot speed and needs to improve his bull rush and not rely so much on finesse moves.
Still, his body type is what the Steelers are looking for and he is strong and plays with leverage against the run. Primarily a 0/1 tech later in his Badgers’ career, he has the frame to play up and down the line and his hand use and ability to beat the center’s block and penetrate is intriguing. Perhaps Benton’s value is closer to the mid-second round but it’s hard to justify risking losing him from #33 to #48 because his build is hard to find, though South Carolina’s Zacch Pickens is another name to watch.
Round Two (49th Overall) – Derick Hall/EDGE Auburn
I’ve been banging the drum for an EDGE rusher basically since T.J. Watt went down in Week One, exposing the lack of depth behind him. So I’m putting a high priority on depth even in the second round. EDGE rushers are the engine of the Steelers’ defense and Pittsburgh can’t take the chance on not having enough cylinders. Plus, it’s Alex Highsmith insurance in case a long-term deal can’t be struck in the offseason.
Hall has Steelers’ size at 252 pounds with long, 34 3/8 inch arms and sets a physical edge in the run game against Power 5 competition. It wasn’t a perfect week in Mobile but he made plays against the run and especially looked good during Wednesday’s practice. 15.5 sacks over the last two years is nothing to sneeze at either.
Round Three (80th Overall) – Jayden Reed/WR Michigan State
One of Tyler Wise’s favorite guys, Reed was arguably the best receiver at the Senior Bowl all week. Granted, 1v1 drills are always slanted to the offense but Reed was uncoverable in those moments. He lacks great top-end speed but is a savvy and nuanced route runner who creates space and finds the football. Great quickness has made him an effective punt returner, three career touchdowns, he can play in the slot or on the outside but the Steelers would find the most use for him inside. Versatile and able to line up all over, the offense can get creative with how and where they use him.
Round Four (119th Overall) – Marte Mapu/ILB Sacramento State
The Steelers’ anti-small school philosophy lessens Mapu’s odds of landing in Pittsburgh, though the new Khan/Weidl regime muddies those waters a bit. A late addition to the Senior Bowl roster called up from the NFLPA Bowl days before things kicked off in Mobile, Mapu is an athletic linebacker who played a slot/overhang role in college and moved to off-ball linebacker this past week. He’s instinctive and athletic and able to make plays on the football in coverage. Though a little light, the Steelers are in search for linebackers who can cover and Mapu has the ability to be that guy.
Round Seven (236th Overall) – Keidron Smith/CB Kentucky
I’ve had a bit of trouble figuring out Smith’s draft stock. Some have him as an early day three guy, others view him as an UDFA. A transfer from Ole Miss, his versatility is especially intriguing. Weighing in at 6015, 213 pounds, he played a lot of slot corner this week, rare for a guy of that size to work in the slot. But he’s played safety and moved around defensive backfields in college. He’s not Tre Norwood, he’s more built, but cut from sorta the same cloth that could present good value in the late rounds.
Round Seven (248th Overall) – Lonnie Phelps/EDGE Kansas
I’ll admit I am sorta putting on my Andy Weidl hat for this last pick. The Eagles have a history of throwing darts at late round pass rushers, an idea you can never have too many of those guys. Phelps caught my eye late in the week and played especially well in this year’s game, finishing with two tackles for a loss and a forced fumble. He’s 6’2, 251 pounds and his production didn’t dip after transferring from Miami (OH), picking up seven sacks last season for the Jayhawks.