The Steelers kicked off their 2023 NFL Draft by trading up to select Georgia OT Broderick Jones with the 14th pick on Thursday night. On Friday night, the 2nd and 3rd rounds of the draft will take place. The Steelers currently hold the first pick of the second round (32nd overall) though a trade down is possible. Additionally, they have the 49th and 80th overall picks in the middle of each round. The picks tonight will happen much faster than on the first night of the draft. Here’s a look at our favorite prospects remaining for the second night of the draft. The draft will kick off at 7pm Eastern time tonight.
The Best Available
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Darnell Washington (TE-Georgia)
While Tight End is not the Steelers biggest need, it was a position called out by Mike Tomlin in the pre-draft press conference as having impressive depth. Washington is an absolute wrecking ball on the field. He has incredible footwork for a man his size (6’6″ 264 lbs). Incredibly, Washington is taller, has a bigger wingspan, and bigger hands than first round pick Broderick Jones. Washington is one of the best blocking tight ends in the draft and has the speed to get down the field and make catches in the seam. With the ball in his hands, he is almost impossible for a single defender to bring down one-on-one.
Steve Avila (OL-TCU)
Avila is an intriguing ofensive line prospect who has played multiple positions in his collegiate career. Over the last three years he has started 35 games for the Horned Frogs. In 2020 he played 6 games at center, 2 at tackle, and 1 at guard. The following season he anchored the line as the center and was second-team all-conference. Last year he slid over to left guard and was a consensus All-American. He has a strong base in his legs and his ability to play either guard or center is certainly intriguing. Avila plays with power in the run game but has the agility to get out in space or pull down the line in zone schemes. If the Steelers are looking to continue to build “from the inside out” then Avila would be a great addition to the line who could push Mason Cole for starting time at Center.
John Michael Schmitz (C-Minnesota)
The Steelers brought in Schmitz for a pre-draft visit and talked with him at the Senior Bowl. He was a first team All-American and All-Big Ten this past season. One of Schmitz’s best traits has been his durability. He has started every game (35 straight) since halfway through 2019 when he took over as the Gophers starting center. All of those starts have come at center. He plays with grit and attitude and was described as the hardest worker on Minnesota’s team. The knock on Schmitz is his footwork and balance, which will need to improve at the next level.
Keeanu Benton (DT-Wisconsin)
Benton’s name shot up draft boards after a dominant performance at the Senior Bowl. He also came to Pittsburgh for a pre-draft visit. Benton is more of a true interior nose tackle than a penetrator, but his hand work and play strength can not be doubted. He physically manhandled everyone he faced in Senior Bowl practices. The Steelers do need depth at the interior of the defensive line, and a true two-gapping nose tackle would be an excellent addition to the group.
Gervon Dexter (DT-Florida)
The Steelers spent a bit of time on Dexter in the pre-draft process, meeting with him at the Combine and bringing him to Pittsburgh for a visit. He has flashes of explosiveness in his game from the interior of the defensive line, but can be inconsistent. As a true junior, Dexter’s play has improved with time but he is more of a project than a finished product. He put up good athletic testing numbers at the Combine (including a 4.88 40 which is just insane for a man weighing 310 pounds). At just 21 years old, he will continue to grow into his frame. Dexter needs to be more consistent and disciplined, drawing multiple roughing the passer penalties over his career.
Kelee Ringo (CB-Georgia)
The Steelers saw a lot of Kelee Ringo during the pre-draft process. Omar Khan, Mike Tomlin, and Teryl Austin went to Georgia’s Pro Day and Ringo was with the group that went out for dinner. They also reportedly met with Ringo at the Combine and had him in Pittsburgh for a pre-draft visit. He is a young player (won’t turn 21 until June) and needs work on his technique in coverage. Ringo has excellent straight-line speed (4.36 40) but needs to develop his situational awareness. He had eight penalties this past season (5 DPI, 3 holding) and gives up a lot of completions in front of him because he is late to drive on the ball. His best trait is his long speed, but Ringo would take some time to develop into a star.
Tyrique Stevenson (CB-Miami)
The Steelers have not been shy about their interest in Tyrique Stevenson. They sent Ike Taylor to scout Stevenson at Miami’s Pro Day then had him come to Pittsburgh for a pre-draft visit. After starting his career at Georgia as a hybrid dimebacker, he transferred to Miami and moved to outside to play corner, his more natural position. Stevenson still has some of the physicality from playing dimebacker and can be a press man corner in the NFL. His physicality can lead to some recklessness and over-aggressiveness in tackling. Stevenson has good speed and short-area quickness to play in the NFL but could be a penalty machine if his technique does not improve.
Darius Rush (CB-South Carolina)
The Steelers brough Rush in for a pre-draft visit. At 23 years old he is one of the oldest prospects in this cornerback class. He flashed great speed at the Combine (4.36 40) and has only been penalized twice in his collegiate career. Rush’s biggest struggle is in tackling where despite his size he does not take good angles to the ball or wrap the ballcarrier when he gets there. Rush does have good agility and speed, allowing him to stick with receivers and make plays in coverage.
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
One of the biggest surprises of the first round was the Kentucky QB Will Levis (Carson Wentz 2.0) did not get selected. That could enable the Steelers to ransom off the 32nd pick to the highest bidder for the teams that did not select a QB, though Tennessee’s Hendon Hooker is still in play as well. The Steelers only scouted two QBs in this draft class, Houston’s Clayton Tune and BYU’s Jaren Hall. Both project as Day 3 picks.
Two running backs going in the Top 12 of the draft was not something that anyone expected. The only Pro Day visit that Steelers RB coach Eddie Faulkner made was to Pitt. The speedy Izzy Abanikanda could be an option to bolster the backfield in the 3rd round. Right now, the Steelers need offensive playmakers with big-play ability and Izzy would fit that mold.
The Steelers top three are set with Johnson, Pickens, and Robinson. They did spend some time scouting Day 2 receivers and brough a number in for pre-draft visits. Names to keep an eye on here are Tennessee’s Cedric Tillman, Oklahoma’s Marvin Mims (who ran a blistering 4.38 40), Michigan State’s Jayden Reed, and Mississippi’s Jonathan Mingo. Mike Tomlin and Omar Khan attended Iowa State’s Pro Day and got a look at do-it-all receiver Xavier Hutchinson.
In the pre-draft press conference, Mike Tomlin made a specific point to note the depth of this year’s tight end class. With only one tight end being drafted in the first round, a number of quality players are available in the second round. Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer is the best on the board. Tight Ends coach Alfredo Roberts went to Pro Days at Michigan and Penn State. Could the Steelers go to the well of Michigan tight ends (Jerame Tuman, Zach Gentry) with Luke Schoonmaker once again? Both Schoonmaker and Penn State’s Brenton Strange are solid blockers and likely late 3rd round players. Georgia’s Darnell Washington is another name to keep an eye on and an absolute wrecking ball on the field.
After selecting Broderick Jones in the first round, the Steelers may turn their attention to the interior of the line. They signed multiple interior linemen in free agency and have been scouting prospects that are center-capable. Florida’s O’Cyrus Torrence and TCU’s Steve Avila look like capable candidates. North Dakota State’s Cody Mauch is a popular name, but he is a college tackle that will likely need to slide in to guard, a position where the Steelers are very deep. Offensive line coach Pat Meyer went to Pro Days at Northwestern, Ohio State, Alabama, NC State, and Tennessee. Chandler Zavala from NC State is a Day 2 prospect while Alabama’s Emil Ekiyor is likely a Day 3 guy. Wisconsin’s Joe Tippmann is considered the top guard in the draft and they also dined with Ohio State’s Luke Wypler at his Pro Day.
The first round of the draft saw four interior defensive linemen come off the board. The aforementioned Gervon Dexter (Florida) and Keeanu Benton (Wisconsin) are both players the Steelers looked into during the draft process. They also brought in Baylor’s Siaki Ika (arguably the best true nose tackle in the draft) for a pre-draft visit. Alabama’s Byron Young could be on the radar as well. In later rounds, defensive line coach Karl Dunbar went to Pro Days at Bowling Green and Western Kentucky. Keep an eye out for Bowling Green’s Karl Brooks (who also had a pre-draft visit with the team) and WKU’s Brodric Martin on Day 3.
Rushing the passer is the name of the game in the NFL, and that was apparent as 7 EDGE rushers came off the board in the first round. LSU’s BJ Ojulari is the consensus top lineman available but the Steelers did not put much time in on him. Auburn’s Derick Hall is a talented player and Notre Dame’s Isaiah Foskey is coming off back-to-back 11-sack seasons. The Steelers brought in USC’s Tuli Tuipulotu for a pre-draft visit. Of the remaining players, Army’s Andre Carter II, Eastern Michigan’s Jose Ramirez, and Pitt’s Habakkuk Baldonado all posted elite 3-cone times under 7 seconds.
Only one inside linebacker (Iowa’s Jack Campbell) was taken in the first round of the draft. Arkansas’ Drew Sandersis thought of in the top tier of this class along with Clemson’s Trenton Simpson. Other Day 2 prospects include Wisconsin’s Nick Herbig (the brother of newly signed Steelers guard Nate Herbig) who may also be able to play on the edge. Herbig came to Pittsburgh for a pre-draft visit and had Linebackers coach Aaron Curry at his Pro Day. Curry’s only other Pro Day visit was at Tulane where Dorian Williams was the main attraction. Alabama’s Henry To’oto’o and Pitt’s SirVocea Dennis are two other names to watch here.
Christian Gonzalez’s fall to 17 was one of the most unforeseen stories of the first night. In total four corners went off the board with Joey Porter Jr being the top remaining of the group. This is a very deep cornerback draft. Our favorite remaining player is Kansas State’s Julius Brents. The Steelers also had pre-draft visits with South Carolina’s Darius Rush, Miami’s Tyrique Stevenson, and Georgia’s Kelee Ringo. Mike Tomlin was at Michigan’s Pro Day after DJ Turner lit up the Combine with a 4.26 40-yard dash.
This is the only position where the clear best player in the draft is still available. Alabama’s Brian Branch is a tremendous player with great instincts who can lower the boom. He is definitely in play for the Steelers at the top of the second round. If they don’t get Branch, watch out for Penn State’s Ji’Ayir Brown in the 3rd round, who had defensive backs coach Grady Brown at his Pro Day. Grady Brown also went to Pro Days at Pitt and Alabama. In addition to Branch, Alabama’s Jordan Battle is a likely Day 2 prospect. Pitt’s Brandon Hill is thought of as more of a Day 3 guy. The Steelers also brought California’s Daniel Scott in for a pre-draft visit.