2023 NFL Draft

Kozora: 2023 Pittsburgh Steelers’ Mock Draft (Version 3.0)

Cody Mauch

Back with my third Pittsburgh Steelers mock draft. It’s my penultimate one with my final predictions coming out the week of the 2023 NFL Draft. This one will look different than the past one and more and more, is based off what I think the Steelers will do, not necessarily what I would do if I was general manager.

As always, let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

Mock Draft Version 1.0
Mock Draft Version 2.0

ROUND 1 (#17 OVERALL): Brian Branch/DB Alabama – 5115, 190 lbs.

Analysis: Predicting the team’s first-round pick this year feels as difficult as any. No clear or obvious path or name. But here, I’ll go Branch, who checks every box the team has looked for in its past pre-draft process. He’s only 21, from the Power Five, productive, and Mike Tomlin/Omar Khan were at his Pro Day.

Branch is a little light but plays and hits bigger with tons of secondary versatility. Box, slot, deep half, centerfield, he can and has played it all. While he didn’t test as a remarkable athlete, the Steelers know the value of a heady Alabama DB well in Minkah Fitzpatrick, a player to whom Branch has drawn comps. Fitzpatrick is probably better in coverage and not quite the hitter but the skill sets have plenty of overlap.

After losing Cam Sutton, the Steelers are looking for hyper-versatility. There’s a need for help at SS and in the slot and Branch can plug all those holes. He and Damontae Kazee will give Pittsburgh options. He can play strong safety in base, kick to slot in sub, and will provide plenty of answers to the different offenses they’ll face each week.

Others Considered: CB Joey Porter Jr., OT Darnell Wright, DT Bryan Bresee

ROUND 2 (#32 OVERALL): Cody Mauch/OL North Dakota State – 6050, 302 lbs.

Analysis: This one may come as a bit of a shock. You’re not alone, I sorta feel the same way. Mauch doesn’t have the overwhelming size some of the other linemen Pittsburgh’s checked out in the pre-draft process and he’s generally viewed more of an interior offensive lineman at the next level. Despite Pittsburgh’s upgrades there, they continue to do homework along the interior, including bringing Mauch in for a pre-draft visit. It’s not often the Steelers bring in FCS-level players for visits and when they do, they tend to draft them. QB Chris Oladokun? A visit. DT Javon Hargrave? A visit. TE Rob Blanchflower? A visit. CB Cortez Allen? A visit.

Mauch showed his competitiveness at the Senior Bowl, playing all five positions. I think the Steelers would see him as a center to begin his NFL career, making him big for that position, and he’s a nasty run blocker who loves football. Don’t sleep on his athleticism either; he has a 9.32 RAS score as a tackle and a 9.88 score compared to centers. Pittsburgh doesn’t often dip its toes into small-school waters but the Bison have three draft-worthy prospects this year (TE Noah Gindorff and FB Henry Luepke the other two). Andy Weidl, who played at a small school, saw the Eagles draft a couple of them early while working there in QB Carson Wentz and TE Dallas Goedert. He won’t be shy about taking the chance on Mauch at 32.

Others Considered: OT Dawand Jones, CB Julius Brents, WR Josh Downs, CB DJ Turner

ROUND 2 (#49 OVERALL): Keeanu Benton/DT Wisconsin – 6036, 309 lbs.

Analysis: One of my guys throughout this entire pre-draft process, Benton entered the offseason as a later Day Two guy but exits it firmly in the second round. That’s been reflected on draftniks’ boards like Daniel Jeremiah, who recently included Benton inside his new list of top-50 prospects. And frankly, 49 could be argued as a little too low.

Benton is a strong nose tackle with the length Pittsburgh covets and good production. He can play up and down the line, shows quickness of the ball, uses his hands well, and was coached well while using his wrestling background to his advantage. He can help plug concerns at NT and 3T in one pick and is a perfect fit for Pittsburgh. He has been on the Steelers’ radar since before the Senior Bowl.

Others Considered: DL Mazi Smith, DT Gervon Dexter, CB Kelee Ringo

ROUND 3 (#80 OVERALL): Tyrique Stevenson/CB Miami (FL) – 6000, 198 lbs.

Analysis: Little later on corner here but it’s a deep class that allows Pittsburgh to wait and the team took a DB in Branch at #17. Stevenson, another pre-draft visitor, has good size and man-coverage ability and models his game after…current Steeler Patrick Peterson. He wasn’t a big-time playmaker in terms of turnovers but can tackle, play on special teams, and has matured throughout his college career. Good value here.

Others Considered: DL Karl Brooks, OG Chandler Zavala, OT Carter Warren

ROUND 4 (#120 OVERALL): Parker Washington/WR Penn State – 5100, 204 lbs.

Analysis: The first offensive skill player of the draft. Washington is a thickly built slot receiver with break tackle ability who offers a little different type of value than Calvin Austin III. He won’t be flashy or create a ton of big plays with his athleticism but he’ll do the dirty work over the middle. Pittsburgh’s had its eyes on a slot receiver in the middle rounds and he makes plenty of sense here. He also has youth on his side, just turning 21 last month.

Others Considered: NT Brodric Martin, WR Charlie Jones, S Daniel Scott

ROUND 7 (#234 OVERALL): K.J. Henry/EDGE Clemson – 6040, 251 lbs.

Analysis: Switching back to defense in the late rounds. Henry has the size and length (33-inch arms) to play on his feet in Pittsburgh. His production is relatively light and his testing was sub-par, though an injury has hampered his process. His three-cone time was 7.47, not the number you’re looking for with a guy who has to turn the corner. But he’ll add some depth to an outside linebacker room that still looks thin with Bud Dupree remaining unsigned. That could change right after the draft.

Others Considered: EDGE Lonnie Phelps, QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson, LB Nick Anderson

ROUND 7 (#241 OVERALL): Malik Knowles/WR-RET Kansas State – 6022, 196 lbs.

Analysis: Two receivers in one draft isn’t what most expect but Knowles is more than just a receiver. He isn’t the small/shifty receiver Austin is but brings tons of versatility. He can work as a receiver (127 career receptions for 14.7 YPC and 14 TDs) as a runner in the jet sweep game (36 rushes, 12.2 YPC, 4 TDs) and in the kick return game (27.7 average, 3 TDs). He showed good runaway speed on tape and can wear plenty of hats at the end of the Steelers’ roster, maximizing his spot on the team and odds to sticking on it. It comes in a bigger package but it’s sort of like Demarcus Ayers at the end of the 2016 draft.

Others Considered: TE Noah Gindorff, LB Ben VanSumeren, C Grant Gibson

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