When it comes to the 2023 NFL Draft, everyone likes to play the role of expert. Whether it’s diagnosing team needs, doing mock drafts, or creating a big board of players, everyone wants the latest intel on what could happen this spring when the three day selection process begins.
As for the Pittsburgh Steelers, their team needs are many as they prepare for the offseason. With free agency being the first official event of the offseason, starting March 13th with the first day of tampering beginning, many of those needs will be met by acquiring veterans. Therefore, the team needs will change drastically before the draft.
However, it is worth taking a look at players who could be deemed “First Rounders”, or worthy of a first round selection. The Steelers possess the 17th overall draft pick, but it should also be noted they hold the Chicago Bears’ second round pick, which is the 32nd overall pick. With the Miami Dolphins forfeiting their first round pick, the first pick of the second round certainly has the feel of a second first round pick.
Matt Miller of ESPN tackled this assignment by identifying players who should be considered to be first round talent. He used a specific criteria, which is outlined below:
My own rule of thumb is evaluating whether each player would have been a first-round pick in every one of the past five draft classes. The list could grow or shrink over the next three-plus months following all-star events, the scouting combine and college pro days. But for now, here’s a look at the 2023 draft class’ Round 1 grades. Players’ overall rankings are in parentheses after their names.
What I did was list positions which the Steelers could possibly be targeting in the first round. Miller has positions like quarterback and wide receiver on his list, but I didn’t include them here considering I find it doubtful they approach those positions in Round 1.
Positions listed by Miller which weren’t included below were: QB, WR, RB, TE, EDGE
So, below are the positions the Steelers could target, and Miller addressed:
Peter Skoronski, Northwestern (No. 8)
Comp: Ryan Ramczyk
The 6-4, 315-pound left tackle plays with NFL-caliber power and heavy hands but has good mobility at the second level in the run game. Skoronski’s lack of length will be questioned by some teams, but he’s a powerhouse blocker in the run and pass game and is positioned to be a Year 1 starter in the NFL. He allowed just three sacks over 33 career starts.
Paris Johnson Jr., Ohio State (No. 9)
Comp: Terron Armstead
Johnson was arguably Ohio State’s best lineman during the 2021 season while playing out of position at right guard. He moved to his natural position of left tackle for 2022 and allowed just two sacks. The 6-6, 310-pound junior has solid quickness and balance while also playing with poise and power. He’s still ironing out his technique, but Johnson’s ceiling is potentially the best of any 2023 offensive lineman.
Broderick Jones, Georgia (No. 16)
Comp: Dion Dawkins
A former five-star recruit, Jones emerged in his first year as a starter and became one of the nation’s best left tackles. He has a level of toughness and strength to his game that’s hard to find, but he also shows the recovery agility and balance to compete with speedy outside pass-rushers. His game is raw given limited reps (19 starts), but his upside is through the roof. At 6-4 and 315 pounds, there might be arm length questions, but his tape is Round 1-caliber. Jones allowed zero sacks this season for Georgia.
Interior Offensive Line
Positional value has hit the interior of the offensive line, as NFL teams find high-level starters on Days 2 and 3 of the draft. The 2023 class features talented guards and centers — players like O’Cyrus Torrence (Florida), Luke Wypler (Ohio State) and John Michael Schmitz (Minnesota) — who could sneak into Round 1 but don’t carry an across-the-board first-round grade.
Jalen Carter, Georgia (No. 3)
Comp: Fletcher Cox
The 2021 Georgia defense had five players selected in the first round of the 2022 draft, and Carter (not eligible in that draft) might have actually been the best defender on the team. At 6-3 and 310 pounds, he has great first-step quickness and a powerful frame that can split double teams. Carter battled ankle and knee injuries this season and platooned on a deep Georgia defense last year, but he still accumulated six sacks and 16.5 tackles for loss over the past two seasons.
Devon Witherspoon, Illinois (No. 10)
Comp: Darius Slay
An aggressive and physical cornerback, Witherspoon is sticky in coverage and uses his size (6-1, 180 pounds) and quickness to stay in-phase and eliminate targets. He had three interceptions and 14 pass breakups this past season. And while run defense doesn’t get talked about much with corner prospects, Witherspoon’s open-field tackling ability is the best in the class at the position.
Joey Porter Jr., Penn State (No. 11)
Comp: Marlon Humphrey
Porter has standout instincts and physicality. The 6-2, 200-pound junior broke up 11 passes on limited targets in 2022, as opposing offenses stayed away from him. Porter has the length, toughness, speed and timing to be a top-tier NFL cornerback.
Christian Gonzalez, Oregon (No. 17)
Comp: Byron Jones
A transfer from Colorado, Gonzalez found his footing at Oregon under first-year coach Dan Lanning, who was the architect of the 2021 Georgia defense. Gonzalez has great size at 6-2 and 200 pounds, and his speed and leaping ability are elite traits. He had a breakout season in 2022 with four interceptions and seven pass breakups.
Brian Branch, Alabama (No. 18)
Comp: Jalen Pitre
Branch was the do-it-all Swiss Army knife for Nick Saban’s defense, and he should have an easy transition to the NFL as the league moves toward more versatile safeties. At 6-0 and 193 pounds, Branch has the size to make an impact in the run game from the box but also the burst and change-of-direction skills to lock up receivers and tight ends from the slot. Scouts rave about his instincts and ability to step into the pros right away, which showed on tape with seven pass breakups and only 19 completions allowed in 2022. It’s easy to see him being the next Tyrann Mathieu-like defender to make a splash in an NFL secondary.
What do you think of the above lists? Do you think the Steelers will go after one of these players with the 17th overall pick? If so, which one do you predict they’ll target? Let us know in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they press on throughout the offseason.