Steelers Address Key Needs In Three-Round Mock Draft From ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., Todd McShay

Eight days. That’s all that is left between now and the start of the 2023 NFL Draft.

Knowing that, some of the biggest names in the NFL Draft world are ramping up their schedules to get out the final mock drafts of the 2023 cycle. That includes ESPN’s Todd McShay and Mel Kiper Jr..

On Tuesday, the pair released their three-round dueling mock draft in which the duo alternated picks through three rounds. In the exercise, Kiper Jr. and McShay came away with a rather impressive haul for the Steelers with the four picks in the first three rounds.

At No. 17 overall, Kiper was on the clock for the Steelers and stuck with his previous pick in his own mock draft, selecting Boston College wide receiver Zay Flowers. Kiper paired the Steelers with Flowers despite the fact that names like Georgia EDGE Nolan Smith, Penn State cornerback Joey Porter Jr. and Maryland cornerback Deonte Banks were still on the board.

“What a landing spot for one of my favorite prospects in this class. Flowers can play inside or outside, and he can make defenders miss after the catch. The Steelers can fill their need at cornerback in Round 2,” Kiper writes. 

Flowers was a standout for the Eagles with 200 receptions for 3,056 yards and 29 touchdowns in four seasons in Chestnut Hill. His senior season year he racked up 78 receptions for 1,077 yards and 12 touchdowns while dealing with a mess of a quarterback situation. There’s no doubt that Flowers is one of the top receivers in the draft, and he’s up there with the top slot option with Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba. Flowers was also mentioned as a name to watch at No. 32 by ESPN draft analyst Matt Miller last week.

It’s a curious selection though as the Steelers would be better served getting a receiver on Day 2 or early on Day 3, rather than spending a premium pick on Flowers at No. 17 overall.

Following Kiper’s pick at No. 17, McShay was on the clock for Pittsburgh at No. 32 overall. He got the draft back on track for the Steelers, grabbing Alabama safety/cornerback hybrid Brian Branch to open the second round.

“DJ Turner (Michigan) would also be a good get for the cornerback room here, but I really love Branch’s versatility. Pittsburgh could line him up over the slot as a rookie, before dropping him to safety down the road,” McShay writes.

While at Alabama playing the star role under head coach Nick Saban — a position current Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick played at Alabama before becoming a first-round pick — Branch was a highly productive, versatile piece. He finished his career with 172 total tackles and four sacks, three of which came in his junior year in 2022. It was by far Branch’s most productive season as he racked up 90 total tackles, 14 tackles for a loss, three sacks and two interceptions. He also had seven pass deflections last fall for the Crimson Tide.

Getting him to open the second round of the draft would be incredible value for the Steelers.

At No. 49 overall, Kiper Jr. was back on the clock for the Steelers. He addressed the need in the trenches, landing Oklahoma left tackle Anton Harrison at No. 49 overall, stating that the Sooners stalwart could challenge Dan Moore Jr. for the starting job in Pittsburgh right away.

At 6-foot-5, 315 pounds, Harrison has the size and overall length to be a building block in the trenches, especially from a pass protection standpoint. He has sound movement skills and mirrors very well in pass protection, though his functional strength in the run game remains a concern.

In 862 snaps in 2022 with the Sooners, Harrison allowed just one sack, with 803 snaps coming at left tackle and another 59 at right tackle. He earned a grade of 72.6 overall from Pro Football Focus, including an 83.3 in pass protection and a 67.7 in run blocking.

On top of allowing just one sack, Harrison allowed just eight total pressures on the season in 447 pass blocking reps, improving greatly from his sophomore season in 2021.

Rounding out the dueling mock draft, McShay was on the clock for the Steelers at No. 80 overall. He selected Washington State linebacker Daiyan Henley for the Black and Gold, addressing depth and play-making at the inside linebacker position after an offseason in which the Steelers completely overhauled the position.

“After Devin Bush didn’t work out in Pittsburgh, the Steelers signed Cole Holcomb in March. But the linebacker depth isn’t great, and Henley has the burst to make plays,” McShay writes.

Here’s what Steelers Depot’s own Jonathan Heitritter wrote about Henley in his draft profile for the site:

“Daiyan Henley is an athletic linebacker that excels in coverage and has speed to make plays in the open field. He has a great frame that is chiseled, making him look the part of an off-ball linebacker. However, Henley is still learning the nuances of the position when it comes to consistently playing in the box, making his read, and triggering to the football. He must get better at stacking and shedding blocks, consistency tackling, and showing more physicality in his overall game to be relied upon as a heavy snap contributor on defense.”

Overall, it’s a solid haul for the Steelers through three rounds, though the selection of Henley could have been better used on a legitimate cornerback such as Syracuse’s Garrett Williams or TCU’s Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson. That would have been double-dipping in a sense with Branch already a selection at No. 32 overall. Williams and Hodges-Tomlinson were still on the board after the Steelers’ third-round selection.

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