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2023 NFL Mock Draft 2.0: 3 teams trade up for QBs, Steelers address defense early

The Pittsburgh Steelers address the defensive side of the football early in the draft.

Miami v Clemson Photo by Eakin Howard/Getty Images

The Senior Bowl behind us, the Scouting Combine before us! The month of February is quickly coming to a close, and we are just over two months away from the biggest event of the NFL offseason taking place. With this in mind, it is time for another mock draft!

If you have seen my mock drafts before, the rules have not changed. For those that are new, let me explain how my mock drafts work. Each draft cycle, I have five NFL mock drafts, with the final 5.0 mock draft being a full, seven-round projection. Most importantly, these mocks are a projection based off what makes sense (i.e. team fit, need filler, rumored interest). They are not based on what I want to happen or what I would do if I was the general manager for each team.

The NFL Scouting Combine will shake up these draft projections, and free agency will impact what teams are looking for in the draft, but now that we know who is returning to school and whose stock was impacted by the Senior Bowl, it is a good time to make some adjustments. The Steelers’ biggest needs are currently offensive tackle, cornerback, and guard, with linebacker and nose tackle following closely behind.

In mock draft 1.0, I gave the Steelers offensive lineman Cody Mauch from North Dakota State in Round 1. Mauch had a great week at the Senior Bowl and has since boosted his stock, making the selection at 17 much less of a stretch than it may have seemed a month ago. You can check out that mock draft below.

If you have thoughts on your team’s selection(s), be sure to share them in the comment section below, but without further adieu, it is time to dive into mock draft 2.0!

Round 1

Bears receive Colts 1st, 3rd, 5th, and 2024 1st round picks

1. *Colts- Bryce Young | QB | Alabama

I could have gone with Stroud here, but Young seems to fit what Shane Steichen wants to do on offense. Good landing spot for the polarizing quarterback.

2. Texans- C.J. Stroud | QB | Ohio State

Inconsistency is the major concern with Stroud, but his game against Georgia was eye-opening. If he is given halfway decent protection up front, he can take an offense to the next level.

3. Cardinals- Will Anderson | EDGE | Alabama

Anderson seems to be slowly dropping in mock drafts, but there is no reason for it. His explosiveness off the edge is second to none in this class.

4. *Bears- Jalen Carter | DT | Georgia

Carter did not rack up great stats in 2022, but he was not fully healthy for a good portion of the season. Players his size should not have the quickness he possesses.

5. Seahawks- Tyree Wilson | EDGE | Texas Tech

Wilson is still quite raw, but he is about to open eyes at the Combine. His numbers are going to be off the charts.

6. Lions- Devon Witherspoon | CB | Illinois

This is a little high for my liking, but with a strong Combine, I think this is the range where Witherspoon is likely to be taken. The Lions have a gaping hole at corner, and Witherspoon is an excellent schematic fit.

Raiders receive Commanders 1st, 2nd, and 2024 3rd round picks

7. *Commanders- Anthony Richardson | QB | Florida

Yes, before Will Levis. With Eric Bieniemy coming in as offensive coordinator, I expect Washington to go big or go home at quarterback. Will Levis may give them some Carson Wentz vibes.

8. Falcons- Myles Murphy | EDGE | Clemson

Atlanta is not entirely out of the quarterback conversation, but after drafting Desmond Ridder just one year ago, they may opt to address their porous defensive line.

9. Panthers- Bijan Robinson | RB | Texas

I do not like taking running backs that high, but with D’Onta Foreman hitting free agency, the team may have a need there come April. I also think Carolina would prefer going after a veteran quarterback as opposed to drafting one.

10. Eagles- Brian Bresee | DL | Clemson

Philly has a boatload of defensive line talent set to hit free agency, but they could secure the interior of the line with Bresee. If he can remain healthy, he will form an excellent pairing with Jordan Davis.

Titans receive Buccaneers 1st and 2nd round picks

11. *Buccaneers- Will Levis | QB | Kentucky

Levis’ stock continues to drop, as he has not taken advantage of the opportunity to show off his skill at any of the offseason bowl games. However, he is immensely talented, and Tampa needs a new face of the franchise. In this mock, Todd Bowles moves two spots ahead of his former team, the Jets, to secure his services.

12. Texans- Lukas Van Ness | EDGE | Iowa

The Texans need just about everything, but they are especially barren in the pass rush department. Van Ness does an excellent job of converting speed to power.

13. Jets- Peter Skoronski | OT | Northwestern

Skoronski does have length concerns, but the Jets cannot rely on Mekhi Becton to stay healthy. Skoronski is the safest tackle prospect in the class.

14. Patriots- Joey Porter, Jr. | CB | Penn State

Porter is high on my radar for the Steelers, but I expect his stock to rise after the combine. Bill Belichick will love his athleticism, instincts, and bloodlines.

15. Packers- Brian Branch | DB | Alabama

If Adrian Amos is not retained, Green Bay will have a major hole in the secondary. Branch’s versatility will intrigue teams as the draft nears.

16. *Raiders- Christian Gonzalez | CB | Oregon

Gonzalez is still fairly rough around the edges, but he possesses all the talent in the world. He would be tough to pass on for the corner-needy Raiders.

17. Steelers- Trenton Simpson | LB | Clemson

If Joey Porter, Jr. had been available, he would have been the selection. Unfortunately for the Steelers, the run on defensive backs may begin and end before they are on the clock, although we will know more after the combine. Offensive tackle could most certainly be in play here, with Broderick Jones and Paris Johnson both available. After all, Andy Weidl has a long history of prioritizing the trenches in the draft. On the flip side, the Steelers have never prioritized the left tackle position, making it far from a certainty that they go in said direction.

While O’Cyrus Torrence would be a safe choice, he may not fit the mold of what the Steelers are looking for from a schematic standpoint. Defensive line is another area of need, but with all the first-round prospects being off the board at that position, it opens the door for the Steelers to evaluate a position they love to draft early on: linebacker.

This year’s linebacker class is historically weak, but there is one prospect in great position to rise on draft boards after the NFL Scouting Combine. That is none other than Clemson’s Trenton Simpson. At 6’3”, 240 pounds, Simpson could run as low as 4.3 in the 40, and he is expected to test outstandingly across the board. A true freak athlete, Simpson fits to a tee what the Steelers brass has valued in linebackers of the past.

The downside with Simpson is the lack of production paired with inconsistency. Recording a modest 72 tackles, 4 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and 3 passes defended, Simpson did not rack up the numbers one would expect from someone with his athleticism and playmaking ability. Coming off a sophomore season in which he racked up 12.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks, it was quite the disappointment. Nonetheless, the talent is undeniable.

What makes this such a Steelers pick is truly his world-class athleticism. With Devin Bush set to become a free agent and a new linebackers coach coming in, this seems like an ideal time for Pittsburgh to make changes if they truly want to. While I am a big supporter of Devin Bush, he has simply not been the dynamic playmaker he was before his season-ending injury in 2020. Bringing in Simpson would not only give the Steelers the athleticism they love, but also the length they currently lack at the position.

Lions get Ravens 1st and 2024 3rd round pick

18. *Ravens- Will McDonald IV | EDGE | Iowa State

With Baltimore set to lose multiple veterans up front, now would be the time to find a long-term pass-rushing partner for David Ojabo.

19. *Titans- Broderick Jones | OT | Georgia

With Taylor Lewan no longer in the picture, this is the obvious direction and the dream scenario for the Titans here.

20. Seahawks- Zay Flowers | WR | Boston College

This may seem like a bit of a stretch, but Tyler Lockett is not getting any younger, and there is no receiver depth behind him and D.K. Metcalf. Flowers’ frame may limit his ability down the field, and he may not have elite speed, but he knows how to separate, and he always gives 100% effort.

21. Chargers- Paris Johnson | OT | Ohio State

While there are some technical issues Johnson needs to clean up, he is a sound pass protector with the versatility to play on either side of the line.

22. *Lions- Michael Mayer | TE | Notre Dame

Brock Wright made a case last season to become the next Lions starting tight end, but he still has to be retained through free agency. Mayer would give the Lions a complete tight end who is in a similar mold to T.J. Hockenson.

23. Vikings- Emmanuel Forbes | CB | Mississippi State

Forbes needs to add some weight to his frame, but he is an immensely talented prospect who can fit in multiple schemes.

24. Jaguars- Cody Mauch | OL | North Dakota State

This is still higher than you will see Mauch taken in most mocks, but he would give Jacksonville a much-needed dose of physicality and versatility up front.

25. Giants- Quentin Johnston | WR | TCU

Johnston could rise into the top 10 with a strong combine later this week, but in this scenario, Brian Daboll takes advantage of an unexpected fall.

26. Cowboys- Nolan Smith | EDGE | Georgia

I am a big fan of Smith, but the injury concerns may scare some teams off. Pass rusher may not be Dallas’ number one need, but Smith’s value is too good to pass up here.

27. Bills- Jalin Hyatt | WR | Tennessee

Hyatt could run one of the fastest 40s at the combine. He would be an excellent complement to Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis.

28. Bengals- Antonio Johnson | S | Texas A&M

With Jesse Bates and Vonn Bell not under contract, safety is a major concern. Johnson can secure his status as a top-40 selection with a strong week in Indy.

29. Saints- Tuli Tuipulotu | DL | USC

The Saints are in danger of losing multiple players along the defensive line, but this may be a nice spot in the draft to begin reloading. Tuipolutu is coming off an incredible 2022 season, which included 22 tackles for loss and 13.5 sacks. At 6’4”, 290 pounds, he provides a great blend of twitchiness and power.

Eagles get Cardinals 2nd and 4th round picks

30. Cardinals- Jordan Addison | WR | USC

Arizona’s receiving corps is slowly deteriorating, and in a draft where receiver depth is pretty average, they may need to move up to secure their guy. Addison makes sense due to the mutual connection he and Kyler Murray have with Lincoln Riley and his system.

31. Chiefs- Jahmyr Gibbs | RB | Alabama

I thought about Jaxon Smith-Njigba here, but I do not see Andy Reid giving up on Skyy Moore after just one season. Gibbs is an explosive back who would form quite the pairing with Isiah Pacheco.

Round 2

32. Steelers- Kelee Ringo | CB | Georgia

I originally had Tyrique Stevenson here, but after diving into it a little further, Ringo seems to fit the Steelers’ criteria for cornerbacks a little better. The two were actually teammates for a short stint at Georgia, but Stevenson’s transfer to Miami actually helped open the door for Kelee Ringo to become a full-time starter in 2021. However, a downturn in performance this past season has caused Ringo’s draft stock to slip.

Going by what history has taught us, Ringo seems like a typical Steelers draft darling. He is only 20 years old, and he possesses as much talent as any corner in the class. The problem is that his inconsistency only worsened as the season progressed, and his struggles were specifically prevalent in the SEC Championship game and College Football Playoff semifinals. He does not always get great position against receivers off the line, and he is extremely tight in the hips, allowing for sharp route-runners to get the best of him.

While it is not quite as big a risk at 32 as it is at 17, the selection of Kelee Ringo would be incredibly polarizing. The upside is undeniable, but how long will the Steelers have to wait to see return on their investment? Regardless, keep a close eye on Ringo at the combine. He should run one of the faster 40s.

33. Texans- Jaxon Smith-Njigba | WR | Ohio State
34. *Eagles- O’Cyrus Torrence | G | Florida
35. Colts- Byron Young | DL | Alabama
36. Rams- Darnell Wright | OT | Tennessee
37. Seahawks- Cam Smith | CB | South Carolina
38. Raiders- Siaki Ika | DT | Baylor
39. Panthers- John Michael Schmitz | C | Minnesota
40. Saints- Aidan O’Connell | QB | Purdue
41. Titans- BJ Ojulari | EDGE | LSU
42. Browns- Derick Hall | EDGE | Auburn
43. Jets- Luke Wypler | C | Ohio State
44. Falcons- Dawand Jones | OT | Ohio State
45. Packers- Darnell Washington | TE | Georgia
46. Patriots- Anton Harrison | OT | Oklahoma
47. Raiders (projected from Commanders)- Nick Saldiveri | OL | Old Dominion
48. Lions- Daiyan Henley | ILB | Washington State

49. Steelers- Keeanu Benton | DT | Wisconsin

With Tyson Alualu unlikely to return for 2023, defensive line becomes an immediate need. Some see Benton as a better fit in a 4-3 system, but the Steelers have already shown significant interest in the Wisconsin standout during the early portion of the draft process. While I am not fully on board with Benton yet, he did improve his value as a pass-rusher and three-down contributor in 2022, recording 4.5 sacks and 10 tackles for loss. When he plays loose and free, he is much more effective creating penetration. However, he does get a little stiff from time to time, struggling to split gaps and create raucous in the backfield on a consistent basis. He also struggles to disengage from some of the more physical linemen. Fortunately, his active hands makes it difficult for linemen to lock onto him in the first place. The concerns are most definitely valid, but at the end of the day, I’ll take the combo of Benton’s talent and Karl Dunbar’s coaching any day of the week.

50. Titans (projected from Buccaneers)- Rashee Rice | WR | SMU
51. Dolphins- Devon Achane | RB | Texas A&M
52. Seahawks- Drew Sanders | LB | Arkansas
53. Bears- Andre Carter | EDGE | Army
54. Chargers- Jack Campbell | ILB | Iowa
55. Lions- Sydney Brown | S | Illinois
56. Jaguars- DeWayne McBride | RB | UAB
57. Giants- DeMarvion Overshown | ILB | Texas
58. Cowboys- Calijah Kancey | DL | Pittsburgh
59. Bills- Jaelyn Duncan | OT | Maryland
60. Bengals- Deonte Banks | CB | Maryland
61. Panthers- Kayshon Boutte | WR | LSU
62. Eagles- Clark Phillips III | CB | Utah
63. Chiefs- Matthew Bergeron | OT | Syracuse

There you have it, Steelers fans! Which pick was your favorite? Do you think these picks are realistic? Who would you take with each pick? Be sure to light up the comment section below with your thoughts on this and all things NFL Draft!

For more analysis on this mock draft, check out the Steelers Fix podcast in the player below: