The 2023 NFL Draft is a month away, and the Steelers are slotted to pick 17th overall in the first round. They also own the top pick in the second round thanks to the Chase Claypool trade with the Chicago Bears.
We continue to go through mock draft scenarios and project player/prospect fits who may interest the Steelers. After filling several needs in free agency and with the Pro Day circuit revealing more information about what players the team may be interested in, here is my latest edition of what I would project Pittsburgh to do come draft day.
ROUND 1 (#17 OVERALL) — BRYAN BRESEE/DL/CLEMSON
Analysis: If CB Joey Porter Jr. is off the board at #17, Pittsburgh will have to pivot from what many have deemed to be the most likely scenario given the need and Porter’s ties to the organization. Should they go a different direction, Clemson DL Bryan Bresee is another player who has Pittsburgh’s fingerprints all over him, dating back to when he was just a freshman at the school. He and Tomlin have a long-standing relationship and Breese met with the Steelers at the Combine and had a large Steelers contingent at his Pro Day.
Bresee may be a little rich for this selection based on his production, injury concerns, and need for further development. But Pittsburgh has shown that they like this guy a lot, and if the medicals came out clean at the Combine, there’s no reason not to expect he’s on their short list of prospects they would take at #17 overall. Coming in and getting mentored by Cameron Heyward would be a great benefit for Bresee. He is scratching the surface of what he can do on the field, having immense physical gifts to become a disruptive defensive lineman in the league.
ROUND 2 (#32 OVERALL)— DARNELL WRIGHT/OT/TENNESSEE
Analysis: Pittsburgh has shown that it wants to become a bully in the trenches. Since the start of free agency, it has signed big, mean people like OGs Nate Herbig and Isaac Seumalo to shore up the interior of the OL. We should expect the team to continue that trend at OT, and Tennessee’s Darnell Wright could be the guy they target early on Day Two of the draft as he perfectly fits that mold. Wright may not be garnering the same attention as some of the other top tackles in this draft class, but he has aced the pre-draft process thus far with a strong Senior Bowl performance and a solid showing at the Combine.
The 6’6, 335-pound senior has fantastic size paired with the movement skills to be a strong run blocker, having the mobility to get out in space and climb to the second level to pick up linebackers and safeties. He has improved as a pass protector every season. Wright could come in and play RT, moving Chuks Okorafor to the left side and relegating Dan Moore Jr. to the team’s swing tackle. He could also battle Moore for the LT job outright, but either way, Wright should make contributions along the OL in Year 1.
ROUND 2 (#49 OVERALL)— ANTONIO JOHNSON/S/TEXAS A&M
Analysis: The Steelers brought back S Damontae Kazee on a two-year deal, but recently lost long-time starter at SS in Terrell Edmunds to the Eagles. It appears as if Pittsburgh was ok with letting Edmunds walk on a cheap deal, looking to infuse a new playmaker at the position. That could be Texas A&M S Antonio Johnson, who was widely considered a first-round prospect prior to the 2022 season but had a mediocre year much like the rest of the Aggies football team. However, Johnson is a tantalizing prospect, standing 6’2, 198 pounds with great size and an aggressive demeanor you look for in a strong/box safety.
Johnson has experience playing in the box as well as in the slot, two things Pittsburgh needs after losing Edmunds. Drafting Johnson would give Pittsburgh a traffic cop over the middle of the defense, adding to its identity of tough, rugged defenders. Johnson is a player that will smack receivers attempting to make catches while providing versatility to the defense.
ROUND 3 (#80 OVERALL)— CLARK PHILLIPS III/CB/UTAH
Analysis: The Steelers signed CB Patrick Peterson at the start of free agency and brought back James Pierre to a CB room that also includes Levi Wallace and Ahkello Witherspoon, but they currently lack a quality nickel option in the slot. None of the aforementioned names are natural slot corners and Arthur Maulet should be considered more than a situational heavy nickel that helps in run defense. The Steelers have emphasized ball production over the past year, and they get value going that route in the third round with Utah CB Clark Phillips III. Phillips has been one of the most productive CBs over the past two seasons and had a stellar 2022 season to the tune of six INTs (two returned for TDs).
While his ball production should get him drafted higher, Phillips’ lack of ideal size (5’9, 184 pounds) and athleticism (4.51 40) may get him pushed down boards. Still, he is an instinctive defender that has done well in coverage against some of college football’s best. He is also a willing run defender that can play physical and could make for a great piece that can be kicked inside to the slot. There he can match up against smaller, quicker receivers and give Pittsburgh another ballhawk in the secondary.
ROUND 4 (#120 OVERALL)— NICK HERBIG/LB/WISCONSIN
Analysis: The Steelers need to add edge depth behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith, but also need to add starting-caliber players to the off-ball LB room, even after signing Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts. Nick Herbig is a little bit of a tweener, standing 6’2, 240 pounds with 31 1/4” arms. Still, Herbig has been extremely productive for the Badgers, putting up 20 sacks over the past two seasons along with 30 tackles for loss, and four forced fumbles. The Steelers sent LB Coach Aaron Curry to watch Herbig at his Pro Day, and he stated that he is comfortable playing in the box or on the edge at the next level.
Given Pittsburgh’s need at both spots, the interest they have shown him at the Combine and at his Pro Day, his production at the college level, and the fact that they just signed his older brother Nate, the dots connecting Herbig to the Steelers couldn’t be stronger. He can come in and compete for a spot at ILB behind Holcomb and Roberts while also providing pass rush depth at OLB and contributing on special teams. Herbig would be able to wear many hats in Pittsburgh, making him a logical target in the middle rounds of the draft.
ROUND 7 (#234 OVERALL)— TRE TUCKER/WR/CINCINNATI
Analysis: The Steelers can stand to add to their WR room after losing Steven Sims in free agency while relying on Calvin Austin III to come back healthy after missing last season with a foot injury. Should Pittsburgh want to limit Austin’s touches in the return game, one name that makes sense to replace Sims is Cincinnati’s Tre Tucker.
Tucker lacks ideal size (5’9, 182 pounds), but he has great play speed and explosiveness (4.40 40, 37.5” vert). He can stretch the seam as a slot receiver and contribute right away on kick returns, having housed two kicks in his career with the Bearcats. Pittsburgh needs a slot receiver as well as more splash plays from their passing game and Tucker can help in both of those areas.
ROUND 7 (#241 OVERALL)— MAX DUGGAN/QB/TCU
Analysis: The Steelers have Kenny Pickett and Mitch Trubisky at QB, but they need to add a third signal caller to the room. Much to the distain of Steelers fans and Alex Kozora alike, it appears as if they may follow a similar trend from last year and target a QB late in the draft to add a third passer.
Max Duggan profiles as a QB the team could have interest in, having spoken to him at the Combine as well as matching some of the athletic traits that both Pickett and Trubisky have. He would fit right into Matt Canada’s offense, having the mobility to extend plays and create with his legs. He could serve as this team’s #3 and possibly become the #2 in 2024 after Trubisky leaves as a free agent.