With the Pittsburgh Steelers currently sitting at 5-8, many have already set their sights on next year and specifically what the 2023 NFL Draft may have in store for a Steelers team that is projected to have their highest pick in decades, currently sitting at #13 overall. Things can change and Pittsburgh can pick up more wins to drop their current draft slot, but it’s never too early to go through mock draft scenarios and project player/prospect fits who the Steelers may be interested in given their current needs on the roster and the talent in this upcoming draft class.
ROUND 1 (#13 OVERALL) —JOEY PORTER JR/CB/PENN STATE
Analysis: The Steelers have seen good play from the likes of CBs Cam Sutton and Levi Wallace this season but lack that CB1 that can match up with opposing #1 WRs on a weekly basis. They look to fill that need with a familiar name, selecting Penn State CB Joey Porter Jr. Porter Jr. has all the ties to Pittsburgh you could dream of, being the son of former Pittsburgh Steelers’ player and coach Joey Porter, who served on Mike Tomlin’s coaching staff from 2014 to 2018. Tomlin and Porter were close off the field, having sons who played at Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic. Porter Sr. is now an assistant coach in the XFL.
Besides the “Blue’s Clues” that easily link Porter to Pittsburgh, Porter has vastly improved his draft stock this season, being regarded as one of the best cover corners in the class after breaking up 11 passes this season. He is a willing tackler in run support and only has one career INT to his credit, suggesting his ball skills may not be the best. However, Porter has the size (6’2, 198lb), length, and play demeanor Coach Tomlin and the Steelers look for and will likely be one of the favorites to be the team’s first selection come spring.
ROUND 2 (#34 OVERALL)—JAELYN DUNCAN/OT/MARYLAND
Analysis: While LT Dan Moore Jr. has shown progress this season, his inconsistencies make many fear that he may never develop into a franchise LT that Pittsburgh desperately needs. They get a potential solution to that problem at the top of the second round in Maryland OT Jaelyn Duncan. Duncan stood out to me personally early in the scouting process because he looks the part of a NFL franchise LT, standing 6’6, 330lb as a senior and has had his play match the measurables so far this season. He has done a good job keeping the QB clean in the pocket while also getting out in space in the running game, pulling from the tackle spot and picking up linebackers and defensive backs in the screen game.
Duncan mirrors well in pass protection. However, he is an older prospect that lacks consistent aggression as a blocker, potentially dropping him below some of the younger tackles in the class. Duncan could come in an immediately be a more consistent pass protector than Moore while developing more as a run blocker to round out his enticing skill set.
ROUND 2 (#44 OVERALL)—NOAH SEWELL/ILB/OREGON
Analysis: While LB Devin Bush has improved in his play this season after a dreadful 2021 campaign, he is scheduled to hit free agency. With Myles Jack struggling to live up to the contract that Pittsburgh signed him to this past offseason and the current state of the team’s run defense, investing premium draft capital in a solid run stuffer at ILB would be a wise investment. Noah Sewell from Oregon fits the bill as a rocked up off-ball LB prospect, standing at 6’2, 253lb and plays as an old school, downhill thumper against the run. He is a good athlete in his own right, having the speed and pursuit to chase down ballcarriers, but can struggle at times moving laterally or when tasked with coverage.
Sewell initially was pegged at the beginning of the college season as a Round 1 prospect, but his play over the course of the season suggest that he better suits an early Day Two selection. Should Pittsburgh nab a cover corner and a start on the OL with their first two picks, landing Sewell with their second 2nd round selection would be a great way to start the draft.
ROUND 3 (#75 OVERALL)—ZAY FLOWERS/WR/BOSTON COLLEGE
Analysis: The Steelers desperately need to add talent and playmaking ability at slot WR with Steven Sims and Gunner Olszewski not cutting it after the team traded away Chase Claypool. While rookie WR Calvin Austin III should be cleared for next season, he has missed his entire rookie season with a foot injury and isn’t a sure bet to be the team’s starting slot receiver Day One in 2023, making it extremely likely that the team will again look to find a diamond in the rough and select another mid-round receiver prospect.
Enter Zay Flowers, who many consider to be a Day Two prospect, but concerns regarding his lack of ideal size (5’10, 172lb) could push him down the board on draft day. Flowers may feel like a similar player to Austin, and that has some merit. However, Flowers is shiftier than Austin in the open field, having the ability to make multiple defenders look silly with the ball in his hands. He has legit top-end speed and can create YAC that Pittsburgh’s offense desperately needs. He would be a great fit in the slot, and if you are looking for an early tea leaf to read, Flowers is in the same WR room as Mike Tomlin’s son, Dino, at Boston College.
ROUND 4 (#112 OVRALL)— TYLER DAVIS/DL/CLEMSON
Analysis: With Chris Wormley, Tyson Alualu, and Larry Ogunjobi all scheduled to hit free agency, the Steelers need to address DL depth and talent via free agency and the draft to shore up the run defense. Assuming they try and re-sign one of their own or go after an outside free agent, Clemson DL Tyler Davis would be a quality name to target in the middle round of the draft.
The 6’2, 300lb senior may not have the measurables or freaky athleticism that teammate Bryan Bresee or Myles Murphy have, but Davis is a strong, stout defender in the middle that plays with great effort against the run and can generate a pass rush thanks to his leverage and motor. Built in a similar mold to former Clemson DL Grady Jarrett who also was a slept-on middle round pick back in 2015, Davis should be a name to watch throughout the pre-draft process as a potential mid-round value selection who would provide depth along the DL as a player that can play different spots and generate a pass rush on top of his run defense.
ROUND 6 (#184 OVERALL)— LAIATU LATU/EDGE/UCLA
Analysis: Pittsburgh sorely needs to add quality depth to their OLB room with options thin behind starters T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith in terms of generating a pass rush. One player that would be an intriguing pick on Day Three is UCLA OLB Laiatu Latu. Latu was forced to quit his football career after a neck injury that ended his career in Seattle with the Huskies in 2019. However, he was medically cleared and entered the transfer portal and ended up in Southern California playing for the Bruins. Latu’s resurgence is on-par with fellow former Bruin and Hurricane and current Miami Dolphins pass rusher Jaelan Phillips who was also forced to medically retire before being cleared and had a great 2020 season that got him drafted in the first round.
Latu has posted 9.5 sacks and three forced fumbles so far this season and has the size, length, and athleticism (6’4, 265lb) you look for in an NFL-caliber pass rusher. His previous medical history could push him down the draft board, but should he check out at the NFL Combine, Latu would be an enticing option for Pittsburgh to target as a rotational pass rusher that is still developing his game.
ROUND 7 (#232 OVERALL)— MALIK CUNNINGHAM/QB/LOUISVILLE
Analysis: Plenty of yinz aren’t going to like this, but there is a good chance that the Steelers target a backup QB of the future in the 2023 NFL Draft. With Mason Rudolph scheduled to become a free agent and Mitch Trubisky likely to be released to save cap space and to give him a chance to start elsewhere (which I assume you are all fine with), the Steelers will need to add QBs to the room. While they could go out and land another veteran, what will likely happen is sign a low-cost backup option to mentor Pickett as the team’s QB1 next season and Pittsburgh use a Day Three pick to groom their future backup QB.
Pittsburgh should have Louisville QB Malik Cunningham on their shortlist of Day Three passers to target. Cunningham is a dynamic dual threat QB, having thrown of 9,660 yards and 70 TDs along with rushing for 3,184 yards and 50 TDs on the ground. While the stats suggest that Cunningham should get drafted much earlier, his smaller frame (6’1, 190lb) along with his inconsistencies as a pass should depress his value to later on Day Three of the draft. However, given the value Mike Tomlin has put on QB mobility in the past and how the likes of Lamar Jackson and Jalen Hurts have given Pittsburgh fits with their legs, drafting Cunningham to develop behind Pickett is a low cost, upside pick given his skill set.
What are your thoughts on the names listed above in this mock draft for the Pittsburgh Steelers? Does this present a realistic scenario that the team may take toward the 2023 NFL Draft? What did I get right? Where did I mess up? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section and thanks again for reading!