Day One of the 2023 NFL Draft is in the books. But the Pittsburgh Steelers are already on the clock. The Steelers hold the top pick of the second round, 32nd overall, and the board is looking pretty good for Pittsburgh. Barring any trades, the Steelers will be making two additional picks Friday at #49 and #80.
So who makes sense for Pittsburgh? Who could they have their eye on? We’ll run through a handful of names.
Jonathan Mingo/Ole Miss – There isn’t a high degree of likelihood the Steelers will be taking a wide receiver on Day Two, especially after dealing for veteran WR Allen Robinson II. But if you want to focus on one receiver, it’s Mingo. While I don’t agree with the Deebo Samuel comparisons he’s received, Mingo is a big body, terrific blocker and will work well out of the slot.
Pittsburgh showed interest in Mingo, bringing him in for a visit. While some believe he’s a mid-round pick, he has a good chance to go in the second round, especially with a handful of receivers coming off the board on Day One instead of dropping into Day Two. He won’t be the pick at #32 but assuming he’s there at #49, crazier things have happened, even if Mingo’s odds of being taken that early are low. The Steelers love their second/third round wideouts. Tennessee’s Cedric Tillman is another name to offer up.
Darnell Washington/Georgia – The Steelers showed mild interest in tight ends before re-signing Zach Gentry. But they only brought in one for a pre-draft visit – Georgia’s Darnell Washington. While this is a strong tight end class, Washington is a 1 of 1 type of player. Long and physical and an impressive run blocker, he can be a true in-line tight end with moments of freakish athleticism, hurdling Oregon CB Christian Gonzalez on one play in the fall. On tape, Washington is a little more clunky and straight line-ish but he’ll still be a mismatch down the seam. Drafting him would make for a great one-two punch with Pat Freiermuth and strongly suggest the team will run more 12 personnel to reflect their run-oriented style.
With fewer tight ends off the board than expected in Round One, Washington may last to #49. But his unique skill set separates him from the other pass catchers in the draft, making it hard to predict where he’ll go.
Interior Offensive line
John Michael Schmitz/C Minnesota – If the Steelers want a center, they can find one on Day Two. I could list multiple names here, including Wisconsin’s Joe Tippmann and TCU’s Steve Avila (who has played more guard but also logged time at the pivot) along with Schmitz. Schmitz is a natural center who came in for a pre-draft visit. He’s mean and physical and more athletic on tape than how he tested during a strong Senior Bowl week. Mason Cole was just fine in the middle last year but Pittsburgh lacks a backup and arguably a long-term fixture there. It’s hard to see them taking a center over a defensive back at 32 but perhaps Schmitz drops to 49. Day One certainly affirmed that the draft is always full of surprises.
Cody Mauch/OG-C North Dakota State – A left tackle in college, a lack of length likely pushes him inside at the next level. Mauch is known for being “toothless and ruthless” for missing his front two teeth (knocked out during a basketball game in junior high) and his tenacious run blocking. He also tested as an A+ athlete and played in a run-heavy system like the one Pittsburgh’s trying to build. At the Senior Bowl, he took practice snaps at all five positions, showing a compete level that’ll impress Pittsburgh. Mauch also came in for a visit, the only FCS-level player to do so. That’s notable.
Keeanu Benton/Wisconsin – An obvious Steelers fit, he’s a name we’ve discussed for months. A height/weight/length player who can play up and down the line, Benton even told us at the Senior Bowl that the Steelers said he was on their radar. With quick hands and ability to beat centers 1v1, Benton is tough and uses his high school wrestling background well to maintain his leverage. He’s smart and well-coached in that Wisconsin system that’ll be attractive to the Steelers. Benton also came in for a pre-draft visit. He could be the pick at #32 or #49.
Gervon Dexter/Florida – Though there’s been less buzz on Dexter, who never came in for a visit despite saying he had one, there’s still reason to believe he could in Pittsburgh’s plans. He’s athletic and has size, though not ideal length, and if he improves his snap-timing, could become an effective pass rusher. There’s also a connection to DL Coach Karl Dunbar whose son Karmichael is a Strength and Conditioning coach at Florida. So Pittsburgh might have some inside intel. If Pittsburgh wants to bet on traits, they could look at Dexter at #49, possibly pick #80, or even a trade-back scenario where the Steelers move down from 49 and acquire some extra selections.
Keion White/Georgia Tech – White doesn’t seem like an ideal fit but he goes 6’5, 281 with long 34-inch arms. Super athletic and fluid, he largely played on the edge in college but has a frame to add weight. Still, his anchor is poor and he’s a projection to consistently play inside. He’s on the list for the fact Pittsburgh brought him in for a visit. And with an invite to the draft, even knowing he wasn’t taken on Day One, he’s likely to go within the top 15-20 selections of Friday night.
Tuli Tuipulotu/USC – EDGE rushers Pittsburgh showed interest in this year felt light and some of the names are already off the board, like Kansas State’s Felix Anudike-Uzomah, who went 31st to the Kansas City Chiefs. Tuipulotu came in for a pre-draft visit. He plays with heavy hands, a hot motor, and aligned all over the Trojans’ front, even playing some one-tech. Coming from a defense that got creative and asked him to stunt, the demands of the Steelers’ defense won’t be too big for him and he’s a power EDGE who can force the ball back inside against the run. He could be the guy at #80.
I’ll still hold out hope the team secretly loves Auburn’s Derick Hall too. My dreams will probably be crushed tomorrow.
Joey Porter Jr./Penn State – A long list of names you could slide here. Almost as long as Joey Porter’s arms. A surprise pick to slip entirely out of the first round, Porter seems like a gift into the Steelers’ lap. A viable option at #17, he makes a ton of sense here at #32. Pittsburgh is going to grab a corner sooner than later and their familiarity with Porter is obvious. In a man-heavy system, he’s a strong fit.
Tyrique Stevenson/CB Miami (FL) – Another name worth mentioning and one Ike Taylor sounds high on. Stevenson is also a press corner who defends the quick game well and will come up and hit you. He was brought in for a pre-draft visit. There were a couple of reports and mocks the Steelers were big on Stevenson’s game. He could be an option at 32 or 49 on Day Two.
Julius Brents/Kansas State – With one scout calling him “Joey Porter light,” Brents has a rare blend of size, length, and athleticism though he lacks top-end speed. Still, his 34-inch arms help him close on the football, and he will come downhill and tackle and shows fluidity in his turn. Like Porter, Brents can panic and get grabby but the traits are impressive. He’s also a little more comfortable in off and zone than Porter.
DJ Turner/Michigan – Turner was off our radar for most of the pre-draft process, the team seemingly not showing much interest in him. But the night before the draft, we found out that DBs Coach Grady Brown attended the Wolverines’ Pro Day. There’s been a strong correlation between positional coach attendance and the team’s Day Two picks. Turner ran the fastest 40 at the Combine, a 4.26, and has inside/outside versatility. An option at #32 or #49.
Ji’Ayir Brown/Penn State – A versatile player who does his best work closer to the line of scrimmage, Brown’s college production was as varied as it was impressive. In 2021, he tied for the NCAA lead with six interceptions. In 2022, he led all NCAA DBs in tackles for a loss with seven of them while forcing a pair of fumbles. A relentless effort player, he could fill a variety of holes in the Steelers’ secondary. Grady Brown and DC Teryl Austin attended his Pro Day. A name to watch at #80.
Brian Branch/Alabama – If it’s not Porter at #32, then Branch could be Pittsburgh’s guy. A slot corner/safety, he has extreme versatility and hits a lot harder than his 190-pound listing might suggest. He can play underneath zone and jump routes while filling the alley against the run. And you’d get a couple of Alabama DBs playing next to each other.
Not a player but a move. With the Steelers sending their fourth-round pick to the Patriots for Broderick Jones, they currently pick in the third round at #80 and not again until the seventh round, #241. That’s a span of 161 picks and there’s no chance GM Omar Khan sits and twiddles his thumbs for that long in his first draft. I don’t know how it could happen — they could trade down from any of their current picks — but the Steelers are going to make a move down to bridge that Grand Canyon-gap. If there’s one thing to be certain about, it’s that.