Steelers Paired With High-Upside Pass Rusher In Charles Davis’ Latest Mock Draft

It’s no secret that the Pittsburgh Steelers have a pressing need for depth behind the likes of T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith at outside linebacker. But is that need great enough for the franchise to address it in first round of the 2023 NFL Draft?

NFL Network analyst Charles Davis certainly believes so. He paired the Steelers with Georgia EDGE Nolan Smith at No. 17 overall in his latest mock draft Thursday morning.

“Alex Highsmith just enjoyed a breakout year for the Steelers with 14.5 sacks, but he’s in the final year of his rookie deal. Edge rushers are the motor that drives Pittsburgh’s defense,” Davis writes on why he paired the Steelers with Smith.

Smith is an absolute freak for the position, that much is true.

His showing at the 2023 NFL Scouting Combine was rather absurd. Guys Smith’s size shouldn’t be moving that fast, jumping that high or far, and yet there was Smith doing just that in Indianapolis.

While it’s a curious selection at No. 17, grabbing a third outside linebacker, Smith is a versatile defensive chess piece who could play off the ball in Pittsburgh, too, seeing some snaps on the inside as well. The Steelers still need some help there behind new free-agent signees Elandon Roberts and Cole Holcomb.

The edge position is the straw that stirs the drink defensively for the Steelers. That was readily apparent after Watt went down with an injury late in the fourth quarter of the Week 1 overtime win over the Cincinnati Bengals. He missed seven weeks before returning in Week 10 against the New Orleans Saints.

Steelers Depot’s own Jonathan Heitritter graded Smith as a day-two selection, a medical designation planting him roughly in the third round in his draft profile for the site: 

“He has shown to be a quality run defender and represents himself well in coverage situations, but his lack of prototypical size, weight, and length will present a challenge of defeating blocks at the next level against bigger, longer offensive linemen,” Heitritter analyzed in his player profile. “He wins with more effort and pure athleticism as a pass rusher at this point rather than with technique, thus he will need to add to his repertoire to make an impact in that facet of the game at the next level.”

Smith doesn’t have the prototypical size for the EDGE position in Pittsburgh, though the production is certainly there. It would be a hard sell to draft a rotational third pass rusher in the first round with so many other needs the Steelers have. But Smith is the type of culture-setting player the Steelers covet, and his athleticism and pedigree are off the charts.

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