The 2023 NFL Draft is just weeks away, and throughout the time period from the end of the NCAA football season concluding, and the draft beginning, a lot can change. Players can have bad times at the NFL Scouting Combine, off the field issues, or they could just not appeal to many NFL teams.
Either way, some players’ stock can drop during the offseason.
Likewise, players can also see their stock rise. Surprisingly good testing, playing well in All-Star games, and an overall improvement in their game can have teams now looking at them in a different light.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, there are several of these players at positions of need. For most fans, they know the general team needs heading into the draft:
There are other positions which could fall under the umbrella of team needs, but those are the ones which most would have atop their lists.
With that out of the way, are there players who are seeing their stock rise at some of those positions? Absolutely, but understand this isn’t just Round 1, but throughout the 3-day process. A recent article by Jeff Legwold of ESPN highlights some of these players. Check out who they are, and why they might fit what the Steelers want throughout the process.
Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee
Scouts Inc. ranking: 17
How far he climbed boards: Wright is the body-of-work riser. Scouts had a third-round grade on him, at best, in August. They thought he had been inconsistent at the Vols’ left tackle in 2021. So, in a lot of databases, he opened the season as a Day 2 or even early Day 3 pick. Now, he sits solidly with a first-round grade and is expected to be among the first tackles off the board.
Turning point: Sept. 1, when Wright lined up at right tackle in the Vols’ season opener against Ball State. After the 2021 season at left, he went back to the right side. And the confluence of time, experience, work and the positional return — he played right tackle and right guard in 2019, right tackle in 2020 — resulted in Wright playing with better footwork and technique this past fall.
Yasir Abdullah, Edge, Louisville
Scouts Inc. ranking: 102
How far he climbed boards: It varies from team to team, with those who have a specific role for him saying he could be a late Day 2 pick. That’s a multiple-round jump from the heart of the 2022 season for some in the league. But again, it likely depends on there being a defensive coordinator who has a vision for a player who produces as an edge rusher despite height-weight measurements that don’t fit the norm.
Turning point: He is the classic case of a player getting plenty of attention throughout the season who does something astonishing at the Senior Bowl or the combine to force scouts to reconsider. People knew he rushed the passer with success despite being 6-0 ½, 237 pounds, but when he uncorked a 4.47 40-yard dash at the combine, he got a deeper look.
Chandler Zavala, G, NC State
Scouts Inc. ranking: 251
How far he climbed boards: Zavala, who was not invited to the combine, has made several top-30 visits in recent weeks. He has the potential to be a draft weekend surprise and could sneak into the top 120 picks if the board falls his way.
Turning point: He missed seven games in 2021 because of a back injury after transferring from Division II Fairmont State, where he was a two-year starter. Fairmont did not have a fall season in 2020 because of COVID-19. His work this past season — when he showed himself to be a powerful drive blocker with quality footwork in pass protection — has moved him up the charts.
Isaiah Land, OLB, Florida A&M
Scouts Inc. ranking: 273
How far he climbed boards: He could move into Day 3 if a team is comfortable with the idea that he might have to learn a new position as they try to take advantage of what he has shown as an edge rusher.
Turning point: Land is an example of a tweener, and his standing after the 2021 season was likely higher than it was as the 2022 season unfolded. He has rebuilt some of that interest over the past four months. When he drew favorable reviews for his work at inside linebacker in some of the Senior Bowl practices, it added to the premium work he already had on game video as an edge rusher. At 6-3½, 236 pounds, teams are going to have to figure out where to play him, especially since his timed speed (4.62 in the 40 at the combine) didn’t really match his game speed.
Joey Fisher, OT, Shepherd
Scouts Inc. ranking: 292
How far he climbed boards: He has climbed enough that 31 teams had representatives at his pro day. It was an important day on the calendar for Fisher since he was injured during the NFLPA game, could not participate in the Senior Bowl and was not invited to the combine. After his pro day, scouts have said he could land anywhere from the fourth to sixth round.
Turning point: Fisher and Kentucky cornerback Keidron Smith were late invitees to the Senior Bowl rosters, but Fisher suffered a fractured hand on the second snap of the NFLPA game. He was scheduled to fly to the Senior Bowl immediately following the NFLPA game but didn’t get to participate in practices in Mobile.
Keep your eyes on these players as potential mid-to-late round picks in the upcoming NFL Draft. In the meantime, be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the rest of the NFL offseason.