With just a few more reps left at this year’s NFL Combine, it’s only natural that with a bit more information on who teams are meeting with and how these players look in on-field drills that a few more mock drafts would fill your timeline and newsletter inboxes. CBS Sports released a late-Combine mock draft Sunday afternoon that paired the Pittsburgh Steelers with a new name with the 17th overall selection: Georgia edge backer Nolan Smith.
“Nolan Smith missed part of the 2022 season with a pectoral injury, but he’s an electric pass-rusher when healthy,” CBS Sports’ Ryan Wilson wrote in his analysis of the pick. “He’s also a freakish athlete — he ripped off a 4.39 40 at the combine (and was mad about running too slow!). That motor is all over his tape, and while the Steelers have other needs, Smith might be too good to pass up here.”
Wilson is right, the Steelers do have other more-pressing needs than another edge linebacker. Still, it’s refreshing to scroll halfway through a first-round mock draft and not see Joey Porter, Jr. at the 17th pick next to the Steelers’ logo – not that I’m against the selection personally. Wilson sent the Penn State cornerback to the Philadelphia Eagles with the 10th-overall pick.
Regardless, the Steelers do have a need at edge backer, primarily to play rotation behind TJ Watt and Alex Highsmith, but also as an emergency option should either player miss time with injury or if somehow Pittsburgh doesn’t re-sign Highsmith once his rookie contract expires (though that’s not to be expected.) Even further, we’ve seen in the past how drafting for need has hurt the Steelers in the past with selections like Artie Burns, while drafting the best player available has paid dividends on several occasions. Smith could arguably fit into the latter category comfortably.
Whether Nolan Smith will be the best player available is a question on its own, however. Coming off a November torn pectoral and facing reasonable questions concerning his size, 6’2-238lbs, the 17th-overall selection may be a bit fanatical of his Combine performance.
Our own Jonathan Heitritter graded Smith as a day two selection, a medical designation planting him roughly in the third round.
“He has shown to be a quality run defender and represents himself well in coverage situations, but his lack of prototypical size, weight, and length will present a challenge of defeating blocks at the next level against bigger, longer offensive linemen,” Heitritter analyzed in his player profile. “He wins with more effort and pure athleticism as a pass rusher at this point rather than with technique, thus he will need to add to his repertoire to make an impact in that facet of the game at the next level.”
Still, a valuable connection between the Steelers and Smith exists as he did meet with the team formally at the NFL Combine this week, a meeting Smith spoke fondly of with Heitritter in Indianapolis.
“Man, I did speak to the Steelers and that’s one of my coaches that I watched growing up and he impacted my life just on the game as a young kid,” Smith said. “I told him that when I first met him, he probably thought I was a fanboy, but I was going to be honest in all my interviews.”
The old saying goes, ‘you can never have too many pass rushers.’ And the Steelers do need more, one likely to be selected in this draft.
Wilson’s mock draft saw the Chicago Bears stay put with the first overall pick to take Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson while Alabama quarterback Bryce Young was mocked to the Houston Texans second overall. Around the AFC North, Wilson had the Baltimore Ravens select TCU wide receiver Quentin Johnston while the Cincinnati Bengals were given Anton Harrison out of Ohio State.