2023 NFL Draft

Kozora: 2023 Pittsburgh Steelers Mock Draft (Final Version)

Here it is. My final Pittsburgh Steelers’ mock draft. The last time I’ll try to predict what the team will do Thursday, Friday, and Saturday before the actual picks roll in. Honestly, this was as difficult a mock as any in recent memory, probably as difficult since 2019 and even then, we at least knew the team loved Devin Bush. I’ve gone back and forth on these final picks many times and most of it is sure to be wrong.

But this is my best guess at it. Below are links to my previous mocks throughout this draft process.

Version 1.0
Version 2.0
Version 3.0

ROUND 1 (#17 OVERALL): Darnell Wright/OT Tennessee – 6053, 333 lbs.

Analysis: Before I talk about Wright, let me tell you who I didn’t pick. Number 17 came down to three names: Georgia OT Broderick Jones, Maryland CB Deonte Banks, and, of course, Wright. I’ll talk more about a potential trade-up scenario in a moment but those were the final three I considered here.

So why Wright? For a moment, forget about left tackle versus right tackle. Just think about scheme and fit. He’s a great one. His heavy hands, aggressive sets, good length (33 3/4 inch arms) and power/aggressive style, all things Pat Meyer covets in his offensive linemen. Wright has light feet and is athletic for the position and his size, though he plays a bit uncoordinated and with some forward lean.

What the team might like most about Wright is that he’s only 21 years old – Pittsburgh likes younger prospects – but has started 42 career games. That’s a rare combination of experience and youth compared to a Paris Johnson Jr. or Broderick Jones, who are young but essentially one-year starters. Wright has also displayed his versatility seeing 27 starts at right tackle, 13 at left tackle, and two at guard. Wright has all the traits the Steelers are attracted to for this system.

So what about the position? There’s no question a right tackle is messier than a left tackle in trying to make all the pieces fit. And there’s no doubt Wright’s best tape came last year at right tackle. It’s possible he’s just a natural right tackle but it’s also worth considering Wright has just matured and gotten better with time. Again, the dude is 21 years old. His growth should be exponential, not linear, and perhaps that just aligns with him developing from when he was a 19-year-old left tackle in the SEC. Wright has not played OT for a long time. He was a linebacker in youth football, didn’t play in middle school, and only began playing offensive tackle in high school. So he doesn’t have the roots some other players might. He’s literally been playing the position for about six years.

Pittsburgh will like Wright’s excellent performance against Will Anderson, a top EDGE rusher in the draft, even if the Volunteers’ scheme helped Wright do the job a little bit. They’ll like his sorta quiet and introspective demeanor but ability to flip the switch on the field and his background in general. That he’s a science junkie, loves to read and learn, and the adversity he’s overcome in his life, including the tragic death of his brother in 2016 (obviously not something to “like” but there’s a mental toughness aspect the Steelers hold in high regard). OL Coach Pat Meyer and Assistant GM Andy Weidl attended his Pro Day and Wright came in for a pre-draft visit to meet Tomlin and Khan. There’s enough boxes checked to consider him in the first round.

To wrap up a long-winded explanation, I do believe the Steelers will look to move up in the draft for a tackle. To go get Broderick Jones or heck, maybe even Wright himself, though that seems less likely. My gut is Omar Khan, in his first draft, wants to be aggressive and go get his go knowing there’s unique Day Two draft capital to spend. You can give up #49 and still have the top pick of the second round, potentially leveraging that and trading down. It’s a good place to be. Whether or not Pittsburgh can pull off a trade, I don’t know. No one knows. But that’s very much on the table.

Finally, while CB is a logical place to go at #17, and Pittsburgh will take one early, the depth of the class is so good compared to the lack of depth at OT that it makes more sense for the Steelers to take a tackle at 17 and get a corner in the 2nd round. There are enough guys they’ve looked at and like to justify it.

So Darnell Wright, you are a Steeler.

Darnell Wright Scouting Report

Others Considered: OT Broderick Jones, CB Deonte Banks, CB Joey Porter Jr.

ROUND 2 (#32 OVERALL): Tyrique Stevenson/CB Miami (FL) – 6000, 198 lbs.

Analysis: Pittsburgh’s not getting past its top two picks without a cornerback. They need one and preferably someone with some speed. Patrick Peterson is signed through next year but there’s no guarantee he plays in 2024 – in Pittsburgh, two-year deals are just one-year deals in disguise – while the rest of the players in the Steelers’ CB room have their contracts expiring after this season. Some of those guys will be retained, some you probably don’t want retained but still, it’s an uneasy situation.

So why not grab Stevenson, whom Ike Taylor called a “dog.” Why not grab Stevenson, who literally models his game after Patrick Peterson and can learn from the man himself this season? Why not get a physical corner who can tackle and drive on the three/five-step game? Pittsburgh brought him in for a visit so there’s obvious interest there. Stevenson could potentially see the field in nickel packages out of the gate. There were some maturity concerns early in his college career but he’s owned up to them and seems to have turned the corner. And by 2024, he could be the full-time starter. This might feel a little high but the CB run will hit at some point and Pittsburgh doesn’t want to be stuck with whoever is left. Their homework has been on the 1st/early 2nd-round guys.

Tyrique Stevenson Scouting Report

Others Considered: CB Julius Brents, EDGE Felix Anudike-Uzomah, OT Anton Harrison


Analysis: He’s back. I’m not 100% sure why but…he’s back. Though I don’t think interior help is a need this early, I can see the Steelers loving Cody Mauch. They gotta love this dude. If Pittsburgh wants to be physical and nasty and tough, that’s Mauch to a T. He had a good Senior Bowl week and there’s no doubt in my mind the team was impressed by his “compete” trait, getting work at all five spots after being a college left tackle. While he’s short-armed to play tackle, he’s got the size you want inside.

Some may think Mauch is too tall to play in the middle at center. But consider this: Maurkice Pouncey was 6044, just a half-inch shorter than Mauch. So the height isn’t a huge concern for him. Mauch is a tough-nosed run blocker who played in that style of offense at NDSU. And while Pittsburgh has rarely dipped into small-school waters over the last 20 years, especially this early; things could be different under Omar Khan. And Assistant GM Andy Weidl had two high-round picks from the Dakotas in his Eagles tenure in QB Carson Wentz and TE Dallas Goedert. He won’t be deterred by where Mauch went to school and while Weidl doesn’t have authority over the pick, he sets the board and could have some influence.

Mauch will begin as a guard/center while being able to fill-in as an emergency tackle. Again, I don’t see the need to take a guard/center this early five, 16.7%, of Pittsburgh’s 30 pre-draft visitors who are/projected to be guards or centers. I can’t ignore that fact. Keep that in mind as you’re yelling at me in the comments below.

Cody Mauch Scouting Report

Others Considered: EDGE Derick Hall, DL Keeanu Benton, ILB Jack Campbell

ROUND 3 (#80 OVERALL): Nick Herbig/ILB Wisconsin – 6021, 240 lbs.

Analysis: It’s fair to say we’d discuss Herbig a lot less had the Steelers not signed older brother Nate in the offseason. But you can’t ignore the sibling pairings the Steelers have had on the roster over recent years. The Watts, the Heywards, the Edmundses, the Davises. Look at a family tree and you can build the Steelers’ roster. So this isn’t a bad bet based on odds alone.

But Herbig isn’t here just for his surname. New Steelers LBs Coach Aaron Curry attended the Badgers’ Pro Day and there’s a strong correlation between Day Two draft picks and positional coaches. Herbig was a productive college EDGE, 30 TFL and 20 sacks across his last two seasons, though a lack of ideal size and length will kick him to an off-ball role. Still, there’s versatility to move him around on third down and he’s an angry, aggressive player with a hot motor who should make an immediate impact on special teams. Elandon Roberts may only be in Pittsburgh for a season and to be honest, I just don’t trust the Steelers’ track record with free agent inside linebackers. Coming to Pittsburgh feels like a kiss of death. Draft and develop instead of signing your problems away. So Herbig narrowly edges out the other two names I had in mind: Penn State’s Ji’Ayir Brown and Michigan’s Luke Schoonmaker.

Nick Herbig Scouting Report

Others Considered: S Ji’Ayir Brown, TE Luke Schoonmaker, WR Jayden Reed

ROUND 4 (#120 OVERALL): Karl Brooks/DT Bowling Green – 6033, 296 lbs.

Analysis: Karl Dunbar spent lots of time with Karl Brooks this pre-draft cycle and I’m not going to ignore it this year. Brooks may have some shades of DeMarvin Leal but Brooks is a more refined interior player with heavier hands and a better pass rush plan while weighing in at 20 pounds heavier.

After loading up on one-tech/base personnel players in Armon Watts and Breiden Fehoko in free agency, the Steelers could be more in the market for a three-tech pass rusher. That’s Brooks. His college production in the MAC was off the charts with 167 career tackles, 46 of them for a loss, and 27.5 sacks, including 10 of the latter last season. A former linebacker who can play out on the edge or inside, Brooks has active hands and chases hard after the football. He lacks length, didn’t test great at his Pro Day (he was sick), and needs to get stronger against the run but the Steelers have dipped into the MAC waters before. They could do it again. Drafting Brooks and the lack of an EDGE player would make DeMarvin Leal more of an EDGE guy, which works well because Leal is lighter but longer to handle tackles along the edge.

Karl Brooks Scouting Report

Others Considered: WR Parker Washington, CB/S Anthony Johnson (Iowa State), EDGE Yaya Diaby

ROUND 7 (#241 OVERALL): Lonnie Phelps/EDGE Kansas – 6023, 244 lbs.

Analysis: All offseason, I’ve been banging the drum for this team to add more EDGE help. But you can’t always get what you want. At least the team lands Phelps, who is off the radar in terms of Pittsburgh’s interest – I can’t just choose all the team’s pre-draft visitors, that’s no fun – and so I call my shot with Phelps. His size isn’t ideal but he’s a little bit longer to try and to play on the edge. He kinda reminds me of Quincy Roche but a better special teamer. Miami (OH) transfer to Kansas for his senior season and kept his production, finishing 2022 with 11.5 TFL and seven sacks, though a chunk of that came against lowly Tennessee Tech in the opener.

Phelps was an effective pass rusher and is an awesome special teamer. At the least, he can replace Jamir Jones as the #4 in that role – a better version of Jones – as the team probably searches for another veteran EDGE to sign while having Leal play in more of that standup role like he did for most of his rookie season.

Phelps, Leal, Roche, and whatever else gets thrown into that mix is better than the Malik Reed/Jamir Jones the Steelers planned with at the start of last season.

(Also: It’s worth noting DBs Coach Grady Brown was the National Team DC at the Senior Bowl with Phelps part of that team. So a minor connection there).

Lonnie Phelps Scouting Report

Others Considered: QB Jaren Hall, EDGE Thomas Incoom, OL Jerome Carvin

ROUND 7 (#251 OVERALL): Chamarri Conner/DB Virginia Tech – 6000, 202 lbs.

Analysis: Ending the draft with a versatile DB. Conner is a sneaky late-round pick who fits what Pittsburgh looks for. He’s versatile, aligning all over the Hokies’ defense, with a quick downhill trigger and a ton of hit power. He’s got some size with moderate production, though it waned later in his college career. Similar to Tre Norwood in 2021, Conner can fill a lot of roles in the secondary, though Conner is bigger and a far better and more impactful tackler. Conner also tested as a rock-solid athlete with a 9.16 RAS.

It’s worth noting Director of Pro Scouting Sheldon White, a high-ranking member of the front office, was at Virginia Tech’s Pro Day. And frankly, there weren’t a lot of other draftable prospects to watch. Some of that is due diligence and covering bases but White isn’t just an area scout. We only saw him at one other non-Pittsburgh school this year on the Pro Day trail, Wisconsin (which is all the more reason to put Herbig there).

Last note here. Conner is a highly established and effective special-teams player with over 800 snaps there. Four times, he wore the #25 jersey retired for Frank Beamer and only handed out to players who display stellar special-teams play. At the least, you’re getting a dude to play on teams with versatility and athleticism. My only worry is that he won’t make it this far.

Chamarri Conner Scouting Report

Others Considered: K B.T. Potter, S/CB Tanner Ingle, EDGE Robert Beal

I want to end with a quick list of undrafted free agents Pittsburgh could target. Just a random assortment of names I’ll throw out there. Just names who feel like they’ll be on the Steelers’ post-draft list. This is certainly not a complete list.

Kory Curtis/QB Gannon
Max Duggan/QB TCU
Holton Ahers/QB East Carolina
Grant Gibson/C NC State
Henry Pearson/TE Appalachian State
Garrett Kocab/NT Carroll College (MO)
Scott Matlock/DE Boise State (though I think he gets drafted)
Titus Leo/LB Wagner
Nick Anderson/LB Tulane
Justin Ford/CB-S Montana
Tariq Bracy/NCB Notre Dame
Jack Podlesny/K Georgia

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