The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2022 season is officially in the books with the team finishing with an 9-8 record but failing to make the playoffs. With the season now in the rearview mirror, many will turn their attention toward the offseason and more specifically the 2023 NFL Draft. Now that Pittsburgh has officially been eliminated from playoff contention, they are slotted to pick 17th overall in the first round and own the top pick in the second round thanks to the Chase Claypool trade with the Chicago Bears.
While we still have the all-star games, NFL Combine, and Pro Day upcoming prior to the draft this spring, it’s never too early to go through mock draft scenarios and project player/prospect fits who the Steelers may be interested in given their current needs on the roster and the talent in this upcoming draft class.
ROUND 1 (#17 OVERALL) — BRIAN BRANCH/DB/ALABAMA
Analysis: The Steelers could go a variety of different directions with their first pick, but GM Omar Khan and the front office may fill most of the holes on the roster in free agency with severable options prior to the draft like the team has done in the past, they could opt to take the best overall player on their board. That could easily be Alabama DB Brain Branch who is seen as the best safety prospect in this draft class.
Branch could come in right away and start next to fellow former Crimson Tide S Minkah Fitzpatrick, giving Pittsburgh two safeties that can run, hit, cover, and make splash plays. Even if Terrell Edmunds is re-signed, Branch still could be a valuable selection since he can start right away in the slot with some draft evaluators believing he can play on the outside. Simply put, Branch’s skill set strengthens Pittsburgh’s secondary by adding a talented, versatile playmaker that can match Fitzpatrick’s contributions as playmaker.
ROUND 2 (#32 OVERALL)— DREW SANDERS/LB/ARKANSAS
Analysis: The Steelers desperately need to add starting-caliber talent to this ILB core with Robert Spillane and Devin bush heading to free agency and to spark a position that has been lacking in the splash paly department for some time now. Drew Sanders would be a great selection in the second round as a guy that experience playing both on the edge and in the box, giving Pittsburgh a moveable chess piece at LB. Sanders had a productive season in 2022, posting 103 total tackles (40 solo), 9.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, five PBUs, and an INT. Sanders is a quality pass rusher and has great range as a run-and-chase defender. Sanders is still raw playing one year off-ball, but his ceiling is immense.
ROUND 2 (#49 OVERALL)—ANDREW VORHEES/OL/USC
Analysis: The Steelers can stand to improve their offensive line with more consistent options at either LT or LG. Andrew Vorhees has established himself as one of the most steady, reliable OL in college football as the 6’6, 325lb redshirt senior is sound in pass protection while also having the athleticism and mobility to pull and get out in space to pick up blocks in the run game. With 25 starts at right guard, 8 starts at left guard, 4 starts at left tackle, and being the starter at LG this past season, Vorhees has the versatility to play multiple positions at the next level. Vorhees is as battle-tested as they come and can push Kevin Dotson for the starting LG spot right away as a rookie.
ROUND 3 (#80 OVERALL)— COLBY WOODEN/DL/AUBURN
Analysis: The Steelers need to address the defensive line this offseason with a slew of free agents hitting the open market. One name that hasn’t been often linked to Pittsburgh is Auburn DL Colby Wooden. Wooden is a redshirt junior that matches exactly what Pittsburgh looks for in its base DEs, standing 6’5, 284lb with good arm length while possessing athleticism to rush the QB. Wooden has played up-and-down the LOS for the Tigers during his time at Auburn and has become a viable pass rusher, posting 15 sacks and three forced fumbles the last three seasons. He needs to work on his leverage and be more consistent against the run, but the tools are there for Wooden to become a long-term starter at 3-4 DE for Pittsburgh.
ROUND 4 (#119 OVERALL)— DARIUS RUSH/CB/SOUTH CAROLINA
Analysis: The Steelers will likely add to their CB room this offseason with Cam Sutton and James Pierre’s future up in the air as free agents while William Jackson III and Ahkello Witherspoon projected to be cap casualties. One option that Pittsburgh can target later in the draft that could contribute quickly is South Carolina CB Darius Rush who impressed at the Senior Bowl, recording the fastest-tracked GPS time of the week while also displaying the athleticism and recovery speed to get back in-phase with receivers and break up passes and get INTs.
A high character man with extensive starting experience in the SEC, Rush has the frame and body type Pittsburgh looks for on the outside and can come in right away as a special teamer while working into the DB rotation.
ROUND 7 (#236 OVERALL)— JOSE RAMIREZ/EDGE/EASTERN MICHIGAN
Analysis: The Steelers brought back Quincy Roche this offseason, but still need to add more depth to the OLB room. Jose Ramirez had a great season for the Eagles last season, notching 12 sacks, 19.5 TFLs, and two forced fumbles as a well-versed pass rusher that has several tools in the toolbox, he uses to get to the QB. He could come in right away and compete on special teams while working as OLB 3/4, playing 8-10 snaps a game to give Watt and Highsmith a breather. As Joe Clark stated in his interview with Ramirez at the Shrine Bowl:
“For a team that needs depth off the edge behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, they could do a whole lot worse than grabbing someone like Ramirez in the middle rounds.”
ROUND 7 (#248 OVERALL)— CAMERON YOUNG/DL/MISSISSIPPI STATE
Analysis: Pittsburgh closes out the draft by double-dipping at the defensive line, selecting Cameron Young of Mississippi State with their final selection. Young compliments the selection of Wooden earlier as fit at NT for the Steelers, standing 6’3, 315lb and has experience lining head-up on the center as well as in the A-gap. His sack production is minimal during his time in college, but Young does generate pressure on the pocket while providing a capable run defender that can develop in his first season in Pittsburgh as he works to get snaps in their base 3-4 package down the road.
What are your thoughts on the names listed above in this mock draft for the Pittsburgh Steelers? Does this present a realistic scenario that the team may take toward the 2023 NFL Draft? What did I get right? Where did I mess up? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section and thanks again for reading!