2023 NFL Draft

USA Today Mock Draft Sees Steelers Land Physical Cornerback

Nothing like a first-overall trade to get the mock drafts rolling over a weekend before the new league year rolls over next week. Acting in kind, USA Today released a Saturday morning mock draft that gave the Steelers a somewhat familiar name at the 17th-overall selection, Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon.

“A cornerback who loves to tackle and demonstrated lockdown potential last season should be at home on the Steelers’ defense,” USA Today’s Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz analyzed of his mock selection for Pittsburgh.

Witherspoon is firmly a first-round talent for a plethora of reasons. His physicality despite his somewhat undersized frame is what will often stick out to Steelers fans as the NFL Draft approaches in just under two months. In his four-year career for the Fighting Illini, Witherspoon amassed 149 tackles, 11.5 of which were for a loss including a sack.

In this mock, Witherspoon is the third cornerback off the board. Middlehurst-Schwartz referenced the hamstring injury that prevented the Illinois product from participating in the Combine as the biggest reason for his slight fall. Of course, it’d be anything but settling for the Steelers if the board fell this way in late April. In this scenario, Oregon’s Christian Gonzales went 10th overall to the Philadelphia Eagles while Joey Porter Jr. landed with the Washington Commanders one selection ahead of Pittsburgh, so the value to have Witherspoon at 17 still holds weight.

While Porter Jr. is often the name tabbed to the Steelers due to his bloodline, the need is very real for the Steelers to add talent to its defensive backfield and Witherspoon would potentially serve that effort quite well. This, of course, is the case regardless of whether Cam Sutton is re-signed next week. Should Sutton stay and Witherspoon eventually be the selection, the logical fit would be to keep Sutton on the perimeter while Witherspoon mans the nickel position.

Our own Josh Carney wrote the player profile for Witherspoon and praised the efforts of the prospect’s abilities both inside and out.

“Witherspoon profiles as a plug-and-play starter right away, whether that’s in the slot or on the boundary in a man-heavy or zone scheme,” Carney wrote, painting a picture of a player that would fit in well on Mike Tomlin’s defense regardless of circumstance.

Of course, with the experience on the outside that also allowed him to rack up five interceptions in his career, Witherspoon has the potential to grow into the Steelers’ eventual number-one corner should he land in Pittsburgh.

“He’s a physical defender that is a tone setter for the defensive unit, loves to play on an island in man coverage and can truly take away half the field in coverage,” Carney added in his breakdown of Witherspoon.

Elsewhere in the mock draft, the Carolina Panthers were given CJ Stroud via the team’s newly acquired first-overall pick. Around the AFC North, the Baltimore Ravens were mocked to select Boston College wide receiver Zay Flowers while the Cincinnati Bengals were matched with Utah tight end Dalton Kincaid.

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