As the calendar slowly starts to move to April, the NFL Mock Drafts are going to get ratcheted up. With only weeks until the 2023 NFL Draft, everyone is trying to get their predictions out there for the world to see.
In this regard, some outlets get more attention than others, and ESPN certainly would fall into that category. Every year ESPN has Mike Tannenbaum do a “GM Mock Draft”. In this case, it isn’t what Tennenbaum is predicting will happen, but what he would do if he was the one making the calls on draft day.
Here is a quick synopsis of the exercise:
I’m sliding into the general manager chair for each team with a first-rounder and making my own picks. This isn’t what I’m expecting but rather how I’d personally approach each Day 1 selection. And what follows is based off my own evaluations, preferences and philosophies.
Every year people who follow the draft closely think they know exactly what will happen when the first round gets underway; however, the only thing to expect is the unexpected. In Tannenbaum’s latest mock draft, there was a run on quarterbacks, which is expected, but the next run is at the offensive tackle position. This makes for some unique movement with cornerbacks.
Let’s take a look...
1. Carolina Panthers (from CHI) - Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
2. Houston Texans - C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State
3. Arizona Cardinals - Will Anderson Jr., OLB, Alabama
4. Indianapolis Colts - Will Levis, QB, Kentucky
5. Seattle Seahawks (from DEN) - Hendon Hooker, QB, Tennessee
6. Detroit Lions (from LAR) - Tyree Wilson, DE, Texas Tech
7. Las Vegas Raiders - Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon
8. Atlanta Falcons - Myles Murphy, DE, Clemson
9. Chicago Bears (from CAR) - Peter Skoronski, OT/G, Northwestern
10. Philadelphia Eagles (from NO) - Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia
11. Tennessee Titans - Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida
12. Houston Texans (from CLE) - Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU
13. New York Jets - Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State
14. New England Patriots - Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee
15. Green Bay Packers - Dawand Jones, OT, Ohio State
16. Washington Commanders - Dalton Kincaid, TE, Utah
17. Pittsburgh Steelers - Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois
The Steelers allowed the fourth-highest yards per pass attempt (7.5) and tied for the second-most touchdowns passes against (29) in 2022. Cam Sutton has been replaced with Patrick Peterson, but Pittsburgh still needs a young cornerback. I love Witherspoon’s fit in the Steelers’ scheme; he is tough, competitive and an effective tackler. And among FBS qualified defenders, Witherspoon allowed the second-fewest yards per pass attempt (3.3). I consider him the most physical cornerback in this year’s draft, too.
18. Detroit Lions - Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia
19. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas
20. Seattle Seahawks - Lukas Van Ness, DE, Iowa
21. Los Angeles Chargers - Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
22. Baltimore Ravens - Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College
23. Minnesota Vikings - Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State
24. Jacksonville Jaguars - Anton Harrison, OT, Oklahoma
25. New York Giants - Jalin Hyatt, WR, Tennessee
26. Dallas Cowboys - Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame
27. Buffalo Bills - Jahmyr Gibbs, RB, Alabama
28. Cincinnati Bengals - Emmanuel Forbes, CB, Mississippi State
29. New Orleans Saints (from SF/MIA/DEN) - Jordan Addison, WR, USC
30. Philadelphia Eagles - Nolan Smith, OLB, Georgia
31. Kansas City Chiefs - Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland
For those who don’t know much about Witherspoon as a prospect, or maybe never thought he’d be available at No. 17, here is a breakdown of his game via the Draft Network:
Witherspoon has an impressive nose for the football in every way. He does well to find the football in man coverage and play the hands of receivers, and he has excellent rally skills from depth to step up and find the football in run support on the perimeter. He’s developed a reputation this season as a big hitter thanks to some instinctive plays to flash and react to the football on quick-hitting plays outside—he brings excellent confidence in his tackling form through contact to generate big hits and collision ball carriers. I have been impressed with his timing as a defender to sync his challenges of the football in the air with the arrival of the ball, allowing him to rake the hands of receivers and break up passes. These instincts are impressive when you consider that he’s only been playing football since his junior year of high school, leaving room for even more upward growth in his play as he continues to immerse himself in the game.
I do think he’s a better man defender than he is in zone, although he was effective at both during this past season with Illinois. But eyes in the backfield take away his rarest quality as a man corner and open the door for him to be manipulated and moved by savvy quarterbacks. The hitting power Witherspoon offers in spite of his stature is a testament to his form and confidence, but he is a player who will have some size questions about playing in the NFL—ideally, your man defender can press up in the face of receivers and disrupt the timing of the route early at the line of scrimmage. Witherspoon’s ability to do so was present in college but is a bit of a projection to the NFL if he’s going to play around his current listed weight. If not, he may be destined to play the nickel. The good news? Nickel defenders have never been more valuable in the NFL—especially ones who can tackle and fit the run like Witherspoon. But there is always a stigma on positional value for a “third” corner, so the question will be which NFL teams have conviction that he can stay and thrive outside.
Witherspoon should have little issue appealing to NFL teams with his play style, physical skills, and versatility. The question will be whether or not teams grant him the chance to play outside or if they feel his frame limits him to only be effective in the slot. I believe he has a chance to be a winning player on the perimeter and therefore would offer him the opportunity to play there first. With more refinement, he could thrive in a man-heavy system and be an impact starter.
Top Reasons to Buy In:
- Experience and success in man coverage
- Tremendous ball skills
- Tone-setting personality
- Good tackler
- Special teams resume
Top Reasons For Concern:
- Lean frame offers questions against powerful perimeter WRs
- Can be over-eager to make a play at times
- Will teams try to box him into playing the slot?
Ideal Role: Perimeter cornerback
Scheme Fit: Man heavy
So, after looking at how the first round panned out, what do you think of the Steelers top pick? On top of that, looking at all 31 picks in the first round, what would you want the Steelers to do in Round 2 with the 32nd and 49th picks in that round?
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 2023 NFL offseason.