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NFL Mock Draft: Steelers add an inexperienced edge rusher with their top pick

In the latest mock draft, the Steelers go with a high-ceiling OLB who did not start any games in college.

Iowa v Nebraska Photo by Steven Branscombe/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers are pushing through the 2023 offseason. With free agency slowing down, the NFL draft later this week is where most teams will be adding significant pieces for 2023 and beyond. The Steelers have already added many free agent acquisitions before making their first draft selection.

When talking about mock drafts or NFL free agency, you have to first identify the team’s main needs for the offseason. After the gains and losses in free agency, there are some who would like to see the Steelers go with either offensive line or defensive line with their first-round pick. Others feel inside linebacker or cornerback could be on top of the list. With the Steelers shaping their roster prior to April, their goal of getting into position to draft the best player available rather than target a specific position seems to be within reach. When it comes to what position the team will select with their first pick, it is certainly up for debate.

In a recent seven-round mock draft by NFL.com, they have the Steelers addressing the edge position before anything else. With many questions remaining as to the depth at the position, and with the player selected also being a former defensive lineman, there are multiples ways the player could be utilized. Since the Steelers could go in any number of directions with their first selection, it is important to look at all the possibilities presented by various mock draft outlets.

Check out the Steelers 17th pick:

17. Pittsburgh Steelers | Lukas Van Ness | EDGE | Iowa | So. |

Although it’s the very end the draft process, there may be some players fans are not familiar with. If this is the case, here is a breakdown of Van Ness according to thedraftnetwork.com:

Lukas Van Ness NFL Draft Scouting Report

EDGE, Iowa Hawkeyes

Lukas Van Ness grew up playing hockey and started playing football in the eighth grade. After redshirting in 2020, Van Ness spent 2021 as more of an interior defensive lineman before playing primarily on the edge in 2022. That transition started during spring practices in 2022.

There’s so much to like about Van Ness and it starts with his functional strength. His ability to convert speed to power and play through blockers is outstanding. He maximizes his ability to bull rush and collapse the pocket with plus length, timing, and functional power to truly stress the anchor of offensive linemen. For a player of his body composition, I’m surprised by how much burst and flexibility he has to get off the ball, corner, flatten, and close. A B-gap defender in 2021, Van Ness is playing primarily on the edge and still getting chances to reduce inside. He should be able to bring that type of inside/outside versatility to an NFL defensive line, making him a wide-ranging fit, especially for the amount of fronts in today’s NFL that are multiple. Van Ness is a high-ceiling prospect that is still only scratching the surface of what he can become as a defensive playmaker.

Despite being a highly attractive prospect, Van Ness never started a game for the Hawkeyes’ defense—although he received a significant amount of playing time in a rotational role. While he has all the power, length, and movement skills to be an outstanding run defender, his block recognition skills have room to improve so he can be more consistent fitting the run and leveraging gaps. Van Ness has a strong foundation as a pass rusher but he needs to continue to build his repertoire of moves off his length and power. He should become even more dynamic as he develops his vision to read the set of blockers and his technique becomes second nature.

Van Ness has the makings of an impact starter in the NFL where he has a high ceiling to develop into. His room for growth makes him even more exciting given his relative newness to playing on the edge.

Top Reasons to Buy In:

Functional strength

Flexibility and burst for his body type

Motor and room for development

Top Reasons For Concern:

Block recognition

Expanding pass rush repertoire

Inexperience

For all you who are preparing yourself for the draft, what do you think of the selection? Would you be on board with the Steelers taking Van Ness with their first pick? Or do you feel there is a better player at this position, this position should be avoided, or that Van Ness won’t be around at the 17th pick? Personally, I have run the gamut of emotions when it comes to the selection. While I’m hopeful the Steelers have a better option at a different position, if the draft falls in a certain way I could see this being the selection. The fact that Van Ness has only played one year on the edge and wasn’t even a starter does not scream confidence when it comes to a first-round draft pick at the 17th selection. And even though it worked out for the Steelers in the past by taking an edge rusher that was converted from another position and they went on to become the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, that shouldn’t he recipe the Steelers are thinking could be easily repeated. For this reason, I hope that they will be a much more clear-cut option for the Steelers and pick 17 then choosing a player who may be no more than a rotational piece for quite some time. But if the Steelers see something they can’t pass up, don’t be surprised to her his name called.

Note: This series began in January and ran all the way up to the 2023 NFL Draft. Each week highlighted a new player. For this reason, sometimes it takes an outside-the-box mock draft in order to highlight a different possibility. These mock drafts are in no way an endorsement from BTSC.