There are a lot of potential avenues the Pittsburgh Steelers could take in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft, but one of the more intriguing ideas is for the team to trade down. In Will Brinson’s latest mock draft for CBS Sports, that’s the route he has Pittsburgh taking, with the Steelers sending their No. 17 overall pick and their fourth-round pick to the Seattle Seahawks for the No. 20 overall pick and Seattle’s third-round selection. With the 20th pick, Brinson has the Steelers taking versatile Iowa DL/EDGE Lukas Van Ness.
Van Ness likely profiles as an EDGE for Pittsburgh. Brinson believes the selection of Van Ness would immediately bolster the team’s defense.
“Pittsburgh’s talent up front will give Van Ness time to learn and develop from elite NFL players in the same room,” he wrote, “he’ll also be able to make some splash plays out of the gate for a Teryl Austin defense and Steelers team that surely sees itself as a competitor this season.”
Van Ness met with the Steelers at the NFL Combine, and his Combine performance showed off his elite athleticism. He ran a 4.58 40-yard dash, had a 31” vertical leap and a 9’10” broad jump. The Steelers are sorely lacking in EDGE depth after letting Malik Reed walk after a season in which they didn’t get much of anything out of him or Jamir Jones, especially when tasked to replace T.J. Watt during his seven-game absence due to a torn pectoral. Adding Van Ness, who has the physical tools and athleticism to succeed in the league and had 13 sacks over his past two seasons at Iowa, would make the position stronger right off the bat.
The question is whether the need is enough to spend a first-round pick on an EDGE. Alex Highsmith and T.J. Watt are penciled in as starters at both outside linebacker spots next season, and while Van Ness could line up on the defensive line, there may be other positions the team could opt to address.
In this mock, Maryland cornerback Deonte Banks, whom the team hosted for a visit this week, would’ve been available at No. 20, and I think it’s far more likely the Steelers would opt for Banks or another top corner instead of going EDGE in the first round. However, the mock had Banks falling out of the first round, meaning he would theoretically be available for the Steelers’ selection at No. 32.
By the time No. 17 rolled around, all three top corners in Devon Witherspoon, Christian Gonzalez, and Joey Porter Jr. were off the board, so the trade down to No. 20 so the Seahawks could select a sliding quarterback in Will Levis is a move I like. I just don’t know if Van Ness is the guy the Steelers would take in that spot.
All options are on the table though, and if the Steelers want to take an athletic freak that they can try to mold into their next great defender maybe they take the chance by selecting Van Ness. With three picks in the top 50, there are just so many different ways the Steelers could attack the draft. In this case, the team would pick up an additional third-rounder as well. In such a deep cornerback class, maybe the Steelers would wait and take a guy later if they deem Van Ness or another EDGE to be the best player available. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens when April 27 rolls around.