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Steelers 7-Round Mock Draft: Steelers go defense-heavy in early rounds

The Steelers address defense early in Andrew Wilbar’s latest 7-round Steelers mock draft.

Purdue v Maryland Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

The first rush of NFL Free Agency is in the books, and each team’s biggest needs are becoming clearer by the day. With much having transpired over the past couple weeks, it is time for a new Steelers mock draft!

The unexpected signing of Isaac Seumalo has made the drafting of an offensive lineman early seem rather unlikely in the early rounds, while both the losses and acquisitions on defense indicate a defense-heavy draft. Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts will help compensate the loss of last year’s starters, but the team is still in need of a rangy coverage linebacker. With the loss of Terrell Edmunds, this makes the need even greater.

Cornerback and safety are other areas where the Steelers currently lack depth, as both Cameron Sutton and Terrell Edmunds are gone. Patrick Peterson is a viable replacement and potential upgrade from Sutton, but there is no free agent currently available that is certain to replicate what Edmunds did for the Steelers, especially when it comes to covering tight ends.

With so many positions in need of improvement, it is difficult to predict what the Steelers will do at this point. Nonetheless, here is my latest attempt to predict what the Steelers might be thinking as it pertains to the 2023 NFL Draft.

Steelers receive picks 25, 57, and 172

Pick 25- Deonte Banks | CB | Maryland

I know, I know. The two things that scare Steelers fans more than anything are drafting a cornerback in Round 1 and drafting a Maryland player. However, I feel as if many Steelers fans are being unfair to Banks due to these fears. I am in no way campaigning for him to be the selection at Pick 17, but fans who call him a “workout warrior and nothing else” are seriously deceived and clearly have not watched any of his tape.

Banks is an aggressive boundary corner with clean footwork, loose hips, and fantastic speed. Defending 8 passes in 2022, Banks possesses solid ball skills, although he is still not incredibly confident when his back is to the ball. That will likely come with more experience, as he was only the full-time starter for one season at Maryland. The lack of experience will scare fans off, but his physicality near the line of scrimmage combined with his fluidity in coverage will be enough for some team to take him in Round 1. Taking him at Pick 25 feels much better than at Pick 17.

Pick 32- Trenton Simpson | ILB | Clemson

There are concerns about Simpson’s instincts and processing, but there is no denying his athleticism and tremendous upside. He is a true sideline-to-sideline ‘backer with the size to hold up consistently against the run. It is too big a risk to consider him at Pick 17, but he has the youth, the brains, and the physicality to smoothen the rough edges of his game and become an imposing NFL linebacker. He just needs to be in the right system.

Pick 49- Sydney Brown | S | Illinois

There is always a chance Pittsburgh moves Minkah Fitzpatrick to strong safety and starts Damontae Kazee at free safety, but the Steelers need a guy who can come down into the box on early downs and give the defense more versatility. Brown is a dynamic athlete who possesses great range, fluidity in coverage, and outstanding instincts. He has consistently showcased his ability to come downhill and play the run, hang with dynamic receivers in coverage, and even blitz off the edge.

Pick 57 (via Giants)- Mazi Smith | NT | Michigan

This pick would excite me more than any. The Steelers have not done anything to address the defensive line this offseason outside of the Larry Ogunjobi re-signing, which makes it almost a certainty to be addressed within the first three picks. The buzz surrounding Smith has heated up over the past couple weeks, and Tony Pauline of Pro Football Network seems to agree in one of his recent rumor articles.

I can confirm Smith had private meetings with the Jets, Steelers, and Jaguars. In fact, he met with Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin twice this week.

The sense I’m getting is the Steelers would select Smith over Bryan Breese of Clemson if, in fact, it is a battle between the two at pick No. 17. Pittsburgh would prefer Smith’s rough-and-tumble style over the finesse Breese brings.

Now, I am not going to go as far as to say that Smith will be taken in Round 1, but he is an absolute freak of nature who will give the Steelers an elite run-defending presence in the middle of the defensive line.

Pick 80- Xavier Hutchinson | WR | Iowa State

Hutchinson put together a solid workout at the combine, and the Steelers seemed to take notice. I reported several weeks ago that Hutchinson met with the Steelers in Indy, and the Steelers brass was present for his pro day. Could they have been there for potential first-round pick Will McDonald? It could be, but I am not getting a sense that Pittsburgh is going to take an EDGE rusher early. As of now, the plan is still to bring in Bud Dupree and extend Alex Highsmith. Hutchinson is another receiving option on the boundary who possesses strong route-running ability as well as the size and physicality to come down with jump balls.

Pick 120- Will Mallory | TE | Miami

Mallory is not going to do much for you as a blocker, but he is an explosive receiver up the seams, and he finds creative ways to get open and make plays. He is not the prototypical Steelers tight end, but if Matt Canada wants to run more 12-personnel on offense, I could see Pittsburgh taking a stab on an athletic tight end in the middle rounds.

Pick 172- Nick Herbig | EDGE | Wisconsin

We know how the Steelers love making family reunions happen, and another one may be on the horizon. Herbig does not possess ideal length for an EDGE rusher, but he brings the tenacity and quickness the Steelers like in their pass rushers.

Pick 234- Deuce Vaughn | RB | Kansas State

Vaughn is not the back I would be looking to pursue, but the Steelers have no proven depth Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren. Adding a running back with some additional burst may be in the Steelers’ cards this offseason. Measuring in at only 5’5”, 179 pounds, Vaughn is definitely a durability risk, but he could provide a change-of-pace option for Matt Canada’s offense.

Pick 241- Steven Gilmore | CB | Marshall

Likely a nickel-only corner in his first year, Gilmore brings a boatload of potential to the table from an athletic standpoint. He lacks the size to be a huge difference-maker on the outside, but he is a fluid, schematically-versatile corner with bloodlines of NFL success.

What are your thoughts on this mock? Would you approve of these selections? What do you think makes the most sense for the Steelers? Be sure to share your thoughts on this and all things NFL Draft in the comment section below!