2023 NFL Draft

Pavelle: 2023 Pittsburgh Steelers Mock Draft (Version 3.0)

People seemed to appreciate having some free agency assumptions in my last mock, so I am going to do it again by assuming a few, fairly obvious free agency moves, which will basically continue the status quo while closing the most obvious hole. Money is listed solely to show that the basic approach is viable, not to suggest that it’s something the team ought to do. I am a draft guy, not a free agency expert. THOSE ASSUMPTIONS ARE:

  • At Safety, both Terrell Edmunds and Damontae Kazee return on 2- or 3-year contracts with fairly large signing bonuses to keep the short-term cap hit to a minimum. Net 2023 cap cost = $3 Million.
  • At ILB, the Steelers sit pat, returning both Myles Jack and Robert Spillane, and adding a cover-capable journeyman to fill out the roster. Net 2023 cap cost = $5 Million
  • At Corner, Cam Sutton gets a 3-year, $27 Million with 50% as a signing bonus. 2023 cap hit is $5 Million when combined with a 2 year contract for James Pierre. Levi Wallace returns but Witherspoon and WJ3 are released to create $16 Million in cap space. Net 2023 cap cost = $11 Million saved.
  • At DT, Alualu retires and Ogunjobi departs. Chris Wormley gets a three-year, back-loaded contract to account for his injury. When hounded by the press, the Steelers brass expresses “complete confidence” in Heyward, the growth they expect to see from the younger players (Loudermilk, Leal, and Adams), and contributions from Wormley who “may miss a few games but is expected to play in 2023.” Going into the draft there are 4 DE’s (including Wormley), and one NT. A hole exists for the backup NT, but the true panic aims at the “absurd, irresponsible, should-be-fired lunacy” of relying on the yet-to-be-proven youngsters. Net 2023 cap cost = $2 Million
  • At EDGE, an effort has been made to extend OLB Alex Highsmith, but nothing happens before the draft. A dumpster-dive-special is brought in to be OLB3. Net 2023 cap cost = $3 Million.
  • At TE, Zach Gentry returns on a 2-year deal. 2023 cap cost = $1.5 Million.
  • All other free agents depart or sign very small deals.
  • Total free agency expenditure for 2023 cap purposes is $3 + 5 -11 +2 +3 +1.5 = $3.5 Million to be borrowed from the Bank Of Watt/Fitzpatrick

Pick 1:17: G/T/C Peter Skoronski, Northwestern (Junior). 6’5”, 310 lbs. with 33″ [assumed] arms and ___” hands. 21, turns 22 in July.

My first mock looked at how things might work out if the Steelers start out by grabbing on of the top Cornerbacks of this exceptional but somewhat top-heavy class. Mock 2.0 began with DT Bryan Bresee. This one assumes the team will luck into one of the Big Three O-Linemen of the year. OT’s Paris Johnson and Broderick Jones match the OT physical model too well for me to realistically imagine either one falling out of the top 10-12 picks. Skoronski, however, does not, so the chance exists. If the dream comes true, I urge you to jump for joy. Here is the current Big Board entry:

HV 1:10 G/T/C Peter Skoronski, Northwestern (Junior). 6’5”, 310 lbs., with ___” arms and ___” hands. 21, turns 22 in July. The most intriguing OL in the draft, Skoronski comes from the same program that trained up Rashawn Slater and has everything you want in an OL but pure size and length. Came in at the #6 overall player on Daniel Jeremiah’s initial Top 50 list. His technique is extraordinary for a college player, his foot speed and agility are special, and his hand-fighting technique looks like it’s straight from an Ip Man teaching session. He is also as versatile as they come: a Center all through HS, a day one LT all through college, and built like a speed-oriented OG. What will he be as a pro? The NFL.com scouting report by (OL coach’s son) Lance Zierlein sees a safe, high floor Tackle who may be capped at the very top by his length limitations, but a first-year starter and future all-pro at Guard. Jonathan Heitritter’s gif-supported Depot scouting report would agree with that assessment. Both end in solid, early- to mid-1st grades.

The objections to Skoronski amount to this: a lot of people think that no OL except a franchise LT should ever be picked in the Top 20. “LT’s are worth a premium, but RT’s, Guards, and Centers have less positional value.” I answer that in five (5!) ways, any one of which is sufficient to the task IMHO.

  1. The statement is bunk. Great is great, and I do not subscribe to the idea that all-pro IOL’s give their teams that much less in the way of net value.
  2. The statement is too extreme. I could swallow it with only a gag or two if you said Top 5, or maybe even Top 10. Stretching it all the way out to Top 20 starts to be absurd.
  3. The Steelers pick at #17, not #7, so the difference falls within everyone’s margin of error. Especially if you alter the statement to say Top 5 or Top 10.
  4. Skoronski has a very real chance of being the exception who will prove the rule at Left Tackle, and I say that as someone who believes in the value of length. His skills are so advanced that we can basically guarantee that the length issue won’t lead to failure. The hubbub is about whether the short arms will lower the young man’s career arc from perennial all-pro down to occasional pro-bowler; and then only if he ends up playing Tackle. Even his critics grant that “perennial all-pro” is an easy projection if he’s moved inside to an IOL spot.
  5. For this team in this year, who cares which position he ends up at? If Skoronski beats out Moore or Okorafor at Tackle, that’s a worthy pick. And if he “only” ends up by beating out Dotson? That would likewise be a massive win. And if he someday moves to the pivot where he fits seamlessly into the  Mansfield-to-Webster-to-Hartings-to-Dawson-to-Pouncey heritage? That last one matters to me, and it matters a lot.

I can listen seriously to arguments that a unicorn IOL with Tackle versatility offers less value than one of the top DB’s of this exceptional class. Same for arguments that a DT specimen like Bryan Bresee would fit better, or that a top Edge Rusher (of which this year has many) always deserves a finger on the scale. But arguments that Peter Skoronski “doesn’t offer good value” are at best silly or misinformed. He is at least as good a prospect as David DeCastro or Maurkice Pouncey were in their drafts, and maybe even better (that’s prospect not proven pro – please do not misread what I’m trying to say).

Pete Skoronski exemplifies the idea of Round 1 value. He has a floor somewhere around the moon, especially with the recent success we’ve seen from undersized OL technicians like Rashawn Slater and Alijah Vera-Tucker. His ceiling is up in the stars along with the best of the 2023 class. And he fills a very desirable spot on the roster, with 5-position versatility to immunize against the injury but for a mid-1st pick like #1? That will do nicely.

BUT… The pick does come with a downside! Read on. This may be the main takeaway of the exercise.

Pick 2:01 (#32 overall): EDGE Derick Hall, Auburn (Senior). 6’2¾”, 252 lbs. with exceptional 34⅜” arms and 9⅞” hands.

Peter Skoronski would be a superb OL pick in Round 1. Period, end of story. But choosing any OL in Round 1 of this particular draft fouls up my cluster-hunting habit in a serious way. The 2023 draft class is loaded with Round 2 O-Line talent at every position: Tackle, Guard, and particularly with Guard-capable Centers. The wealth of CB’s hits a distinct gap, however; the cluster of DT’s do not make sense until pick 2b (if then); and the value for WR’s doesn’t really begin until Round 3. It creates a very uncomfortable situation where BPA and team ‘needs’ do not align. The only viable BPA targets are two ILB’s, several Edge Rushers, and few TE’s.

Those ILBs (Trenton Simpson and Drew Sanders) would be the ideal solution, but both could easily go in Round 1 instead. Cover-capable ILB’s are a rare commodity this year, and the demand for them has never been higher. I, therefore, believe the many ILB-hungry teams are likely to overdraft the only two that look like they might be the capital-A Answer. So let’s assume that is exactly what happens, and see how the draft gets squeezed. Let me illustrate the problem with actual names. Here is a list of the fringe-1st targets for the pick at 2:01. The cross-outs overlap with the Skoronski pick, play a position where the Steelers have extra depth after my assumed free agency moves, or got picked already in this scenario (i.e., the two ILB’s and a WR who won’t fall this far unless the gods decide to sprinkle us with holy water):

  • OT’s Anton Harrison, Dawand Jones, and Darnell Wright
  • IOL’s C/G John Michael Schmitz, C/G Joe Tippman, and OG O’Cyrus Torrence
  • TE’s Michael Mayer, and Darnell Washington
  • WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba
  • ILB’s Trenton Simpson and Drew Sanders
  • SAF Antonio Johnson
  • EDGE Derick Hall, Felix Anudike-Uzoma, Isaiah Foskey, Will McDonald IV, Lukas Van Ness, B.J. Ojulari, and Nolan Smith
  • CB’s Deonte Banks, Clark Phillips III, and D.J. Turner

See the problem?

It gets even worse when you home in on those three Corners. Banks is a long, tall press-man CB with doubts about his COD ability; i.e., perfect for Seattle, but maybe not a fit in Pittsburgh. CP3 is a wonderful slot Corner, but too small to be projected to the outside, which would limit his available snaps. And Turner, who I actually like a lot, is poor at run support because his frame simply won’t handle the beating. All would be fair value at 2:01, but none of them are bargains.

The Edge Rushers, OTOH, are all players who wouldn’t get out of Round 1 in a normal year. Many of them won’t in this year either, but the sheer volume (there are four more I project as already gone) makes it likely that at least one will fall to pick #32. It isn’t a huge need, but a good OLB3 would definitely fill a hole on the depth and rotation charts, while also giving Omar Khan a bit of leverage in the Alex Highsmith negotiations. So that is where I’m going to go. Here are the current Big Board descriptions.

EDGE Felix Anudike-Uzoma, Kansas St. (Junior). 6’4”, 252 lbs. with 32¾” arms and 9¾” hands. Turned 21 in January. Marry excellent but not eye-popping burst, bend, and COD with good and still improving technique, solid power, and comfort rushing from both a 2- and a 3-point stance. What do you get? A player who should mature into the next Highsmith, and could grow into something even better. Criminally misused as a DT in the K-State defense, which fouls up any hope to measure by production stats but does say he knows how to hold an edge on running plays. Here is a good interview from November. Came in at #38 in Daniel Jeremiah’s initial Top 50 list.
EDGE Isaiah Foskey, Notre Dame (Senior). 6’4⅞”, 262 lbs. with 33¾” arms and 10” hands. 22, turns 23 in October. A wonderful straight-line athlete with tremendous burst and often-overwhelming speed-to-power, but not as bendy as you’d like and unsophisticated when it comes to actual moves. Has played 3-4 OLB in college, with decent coverage ability for a linebacker. Also an ace special teamer who once blocked two (2!) punts in a single 2022 game. This year’s poster boy for Draftnik Backlash Syndrome. Foskey had a spectacular 2021 that created wild-eyed predictions of pushing toward the Top 10, but then he looked like “only” a 1st-rounder. The disappointed expectations have made many fans forget that he’s still a very special athlete.
EDGE Derick Hall, Auburn (Senior). 6’2¾”, 252 lbs. with exceptional 34⅜” arms and 9⅞” hands. 22 years old as of March. Team captain. Tremendous speed-to-power and burst; very good at run support; very able to play in coverage; and undeveloped enough to improve when it comes to hand fighting and overall pass rush plans. Everything you want in a 3-4 OLB with the exceptions of bend around the corner and developed expertise. Came in at #24 on Daniel Jeremiah’s initial Top 50 list. This goes to a Senior Bowl interview at a Browns site. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile describes him as a “team captain with tremendous character” who deserves a comparison to Carl Lawson.
EDGE Will McDonald IV, Iowa St. (Senior). 6’3½”, 241 lbs. with amazing 35” arms and 9” hands. 23, turns 24 in June. Good burst with an insane amount of bend that pairs dynamically with his unusual length, but size and strength are an issue. Can he convert speed to power? He has the frame to add bulk, but will doing so hurt his speed and burst? Early, pre-process grades had him down as a Round 3 talent, but he’s risen steadily – especially after a great Senior Bowl showing. Came in at #29 on Daniel Jeremiah’s initial Top 50 list. The eval is much tougher than usual because his team asked him to play right on the line in a 4i-technique, which doesn’t fit either his body or his skill set, since run defense is a weakness rather than a strength. It speaks well of his toughness and team first attitude, but does not help his draft stock. McDonald will live or die as a 3-4 OLB in the NFL. His technique is also quite raw from an NFL perspective, which could make his age an issue for the youth loving Steelers. Chandler Stroud’s gif-supported Depot scouting report ends with a fringe-1st grade, based on his Round 1 potential offset against a severe need to develop more playing strength and to get better at shedding blocks. This goes to a nice, football-intensive TDN interview before the Senior Bowl, and this to an excellent interview/article with Alex Kozora, which contains a lot of personal background and perspective.
EDGE B.J. Ojulari, LSU (Junior). 6’2”, 250 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. Turns 21 a few weeks before the draft. An explosive, sudden athlete who can also bend the edge, but a little undersized compared to the Steelers model; excluding James Harrison, of course. Enjoyed a dominant 2023 against top SEC competition. The finesse half of LSU’s killer pass rush, with Ali Gaye as the heavy. His brother Aziz plays Edge for the Giants. Came in at #39 on Daniel Jeremiah’s initial Top 50 list.
EDGE/ILB Nolan Smith, Georgia (Junior). 6’2”, 235 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. Will be a 21 year old rookie. NOTE: deserves a 1:20 grade on an all-teams board. Discounted here for lack of size. A brilliant athlete who plays as an Edge but has a Buck ILB physique. The leader of men for CFB’s best 2023 defense, who injects emotion, violence, and physicality into the scheme. In the ideal (Pittsburgh) world he would be a Micah Parsons type, a/k/a Vince Williams with a 5-star athletic profile and major pass rush skills. Sounds great, but he’s never actually played as an ILB, it is a complicated position, and we’d need to assume a few growth-curve years if he can do it at all. As a pure pass rusher for the Pittsburgh defense…? The size just isn’t there, and it shows. Came in at #19 on Daniel Jeremiah’s initial Top 50 list, with an honest player comp to a better prepared Haason Reddick.
EDGE Lukas Van Ness, Iowa (Soph.). 6’5”, 269 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. Turns 22 in the July after the draft. NOTE: Grade might be 1:15 for a 4-3 team. Features a sick bull rush that has blown up many top OT’s, with good speed and power around the corner too. Oddly inexperienced because he played all of 2021 as an undersized DT, before moving out and becoming an Edge. Can he handle coverage duties too, or is he limited to being a 4-3 DE? Came in at #22 on Daniel Jeremiah’s initial Top 50 list.

Why Hall? Why not? Half of those names will probably be picked before the end of Round 1, but it’s very hard to guess which ones. Let me know your favorite in the comments.

Also considered: CB Emmanuel Forbes in addition to the list above.

Pick 2:18 (#49 overall): DT Gervon Dexter Sr., Florida (RS Soph.). 6’5”, 320 lbs. with long [>34”?] arms and ___” hands. 21, turns 22 in October.

This is another pick where BPA and desired positions are not going to match if the team lands a Round 1 O-Lineman. We’re at the heart of the IOL and TE talent (what a class!), right at the beginning of some decent Safeties, in a good spot for RB’s, and toward the end of the second-best OT’s wave, but all of those are now covered by the current roster. The WR pool is uninspiring at best, and the ILB’s would all be reaches or pure run stuffers, with the possible exception of Noah Sewell.

It’s frustrating as hell for bargain hunters like me. The only viable positions to look at are CB and DT, both of which offer fair value rather than potential steals. Out of those two I will go with a DT, because DT2 would help this team a lot more than yet another CB2. Here are the potential targets to consider, in alphabetical order:

NT/DT Keeanu Benton, Wisconsin (Senior) [Mtg. at Senior Bowl]. 6’3½”, 312 lbs. with 33¾” arms and 9⅞” hands. 21, turns 22 in July. A national-level wrestler in addition to football. Benton ain’t goin’ nowhere that he don’t wanna go, even on double teams, and don’t be surprised when he tosses some poor Center a few yards back with sheer, brute strength. The college film showed little in the way of pass rush ability. His Day 1 performance at the Senior Bowl suggests that he’s been learning, though his declining results on Day 2 and 3 brought the expectations back to earth. Definitely on the Steelers radar, which Mike Tomlin specifically told him according to this Senior Bowl interview with Jonathan Heitritter. Alex Kozora identified Benton as a “perfect fit” for Pittsburgh in this January video.
NT/DT Jerrod Clark, Coastal Car. (Senior). 6’3½”, 343 lbs. with 33⅞” arms and 9¾” hands. 23, turns 24 in November. Can you believe a behemoth this size started out as a Tight End? Truth. He carries some extra now, but would be a legit 325 even on an NFL nutrition plan, and he has all the strength to match. Between that, his very quick first step, and some surprising agility, Clark projects as an ideal run-stuffing NT who may have the upside to become a pass rush presence too. He isn’t yet, and stamina is a real issue, but the potential is there. Also has a lot of room to improve with NFL coaching on various technique issues.
DT Gervon Dexter Sr., Florida (RS Soph.). 6’5”, 320 lbs. with long [>34”?] arms and ___” hands. 21, turns 22 in October. A young man with all the physical gifts required to dominate the line of scrimmage, but also enough niggling technical issues to make that a rare occurrence. Put simply, he’s badly underperformed in college and I’m not sure why. More of a DT than a NT despite the size, but you’d be drafting him to be the next Heyward or Tuitt, not the next Big Snack, and maybe that’s a role he can learn. A case where you’re betting on what his Round 1 tools and youth will become, not the Round 3 player he is right now.
NT/DT Siaki Ika, Baylor by way of LSU (Junior). 6’4”, 358 lbs. with [>32”?] arms and ___” hands. 22, turns 23 in November. The size is real, and shows up when he plays with proper technique, but that is far from reliable and OL’s can control him when they win the leverage or hand position battles. At the same time, technique is learnable, and it misses the point. Ika was a 250/300 snap per year run stuffer in college, but what would happen if he dropped 25 lbs. and gained some quickness, endurance, and a step to help in the chase? Early Round 2 talent if you lean on the “it will happen” side of that question. Mid- to late-3rd if you think he will only be what he was at Baylor. Had a much more impressive 2021 than 2022. Why?
DT/NT Zacch Pickens, S. Car. (Senior). 6’3⅝”, 300 lbs. with 34⅛” arms and 10” hands. 23 years old as of March. A 5-star athlete who has almost arrived, never quite did in college, but bullied a lot of good Senior Bowl players around. The TDN scouting profile says he has very good penetration and wins regularly when that works, but loses his pad level when it fails. This contrarian Bleacher Report scouting profile sees a totally different player; a static run stuffer who cannot help on passing downs. The NFL Draft Buzz scouting profile is somewhere in between. This interview before the Senior Bowl gives some insight into the young man’s approach to the game. Here is a clip-supported scouting profile with good personal background. This brief but solid looking scouting profile sees a 0- to 3-tech NT who’d be good value early on Day 3. Solid as a run defender. Could be a genuine star if he gets and takes to the right coaching, which would make him a 3-down guy. Should be a valuable role player anyway. Carries some extra weight that does him no good. This thorough February scouting profile is unimpressed, especially by his inconsistency, pad level issues, and issues handling double teams.
NT/DT Nesta Jade Silvera, Arizona St. (RS Senior). 6’1½”, 307 lbs. with 32½” arms and 10⅛” hands. Turned 23 in January. In college, and at the Senior Bowl, he was so monstrously strong that he could toss O-Linemen out of his way on a regular basis. That strength, combined with very good burst, makes him a titan on run stuffing downs. And not a huge liability on audibles to a pass. He won’t prove much rush on his own, but his bull rush will often crush the front well enough to keep QB’s from climbing the pocket.
DT Mazi Smith, Michigan (Senior). 6’3”, 326 lbs. with [>33”?] arms and 9⅞” hands. 21, turns 22 in June. The #1 entry on Bruce Feldman’s 2022 Athletic Freaks list, Mazi Smith played 0- and 1-tech in college, but questions exist about whether he can do it in the pros. There’s no doubt that he’s built like a brick, strong as a bear, and can move in ways a man his size should not. The issues are (1) arms of moderate length, and (2) smoke from a concealed weapons charge from a traffic stop back in October. The first is a real concern, especially for a would-be NT, and it is also a measurement that Pittsburgh has cared about over time. [WE CAN DISCOUNT THE LEGAL THING: It involved driving with a licensed gun in the car, but in a state other than the one that issued the license. I see this scenario all the time in my professional life. He may lose his carry permit forever, but the act carries no moral stain and is irrelevant to his football prospects. The charge was dropped in December when he pled out to a misdemeanor version, receiving a penalty of 12 months probation.]
DL/EDGE Tuli Tuipulotu, USC (Junior). 6’4”, 290 lbs. with [» 33”?] arms and ___” hands. Only 20 on draft day, turning 21 in September. That’s Juju-level young! A bigger and stronger version of DeMarvin Leal in 2022. Double-T has played every DL position from 1-tech NT out to 4-3 DE, relying on a potent combination of strength, burst, nonstop motor, and surprising agility for a big man; all of which seem to be top 80% but not top 90% if that makes sense. Comes from a football family, with a brother currently playing DL for the Eagles. The PFN scouting profile is definitely worth a read.

That group subdivides pretty neatly into (a) solid value picks that fit the Steelers preferred body type, like Benton, Dexter, Pickens, and maybe Clark if he drops 30 pounds, versus (b) those who have a different body type with some kind of special asset, like Ika (weird size that isn’t all flab), Smith (amazing burst and overall athleticism), Tuipulotu (crazy versatility), and Silvera (Hamptonesqe power). The trendy pick here is Keeanu Benton, and you may feel free to pencil him in over Dexter. TBH, he has been one of my favorites since November, which is why I highlighted his value in my Mock 1.0. But I did pick him before so this time I will go with Dexter for the sake of discussion.

Gervon Dexter III is one of the more controversial prospects of the draft. Going into 2022 he was viewed as an intriguing combination of length, explosiveness, and power (PFN, June 2022), and a “never-ending motor [that] enables him to win late.” (SI, July 2022). The issues came down to maddening inconsistency with his hand fighting, pad level, and a motor that might be “never ending” on any given play, but has been known to disappear over the course of a game. The net result was Round 2-4 grades, with a clear hope that his 2023 season would display enough improvement to bump him into the Round 1 discussion that his physical talents deserve. The bottom line is that it didn’t. He still plays far too high, which makes him particularly vulnerable to double teams and ineffective on passing downs if his initial effort fails. But let’s be fair. Pad level is something that good coaching and two years of hard, diligent work can retrain. It is a normal problem for college athletes, and one the Steeler picks routinely learn to (eventually) overcome. I’m willing to accept that in this case because once (okay, if) Dexter “hits,” he has the athletic potential to be a superstar. And I say that without exaggeration. Jalen Carter and Bryan Bresee will require a lot less work to reach their ceilings, but Dexter’s is every bit as high.

Also considered: Mack ILB Henry T’oo T’oo.

NOTE: Several of the listed DT prospects could/should be available at pick #80. My actual grades on them run from HV 2:12-3:12. But I fear that counting on this would run face first into the football gods’ twisted sense of humor, and I am not as comfortable with the DT position as my hypothetical front office sounded in the free agency section. So you could call this is a reach, but it is a small one and justified by both the position and the lack of other options. At the same time, a reach up at 2:01 would not be justified because the numbers all but guarantee that someone will be available here at 2:18, if not necessarily at 3:17.

Pick 3:17 (# 80 overall): Mack ILB Owen Pappoe, Auburn (Senior). 6’1”, 225 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. 22, turns 23 in September.

IOL, EDGE, and DL are filled. Now what? Current projections have the market opening up wide at this point, with steals to be had at TE; solid if just-Round-3 value still to be found at IOL and CB; new entries at WR and Safety; and three cover-capable ILB’s. My heart says I should pick one of the TE’s, but that’s only because this is such a great class that I want to go bargain hunting. Alas, but there is no room on the roster when you combine Gentry’s return with Heyward’s ability to do TE’ish things. I could argue myself into it, but I won’t.

The moves I made in free agency put a band aid on the ILB situation, but that solution relies on a combination of Myles Jack staying more or less healthy, the power of that excellent 3-Safety package, and an unnamed “cover capable journeyman” – unnamed because I couldn’t find an easy target to suggest. (Please do so in the comments if you can). All of which means there is a clear spot on the roster for another cover-capable ILB even if he only projects to be yet another journeyman. This is the only spot in the draft where I see that desire potentially crossing with the talent pool, so I’m going to take it to illustrate the point. There are three possibilities to consider if you rule out the chance that  Alabama’s Henry T’oo T’oo could fall this far (which I do):

ILB Daiyan Henley, Wash. St. (Senior). 6’0⅞”, 230 lbs. with 33” arms and 9¼” hands. 23, turns 24 in November. A WR turned ILB? Yep. Henley is a physical specimen with all the below-neck assets you want for his position, but held back by a serious need to learn the position. Looked particularly good in coverage duties at the Senior Bow.
DeMarvion Overshown, Texas (Senior). 6’2⅜”, 220 lbs. with 32½” arms and 9½” hands. 22, turns 23 in August. Team captain. A former Safety who outgrew the position, but is still better on the coverage side than he is in the downhill tackling role. Has the speed and burst to be a sideline-to-sideline tackler, and the attitude, but the actual strength needs to grow. Good blitzer who stops a lot of running plays for TFL’s or at the LOS. Still learning the position, which can make him a step slow. Gets a slight bump for unrealized potential. Lacks the size to stack and shed offensive linemen who make it to the second level. Jonathan Heitritter’s gif-supported Depot scouting report ends with a Round 3-4 grad based on the assets offset against the need for both added mass and strength.
Mack ILB Owen Pappoe, Auburn (Senior). 6’1”, 225 lbs. with ___” arms and ___” hands. 22, turns 23 in September. A two-year team captain and on-field QB, his speed, coverage skills, overall athleticism (a 5 star coming out of H.S.), and football IQ are all excellent. But he’s never learned to get off OL blocks, may simply lack the strength to get that done, and projects as someone who will live or die according to the ability of his DL to keep him clean. One might compare him to the player Devin Bush turned out to be, rather than what Bush was drafted to be.

None of these makes my heart want to sing, but all of them are legit mid- to late-3rd talents who should be able to waltz into the sub-package role abandoned by Devin Bush. They will have all of his problems and more, but there it is. Owen Pappoe seems to be the man in the middle, so he is the one I’ve named as the pick.

Also considered: CB Darius Rush, CB Kei’trel Clark, WR Cedric Tillman.

Pick 4:18 (# 117 overall): WR Jayden Reed, Mich. St. via W. Mich. (Senior). 5’10¾”, 191 lbs. with 30½” arms and 9¼” hands. Turns 23 just before the draft.

Pittsburgh hasn’t exactly set the world on fire with its Round 4 picks, so just this once I’m going to assume a minor steal and wish it into existence. I’ve come to believe that Pittsburgh’s WR room has an excess of punt returner types, and could use a plain, old-fashioned, Hines Ward-ish possession receiver more than any other prototype. Bigger is better in that description, but that won’t happen on Day 3 unless you sacrifice other assets. I prefer to go with attitude plus something else, which means my two favorites so far are Puka Nacua and Jayden Reed. Nacua held this spot in Mock 2.0, so now it’s Reed’s turn. Here is the current Big Board entry:

Quicker than fast, dangerous with the ball in his hands, and able to create good separation using sharp routes. Production slid in 2022 along with everything else in that offense. Tyler Wise’s gif-supported Depot scouting report (early Round 4 grade) adds that he is a top-notch character bet with a competitive streak and work ethic to applaud. A certified tough guy when it comes to blocking in addition to receiving. This would be an ideal slot WR profile if he was more reliable on combat catches.

Please let me know if you have any other early Day 3 WR’s to suggest. It’s a group I have not examined yet in any depth, but also one of the few obvious spots to use draft picks on an offensive player who could really contribute.

Also considered: WR Puka Nacua. If the front office views Skoronski as a pure G/C, OT Wanya Morris and OT Carter Warren would also deserve consideration.

Pick 7:17 (# 235-ish overall): OT Quinton Barrow, Grand Valley St. (Senior). 6’5⅜”, 322 lbs. with 34¼” arms and 9⅝” hands. 22, turns 23 in June.

TBH, I don’t know many Round 7 talents yet so I’m just going by what’s been reported on the site. Barrow comes from an extremely small program, but his Shrine Bowl performance proved he can play with the big boys. Or at least the Shrine Bowl medium boys. The OT pipeline is thoroughly empty, so adding a developmental player with the right dimensions would make a lot of sense even if the starters and the backup are cast in stone after the Skoronski pick in Round 1.

Pick 7:24 (# 245-ish overall): Buck ILB Isaiah Land, Florida A&M (Senior). 6’3¼”, 226 lbs. with 32⅝” arms and 8⅝” hands. Turned 23 in February.

When in doubt, bet on athleticism and upside.

Isaiah Land was a tremendous small school Edge Rusher in college, who will have no choice except to move inside as a pro – to the off ball LB position where he never played a snap until the Senior Bowl. According to this Raiders-oriented scouting profile from just after the Senior Bowl (and my eyes), Land quite predictably struggled at the new position though he did flash when allowed to rush off the edge. His ideal fit for special teams work raises the floor significantly; he may be a Day 3 position player, but he’s a Day 2 football player. This goes to an exceptional Alex Kozora interview/analysis from the Senior Bowl.

I have Isaiah Land graded out as a Round 5 talent due to that special teams floor, so picking him here amounts to cheating, but to be perfectly honest I don’t yet know enough Day 3 players to play it entirely straight. I thought about reusing QB Tyler Bagent (see Mock 2.0), but prefer to highlight someone else for educational purposes.


What would happen if one of the Big 3 OL’s fell to #17? A draft that looks a lot like this IMHO. What are your thoughts? Let me know down below, particularly about that crunch I faced at picks 2a, 2b, and 3. Rounds 2-4 are rich in OL talent for all of those picks, which means the board stopped cooperating the instant I jumped the quieu and picked Skoronski in the 1st. Make no mistake – it is a great pick and I feel certain he will be a star here for many years – but it did foul up my efforts to go BPA from top to bottom.

ONE MORE THING: Everything would have worked out fine if the ILB class was just a little deeper. Trenton Simpson would have beat out all the Edge players for the 2:01 pick, good as they are, and Drew Sanders might have too though it would have been a closer call. But poor options for a cover-capable ILB are a fact of life in the 2023 draft, and I think it is our duty to assume that want and talent simply aren’t going to match up if it isn’t for a limited, journeyman-type in Round 3.

  • 1:17 T/G/C Peter Skoronski
  • 2:01 EDGE Derick Hall
  • 2:18 DT Gervon Dexter
  • 3:17 MACK ILB Owen Pappoe
  • 4:18 WR Jayden Reed
  • 7:17 OT Quinton Barrow
  • 7:24 ILB/ST DEMON Isaiah Land
To Top
error: Alert: Content is protected !!