With the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine in full swing in Indianapolis this week, many national outlets are beginning to push multi-round mock drafts with all eyes on prospects this week.
That includes The Athletic and its draft analyst Nick Baumgardner, who dropped a three-round mock draft Tuesday, which saw the Pittsburgh Steelers plug a number of holes on the roster with four picks in the top 80 of the 2023 NFL Draft. However, Baumgardner got off to a rough start in his mock for the Steelers, selecting Iowa defensive lineman Lukas Van Ness at No. 17 overall.
“This feels too low for Van Ness. After the combine, it could be,” Baumgardner writes regarding the Steelers’ selection of the Iowa star in the middle of the first round. “Van Ness’ versatility across the board coupled with his freakish athletic ability — “Hercules” was a good high school hockey player — make him a developing prospect on the rise.”
Make no mistake about it: Van Ness is a great prospect and a very, very good football player. His fit in Pittsburgh is a major question mark though.
Van Ness had no shortage of success at Iowa, playing in all 26 games during his redshirt freshman and sophomore seasons. As a redshirt freshman, he racked up 33 total tackles, 8.5 of which went for a loss, along with seven sacks and a pass deflection. During his redshirt sophomore season in 2022, he had 37 tackles, 10.5 for a loss and six sacks. His sack total has ranked sixth in the Big Ten in sacks each year, while his 10.5 tackles for a loss were the ninth best in the Big Ten in 2022. While his sack totals went down, he chalked up 43 total pressures in 2022 after totaling 28 pressures in 2021. He also had 29 QB hurries, up from 14 as a redshirt freshman.
He is certainly an intriguing due to his versatility and pass-rushing chops. His ability to gain leverage is super impressive, and his instincts, athleticism and quickness all blend together to make him a solid first-round option for any team looking for help along the defensive line. He would definitely be a solid selection at No. 17, and it also wouldn’t be surprising if he was off the board by the time Pittsburgh selected.
But when it comes to a fit in Pittsburgh, he profiles as more of an edge if he’s in a 3-4 scheme, which isn’t an area the Steelers need to be spending a first round pick at with T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith on the roster, and DeMarvin Leal already holding down that versatile pass rush role. Van Ness wouldn’t really fit in a base 3-4 DE role, either, which makes it a curious selection from Baumgardner.
Good news for Baumgardner in his mock though is he rebounds in a big way for the Steelers, landing Mississippi State cornerback Emmanuel Forbes at No. 32 overall, and then Baylor defensive tackle Siaki Ika at No. 49, giving the Steelers two potential starters in areas of need in the second round.
Ika was a member of LSU’s national championship team in 2020, but transferred to Baylor after the season. At Baylor, Ika had a career year in 2021, with six tackles for a loss and 3.5 sacks. He had 70 tackles in his collegiate career and 10.5 total sacks. At 6’4, 350 pounds, Ika would be a massive space eater at nose tackle and could be the ideal replacement for Tyson Alualu, who is expected to retire.
Forbes is a boom-or-bust cornerback, but the booms are quite impressive as he had 14 interceptions and 17 pass breakups in his career with the Bulldogs in the SEC. If he can harness some of those coverage busts while being aggressive, he could be a true No. 1, shutdown cornerback in the NFL.
Rounding out his mock draft, Baumgardner paired the Steelers with LSU wide receiver Kayshon Boutte at No. 80 overall I noted third round, addressing a need for the black and gold offensively.
Boutte was once considered the top wide receiver in the draft class entering the 2022 season, but struggles in the first year under new LSU head coach Brian Kelly and a strange commitment to 2023 and then declaring for the NFL draft right before the bowl game have clouded his future overall.
He’s a good blend of size and speed and can really take the top off of defense, but he has a limited catch radius overall and has struggled with drops due to technique during his time in college.
Overall, it’s not a bad mock from Baumgardner. The second round looks fantastic for the Steelers with Forbes and Ika. The third round pick is an intriguing one overall, too, but the first rounder is hard to move past as Van Ness just doesn’t really profile as a fit, at least for me. It’s hard to overlook the fact that Van Ness was the pick when guys like Clemson DL Bryan Bresee, Florida iOL O’Cyrus Torrence and Tennessee OL Darnell Wright were all still on the board.