Just like that, it is truly draft season.
With more than seven weeks between now and the start of the 2023 NFL Draft, there is plenty of moving and shaking that will occur with prospects and teams between now and then, including free agency and potential trades.
With the NFL Scouting Combine now in the rearview mirror, it’s full-speed ahead to the 2023 NFL Draft, which will be held in Kansas City, April 27–29. Though the Scouting Combine still remains a sort of “underwear Olympics,” plenty can be gleaned from the testing numbers and meetings that certain players had with the Pittsburgh Steelers during the week in Indianapolis.
Below, myself, Jonathan Heitritter and Joe Clark had 12 Steelers-related takeaways from the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine.
Jonathan Heitritter’s takeaways
- CB Joey Porter Jr. or WR Jordan Addison The Favorites at No. 17 Overall
The Pittsburgh Steelers have done a bad job hiding their interest in their first-round draft choice the last several seasons, often telegraphing to us who they want to take. The numerous connections to Kenny Pickett made for an easy connection to stay in Pittsburgh. Najee Harris and Devin Bush were also two players that the Steelers let us know they were targeting in the first round. This season, it appears as if USC WR Jordan Addison and Penn State CB Joey Porter Jr. as both prospects have clear ties to the organization and spoke heavily about Pittsburgh during their media interviews at the Combine. Should one or both be there at #17, it truly feels like Pittsburgh will select one of them.
- Steelers More Interested in IOL Than OT?
- Good Chance Pittsburgh Trades Down From No. 17 or No. 32
- Pittsburgh Should Consider Punting on ILB Altogether
Joe Clark’s takeaways
- OT Not A Main Priority
This one isn’t all that big of a surprise, at least to me, but the Steelers aren’t really prioritizing the offensive tackle position, at least when it comes to players they’ve met with at the Combine. The team did their due diligence and met with the top tackles in Peter Skoronski (who I bet the team views as a guard), Paris Johnson Jr. and Broderick Jones, but outside of those three tackles weren’t a main priority. For that matter, neither were the main guards, as the team didn’t formally meet with either O’Cyrus Torrence or John Michael Schmitz at the Combine. One player they did formally meet with was Arkansas C Ricky Stromberg, who has flashed on tape and was a beast at the East-West Shrine Bowl. Keep Stromberg in mind as an option in the fourth-round. Mason Cole has G/C versatility and could easily kick out to left guard if the team thinks Stromberg can be a plug-and-play guy.
- Gervon Dexter Puts Himself On The Map
Dexter, an iDL out of Florida, was a player I wanted to watch closely this week. He had a formal meeting with the Steelers and then went out and posted a 9.21 RAS score with a 4.88 40-yard dash, 31″ vertical, and 9’02” broad jump. At 6’6, 310lbs, Dexter just looks like a future Pittsburgh Steeler. If the team doesn’t address DL at 17 or 32 — and I don’t think they will unless they take Bryan Bresee at No. 32 — look for Dexter at No. 49. Alex Kozora had him pegged to the Steelers at that spot in his mock today, and I think he could end up being a steal.
- New Era of EDGE
One thing that particularly stood out to me about this crop of EDGE rushers was how many have non-traditional body types for the position. In addition to Nolan Smith, who weighed in at 6’2, 238 before running a 4.39 40-yard dash, you have guys like Nick Herbig, who came in bigger than I expected at 6’2, 240 after playing at 227 at Wisconsin. While I think Smith probably projects better as an off-ball linebacker, it’s interesting to see these guys get lighter and lighter. Herbig, who I wrote about earlier this week, had a ton of production in college but I’m just not sure the Steelers are willing to take a chance on him at the size. But someone will, and I’m intrigued to see how these guys end up developing in the NFL. If they have success, we could see a lot more lighter EDGE rushers enter the NFL in upcoming seasons.
- The CB Class Is Loaded
We all know about the first-round corners in Christian Gonzalez, Devon Witherspoon (who didn’t work out or talk to media at the Combine) and Joey Porter Jr. But beyond those three, you have a group of guys in Deonte Banks, Cam Smith, Julius Brents, Emmanuel Forbes, Kyu Blu Kelly and Darius Rush. I could see any one of them being a future Steeler. Smith is my personal favorite who could realistically fall to Pittsburgh, but I really don’t think the Steelers could be wrong with any of these selections. Every guy tested well, and a lot of them have met with Pittsburgh either in Indianapolis or at the Senior Bowl (or both). Jonathan Heitritter floated the idea earlier this week of passing on a first-round corner and taking a guy like Brents or Rush in R2-3, and I really think that’s the route Pittsburgh might take. Porter Jr. being around at No. 17 could change that, but with three picks in the top-50, the Steelers can wait on a position that’s loaded this year.
Josh Carney’s takeaways
- Iowa’s Jack Campbell Might Be The Steelers’ Answer At ILB
Hyperbole certainly runs rampant coming out of the Scouting Combine, but there is no hyperbole when it comes to the testing performance Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell put up in Indy. Campbell, who checked in at 6045, 249, clocked a 4.65 40-yard dash, a 37.5-inch vertical, a 10’8″ broad jump and a blazing 6.74 3-cone. Those are elite numbers and combined to give him a 9.98 RAS coming out of the Combine. His Combine performance was right up there with guys like Leighton Vander Esch and Luke Kuechly at the inside linebacker position. He’s an athletic freak that had the high-end production in college and could be the long-awaited answer at inside linebacker the Steelers have been searching for at the position since Ryan Shazier’s injury. Circle him at No. 32 in pencil, at least for now.
- The Christian Gonzalez Dream Is Over
In a rather strong draft class overall, one name continued to stand out above the rest, at least for me, when it came to the No. 17 overall pick in the first round: Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez. A big height/weight/speed guy with production and intriguing bloodlines, Gonzalez has been a popular name connected to Pittsburgh in many mocks. Following his showing at the Combine though, that won’t be happening anymore. Gonzalez came in at 6013, 197 and clocked a blazing 4.38 40-yard dash, a 41.5-inch vertical and a 11’1″ broad jump. With a track background, Gonzalez was always going to have a strong day in Indy, but he even exceeded my own expectations for him. He’s going to go rather high in the draft. The dream of him being there at No. 17 for the Steelers is all but over.
- Jordan Addison In The Second Round Is Looking More Realistic
The Pitt connection with Kenny Pickett is very real for USC and former Pitt Panthers wide receiver Jordan Addison. He certainly made some waves in Indy during his press conference by telling the Steelers to “come get me.” Many believed that would have to be in the first round at No. 17 overall. That was always too rich for him, and then his Combine performance pretty much confirmed that. Addison had a rough go, checking in at just 5111, 173 with just 30 7/8-inch arms and 8 3/4-inch hands. Add in the fact that he ran a 4.55 40 before finishing with a 4.49 and a vertical of 34 inches and a broad jump of just 10’2″, it was a rather disappointing showing for the star. Eventually, Addison withdrew from the Combine with a back injury and will try to regroup for his Pro Day at USC on March 21. We’ll see if he can improve on those numbers, but the size is a real concern.
- Pittsburgh Will Add A QB Late On Day 3
This isn’t going to be popular among the fanbase, but the Steelers are going to draft a quarterback in the seventh round to slot in behind Kenny Pickett and Mitch Trubisky in 2023, with the hopes of that rookie then taking over as the backup behind Pickett moving forward. Guys like TCU’s Max Duggan and UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson are the two that certainly stick out so far. The Steelers met with Duggan at the Combine and had a meeting with Thompson-Robinson at the East-West Shrine Bowl in Las Vegas. Both certainly fit the mold the Steelers are looking for at the position now, with good mobility, plenty of starting experience and the ability to throw off platform. One other name that makes sense late in the draft is BYU quarterback Jaren Hall. With just two quarterbacks on the roster currently, the Steelers need to add two more to get to the offseason number of four that they like to carry into training camp. Drafting one seems like an easy way to get closer to that offseason number.