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Carney: Steelers’ 2023 Mock Draft (Version 4.0)

It’s been a rather busy offseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers and GM Omar Khan. Good news is the roster is really starting to take shape, and in just under a month the 2023 NFL Draft will be upon us.

After signing cornerback Patrick Peterson, linebackers Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts, interior offensive linemen Isaac Seumalo and Nate Herbig, defensive tackle Breiden Fehoko and safety Keanu Neal, plus the re-signings of defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi, safety Damontae Kazee, tight end Zach Gentry and cornerback James Pierre, Khan and assistant GM Andy Weidl have done a good job addressing some holes in free agency, giving him some flexibility entering the draft at the end of April.

Now that some moves have been made and the roster is starting to take shape, I thought it would be a good time to drop my latest mock draft for the Steelers.

Below is the fourth version of my seven-round mock draft, post-free agency edition, with the caveat that I know the team isn’t done making moves. In case you missed my first three mock drafts, you can find those herehere and here.

As a reminder, this is what I believe the Steelers will do in the draft, as far as players and positions targeted. As always, leave your thoughts in the comment section below, and thanks for reading!

ROUND ONE (17TH OVERALL) – DAWAND JONES/OT/OHIO STATE —6082, 374 Lbs.

Analysis: One thing that’s become pretty clear this offseason is that Khan and Weidl want those massive humans along the offensive line. Enter Ohio State’s Dawand Jones. At 6082, 374 pounds, he’s the biggest player in the draft, and he has some pretty solid film overall. While I do have some concerns about his conditioning, weight and his pulling out of his Pro Day workouts with the Steelers in attendance, Mike Tomlin, Khan and a handful of Steelers personnel did take him to dinner and have shown significant interest since the Senior Bowl.

Jones has the ability to float between left and right tackle, though it feels like he’s mostly a right tackle guy entering the NFL, which is where he played in college. The Steelers showed a lot of interest in Minnesota’s Daniel Faalele in the 2022 NFL Draft and missed out on the large human when the Ravens selected him. They won’t miss on their target on the offensive line this time, getting a key piece to infuse into the OL room in Jones.

Previous Selection: Trenton Simpson, LB, Clemson (V.3);Bryan Bresee, iDL, Clemson (V.2); Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois (V.1)

Others considered: Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee; Brian Branch, S, Alabama; Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame

Dawand Jones draft profile

ROUND TWO (32ND OVERALL) – TRENTON SIMPSON/LB/CLEMSON — 6023, 235 Lbs.

Analysis: In my last mock draft I selected Clemson linebacker Trenton Simpson at No. 17 overall and got a lot of pushback. That was probably fair as the more and more I watch Simpson, the more I think the first round is too rich for him. Getting him 32nd overall feels like a good spot for the athletic linebacker with solid coverage skills, something the Steelers desperately need at the position after overhauling the linebacker room this offseason.

The Steelers need a guy with elite physical traits and high-end coverage abilities. That’s what Simpson brings in abundance. While some in the industry believe he’s better suited to play safety in the NFL, Simpson has all the tools to be a high-level, sideline-to-sideline linebacker in the NFL. Simpson clocked a 4.43 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, and then added a 4.22 short shuttle, a 6.89 3-cone and 40.5″ vertical at his Pro Day, at which the Steelers were heavily present.

Tomlin took Simpson to dinner the night before his Pro Day too. Based on the current linebackers room, it’s clear the Steelers need that coverage guy inside. Simpson fits that need and would give new inside linebackers coach Aaron Curry a freakish athlete to mold. Simpson has the qualities you can’t teach at the position, showcasing the skills to suggest that he can fulfill the role of a three-down linebacker while still contributing as a Swiss Army knife defender.

Previous Selection: John Michael Schmitz, iOL, Minnesota (V.3); Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee (V.2); Dawand Jones, OT, Ohio State (V.1)

Others considered: Emmanuel Forbes, CB, Mississippi State; Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia; Mazi Smith, iDL, Michigan

Trenton Simpson draft profile

ROUND TWO (49TH OVERALL) – STEVE AVILA/iOL/TCU — 6034, 332 Lbs.

Analysis: Pittsburgh has been doing its due diligence on interior offensive linemen with center and guard capabilities leading up to the draft. That might surprise some, but the Steelers have no depth behind current starting center Mason Cole, and Cole doesn’t exactly profile as the long-term center in the Steel City.

That’s where Avila, who has a top-30 visit with the Steelers scheduled, could factor in. Avila has played all over the offensive line during his time at TCU. In 46 games for the Horned Frogs, he started 35 with 17 at center, two at tackle, 15 at guard. He played left guard for the Horned Frogs in 2022 as TCU made a run to the College Football Playoff National Championship game.

Though he’s 23 years old entering the draft, he’s a long-term building block that profiles better at center than guard in the NFL. He really understands leverage and has good fundamentals overall for the position. He’s not a mauler, but he moves people consistently in the run game.

Previous Selection: Julius Brents, CB, Kansas State (V.3); Derick Hall, EDGE, Auburn (V.2); Keeanu Benton, iDL, Wisconsin (V.1)

Others considered: Gervon Dexter, iDL, Florida; Clark Phillips III, CB, Utah; John Michael Schmitz, iOL, Minnesota

Steve Avila draft profile

ROUND THREE (80TH OVERALL) – TYRIQUE STEVENSON/CB/MIAMI (FL.) — 6000, 198 Lbs.

Analysis: This is a bit later than I wanted to grab a cornerback, but that’s just how my board fell. That said, I’m ecstatic to get a guy of Miami (FL) Tyrique Stevenson’s caliber at No. 80 overall. A former Georgia Bulldog that current Steelers wide receiver George Pickens knows well, Stevenson brings serious physicality and a real edge to the position.

While there are certainly some fair concerns regarding his long speed and slightly stiff hips, he profiles as a guy who can thrive in a Cover 2 and press-man system. He has the ball skills and trust in himself to make plays on underneath throws. It’s also worth noting that the Steelers saw him extensively in Mobile at the Senior Bowl, where he had a solid week. They also sent former cornerback and new organizational scout Ike Taylor to Miami’s Pro Day where the former Steelers great put Stevenson through drills and got a good look at the standout.

Though Stevenson does need some work in zone and off-man coverages, he’s a high-ceiling guy that would be a solid piece to add under Patrick Peterson’s tutelage.

Previous Selection: Keeanu Benton, DL, Wisconsin (V.3); Julius Brents, CB, Kansas State (V.2); Henry T’oTo’o, ILB, Alabama (V.1)

Others considered: Keeanu Benton, DL, Wisconsin; Xavier Hutchinson, WR, Iowa State; Kyu Blu Kelly, CB, Stanford

Tyrique Stevenson draft profile

ROUND FOUR (120TH OVERALL) – JONATHAN MINGO/WR/OLE MISS — 6016, 220 Lbs.

Analysis: This might not be thrilling for people to hear, but the Steelers are going to draft a wide receiver within the first four rounds. It’s going to happen. The depth chart behind Diontae Johnson and George Pickens is a real concern, even with the return of Calvin Austin III, who didn’t play last season as a rookie because of an injury.

Ole Miss wide receiver Jonathan Mingo is an intriguing weapon to add to a room that continues to be reshaped. He’s a guy that has a top-30 pre-draft visit scheduled with the Steelers as well. Mingo works best in space, having a solid sense of where the soft spot is going to be in zone, showcasing the ability to play on the outside or in the slot, though he had most of his 2022 success in the slot. His release off the snap is good and his long speed is solid. If he grows his route tree and tightens up some of his technique in and out of breaks, he has some NFL starter upside. In the short term, he could carve out a niche on an NFL team as a physical slot receiver in the right situation.

The Steelers need that physical after the catch weapon out of the slot. They haven’t had that since JuJu Smith-Schuster was on the roster. They tried that with Chase Claypool last season and that simply didn’t work. Mingo has some intriguing traits that make him a solid fit for what the Steelers look for at the position.

Previous Selection: Jose Ramirez, EDGE, Eastern Michigan (V.3); Carter Warren, OT, Pittsburgh (V.2); Nathaniel “Tank” Dell, WR, Houston (V.1)

Others considered: Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson, CB, TCU; Jaquelin Roy, DT, LSU; Sam LaPorta, TE, Iowa

Jonathan Mingo draft profile

ROUND SEVEN (234TH OVERALL) – BRODRIC MARTIN/iDL/WESTERN KENTUCKY —6045, 337 Lbs.

Analysis: A little later than I wanted to wait for defensive line help, but Western Kentucky’s Brodric Martin is a good consolation prize. A massive guy at 6045, 337 pounds, Martin had a really strong showing at the East-West Shrine Bowl in Las Vegas. He really flashed good strength and some intriguing juice as a pass rusher.

Martin started his career at North Alabama, spending two seasons there before transferring to Western Kentucky where he started 14 of 28 career games and earned C-USA Honorable Mention honors in 2022. He has long arms (34 3/8″) and a huge wingspan (84 1/4″) and really eats up space. He is on the older side (turns 24 in May), but with 31 career starts and plenty of production, he is a solid flier late on Day 3 and could pan out.

Previous Selection: John Ojukwu, OL, Boise State (V.3); Mitchell Tinsley, WR, Penn State (V.2); Jerome Carvin, iOL, Tennessee (V.1)

Others considered: DJ Dale, iDL, Alabama; Brock Martin, EDGE, Oklahoma State, Jalen Redmond, DT, Oklahoma

ROUND SEVEN (241ST OVERALL) – CHAMARRI CONNER/CB/VIRGINIA TECH — 6005, 205 Lbs.

Analysis: Even with the signings of Keanu Neal, Patrick Peterson and Damontae Kazee, and the previous selection of Tyrique Stevenson, the Steelers still need to address the slot role. Virginia Tech’s Chamarri Conner profiles as a sub-package cornerback with good ball skills at the next level.

Steelers’ Director of Pro Scouting Sheldon White personally attended Virginia Tech’s Pro Day and got a good look at Connor, who had a strong showing and has a 9.06 RAS score. Conner is a smart and physical player, and an enthusiastic tackler who takes his responsibilities in run support seriously. He loves to key, trigger, fly to the football, and finish. He is never passive when given opportunities to hit and tackle and played primarily in the slot for the Hokies’ defense. He has the mentality and toughness needed to play closer to the ball. Conner is mostly a sound processor and demonstrates sound route anticipation skills in zone coverage.

This late in the draft, that type of skill set is worth taking a chance on. In his career, Conner recorded 314 tackles, 21.0 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks and four interceptions to go along with 19 pass deflections and four forced fumbles. He can really play and could push for a role in the slot right away in Pittsburgh, much like former seventh-round pick Tre Norwood did as a rookie in 2021.

Previous Selection: Brenton Strange, TE, Penn State (V.3); Dante Stills, DT, West Virginia (V.2); Andre Jones, EDGE, Louisiana (V.1)

Others considered: Malik Cunningham, QB, Louisville; Sean Clifford, QB, Penn State; Spencer Anderson, iOL, Maryland

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