2023 NFL Draft

Pavelle: 2023 Pittsburgh Steelers Mock Draft 10.0 (The Predictive One)

I must have flip-flopped on this Round 1 pick 193 times. Should it be CB Joey Porter Jr., or an Offensive Tackle? Back and forth, forth and back.

On the one hand, Porter is a worthy player at a premium position. This draft has a lot of those, but Porter carries extra value on the hearts and smarts front. Early round Corners bust out for one of two reasons: injury, or an above-the-neck limitation. The Steelers know Joey Deux so intimately that it isn’t a risk at all; just a bright line “yes” or “no.” I also rank the desire for a premium Corner higher than the desire for a Tackle. As I see things, the Steelers could easily go into the 2023 season with Moore and Okorafor as the starters, though I’d hope to see a Tackle picked anyway to serve as developmental depth. I understand that many will disagree, but you do you and I’ll do me.

An early OT also brings extra value beyond his skills; the intense competition he would bring to the room. The team’s true victory will come from better play, not any particular personnel. Competition will bring out the best in both the new guy and the established starters, which will all but guarantee that overall improvement. That’s a big win for the Steelers regardless of who ends up starting. And yet… leaving this draft without one or two hot young CBs to understudy Patrick Peterson? It would be a crime.

All else being equal… But I now doubt that Andy Weidl and Omar Khan will think the word “equal” applies.

Andy Weidl isn’t the GM, but he will be the one setting the Steelers draft board, which in turn controls who gets picked in all situations short of something he called a tie. Weidl’s history, and the offseason moves to date, prove that he strongly believes in building from the inside out. I’m sure he knows that bias and tries to control it, but it’s there. Linemen get a featherweight finger on the scale over players in the secondary.

As for Omar Khan, he is going into his first draft, and it’s one that features an unusual distribution at these two positions. The OT class is okay but it falls off a cliff after the first 6-7 names. No can’t-miss heroes at the top; three or four Top-20 talents, two or three Round 2 talents who might get pushed into the 1st; and then a yawning gulf until we reach the Round 3-4 prospects. Meanwhile, the Corners offer extraordinary depth from that Top 20 tier all the way through Round 3, with some likely Round 4 stragglers for security. Waiting until Round 2 for a Tackle could get you stiffed; waiting for a Corner will not.

I have finally settled on the Tackle-first approach because of those distributions, and because of the recent news that Dawand Jones’ visit to Pittsburgh was canceled. Jones was my #1 fallback guy for the pick at 2:01. Did his visit get canceled because he’s refused to dance the pre-draft pavane? If so, has he dropped off the Steelers board completely? Remember Mike Adams! Remember Zack Banner before he won his battle of the bulge! But what if it simply got moved to a Zoom call or something? Can I really assume the cancellation away like that? It’s a pickle because getting stiffed starts to look more likely than not if I can’t fall back on Jones. Especially now that I’ve started to believe the OT cliff could arrive even before Pick 32.

I pay extra attention to mocks where the organizer collects knowledgeable fans or journalists to represent their favorite teams. Sort of like the February Walk The Mock Draft Alex Kozora was in. All the recent ones seem to have around six Tackles going off the board in the top 31. Seven if you count O’Cyrus Torrence. This tells me the teams in the 20’s feel a pretty strong urge to grab any Tackle they can. If Dawand Jones is off the board… Yikes. I like Harrison and Bergeron just fine as pass protectors, but they seem to share Okorafor’s weakness in the run game. Not exciting even if they do fall to 32. Thus I predict the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2023 Round 1 pick will be:

1:17 – OT Darnell Wright, Tennessee

My board says that Wright offers solid value at this spot without being a steal. He started the draft process as a Round 2 prospect, and rose steadily from there as ever more boxes got checked. First, he looked really good at the Senior Bowl. Yep, the power was real. “And look at how well he adapted to Will McDonald IV. That kid bends the corner like Gumby on yoga pills, but Wright figured out a way to compensate…”

Second, I think the whole “blindside protector” thing has lost its force over the past decade. Look at where T.J. Watt lines up. And Von Miller. All modern OTs need to be excellent pass protectors, and teams can no longer afford to put a bigger-but-slower one on the right because that spot is “safer.” I don’t care which side Wright lines up on.

Third, deeper research showed that Wright’s performance against Gumby Man shouldn’t have been a surprise. The better and slicker the pass rusher, the more Darnell Wright rose to the occasion. Nick Saban finally gave up and shifted Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr. over to the other side of the defense. LSU’s B.J. Ojulari fared no better. And then I heard Darnell Wright’s Combine talk about his approach to pass blocking. That reassured me about the upstairs stuff. This is a young man who studies his craft and should take to coaching even better than his peers. Wright may not be a home run pick, but a good leadoff double will do just fine.

OT Darnell Wright, Tennessee (Senior) [Mtg. at Senior Bowl, Brass at Pro Day, Visit]. 6’5”, 333 lbs. with 33¾” arms and 9” hands. Turns 22 in August. He looks like your classic people-moving Right Tackle, but he has played both sides and his Combine talk proved his sophistication about the game beyond any doubt. He won the Senior Bowl OL Practice Player of the Week, in the course of which he built a relationship with Mike Tomlin, and earned specific interest on Pittsburgh’s part. See also Chandler Stroud’s gif-supported Depot scouting report describes a player who is big, long, strong, and smart enough to use all those assets well. He’s also a splendid athlete who mirrors well, which suggests that dropping some weight might give him extra movement skills and help with his endurance. Tends to get upright or be a waist bender when the gas tank runs low. Can be more of a technician than a bully despite his size. Has shown the ability to dig out stubborn opponents in the run game, and can reach, pin, and hold the edge quite well, but is less than good at pulling or climbing to the second level. Came in at #32 in Daniel Jeremiah’s initial Top-50 list and was all the way up to #17 in the March version. This scouting profile from the well-respected Brandon Thorn ends in a later-1st grade as an athletic and physical tone setter who would fit best in a downhill running game. The equally respected Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile ends in more of a Round 2 grade, seeing Wright as a pure RT who will eventually be a plus starter, but may take a few years to clean up his inconsistencies and internalize a more complicated NFL blocking scheme. Film guru Greg Cosell’s scouting profile takes time to describe Wright’s 2021 film as a college OT on his way to being an NFL Guard, and highlights how much better he was in final year: “Wright did a much better job overcoming his athletic and movement limitations, playing with calmer and more efficient footwork and balance, which allowed him to mirror and redirect more effectively. What consistently stood out was Wright’s strength to anchor versus speed to power, as he consistently stoned pass rushers.”

Pick 2:01 (#32 overall) – CB Deonte Banks, Maryland

First question: Will DT Bryan Bresee or CB/SAF Brian Branch fall to #32? Answer: No.

Second question: Will Omar Khan trade back? Answer: maybe, but it’s too uncertain to put in a predictive mock.

Third question: If six OTs really do get picked in Round 1, which of the other Round 1 talents could fall to Pick 32? Answer: CB Deonte Banks (Visit), EDGE Felix Anudike-Uzoma (Visit), or EDGE Will McDonald IV (Tomlin & Khan went to Iowa State just to see him, and took him out to dinner).

I would pick a pass rusher if I was GM. I think Andy Weidl will favor a pass rusher too in light of his build-from-the-trenches premise. Mike Tomlin might agree as well, since he builds his defense around pressuring the opposing QB. Too many fans are happy to get two good pass rushers and then move on to other concerns. It’s a huge mistake in my book. The #3 man in an Edge rotation is like the #3 starting pitcher. Add a potential ace at that spot and your team goes from good to dominant. Smoltz, Maddux, and Glavine, my friends. Some of us still remember.

So why should I even consider picking a Corner? It’s the volume of the need – for both a future CB1 to learn under Patrick Peterson, and a superior player to take over slot duties from Arthur Maulet. Bringing us right back to even. [Sigh] Back and forth, forth and back. Enough is enough. The Steelers Depot Big Board has Deonte Banks at HV 1:20, with both McDonald and FAU at HV 1:25. It isn’t much, but it is a difference. Done.

One final note about the player himself. Is there anyone left who doubts the value of Deonte Banks at this point in the draft? He’s been a fan- and pundit-level darling ever since he destroyed the Combine. I personally think those numbers are a little misleading because he didn’t do any of the agility tests, but I can live with it since those same COD questions apply to most of the other Corners that Pittsburgh has been bringing in for visits. If it bothers you (or more precisely, you think it would/should bother the Steelers), substitute in Kansas State CB Juju Brents. He’s the prospect I like better than his grade, which is already at 2:01. Check out this comparison; especially those agility numbers. They’re unheard of for a man of Brents’ stature:

I think the Steelers would prefer Banks, so he wins the tiebreaker. My war room vote would be a shrug. “We can’t lose with either one, but the man who did all the tests deserves some credit over those who skipped out on the hard ones.”

CB Deonte Banks, Maryland (RS Junior) [Mtg. at Combine, Visit]. 6’0⅛”, 197 lbs. with 31⅜” arms and 9⅜” hands. Turned 22 in March. A big, long, strong press man Corner who came in at #42 on Daniel Jeremiah’s initial Top-50 list (#28 in the March version) with the only complaint being just-average COD skills; which is still pretty amazing for a man this size if you think about it. Also adept in zone and off skills. Killed the Combine with a Top 1%(!) athletic profile that snuffed out all questions about his straight-line speed. He did not do the agility drills, however, and Alex Kozora’s gif-supported Depot scouting report suggests that this is exactly where his Achilles heel lurks. “Given his [hip] tightness, he’s an ideal fit in a [Seattle] Cover-3 scheme where he can carry and match routes vertically without having to break down and defend in-cuts.” Here is a good PFN scouting profile. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile notes that “He’s capable of matching the release and running with his opponent [but] struggles to play with poise and awareness when his back is to the football.” Has several blocked kicks to his credit. This Steelers-oriented, gif-supported scouting report names Banks as the obvious CB4 of the class behind Witherspoon, Porter and Gonzalez, and argues that he deserves to be seen as a longshot, emergency option for 1:17. Film guru Greg Cosell’s scouting profile offers no reason to disagree. “Overall, Banks is a higher-level outside corner prospect with a complete skill set, but especially the athletic and competitive traits demanded to play man coverage in the NFL.” Cosell makes a point of highlighting Banks’ high level play against even the best WRs he faced. “Banks’ snaps versus Marvin Harrison Jr. in the Ohio State game were fun to watch, with Banks winning some and at times getting beat, but you saw the competitiveness and physicality and overall coverage traits.”

Pick 2:18 (#49 overall) – C/G John Michael Schmitz (or Joe Tippmann, Cody Mauch, Steve Avila, and maybe Ricky Stromberg)

Let me be blunt. I do not like this pick. I would vastly prefer an Edge Rusher if McDonald, Anudike-Uzomah, or Derick Hall is here. I would also prefer DT Keeanu Benton, and maybe DT Gervon Dexter even though his visit to Pittsburgh also got canceled. Heck, I’d even prefer to get a midfield coverage player at this point: a double-dip to pick up a great slot-Corner, or maybe even Mack ILB Trenton Simpson. That young man has every measurable, and he can really cover; I only worry about whether he has the football IQ to start playing as a full-time ILB. But what can I say? This is a predictive mock, and the Steelers have spent a lot of time scouting the band of Round 2 Centers. I have to take them at their word. The decision as to which is pretty easy, since I have them clustered very close together.

Tippmann (Combine meeting) probably has the highest ceiling of the group, but isn’t as refined as he’ll need to be. He’s also young (turned 22 in March), and battle-tested because he faced DT Keeanu Benton in practice every day. Schmitz (Visit) is the most advanced of the group, could start tomorrow, and looked like a man among boys at the Senior Bowl. He turned 24 in March. Mauch (Visit) is a hugely athletic small-school Tackle with five-position flexibility. He is two months older than Schmitz. Avila (Visit) is a bit too Guardish for my personal taste, but his approach to the game meshes perfectly with that of Coach Meyer. He won’t turn 24 until October. And Stromberg (Combine meeting) could be described as a prospect very similar to Schmitz, but about a year behind as a player; and almost two years younger.

I name John Michael Schmitz as the Steelers pick because he has a very slightly higher grade than the rest. I wouldn’t be surprised to see any or all of the five on the board at Pick 49. Round 2 has a lot of other talent that will prevent any serious run on interior linemen. This is where teams will be racing to get the best WRs, RBs, TEs, and Safeties, in addition to all those great Corner prospects. Centers tend to fall anyway, so the odds are strong even for Schmitz.

Now to the important question. Why have the Steelers been looking at so many Centers in the first place? Hasn’t Mason Cole played well enough to earn a starting job? And aren’t positions like ILB, DT3 and OLB3 obvious and bigger needs? I put myself into the Khan/Weidl shoes to figure it out, and came up with two potential explanations. First, 2023 offers a particularly strong group of Round 2 Centers, all with rare size and very good leadership skills. These prospects offer good, solid value even if they aren’t “steals.” Who knows if next year’s class will be even close? And second, I smell a certain desire to finish the OL rebuild once and for all. “Let’s just get this done so the team can build around the O-line for the next several years.” Call it a matter of team building philosophy winning out over need.

Adding Darnell Wright will fill out the Tackle room just as you’d like to write it up. Three young, talented contestants fighting for the two starter bones, which will make all of them better, faster. Starters solved, with a hungry #3 as depth. The Guards already have two high-quality veterans to anchor the unit, and quality depth in Nate Herbig. That leaves only the pivot; manned ably enough by Mason Cole, but even better once the high-ceiling draft pick settles in. Young and strong across the board, and an ideal foundation to build around.

I get it, and I might even agree if I followed that abstract philosophy of team building. I don’t. I favor a purer version of the “BPA at positions of need” mantra, with a nod toward “Defense First.” But c’est la vie. I predict that Omar and Andy will give my opinion all the vast weight it deserves, and then pick a Center regardless.

C/G John Michael Schmitz, Minnesota (Senior). [Mtg. at visit] 6’3¾”, 301 lbs. with very short 32⅝” arms and 9½” hands. Turned 24 in March. Team captain. An extremely safe pick, Schmitz is one of the best IOL prospects in the draft at both Guard and his native Center position. Big and strong enough to handle even AFC North NT’s, and excellent at reach- and other forms of angled, get-in-the-way blocks. Not crazy athletic like Pouncey or DeCastro, but still above average. Schmitz was probably the single best player at the Senior Bowl regardless of position; to my eye he looked like a pro playing against college kids. Some have compared him to 2021 draft favorite Creed Humphrey. Indeed, the main knock against Schmitz would be that he’s actually a few months older than Humphrey, who would be entering his Year 3 while Schmitz is a rookie. Has he topped out? According to Daniel Jeremiah’s March Top-50 list, “Sources at the school rave about his leadership.” Jon Heitritter, in a particularly good gif-supported scouting report, prefers a comp to the Titans’ Ben Jones, who got picked in Round 4 of the 2012 draft but outplayed his draft position by enough to [finally] make the Pro Bowl in 2023. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile mirrors Jon’s, describing Schmitz as a rare plug-and-play prospect with a skill set reminiscent of (you guessed it) Ben Jones. Care to guess at the comp used in the scouting profile by OL expert Brandon Thorn? You wouldn’t be wrong. This goes to a Senior Bowl interview with Jonathan Heitritter.

Pick 3:17 (#80 overall) – CB Riley Moss, Iowa

Can we agree to remove the designation “Cornerback”, and replace it with “Slot/Nickel/Midfield Coverage Expert?” That is where the need lies, and what this pick will accomplish. Yes, the ideal answer for the perfect world would be a cover-capable Mack ILB. Ain’t gonna happen with this class. The best of them is Trenton Simpson, discussed above. He can cover well enough, upside would offer fair value here in Round 3, but no more than that. Plus the scarcity of talent will probably make him a Round 2 pick in any event.

Option “b” in the midfield coverage unit falls to the nominal box Safety. Keanu Neal has that covered, which limits the value of adding another. That leaves the slot-Corner position currently manned by Arthur Maulet. I have a pretty strong impression of Maulet. He is a tough, smart, team-centered football player who I’d love to meet for dinner. An admirable young man – but not much more than a stopgap on the field. Could his spot be upgraded? Oh my, yes. That giant bubble of Cornerback talent won’t peter out until Round 4. I see actual bargains for a Round 3 slot-Corner, not just fair value.

My dream pick would be CB Garrett Williams, a Round-1 talent who can play inside and outside like a better version of Cam Sutton. It could happen too, because Williams tore an ACL in October and probably won’t take a single snap in his rookie year. My #2 dream would be Clark Phillips II, who is widely acknowledged as the best slot Corner in the draft. I can’t “predict” either because the odds are too slim. But I do see two very good prospects who could easily be available at this spot: (A) Tre’vius Hodges-Tomlinson, the 5’8″ coverage expert who won the 2022 Jim Thorpe Award (best college DB) despite his 5’8” stature; and (B) Riley Moss, a widely underrated prospect who could start his career in the slot, and still slide outside on an as-needed basis.

I’ve been doing draft analysis for a great many years. In all that time my two biggest mid-round CB crushes were Cam Sutton and Ross Cockrell. Riley Moss rings an awful lot of Cam Sutton bells with his diverse skill set, sneaky athleticism, toughness, versatility, and extremely high IQ. Lance Zierlein is the one who compared him to Ross Cockrell. I think Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson fits the specifications for a slot-Corner better, but those are darned good points.

CB Riley Moss gets the nod because of all the interest he’s received from the Steelers brass. That cannot be said of Hodges-Tomlinson, though no one can doubt he’s on their radar too.

CB Riley Moss, Iowa (Senior) [Mtg. at Dinner, Brass at Pro Day]. 6’0⅝”, 193 lbs. with 30” arms and 9½” hands. Turned 23 in March. A genuine ball hawk who challenges receivers but doesn’t deal well with double moves in man coverage. Should fit best with a zone heavy team, which Pittsburgh is not. Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile compares his skill set to Ross Cockrell, except that Moss is a much better athlete. The Combine testing showed him to be a top 2%(!) athlete but without the agility drills that we most wanted to see… at which point he put up an elite 3-cone time too during his Pro Day. Jonathan Heitritter’s gif-supported Depot scouting report (Round 4 grade) also sees him fitting best in a zone-heavy defense with occasional off-man duties, and predicts that he will start his career as a backup CB and special teams ace. The scouting report by film guru Greg Cosell is a lot more optimistic. “[Moss] has good size with plus athleticism and a competitive and physical toughness that comes through in every game you watch. Moss is much more smooth and fluid than twitchy and sudden in his movement, and that is what makes some believe that he cannot line up at outside corner in the NFL. But a close study of his 2022 tape shows he has the traits needed to play outside. He was consistently efficient playing mirror match press man coverage, with the smooth transition to open his hips and the top-end speed to stay connected to receivers on vertical routes, with a great feel for when to turn and locate the ball (he has excellent ball skills). He was outstanding in zone coverage, playing with great awareness and eye discipline of route concepts-combinations and the quarterback…  Overall, Moss did not have any issues playing mirror match press man versus [Marvin Harrison Jr. or any of the other] Ohio State wide receivers.”

Pick 4:18 (# 120 overall) – EDGE/TEAMS Zach Harrison, Ohio State

Targets down: OT, boundary CB, CTR, and slot DB. That leaves the following holes:

  1. A draft-value steal at any position.
  2. Defensive Tackle. I can see several good Nose Tackles here, which would have been great if the team hadn’t brought in pure NT Breidon Fehoko and the NT-capable Armon Watts. Now the only target would be someone like another Loudermilk pick.
  3. EDGE. The gulf yawns wide. Who will be the OLB3 now that all the potential starters are gone? And is Leal viable as the OLB4?
  4. Mack ILB and Safety. Moss fills one of the midfield CB roles, but there is still room for players with a bit more thump – especially since they make great special teamers. The Steelers have left lots of casual fingerprints on this group (Combine interviews and the like) but haven’t shown any targeted interest.
  5. Tight End. Great as it is, this class hasn’t earned a lot of attention from the Steelers. Alas. But Gentry is only on a 1-year deal, so genuine steals would not be ignored.
  6. Wide Receiver. The team carefully studied several Round 3 prospects, and then traded for Allen Robinson instead. In Round 4, at this point, it is Jayden Reed (visit), Charlie Jones (visit), or bust. A return man makes sense later on.

Harrison fits a lot of Steeler stereotypes. Major school, good experience, team captain, young, position of need, top-notch measurables… It would be too good to be true if the scouting profiles didn’t unanimously complain that his on-field demeanor looked “gradual,” “robotic,” “casual,” “lacking in urgency,” etc. The Steelers Depot scouting report ends in a Round 5 grade, and a prediction that Harrison may stick in the league but most likely as a depth/rotational Edge who will bounce from team to team. You know what? That sounds more like a Round 4 verdict to me, especially for a team with so little in the way of depth to begin with. Accuse me of picking by position if you must, but it still makes sense. DeMarvin Leal Mark II.

Will he fall to Round 4? That’s the tough call, so treat this as a model more than a specific name. The Steelers also met with TCU’s Dylan Horton at the Combine, and had Georgia’s Robert Beal in for a visit.

EDGE Zach Harrison, Ohio St. (Senior) [Mtg. at Pro Day Dinner]. 6’5½”, 274 lbs. with astonishing 36¼” arms (!) and 10” hands. Turns 22 in August. Team captain. A top 15% athletic profile headlined by the explosion tests and held back by poor agility scores. Harrison is a 4-3 DE with fabulous length that he knows how to use, and 5 star athleticism, but held back by what Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com scouting profile calls “his gradual movement and lack of playmaking urgency”. A top 15% athletic profile headlined by the explosion tests, and held back by poor agility scores. And yet he was a team captain? Something doesn’t quite jibe. This bullet point scouting profile is just one many that complain about a tardy reaction to the snap and “robotic” movements at times. Jonathan Heitritter’s gif-supported Depot scouting report compares Harrison to Taco Charlton; another tremendous athlete with very similar physical and stylistic tools. Charlton was drafted in Round 1 back in 2017 but could never find a way to turn his potential into reality, and has bounced around the league as a depth/rotational Edge. Jon suggests a Round 5 grade based on fears of a similar path.


  • Detroit Lions receive Guard Kevin Dotson. My potential sweetener would be a contingent 2024 pick that disappears if Dotson plays significant snaps in 2023. Add Kendrick Green if that still isn’t enough.
  • Pittsburgh Steelers receive this Round 5 pick in the 2023 draft.

Just to be clear, I am not predicting this particular exchange. I’m expressing my believe that Kevin Dotson will be dealt away in some kind of a draft-related trade, and suggesting this spot as just about the right value in a straight player-for-pick scenario.

Dotson is only 26 years old, has been a starting Guard for more than 30 games, and has had his fair share of brilliant flashes. He excels at Job #1 for an NFL Guard: move this gigantic man to that spot against his will. The controversy comes from the maddening mental gaffes, not anything else, and they have been slowly shrinking. A potential buyer will also appreciate the fact that he’s passed the omnipresent bust factor for all young men who suddenly come into NFL levels of wealth, fame, and adult responsibilities. That alone makes him a safe investment.

Omar Khan’s 2023 free agency moves have made Kevin Dotson into a 5th wheel, surplus player that many fans are willing to throw out with the proverbial bathwater. NFL teams in need of a Guard will see that very differently, and I’m 99% sure that Khan does too. Why else would the Steelers keep him on the roster instead of letting him pursue free agency? There is value there, and I firmly believe that Omar Khan means to cash it in through some kind of draft-day maneuver. It may be the price for a short trade up of the sort described in my If I was the GM mock, but it could also be a direct player-for-pick transaction. Round 5 is my best estimate of what the latter could bring in.

Pick 5:17 (# 152 overall) – SAF/TEAMS Daniel Scott, California

The actual target here could be better described as, “An ILB or Safety who will excel on special teams.” Daniel Scott fits that bill to perfection, and the Steelers brought him in for a visit. Kismet.

S Daniel Scott, California (RS Senior) [Mtg. at Visit]. 6’0⅞”, 208 lbs. with 30¼” arms and 10” hands. Turns 25 in October. Team captain. Compiled a tremendous top 1-2% athletic profile at the Combine. As Lance Zierlein says in the NFL.com scouting profile, “his age could hurt his chances with some teams, but his athleticism and four-phase special teams background will help him with others.” Here is an interview he did with Alex Kozora during the Combine. Jonathan Heitritter’s gif-supported Depot scouting report concludes, “His best spot in the league would be as a single-high/split zone safety where he can play with the ball in front of him and come downhill to make plays and undercut routes. He can dabble some in the slot and near the box, but his lack of physicality and reliability in man coverage could get him exposed.”

Pick 7:24 (#241 overall) – WR/KR/TEAMS Thayer Thomas, North Carolina State

It’s always good to give your young QBs another toy, and the Steelers really do need a return specialist. I thought long and hard about going with the guy who starred at a major program. That would be TCU’s Derius Davis. But a malicious ear worm intervened just as I started to pencil him in:

He. Is. An… Itsy bitsy, teeny weeny, punt returning speed machiney
Who can score from very far away.
An itsy bitsy, teeny weeny, punt returning speed machiney
Who might get smashed on any given play.

Consider yourself infected. Do you really see the team investing in yet another ultra-miniature, 5’8”, 165 lb. speed merchant? 180, sure. 160? No. Just no. I give the man full points for true physical courage. Can you imagine being that size and going out on an NFL field? Wow. But in the end, I can’t get over the belief our front office would prefer some extra mass.

Thayer Thomas has a far lower grade than Davis on every board I’ve seen. He is also much older than the Steelers usually like, and he played against a vastly inferior level of competition. But the Steelers would not have brought him in for a visit if those were deal killers, and at 6’0” 195 lbs. he has the frame to survive the NFL rough and tumble. And who knows? Maybe he could even provide some depth in the slot.

WR/KR Thayer Thomas, N. Car. St. (RS Senior) [Mtg. at Pro Day, Visit]. 6’0”, 195 lbs. with 30⅛” arms and 8⅞” hands. Turns 25 in May. Combine snub. A special teams ace for punt/kick returns and coverage alike. Exceptional quickness and excellent hands. Moderate to good speed. A multi-sport athlete who was drafted by the Red Sox as an outfielder. As a WR he would be a classic quicker-than-fast slot receiver whose mid-round grade is pulled down by his age and his limited set of physical tools. Younger brother Drake is also in the draft as an ILB (Round 7 grade). The Sports Illustrated scouting profile lauds his route running skill and includes a quote about being “above the 1% line when it comes to work ethic.” This February scouting summary starts with the line, “Thayer Thomas screams Bill Belichick draft pick.” This goes to an article about his meetings with the Steelers. Here is a nice interview from March. This late March article from a local news source is about Thayer and brother Drake’s pro day. The gif-supported Depot scouting report by Tyler Wise (UDFA grade) calls Thomas “a name to watch” for one of the Round 7 picks, identifying “his toughness, reliability as a pass catcher, willingness to go over the middle,… experience, versatility as a gadget player,… strong work ethic and special-teams ability” as the assets that would overcome the lack of size, speed, and burst. You can definitely see the point. That’s a pretty long list.

Pick 7:34 (# 251 overall) – ILB/TEAMS Nick Anderson, Tulane

Finally an ILB! Well, it wasn’t for lack of trying. Nick Anderson’s problems fit neatly on a tape measure. He stands 5’10” rather than 6’3”, and has short limbs even for his height. But he’s also a team captain with the words football player stamped his DNA. Here in Round 7 that’s as good as I can hope to get.

ILB Nick Anderson, Tulane (Senior). 5’10”, 225 lbs. with short 30” arms and small 8⅝” hands. Team captain. Read this good-looking February scouting profile and you’ll get a solid idea. Anderson is a high energy, very smart, intense football player with good all-around skills, held back by a lack of size and length. Supposed to be an ideal locker room guy. Bound to excel on special teams if nothing else. This Giants-oriented, clip-supported scouting report reinforces that description, and ends in something like a Round 5 grade. This goes to a January Sports Illustrated interview, and this link takes you to a thorough USA Today interview/article by a Saints writer who followed Anderson’s career (Tulane is in New Orleans).


This mock was an exercise designed to track the Steelers fingerprints on each position group, judge the round where the prospects at those positions should be picked, and name an example we know the team has met with. It worked too. I found a match at every stage until the final pick at the end of Round 7. It isn’t the draft that I would have chosen – particularly at Pick #49, with extra questions about the 25-year-olds in Rounds 5 and 7. Nevertheless, I think it is a solid guess at how the Steelers would like the draft to go.

Do you like the result? If so, great. If not, blame it on Omar and Andy for failing to listen when I told them how to spend that 2b pick a little more wisely. Some people just refuse to accept wise counsel. [Sigh]

Pick 1:17 – OT Darnell Wright, Tennessee (with Broderick Jones or Paris Johnson as preferred options)

Pick 2:01 (# 32 overall) – Boundary CB Deonte Banks, Maryland (with Juju Brents as the fallback)

Pick 2:18 (# 49 overall) – C/G John Michael Schmitz, Minnesota (with the other top Centers as fallbacks)

Pick 3:17 (# 80 overall) – Inside/Outside CB Riley Moss, Iowa (with Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson as the fallback)

Pick 4:18 (# 120 overall) – EDGE/TEAMS Zach Harrison, Ohio State (with Dylan Horton and Robert Beal as fallbacks)

TRADE Pick 5:17 (# 152 overall) – SAF/TEAMS Daniel Scott, California

Pick 7:24 (# 241 overall) – WR/RETURNER/TEAMS Thayer Thomas, N.C. State

Pick 7:34 (# 251 overall) – ILB/TEAMS Nick Anderson, Tulane

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