Home Steelers DraftDraft Analysis 2023 SCB Steelers First Round Draft Board

2023 SCB Steelers First Round Draft Board

by Ian

The 2023 NFL Draft is now just a few days away. The Steelers currently hold the 17th overall pick in the draft with another pick coming at the top of the 2nd round (32nd overall) thanks to the Chase Claypool trade. Typically, the Steelers full draft board contains around 200 players. Even if the Steelers do not have a major need at the position, the player will still appear on their board, because at some point they would likely become a value pick (for instance, the top quarterbacks might be ranked lower on the Steelers board than they are for other teams because they don’t have an immediate need there but at some point in the draft they would be the best prospects remaining). The only things that could take a player completely off the Steelers draft board would be scheme fits, injuries, or off-field issues where the team simply has too many concerns to even consider drafting the player. With this being the first time in 20 years Kevin Colbert is not running the show, it will be interesting to see how this draft plays out.

In this spirit of how the Steelers operate, the staff at SCB got together over the last week to do our best to put together a Steelers-specific Draft Board based on both player abilities and team needs. Khan and Weidl have added a number of depth players in free agency and are entering the draft where there is no position is in need of an immediate starter. There are plenty of long-term needs up-and-down the roster, particularly on defense. At EDGE rusher, TJ Watt and Alex Highsmith are the only players on the roster. Depth along the defensive line is also needed. Patrick Peterson is not the long-term answer at corner so a future starter is needed there. The Steelers signed Damonte Kazee and Keanu Neal as stop-gaps at safety but could add there as well. Offensively, a #3 QB and RB are needed. Additional depth at wide receiver would be helpful. On the line, the offseason focused mainly on the interior so adding a tackle to compete with Dan Moore would be a huge boon.

The Top 20

1. Christian Gonzalez (CB-Oregon)

In the opinion of the SCB War Room, if we could have any singular player in this draft it would be Gonzalez. He would fill one of the biggest positions of need – upgrading a secondary that was 29th in Yards Per Attempt and 31st in Average Depth of Target. Teams did not feat the Steelers ability to cover down the field and drafting a cornerback would immediately address that deficiency. Gonzalez is long and lanky but fluid in his movements and footwork. He has just one year of starting experience but showed a nose for the ball with 4 interceptions and 11 passes defended.

2. Peter Skoronski (OL-Northwestern)

The SCB War Room was in agreement that Skoronski is the top offensive lineman in the class. Where we disagreed was on his best fit as a pro. He played tackle at Northwestern but with shorter arms some teams have projected him to move inside to guard. Whether he plays tackle or guard at the next level, Skoronski has the makings of a high-quality starter. Skoronski played left tackle for Northwestern and was a technician at the position with an excellent combination of feet and hand placement.

3. Will Anderson Jr (EDGE-Alabama)

Nicknamed “Terminator,” Anderson might be the most talented overall player in the draft. Looking at the Steelers depth chart, the only outside linebackers currently on the roster are TJ Watt and Alex Highsmith. The latter of which is entering the final year of his rookie contract. The Steelers need to add depth to the position, and Anderson is the top available pass rushing prospect in the draft. Anderson showed positional flexibility at Alabama, lining up in different spots along the front and was adept in both run and pass defense. Anderson posted double-digit sacks in each of the last two seasons and has an incredible 62 tackles for loss in his 3-year collegiate career.

4. Paris Johnson (OT-Ohio State)

If the aforementioned Peter Skoronski is indeed considered a guard, then Paris Johnson is the top tackle in this year’s draft class. In free agency the Steelers addressed the interior of the offensive line but need to upgrade at left tackle over Dan Moore. Johnson has quick feet and can be a move blocker in a zone running scheme. Despite being just a two-year starter and a true junior, Johnson was hailed for his leadership abilities on the Buckeyes offensive line. He is a disciplined player that needs some refinement in his hand technique but overall would be an immediate starter in the NFL. The full brass of Omar Khan and Mike Tomlin, along with offensive line coach Pat Meyer, attended Ohio State’s Pro Day.

5. Broderick Jones (OT-Georgia)

Jones is the only redshirt sophomore in this year’s tackle class. As a multi-sport athlete in high school, Jones played both football and basketball and has retained some of the agility from the basketball background. He is quick off the ball and smooth in his transitions. On top of that, he plays with violence and power without being overly grabby (no holding penalties in his collegiate career). As a young player his technique will continue to improve, but he has all the makings of a quality NFL starter if he continues on his current trajectory. Omar Khan and Mike Tomlin attended the Georgia Pro Day and Jones came to Pittsburgh for a pre-draft visit.

6. Jalen Carter (DT-Georgia)

Based solely on collegiate film, Jalen Carter might have the best body of work in the draft class. He was nigh unblockable on Georgia’s defensive front the last two seasons. He is quick off the ball and an absolute wrecking ball against the run and the pass. The questions surrounding Carter are off the field. He was arrested earlier this year and charged with street racing in relation to an accident that killed a teammate and a trainer. To top that, he had a dreadful Pro Day performance and reportedly refused to visit any team picking outside the Top 10. Carter’s on-field talent is undeniable but there are significant off-field concerns that dropped him lower on our board (and probably on the boards of some NFL teams as well).

7. Devon Witherspoon (CB-Illinois)

Witherspoon may very well be the first corner off the board on Thursday night. He is a tough, physical player who is not afraid to stick his nose in against the run. He has good ball skills with 17 passes defended and 3 interceptions last year. The Steelers have spent virtually no time with Witherspoon during the draft process but his talent to play in both man and zone schemes and physicality is something that NFL teams will covet.

8. Bryce Young (QB-Alabama)

The Steelers drafted Kenny Pickett last year, but our feeling in the SCB War Room was that there were two quarterbacks in this class that were better prospects than Kenny Pickett. If the opportunity presented itself to take Bryce Young or CJ Stroud, the Steelers would certainly upgrade the quarterback position by selecting either one, which landed them both in the Top 10 of our draft board. After some debate, we have Bryce Young ranked slightly higher due to his overall efficiency, intangibles, “it” factor, game intelligence, and big play abilities.

9. CJ Stroud (QB-Ohio State)

As discussed with Young, the Steelers spent minimal time on the top-end quarterbacks in this draft, but we recognize their talents in relation to the rest of the draft board with a slight discount for team need. Stroud put up monster numbers the last two years, throwing for over 40 TDs both seasons. He was efficient with the ball, throwing just 6 interceptions. Other than the CFP game against Georgia, he wasn’t known for being much of a runner and is much more of a pocket passer with a quality arm to make throws downfield.

10.Nolan Smith (EDGE-Georgia)

Smith is a dynamic, explosive player who has tremendous upside if he can find his position at the next level. At 6’2″ 240 lbs, he is extremely undersized for the modern-day edge rusher. His best position may be as a strong-side backer in a 4-3 scheme. Smith is lightning-quick off the ball and can explode through gaps and down the line. He played as an edge rusher at Georgia, but will need to add some weight if he is going to play in a 3-4 scheme in the NFL (unless he moves inside). Smith does have some positional versatility and depending on where he lands, a team could use him inside or outside. He battled through injuries at Georgia but when he was on the field proved to be a disruptive force against both the run and the pass. Despite his lack of size, he had the tenacity and violence at the point of attack to toss aside blockers and find a crease to explode to the ball carrier.

11. Deonte Banks (CB-Maryland)

While the Steelers have shown more interest in other corners in this class, our feeling in the SCB War Room is that Banks is the third best corner in this draft. He played just one year as a starter at Maryland and his 2021 season was cut short by a shoulder injury. He has excellent size and speed to match up on the outside. Banks has good footwork and solid read-and-react ability in zone coverage. His best trait is his 4.35 speed which enables him to keep up with fast receivers down the field. His technique should continue to improve with more game reps and has the willingness to be physical at the point of attack. Banks looks like a player who can excel in both man and zone schemes at the next level.

12. Joey Porter Jr (CB-Penn State)

Joey Porter Jr has been tied to the Steelers throughout the draft process and for good reason. Not only is there the family history in the organization, but he also played at North Catholic High School for two years with Mike Tomlin’s sons before head coach Jason Gildon was fired and the Porters and Tomlins transferred out. JPJ is a long-armed and lanky corner who plays physical all over the field. He has a nose for the ball but can get into trouble when he starts grabbing with his hands. His physicality is a two-way street in his willingness to hit after the ball is delivered but he also will get flagged for being over-aggressive before the ball arrives. He had 11 coverage penalties in the last two seasons. Porter projects best as a press man corner who can bump at the release point. Assistant GM Andy Weidl and defensive backs coach Grady Brown attended Porter’s Pro Day and he was a pre-draft visitor to Pittsburgh.

13. Anthony Richardson (QB-Florida)

Richardson is a fascinating prospect. While the Steelers have spent almost no time scouting the top QBs in this class, his off-the-charts athleticism is certainly eye-opening and noteworthy. If the Steelers had a chance to draft him, they should certainly think long and hard about the prospect. Richardson is still very raw, as just a one-year starter in his redshirt sophomore season. He would be best suited to sit for a year or two and learn the game. If Kenny Pickett did not work out (and we are certainly hoping he does!), having a player with Richardson’s talent and upside to step in and take a run at the starting job would be an enticing prospect.

14. Tyree Wilson (EDGE-Texas Tech)

The Steelers have spent virtually no time on Wilson during the pre-draft process. That said, his talent is certainly on display when you watch the Texas Tech defense. Wilson has impressive size and length and was productive in each of the last two seasons – tallying 7 sacks and at least 13 tackles for loss in both. He is not as refined as Will Anderson in his pass rushing moves but some believe he has a higher upside. He has a high motor and uses his length and burst to close down gaps against the run and to create separation en route to the quarterback. Wilson’s best fit is in a 4-3 scheme where he can play with a hand in the dirt.

15. Brian Branch (S-Alabama)

Branch has drawn comparisons to Minkah Fitzpatrick and for good reason. He is a versatile safety capable of lining up all over the field. He played both as a free safety and as a slot corner. Branch has good speed and can cover both in short areas around the line and down the field. His biggest asset is his game instincts and read-and-react abilities. Branch is not afraid of contact and will crash down against the run – tallying 14 tackles for loss and 3 sacks this past season. The Steelers defense is severely lacking in a player who can match up with slot receivers, running backs, and tight ends over the middle of the field. Branch has that ability and had Khan, Tomlin, and defensive backs coach Grady Brown at his Pro Day.

16. Lukas Van Ness (EDGE-Iowa)

Van Ness is a fascinating case of NFL potential vs collegiate production. Just a redshirt sophomore, he did not start a single game during his career at Iowa. However, he was a productive defender who produced 13.5 total sacks and 19.5 tackles for loss over the last two years. His athletic testing at the Combine vaulted him into the elite athlete conversation and put him solidly in the first round of this class. With a lack of experience, his technique will need to be refined, but he certainly has the athleticism to play on the edge in the NFL. Given his combination of size, power, and burst, he may be best suited to a 4-3 DE rather than a 3-4 OLB.

17. Jaxon Smith-Njigba (WR-Ohio State)

While last year’s draft class was stacked with first round talent at receiver, this year only JSN seems to be unanimous as a first round selection. After a monster 2021 campaign, capped off by a dominant Rose Bowl, big things were expected from JSN as a junior. However, a hamstring injury curtailed his season after just 60 snaps. He is a great route-runner and his agility drills showed just how elite his short-area quickness is. JSN’s best role in the pros may be in the slot, but he has the athleticism, speed, and route-running ability to make an immediate impact in the NFL.

18. Darnell Wright (OT- Tennessee)

There is a bit of a dropoff after the first two tackles in this year’s draft class. While the Steelers big brass did not attend Tennessee’s Pro Day, Assistant GM Andy Weidl and offensive line coach Pat Meyer both were there. Additionally, Wright came to Pittsburgh for a pre-draft visit so there is certainly interest between the parties. Wright is a massive human being with a nasty edge. His hand technique needs some improvement, but nevertheless he did not allow a sack last year. Wright’s best performance came against Alabama’s Will Anderson where he dominated the Tide’s star. If the top two tackles are off the board, Wright would absolutely be able to step into the Steelers lineup and be an anchor on the line.

19. Anton Harrison (OT-Oklahoma)

The Steelers haven’t put as much time into Harrison as the other top tackle prospects in this draft class. They did have him in for a pre-draft visit. While some see Harrison as more of a Top 50 prospect, the Steelers need at the position drove him up our draft board. We all felt like taking Harrison with the 17th overall pick might be a bit rich, but would be very comfortable with him in a trade back scenario. He has good athleticism and length but wasn’t asked to do much in Oklahoma’s offense.

20. Calijah Kancey (DT-Pitt)

No, Calijah Kancey is not Aaron Donald. But those who saw him play last year at Pitt can see what the comparisons are out there. Kancey has an insanely quick first step off the ball and can shoot through interior gaps to penetrate and disrupt plays in the backfield. His run defense leaves a little to be desired if he doesn’t get penetration as he needs to improve his strength and anchor. As pass rushing interior lineman, he has the potential to make a massive impact.

The Next 10

21. Bijan Robinson (RB-Texas)

The Steelers do not need a running back at the top end of this draft. The top two spots on the depth chart are set with Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren. That said, Robinson’s talent is undeniable and he might be one of the “safest” overall picks in the draft. He is an impact player that can grind between the tackles and has breakaway speed to take a carry to the house at any time. We recognize that Robinson isn’t really on the Steelers radar because of a lack of need at the position, but his incredible talent puts him at the top of our “Next 10” list.

22. Bryan Bresee (DT-Clemson)

Bresee played multiple positions on Clemson’s defensive line but struggled through injuries the last few seasons. He has a strong burst off the ball for an interior rusher, but his spot on many draft boards will be defined by how his medical testing went during the pre-draft process. When healthy, he can be a dominant player and he did have the whole brass of Khan, Tomlin, and DL coach Karl Dunbar at his Pro Day, along with making a pre-draft visit to Pittsburgh.

23. Myles Murphy (EDGE-Clemson)

Murphy was a productive player in three years at Clemson. A hamstring injury kept him from working out at the Combine but he did work out at Clemson’s Pro Day. Omar Khan, Mike Tomlin, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, and D-line coach Karl Dunbar were all present at Clemson’s Pro Day where Murphy tested very well athletically for an edge rusher. On tape, Murphy tends to rely on his athleticism and can find himself rushing past the quarterback.

24. Mazi Smith (DT-Michigan)

Smith was the nose tackle in the middle of Michigan’s defense. He is strong at the point of attack but not flashy or disruptive in pass rushing situations. In his 4-year career he only accumulated 6 tackles for loss and a half-sack. He is capable of taking on double teams and holding his own in the middle, but will likely be a run-down specialist in the NFL.

25. Keion White (EDGE-Georgia Tech)

White seems like this year’s version of DeMarvin Leal. At over 6’4″ and 285 lbs, he could either add a little weight and slide inside or drop a little weight and be a quality player on the edge. White has had an interesting career, starting as a Tight End at Old Dominion before making the switch to defense as a redshirt sophomore. After Old Dominion cancelled their 2020 season, he transferred to Georgia Tech. After an injury-plagued 2021, he exploded for 7.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss last year. Due to his relatively late switch to defense, White is still developing as a pass rusher but has a high motor and can bull rush his way into impactful plays against the run and pass.

26. Emmanuel Forbes (CB-Mississippi State)

Forbes is an absolute ballhawk on the back end of the defense. He recorded 14 interceptions in 3 seasons at Mississippi State, including 6 last season. Of those 14 picks, he took 6 of them to the house. Additionally, he had 35 passes defended over that same timespan. The knock on Forbes is his size. While he has the height and length of an NFL corner (over 6′ tall), he weighed in at under 170 pounds. He is physical but will need to add bulk to hold up against NFL receivers. He has the speed (4.35) to cover deep routes and great instincts to diagnose routes and attack the ball.

27. Julius Brents (CB-Kansas State)

Brents started his career at Iowa but after an injury redshirt as a sophomore, he lost his starting role and transferred to Kansas State. He has an excellent frame for an NFL corner – over 6’2″ with long arms and is fluid in his movements. He needs to work on his footwork and balance but he has the athleticism and short-area explosiveness to make quick plays and adjustments when in zone coverage. Brents played both man and zone and looks capable of doing both at the next level. Hailed by K-State coaches for his work ethic, his athletic testing was off the charts for a player his size.

28. Trenton Simpson (LB-Clemson)

The Steelers have signed three inside linebackers in free agency but still could use a long-term solution at the position. They have been searching for a true three-down inside backer since Ryan Shazier’s injury. Simpson looks like the best of the class with impressive speed, burst, and athleticism. Khan, Tomlin and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin were all in attendance at Clemson’s Pro Day. Simpson is a player who seems to love contact and is always around the ball. He showed off some coverage skills at Clemson as well, holding up in both zone coverage and against tight ends.

29. Jack Campbell (LB-Iowa)

Mike Tomlin and Omar Khan attended Iowa’s Pro Day this year. While Campbell stood on his combine numbers for athletic testing, it is noteworthy they were at his Pro Day. Campbell was a tackling machine the last two years for the Hawkwyes, ringing up over 125 tackles each season. While he didn’t run a blazing 40, he plays fast and smart and can deliver a blow when he gets to the ball. He is known as a film junkie and a guy who goes hard all the time. Campbell seems like a player with all of the off-field intangibles you could ask for in a throwback-style linebacker.

30. O’Cyrus Torrence (OL-Florida)

The Steelers have been connected with Torrence throughout the Draft process. They met with him at the Senior Bowl as well as having him come to Pittsburgh for a pre-draft visit. He started his college career at Louisiana before transferring to Florida last year and did not miss a beat with the step up in competition. Torrence was a reliable player, starting 47 games over the last 4 years and only missing 3 due to injury. He is a big, nasty blocker with a mean streak but also displays good body control. Incredibly, he has never allowed a sack in over 1500 pass blocking snaps. Though he played guard all four years in college, he may be capable of also playing center which would add to his value in the NFL.

The Odd One Out

Will Levis (QB-Kentucky) – Will Levis is routinely listed among the first round quarterbacks in this class. He has a big arm and got more playing time by transferring from Penn State to Kentucky. No one on the SCB crew regarded Levis as a player they were interested in for the Steelers. Levis has a bit of Carson Wentz (both the good and the bad) to him. He is a workout warrior but might care more about his off-field appearance than on-field play. Levis has a big arm that will entice someone to take him in the first round, but we have no interest in seeing him in black and gold.

The Next Best

QB: Hendon Hooker (Tennessee)
RB: Jahmyr Gibbs (Alabama)
WR: Jonathan Mingo (Ole Miss), Quentin Johnson (TCU), Zay Flowers (Boston College), Jordan Addison (USC), Jayden Reed (Michigan St)
TE: Michael Mayer (Notre Dame), Darnell Washington (Georgia)
OT: Dawand Jones (Ohio St)
OG: Steve Avila (TCU), Cody Mauch (North Dakota St)
OC: John Michael Schmitz (Minnesota)

DT: Keeanu Benton (Wisconsin), Siaki Ika (Baylor), Gervon Dexter (Florida)
EDGE: Will McDonald (Iowa St), Felix Anduike-Uzomah (Kansas St), Tuli Tuipulotu (USC)
LB: Drew Sanders (Arkansas), Nick Herbig (Wisconsin)
CB: Kelee Ringo (Georgia), Tyrique Stevenson (Miami), Darius Rush (South Carolina)
S: Ji’Ayir Brown (Penn State)

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