The 2023 NFL Draft in Kansas City is a month away. That is when all the non-stop speculation, mock drafts, discussions about prospects and what direction teams should go will end.
That’s great news. For now though, there’s still a month to get that all in, starting with ESPN’s seven-round mock draft Wednesday, compiled by Jordan Reid.
In his seven-round mock draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers come away with quite a hypothetical haul, addressing a number of needs while landing some high-end talent.
At No. 17 overall in Reid’s mock draft, the Steelers landed Tennessee offensive tackle Darnell Wright with cornerbacks Christian Gonzales (No. 8, Falcons), Devon Witherspoon (No. 14, Patriots) and Joey Porter Jr. (No. 16, Washington) all off the board.
Wright is a good get for the Steelers at No. 17 overall.
“Adding offensive tackle help around quarterback Kenny Pickett is crucial for the Steelers. The addition of guard Isaac Seumalo means the interior of the line is set, but they need to add left tackle competition for Dan Moore. Wright would give Pittsburgh a young dependable tackle option,” Reid writes. “He started 42 games in college, including 27 at right tackle. His top traits are his strength, physicality and sustain-and-strain ability. Wright’s ascension since 2021 arguably has been the highest of any prospect in this class. There are several teams that view him as a prospect who can play either tackle spot or guard at a high level as a rookie.”
While Reid states that the Steelers need to add competition for Moore at left tackle, Wright profiles as more of a right tackle or guard at the next level. He would be able push Chukwuma Okorafor rather quickly at right tackle and could be a foundational piece for the Steelers in the trenches moving forward.
The Steelers have shown interest in Wright this offseason, according to ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler, who stated that there is belief in the league that Wright could kick inside to guard. That is where the Steelers could see him, which makes him a fit in Pittsburgh.
At 6’5″, 342 pounds, Wright certainly fits the profile of what the Steelers are looking for in the trenches. He would be a good initial addition as depth and competition for guys like Okorafor or Moore, depending on how the Steelers view him.
In the second round of Reid’s mock draft, the Steelers land Alabama safety/cornerback hybrid Brian Branch at No. 32 overall, and Clemson linebacker Trenton Simpson at No. 49 overall, giving Pittsburgh quite the second-round haul.
With the loss of safety Terrell Edmunds to Philadelphia in free agency, the Steelers have a significant need for that hybrid safety that can play in the box, the slot or as a two-high safety. That’s where Branch could come in.
While playing the star role under Nick Saban at Alabama — a position Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick played at Alabama before becoming a first-round pick — Branch was a highly productive, versatile piece. He finished his career with 172 total tackles and four sacks, three of which came in his junior year in 2022. It was by far Branch’s most productive season as he racked up 90 total tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, three sacks and two interceptions. He also had seven pass deflections last fall for the Crimson Tide.
“The Steelers have a big hole at nickel corner after Cam Sutton signed with the Lions in free agency. Branch is an ideal replacement,” Reid writes. “He has the versatility and physicality to step in as a rookie and compete for a starting position. This secondary lacks high-end talent and depth.”
As for Simpson, the Steelers have shown significant interest in the athletic linebacker, taking him to dinner ahead of the Clemson Pro Day, while also meeting with him at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine. He’s had some buzz as a first-round pick, though that seems to be waning as we draw closer to the 2023 NFL Draft.
For his college career, Simpson recorded 162 total tackles (23 for a loss) with 13 sacks and three forced fumbles, though he never intercepted a pass. Given his athleticism, pedigree, the Steelers’ Pro Day dinner/visit, and the team’s need at inside linebacker, he checks all the boxes as a possible candidate at No. 17 and certainly one at No. 32 if he’s there. According to NFL Mock Draft Database, he’s currently viewed as an early Day-Two pick.
“The Steelers added inside linebackers Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts this offseason, overhauling the second level of the defense. They don’t have a versatile linebacker who can play multiple spots, however,” Reid writes regarding Simpson. “That’s Simpson, a jack-of-all-trades defender who can cause problems as a blitzer and make plays in space.”
Slightly overlooked in his own program, Rush could be that gem late on Day 2 or on Day 3 who really blossoms. The Steelers have a significant need at cornerback, and should they decide to pass on the position early on and wait until the middle or later rounds, Rush is a name worth monitoring.
In the fourth round, Reid has the Steelers landing Ferris State EDGE Caleb Murphy at No. 120 overall.
As a senior, Murphy set an NCAA Division II single-season record with 25.5 sacks and also tied the NCAA record for all levels with 39 tackles for loss while Ferris State repeated as Division II national champions. At the end of the season, Murphy became the first non-FBS player to win the Ted Hendricks Award as the nation’s best defensive end.
Without picks in the fifth and sixth rounds, the Steelers had to wait until the seventh round to select again, and in Reid’s mock the Steelers landed some late-round intriguing pieces: interior defensive lineman Broderic Martin out of Western Kentucky at No. 234 overall, and Fresno State wide receiver Jalen Moreno-Cropper at No. 241 overall.
Check out the profile Joe Cammarota did on Moreno-Cropper ahead of the 2023 NFL Draft.