Carney: Steelers’ Post-Free Agency 2023 Mock Draft (Version 3.0) #NFL #Football


With the start of the new league year in the rearview mirror, and a flurry of moves made by the Pittsburgh Steelers so far (with more likely to come), the Steelers’ top positions of need in the 2023 NFL Draft are starting to become a bit clearer.

After signing cornerback Patrick Peterson, linebackers Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts and interior offensive lineman Nate Herbig, and re-signing defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi and safety Damontae Kazee, GM Omar Khan has done a good job of addressing some holes in free agency, giving him some flexibility entering the draft at the end of April.

Now that some moves have been made and the roster is starting to take shape, I thought it would be a good time to drop my latest mock draft for the Steelers.

Below is the third version of my seven-round mock draft, post-free agency edition, with the caveat that I know the team isn’t done making moves. In case you missed my first two mock drafts, you can find those here and here.

As a reminder, this is what I believe the Steelers will do in the draft, as far as players and positions targeted. As always, leave your thoughts in the comment section below, and thanks for reading!


Analysis: Following the additions of Holcomb and Roberts, it’s pretty clear that the Steelers need a guy with elite physical traits and high-end coverage abilities. That’s where Clemson’s Trenton Simpson comes into play. While some in the industry believe he’s better suited to play safety in the NFL, Simpson has all the tools to be a high-level, sideline-to-sideline linebacker in the NFL. Simpson clocked a 4.43 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, and then added a 4.22 short shuttle, a 6.89 3-cone and 40.5″ vertical at his Pro Day, at which the Steelers were heavily present.

Head coach Mike Tomlin took Simpson to dinner the night before his Pro Day, too. Based on the current linebackers room, it’s clear the Steelers need that coverage guy at inside linebacker. Simpson fits that need and would give new inside linebackers coach Aaron Curry a freakish athlete to mold. Simpson has the qualities you can’t teach at the position, showcasing the skills to suggest that he can fulfill the role of a three-down linebacker while still contributing as a Swiss Army Knife defender.

Previous Selection: Bryan Bresee, iDL, Clemson (V.2); Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois (V.1)

Others considered: Brian Branch, S, Alabama; Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland; Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee

Trenton Simpson draft profile


Analysis: Reading the tea leaves again here with the selection of Minnesota interior offensive lineman John Michael Schmitz. The Steelers have been quite interested in the top-flight interior offensive lineman so far in the pre-draft process, meeting with him at the NFL Scouting Combine and scheduling a top-30 visit with him. Though the Steelers signed Herbig in free agency and also have Kevin Dotson, Mason Cole and James Daniels on the interior, Schmitz feels like that foundational center the Steelers could develop and plug into the starting lineup long-term, forming a terrific battery with young quarterback Kenny Pickett.

Schmitz is a gritty, aggressive run blocker who imposes his will on his competition while also having the stout frame to anchor in pass protection. He is a good athlete climbing to the second level and moving laterally but lacks high-end athleticism to be a fit in wide-zone running schemes. His starting experience, football IQ, and play demeanor should make him an early contributor at the next level in an inside zone and between-the-tackles gap running system.

Previous Selection: Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee (V.2); Dawand Jones, OT, Ohio State (V.1)

Others considered: Bryan Bresee, DT, Clemson; Gervon Dexter, DL, Florida; Dawand Jones, OT, Ohio State

John Michael Schmitz draft profile


Analysis: The addition of Peterson in free agency after losing Cameron Sutton feels like a mentorship move overall. That has me circling back to Kansas State cornerback Julius Brents for the second time in three versions of my mock drafts. He’s a personal favorite of mine in this class, reminding me a ton of former Steelers great Ike Taylor — with way better ball skills.

Brents has the height and length that are becoming more and more prominent at the position. His aggressive, physical playing style is particularly effective in man coverage, where it can challenge and disrupt receivers, making it difficult for them to execute their routes.

Though he was a bit slower in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine than expected (4.53), Brents had a great short shuttle (4.02 seconds) and 3-cone time (6.63 seconds) and added elite vertical (41.5 inches) and broad (11’6″) jumps. He would be great for defensive backs coach Grady Brown to get his hands on, especially after seeing him up close and in person at the Senior Bowl in Mobile.

Previous Selection: Derick Hall, EDGE, Auburn (V.2); Keeanu Benton, iDL, Wisconsin (V.1)

Others considered: Felix Anudike-Uzomah, EDGE, Kansas State; Emmanuel Forbes, CB, Mississippi State; Derick Hall, EDGE, Auburn

Julius Brents draft profile


Analysis: With the return of Ogunjobi on a three-year deal, the need for help on the defensive line gets pushed down slightly for me. That leads me to another circle back on a guy for the second time in three versions of my mock draft, this time a round later than I originally projected.

Wisconsin’s Keeanu Benton checks a lot of boxes for the Steelers in terms of what they look for at the position. Benton stands 6036, 309lb with 33 7/8” arms, nearly fitting their prototype to a tee. Benton shows a quick first step and surprising bend and flexibility for his size and position. The Steelers stated their interest in Benton at the Senior Bowl, with Mike Tomlin telling him he was on their radar. The size/length/strength coupled with the pro scheme he played in makes him a hard guy to find and tough player to ignore. Benton feels like a very sound selection to develop behind the likes of Ogunjobi and Cameron Heyward while slowly easing him onto the field, shoring up depth in the process.

Previous Selection: Julius Brents, CB, Kansas State (V.2); Henry T’oTo’o, ILB, Alabama (V.1)

Others considered: Warren McClendon, OT, Georgia; Ji’Ayir Brown, S, Penn State; Joe Tippman, iOL, Wisconsin

Keeanu Benton draft profile


Analysis: This is my first real surprise of the mock, at least in my opinion. Eastern Michigan EDGE Jose Ramirez comes from the same program as Las Vegas Raiders’ star pass rusher Maxx Crosby and put up extremely similar stats to the All-Pro and Pro Bowler in college. The only real concern with Ramirez is his measurables, coming in at 6017, 242 pounds.

That said, he had a great Combine, clocking a 4.73 40-yard dash, a 4.30 short shuttle, a 6.95 3-cone and had a 9’10” broad jump. He had good length, too, with 32 3/4″ arms. The tape shows a very agile, advanced pass rusher entering the NFL with good speed and great bend around the corner. Run defense is a concern, which could certainly push him down the board, but with new assistant GM Andy Weidl in Pittsburgh, the chance to get a toolsy pass rusher who has dominated the college game the last two years and get him in a room with T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith has to be rather intriguing.

Previous Selection: Carter Warren, OT, Pittsburgh (V.2); Nathaniel “Tank” Dell, WR, Houston (V.1)

Others considered: Nick Herbig, EDGE, Wisconsin; Trey Dean, S, Florida; Habakkuk Baldonado, EDGE, Pittsburgh


Analysis: Though the Steelers reportedly swung and missed on star tackle Orlando Brown Jr. in free agency, it still feels like the team is relatively comfortable with the likes of Dan Moore Jr. and Chukwuma Okorafor. They could certainly add some affordable depth in free agency and could address offensive tackle higher in the draft.

Here though I have the Steelers drafting a long, sound offensive tackle in Boise State’s John Ojukwu, whom college scouts Mark Bruener and Chris Watts watched extensively at the 2023 East-West Shrine Bowl in Las Vegas. Ojukwu has played a tremendous amount of college football (51 career starts) and has a solid understanding of fundamentals. Ojukwu measured in at 6056, 309 pounds with 34-inch arms and 10 3/4″ hands at the NFL Scouting Combine.

He saw work at left and right tackle at the Shrine Bowl and profiles as a solid swing tackle early that could develop into a spot NFL starter due to his experience at the college level. It might not be the answer people want for the Steelers at the position in 2023, but addressing depth in the trenches here is a sound move.

Previous Selection: Mitchell Tinsley, WR, Penn State (V.2); Jerome Carvin, iOL, Tennessee (V.1)

Others considered: Demario Douglas, WR, Liberty; Dorian Thompson-Robinson, QB, UCLA; Davis Allen, TE, Clemson


Analysis: Veteran tight end Zach Gentry remains unsigned as of this posting, so I went with a tight end with the final pick of the mock draft to shore up some depth. Penn State’s Brenton Strange fills that blocking tight end role, with a bit more athleticism and receiving ability than Gentry.

Strange gets after it as a lead blocker, in-line or in space. There are technique issues that need to be ironed out, but the demeanor and play strength are where they need to be to succeed. He already has a close relationship with Steelers tight end Pat Freiermuth and would bring a physical element to the room that has been missing in recent seasons, at least from that blocking perspective.

The Steelers played quite a bit of 12 personnel last season and Strange would fit seamlessly into that second tight end role. He could develop into a sneaky weapon in the passing game due to his YAC abilities. Position coach Alfredo Roberts has done a great job in recent years of developing the guys in his room. Here he gets another toolsy piece with which to mold into a productive player.

Previous Selection: Dante Stills, DT, West Virginia (V.2); Andre Jones, EDGE, Louisiana (V.1)

Others considered: Dante Stills, DT, West Virginia; Blake Whiteheart, TE, Wake Forest; Derek Parish, FB/EDGE, Houston

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