2023 NFL Draft

Eight Draft Prospects I Wish The Steelers Would’ve Shown More (Public) Interest In

Our final handful of articles on thoughts on the 2023 NFL Draft class before Round One kicks off Thursday night. We’ve spent the bulk of the draft process focused on the prospects the Pittsburgh Steelers are interested in. Or at least appear to be. Those they saw at Pro Days, had dinners with, and brought in for pre-draft visits. Historically, the Steelers don’t play games, don’t smokescreen, and could care less about hiding their intentions.

But today we’ll talk about the players the Steelers don’t seem to be interested in. Publicly, anyway. They’ve done their homework on all these players and the draft is full of surprises, there wasn’t a lot of public talk about guys like WR JuJu Smith-Schuster years ago, but these are eight players I wish we could better link to the Steelers heading into the draft.

Olu Oluwatimi/C Michigan: The Steelers have done their homework on interior offensive linemen this offseason. And I can’t understand why Oluwatimi isn’t getting more love from them or draftniks in general. The 2022 Rimington Award winner for college football’s best center, Oluwatimi isn’t a small guy at 6024, 309 pounds with 32 3/4 inch arms. That’s longer than Peter Skoronski. Still, he’s projected to be a later Day Three selection and while Pittsburgh had Mike Tomlin and Omar Khan at his Pro Day, Pat Meyer didn’t make the trip. Michigan had a couple of offensive linemen worth checking out. The only connection we have is an informal meeting at the Combine. Maybe there was a Pro Day dinner we don’t know about. I hope so.

Malik Knowles/WR-Returner Kansas State: A guy I plugged into my last mock draft, Knowles offers a ton of versatility and value. 127 career receptions (and 14 touchdowns), 36 career carries (and four touchdowns), and 61 career kick returns (and three touchdowns). All in a 6’2, nearly 200-pound package, so it’s not like this is Calvin Austin 2.0. To be fair, Knowles didn’t workout at the Combine or his Pro Day so there hasn’t been a lot to see in the pre-draft process. Still, he’s a great late-round addition who would function well in Matt Canada’s offense.

Derick Hall/EDGE Auburn: Ok, I can live with a lack of interest on Oluwatimi and Knowles. But Hall really grinds my gears. He’s the perfect Steelers’ EDGE. Big and long at 6026, 254 pounds with 34 1/2 inch arms. He has SEC production, 24 tackles for a loss, 15.5 sacks, and four forced fumbles across his last two seasons. He plays the run hard, he’s a power rusher, and while he’s not flashy or super bendy, he’s a rock-solid outside linebacker in Pittsburgh’s system. And there’s been crickets on him. The Steelers were lightly attended at the Tigers’ Pro Day, Hall had just an informal meeting with Pittsburgh at the Combine, and there was no pre-draft visit. This is the perfect Steelers’ #3 EDGE. If there is a smokescreen happening, I hope it’s with Hall.

Yaya Diaby/EDGE Louisville: Another guy who feels like a Steeler but someone the team hasn’t been connected to. Diaby, like Alex Highsmith or Anthony Chickillo, was miscast as a 3-4 base end when he should be playing out on the edge. Still, he had a breakout final season (like Highsmith) with 14 tackles for a loss and nine sacks. He shows a good motor, can corner the edge, uses his hands well, and had a fantastic Combine workout to give him a 9.86 RAS. A fourth round-ish type option that also has size at 261 pounds. But the only note on him to connect to Pittsburgh is having area scout Mark Gorscak attend his Pro Day.

DJ Turner/CB Michigan: It seems Pittsburgh is far more enamored with the bigger and longer outside corners this year. Joey Porter Jr., Deonte Banks, Julius Brents, you get the idea. Turner is a solid corner option with crucial inside/outside versatility but at 5’11, 180 pounds, Pittsburgh hasn’t paid much attention despite Turner’s blazing 4.26 speed. He’d be a good fit to play in sub-packages out of the box but it seems like the Steelers are focused on other options. At least Tomlin and Khan attended the Wolverines’ Pro Day.

Clark Phillips/CB Utah: Ah, yes. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ biggest enemy. The Mississippi River. As in, they don’t scout west of it. Phillips is a ball-hawking slot corner with six interceptions last year who could be a Day One starter on passing downs. But there hasn’t been much chatter about him and only Kelvin Fisher attended the Utes’ Pro Day session. Again, Pittsburgh seems focused on the bigger outside names and doesn’t have a clear plan for how to address the slot role.

Cam Smith/CB South Carolina: You can see a trend with my complaints. While Pittsburgh has looked at a ton of corners this year – that’s a good thing – I thought Cam Smith would’ve been part of that list. It’s nice to know the Steelers have shown interest in teammate Darius Rush, Smith has good size and versatility to play the slot and even safety/dimebacker work sprinkled in throughout his career. Perhaps the knock on him is a lack of production, one pick and five breakups a year ago but Smith had a great workout and is a hard worker dedicated to his craft. Would be a nice addition at #32/49 but the Steelers don’t seem to be headed that way.

Quan Martin/DB Illinois: Sticking with the “versatile DB” theme, Illinois has three DBs who will get drafted early this year. Martin is the name flying under the radar with great versatility to play safety or slot. He’s athletic, physical, and highly productive and arguably the better prospect than teammate Sydney Brown. Despite all that DB talent, and even knowing Devon Witherspoon didn’t participate in his Pro Day, I thought Grady Brown would’ve been at that Pro Day. Or failing that, a guy like Martin coming in for a pre-draft visit.

Again, just because we can’t neatly connect the dots doesn’t mean these guys won’t become Steelers. I’ll happily eat my words if Pittsburgh grabs any of these eight names. But when putting together my final mock draft of what I think the team will do, I can’t put any of these names on the list. And I so wish I could.

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