Joe Kuzma’s 2023 3-Round Steelers Mock Draft 2.0: Help for the offense

It’s time for yet another mock draft, as minds are changed with every new rumor swirling around the National Football League.

For those who didn’t see my Mock Draft 1.0, here are some baselines on how I operate the mock and why my picks aren’t always “my picks”:

I kept these visits to the Steelers facility, past draft history (Mike Tomlin loves Big Ten players), and pro day visits in mind as I ran several simulations to come up with a somewhat realistic approach to my fantasy draft.

So let’s first establish my rules: one thing I loathe when doing these mock drafts is the computer’s insistence on making trades. While enticing, I stuck with the Steelers original picks for this particular mock draft.

Now, within those rules, I only allow myself to take a player that’s available consistently when running several mocks through various services. Every one of these platforms, from Pro Football Network to Pro Football Focus, has a different “big board” which ranks rookie prospects in varying degrees. While it’s happened, it’s not plausible in almost any of these drafts for Ohio State OT Paris Johnson Jr. or Oregon CB Christian Gonzalez to fall to pick 17.

Now, it’s one more time for my best guess at being wrong, with some justification as to why I made each selection.

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First Round (17): Peter Skoronski – Offensive Tackle (Northwestern)

In a perfect world, I doubt Skoronski is still sitting there at 17 but stranger things have happened.

In previous mocks I’ve seen Paris Johnson Jr. and Broderick Jones consistently gone before pick 17. As the big boards are tweaked in advance of Thursday’s NFL Draft, I’m seeing some different movement: some of it is plausible and some is not.

Skoronski destroyed the NFL Combine earlier this year, but there’s trepidation among teams as to play him – and his shorter arms – as a tackle at the next level. Yet, there’s no doubt he’s a bona fide athlete and one who has played left tackle for his collegiate career. I feel he’s the type of outlier that teams would look at measurables, and pass on him all the way down to the Steelers.

If this doesn’t sound familiar, it should: that’s how Kenny Pickett and his “small hands” slide to pick 20 last year.

My other considerations, including Vols’ T Darnell Wright, were gone in some drafts even ahead of Skoronski. I consistently had issues finding one of the top 4-5 tackles with the next pick (32) so it felt like “tackle or bust” here over the corners available – and unfortunately, if I wanted Porter Jr. or Banks, I’d have to choose either or, as both were also selected before 32 as well.

Skoronski could be a generational athlete who slipped too far, much like David DeCastro. Therefore, I pull the trigger and give Kenny Pickett his blindside protector for the next decade. (And if Skoronski isn’t here, perhaps Georgia’s Broderick Jones slides down instead?)

Also considered: Joey Porter Jr. (CB – Penn State), Deonte Banks (CB – Maryland), Darnell Wright (OT – Tennessee)

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Second Round (32): Darnell Washington – Tight End (Georgia)

In my last draft I was able to get Anton Harrison in the second round: not so much with this round of mocks, therefore I went in another direction.

While cornerback is still heavy on my mind, as anticipated, both Porter and Banks are long gone. I’m staring down the barrel of Emmanuel Forbes from Ole Miss, but I feel like there could be a run at another position: tight end.

I haven’t talked about this enough with the Steelers, but this spot on the roster has been largely neglected aside from Pat Freiermuth as of late. I love Zach Gentry, and he’s developed nicely into a block tight end, however Connor Heyward will likely slide into some more fullback looks with the team not re-signing Derek Watt.

That leaves a TE3 spot open on the roster – and a potential run on the position forthcoming. Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer went in the first round, leaving everyone else on the board. I’m debating between Georgia’s Darnell Washington and Iowa’s Sam LaPorta – Washington visited with the Steelers, so he’s going to be my pick based on that top 30 visit.

Hokey as that may seem, the Steelers appeared to only have interest in visiting with Washington, who is 6’6” tall and weights 264 lbs. He’s borderline tackle-sized, but can also get moving and make opponents miss. He’ll pickup any slack from Freiermuth’s blocking and also help move the chains on critical downs.

Also note that Mike Tomlin loves large human beings.

This may seem like a rich, luxury pick at 32, but my instincts are correct that two or three tight ends come off of the board if I don’t take one here. I’m rolling the dice to see if I can land my next target with pick 49.

Also considered: Emmanuel Forbes (CB – Ole Miss)

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Second Round (49): Jack Campbell – Linebacker (Iowa)

Anyone and everyone is in love mocking Campbell to the Steelers. The question is, where will he be available?

If I can sneak him into pick 49, I feel this is a steal. At this point, I’ve placed two stellar athletes on the edge of the offensive line with Skoronski and Washington. While I’d like to have more secondary help, the ship sails as Forbes is taken before this selection.

Campbell and Arkansas LB Drew Sanders are both sitting here ripe for the taking. Campbell is a throwback player with side-to-side speed the Steelers covet in the middle of the field.

While the team signed Elandon Roberts and Cole Holcomb this offseason, the only depth behind those two is second-year LB Mark Robison – who is only in his third year ever playing the position. Tanner Muse was signed as a special teams player, leaving inside linebacker susceptible to injury.

As much as I want a cornerback, Patrick Peterson, Levi Wallace, Ahkello Witherspoon, and Arthur Maulet can hold down the fort for 2023. Campbell is an investment in the future at a position that defines the Steelers defense. (And he already looks good in black and gold!)

Due to the shifting boards, I also had to consider my last mock’s third round pick (80), Keeanu Benton, a bit earlier than expected too. (He won’t last until that round in my opinion.)

Also considered: Drew Sanders (LB – Arkansas), Keeanu Benton (DT – Wisconsin)

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Third Round (80): Darius Rush – Cornerback (South Carolina)

With the top two picks overwhelmingly filling offensive needs, I’m still looking at secondary help. Oddly, with Benton sliding up boards, Michigan’s Mazi Smith has been sliding down them in some cases. He’s available here – and had a dinner with Mike Tomlin and company during the process.

He’s an intriguing addition, but since I can’t peg his availability – yes, I know, Skoronski pick… small hands though – I can’t take Smith here.

I’ll stick with something more solid and aim for the secondary help I passed on with the prior pick, adding South Carolina’s Rush to the fold. With Wallace and Witherspoon both entering the final year of their contracts, and an aging “P2” signed to a two-year deal, I can redshirt Rush for 2024.

The 6’2” Rush held opponents to 34 catches in 26 games over the last two seasons. He came away with three picks as well. With 4.34 speed, Rush’s name is not a coincidence, but his skills will be namely applied to playing on the boundary

Like Rush, Tyrique Stevenson was another top 30 visit for the Steelers. He may not fall to pick 80 but would make for a fine addition like Rush, those just a tad shorter and slower, but with some slot experience.

Alabama’s Jordan Battle would fill the role of Marcus Allen or veteran Keanu Neal, as they’re a hard-hitting, sure tackling safety that may lack some physical traits in coverage.

Also considered: Tyrique Stevenson (CB – Miami), Jordan Battle (S – Alabama)

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