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2023 NFL Draft: Best of the rest entering Day 3

Still plenty of strong options at multiple positions for the Steelers.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 12 Wisconsin at Iowa

2023 NFL Draft: Best of the rest entering Day 3

Through four picks, the Steelers have landed an elite collection of not only talent, but ability at positions of need.

General manager Omar Khan began the second round by snagging Joey Porter Jr. at Pick 32, giving the organization a blue-chip cornerback with an elite track record. Then, at Pick 49, the team snared Wisconsin DL Keeanu Benton, whom it had consistently expressed interest in in the pre-draft cycle — and who will now line up at nose tackle alongside Cam Heyward and Larry Ogunjobi. Ultimately, Khan traded down from Pick 80 to 93 and was still able to land Georgia TE Darnell Washington, who is a true freak at 6-foot-7.

With OT, CB, DL and TE already taken, who are some of the best players left on Day Three, and who might appeal to Pittsburgh? Using BTSC’s Big Board rankings and evaluations, let’s take a spin.

Top 10 Overall Prospects Remaining

1. Adetomiwa Adebawore, DL, Northwestern (BTSC Rank: No. 31)

Senior, 6-foot-2, 282 lbs.

Noah_E: Adebawore is one of the most versatile defenders in the class. He can get after the quarterback as an edge rusher or line up on the inside and still cause havoc. He dominated at the senior bowl and bullied Cody Mauch on multiple occasions. He’s very explosive which he uses to his advantage and blows past interior linemen. Adebawore is also a good run stopper, consistently setting the edge and wrapping up tackles. His bend could use work and he relies a lot on his physical tools, something that won’t always work against NFL level tackles. I think he could thrive in a 4-3 defense due to his ability to lineup anywhere along the defensive line.

The fact that Adebawore is not yet off the board is stunning. Yes, he was used all over the Wildcats’ defensive line, and his size isn’t perfect for playing inside, but he flat out dominated the Senior Bowl and Combine. Some are speculating there may be a medical issue, but Adebawore never had a history of injuries in Evanston.

Expect Adebawore to go early in Round Four.

2. Clark Phillips III, CB, Utah (No. 51)

Senior, 5-foot-9, 184 lbs.

John O: Phillips was the Pac 12 defensive player of the year as a CB. This is a big honor as he’s a small, quick CB that mirrors WRs well, but should get outplayed by taller WRs. Phillips found a way in college via tenacity, gumption, and decent technique to play outside CB for Utah and play quite well. In the NFL, he’ll again need to make up for his subpar size and find a way to make plays. He likely has the legs and feet to help him do so as he bends and turns his hips better than most, plus he follows and plays the ball well. With his smaller size, some will project him as a slot CB, but he may be able to play outside. Again, he has better technique than many, and he seems to have the heart to match. His ability to defend the run and not get pushed around as an outside CB is in question. He will bring determination but will his body and technique hold up? Overall, Phillips will play in the NFL – likely for many years. The question is in what role.

Phillips is rather small and didn’t test amazingly in Indy — notching a mediocre 5.60 RAS. Even then, Phillips has a smooth backpedal, explosiveness out of his stance, fluid hips, outstanding instincts and a much faster playing speed than his 40 would indicate.

Phillips does have to work on tackling, and he probably best projects as a slot/nickel in the NFL. Even then, he was widely figured to have already been taken. The Utah product shouldn’t last long as several teams intend to find a productive corner.

3. Israel Abanikanda, RB, Pitt (No. 54)

Junior, 5-foot-10, 216 lbs.

Noah_E: The thing that sticks out the most when you watch Abanikanda is his vision. He finds the hole on every play and displays incredible patience, while also being able to bounce it outside if he needs to. He gets up to speed quickly and is hard to bring down when he gets there. He keeps his legs churning, and even though he lacks the elusiveness to consistently make guys miss, he will run right through you. Abanikanda’s 40 time will heavily influence his draft stock, as his long speed is his biggest flaw. He didn’t get a lot of receiving work over his three years at Pitt, but that is something that can be fixed. Other than Bijan there aren’t any big name Running Backs in this class, but it is deep and Israel Abanikanda is going to make a team very happy.

Abanikanda burst on to the scene for the Panthers in 2022, rushing for 1,431 yards and a gaudy 20 touchdowns. While he didn’t partake in tests at the Combine, he put together a fabulous Pro Day, running a 4.41 40-yard dash and jumping 41 inches.

With seven running backs having been taken in the first three rounds, Abanikanda is likely one of the best available RBs in this year’s class, and would be a productive addition to any room.

4. Chase Brown, RB, Illinois (No. 57)

Redshirt senior, 5-foot-9 ½, 209 lbs.

Noah_E: Bijan is the undisputed RB1 in this class, and nothing will change that, but I was thoroughly impressed after watching Chase Brown. His combination of speed and power make him a home-run threat on every play. His vision is outstanding and saying that he’s hard to bring down would be an understatement. He gets to the line of scrimmage quickly with incredible burst and doesn’t get tackled for loss very often. Like a lot of other backs in the draft, Brown had a limited receiving workload throughout his college career. Still, he showed potential with his ability to make guys miss after the catch and be a reliable check-down option. His size is a concern at 6’0” and just 200 pounds, but he possesses a solid frame that should hopefully hold up in the NFL. Brown isn’t a very high-profile guy, but he has the talent to be a starter right out of the gate, and I think he is going to shock a lot of people.

Like Abanikanda, Brown was one of the more productive running backs in the nation over the course of his Illini career, accumulating three All-Big Ten selections. While not the biggest, Brown posted a 9.80 RAS, an indication of his great athleticism.

Brown’s twin brother Sydney was picked by the Eagles in the third round. Now, Chase should be a top RB option for teams — and maybe even Philly if Howie Roseman trades into the fourth or fifth rounds.

5. Darius Rush, CB, South Carolina (No. 59)

Redshirt senior, 6-foot-2, 198 lbs.

Noah_E: After a great showing at the senior bowl and an even better combine, Darius Rush has been one of the biggest risers in the draft over the last few weeks. He was a receiver when he came to South Carolina and only switched to the defensive side of the ball during fall camp before his Redshirt Freshman season. His background as a receiver has benefited him greatly as he has incredible ball skills and seems to know where the ball is going before the receiver does. He has NFL-caliber length and athletic ability. Rush does a good job mirroring his man and is sticky in man coverage. He does need to be smoother in his transition and he doesn’t have the foot speed to keep up with twitchier guys. Rush won’t be talked about with the premier guys in this class, but he’s going to make a team very happy.

Rush saw his Gamecock secondary mate Cam Smith get taken by the Dolphins at 51st overall. A strong player in his own right, Rush — with whom the Steelers have connected — is possibly the premier perimeter corner left on the board.

6. Dawand Jones, OT, Ohio State (No. 63)

Senior, 6-foot-8, 374 lbs.

Jeremy: Talk about a BIG tackle prospect! Jones is a mammoth individual that just mauls defenders in both phases. If he can get into position quick enough that is. You obviously have concerns over a guy that large being able to athletically keep up with the demands of playing Tackle at the next level, especially versus, say the Uber athletic Myles Garrett’s of the world. One thing that won’t be in question is whether or not he can overpower the opposition if he gets his hands on them. Jones is the perfect road grader RT prospect for teams wanting a powerful people mover in the run game. If Jones can improve his footwork at the next level, he’s got the size profile to be a stud.

Yes, you read those measurements right.

Jones is built like a literal dam. That size and strength makes it quite tough to win against him with brute force.

At the same time, Jones did not test great at the Combine, running 5.35, and left Senior Bowl practice early due to an injury. Nonetheless, Jones still has a high ceiling and will likely be the second Buckeye offensive lineman to hear his name called (alongside Paris Johnson Jr.).

7. DeWayne McBride, RB, UAB (No. 65)

Junior, 5-foot-10, 209 lbs.

Andrew Wilbar: The first thing that popped out to me when digging into McBride’s tape was his decisiveness. He sees a hole and does not hesitate to hit it. It is also surprising to see how shifty he can be in the open field. He is not a scatback by any means, but he knows how to get small, and he anticipates how defenders plan to bring him to the ground, acting accordingly with a corresponding open-field move. McBride also possesses both the physicality to break tackles as well as the speed to take it to the house once he gets past the second level of the defense. What caps his upside is his lack of usage as a receiver. Whether he is a capable receiver or not is unknown, as he was a complete afterthought in UAB’s passing attack, recording only 5 catches over three seasons. Overall, I see McBride being an explosive early-down back in the NFL.

While the nation has likely heard of Brown and Abanikanda, McBride is a sleeper, having played for the Vipers. Nonetheless, he was still dominant in 2022, leading the entire country in rushing with 1,713 yards and being named a Doak Walker Award semifinalist. McBride should have fans in war rooms.

8. Zack Kuntz, TE, Old Dominion (No. 71)

Redshirt senior, 6-foot-7, 255 lbs.

Adam C: Younger brother of current Steelers long snapper Christian, Zack Kuntz offers great upside. At 6’8”, he creates size mismatches in the passing game. A smooth route runner with a great sense of space and good hands, this combination led him to the most targets for any FBS tight end in the 2021 season. He has all the tools to translate well into the modern pass catching tight end in the NFL. Where he needs to develop is his blocking. He shows effort and plays with good power. However, he plays too high and is inconsistent when run blocking, something needing a lot of work to make the step to the pro level. Likely projects as an early day 3, developmental guy with a lot of potential.

Kuntz wowed in Indianapolis with both his size and athleticism, notching a perfect 10.00 RAS. Despite playing at a little-known program in Old Dominion, he could be a steal for a team on Day Three, especially with nine tight ends having already been taken.

9. Luke Wypler, IOL, Ohio State (No. 73)

Redshirt sophomore, 6-foot-3, 303 lbs.

Jeremy: Luke Wypler isn’t a big-bodied mauler at Center, but he is a technician who relies on quick feet and hands to gain the advantage over attacking defenders. An extremely cerebral player with enough athleticism to handle pulls and swings from the inside. His lack of length can be an issue against bigger interior defenders, but he sets a good base and relies on being more technically sound than his opponent to win reps. Fantastic pre-snap identification skills and rarely puts himself out of position with late/improper snaps. Overall, Wypler profiles as a high-floor, low-ceiling starting Center. Would love to see him add about 15 more pounds at the next level.

It was a bit surprising to not have Wypler been taken already given his success with the Buckeyes and strong tape against Georgia DT Jalen Carter. With only four real centers — John Michael Schmitz, Joe Tippmann, Juice Scruggs and Ricky Stromberg — being selected thus far, Wypler could be one of the top picks in Round Four.

10. Blake Freeland, OT, BYU (No. 74)

Senior, 6-foot-8, 302 lbs.

Andrew Wilbar: If you want a tough evaluation to dig into, look no further than Blake Freeland. The pre-draft process is supposed to help clarify what we saw about players on tape, but Blake Freeland has made it difficult on evaluators. He struggled mightily at the Senior Bowl, specifically when having to counteract power rushers. One month later, he shows up in Indy and puts on a show at the combine, highlighted by a 4.98 40, a 37” vertical, and a 120” broad jump. At 6’8”, Freeland provides exceptional length, something offensive line coaches salivate over in a left tackle. What I find concerning is that he plays a little too stiff and upright in his stance, allowing for bendier edge rushers to get the best of him. Freeland most definitely needs a lot of work from a technical standpoint, but there will be a team on Day 2 who will bet on the traits and give him a shot.

Freeland made a name for himself in Lucas Oil Stadium, dazzling in both testing and drills. He ran a 4.98 40-yard dash at 6-foot-8 and accrued a stellar 9.83 RAS. The former Cougar is arguably the second-best offensive lineman still on the board.

Top 10 Steelers Fits

1. Nick Herbig, EDGE, Wisconsin

The Steelers have done well to meet their needs with their initial four picks, but the team is still sorely lacking at edge rushing depth behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith. Herbig is a relentless pass-rusher from the Badgers (who certainly have a good track record) and the younger brother of addition Nate Herbig. Why not make it two Wisconsin defenders?

2. Antonio Johnson, S, Texas A&M

This draft’s safety group was not heralded well, and that’s been reflected in few being taken — including the best, Brian Branch, falling to the second round.

Yet, Pittsburgh still has a need at safety after the departure of Terrell Edmunds. Johnson could be an intriguing mid-round option to complement Minkah Fitzpatrick and Damontae Kazee.

3. Luke Wypler, OC, Ohio State

The Steelers have already fortified their offensive line enough, but center (as detailed yesterday) is somewhat of a weak link. Missing out on Schmitz and others, Wypler has attractive value at this point in the draft.

4. Clark Phillips III, CB, Utah

The Steelers now have an outstanding boundary corner in Porter Jr., but the team could look inside, too. Arthur Maulet will be a free agent in 2024.

Phillips has versatility and great anticipation and would truly round out a very strong and deep Pittsburgh cornerback corps.

5. Bryce Ford-Wheaton, WR, West Virginia

The Steelers traded for Allen Robinson, seemingly rounding out the team’s receiver corps in 2023 with Diontae Johnson, George Pickens, Robinson and Calvin Austin III. But, Ford-Wheaton is still intriguing, with great size at 6-foot-4.

Ford-Wheaton lit up Acrisure Stadium when the Mountaineers played Pitt in the Backyard Brawl, and he could very well call Pittsburgh home. After all, the Steelers love their mid-round wideouts.

6. Henry To’oTo’o, ILB, Alabama

A run on inside linebackers leaves few top options for the Steelers, but the team could look in To’oTo’o’s direction. The former middle man for the Crimson Tide is strong in coverage with good change of direction. Plus, he plays faster than his 4.62 40 time.

7. Andre Carter II, EDGE, Army

Carter’s stock has taken a hit since the start of the draft process, but the former Knight is 6-foot-6 5/8. Though his sack production dropped in 2022, Carter did rack up 14.5 of them in 2021. He could be a good option at EDGE for Pittsburgh.

8. Corey Trice Jr., CB, Purdue

Even with Porter Jr., Patrick Peterson and Levi Wallace, there is still some thought that the Steelers could double-dip at corner. In that case, Trice is appealing. He’s got amazing size at 6-foot-3 and was underrated for a Big Ten Championship Purdue team.

9. Evan Hull, RB, Northwestern

The Steelers have a great running back tandem in Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren, but Benny Snell Jr. is still on the open market. The team could use a strong third ‘back, and Hull would provide just that with fantastic receiving ability and strong leadership.

10. Stetson Bennett IV, QB, Georgia

Pittsburgh will need to leave the draft with a third QB on its roster, behind Kenny Pickett and Mitch Trubisky. While Bennett has had off-the-field issues, he’s extremely athletic and generally accurate, plus one of the most decorated gunslingers in Georgia history. Why not add one third Bulldog?

Other Names to Watch

Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia (No. 76)

Bradley Locker: Following a game-sealing interception in the 2022 National Championship, scouts were understandably buzzing over Ringo. However, the redshirt sophomore had a disappointing 2022. While he showed off his great speed by running a 4.36 in the 40-yard dash, Ringo’s ability in man coverage was highly questionable. Ringo was often stacked off the line and did little to disrupt receivers, losing ground by not following wideouts throughout routes. The Bulldog corner had particular trouble in terms of penalties, accruing nine last season. Ringo’s athleticism, national title pedigree and tackling skill will definitely intrigue lots of franchises, but he best projects as a zone corner at the next level, which hinders his ceiling.

J.L. Skinner, S, Boise State (77)

Andrew Wilbar: Skinner is quite the prospect. At 6’4”, the Boise State product possesses unparalleled length in this class of safeties. When Skinner reacts quick enough, he does a good job of getting in passing lanes and making plays on the ball, as his ball skills are one of the most intriguing parts of his game. The downside is that he sometimes struggles reacting quickly to the ball, causing him to give up the occasional big play. His ball-tracking skills down the field are superior to just about anyone, and he has the speed to keep up with most receivers 1-on-1 once he accelerates to full speed. There is still development that needs to take place, but he may have the highest ceiling of any safety in the class.

Byron Young, EDGE, Tennessee (82)

Andrew Wilbar: I highlighted Young in multiple articles during the season, and I do not regret doing so. Week in and week out, Young popped on tape. Displaying great burst off the line of scrimmage, Young knows how to get low and win around the edge with superior bend, giving any lineman with less than elite athleticism a serious disadvantage. The biggest concern I have with him is his lack of functional strength. It did not hinder his production in college, but against bigger, stronger NFL defenders, his lack of strength may be exposed until he can add a little more muscle to his frame.

Roschon Johnson, RB, Texas (93)

Andrew Wilbar: Bijan Robinson gets the attention when you bring up Texas running backs, and rightfully so. However, when Bijan struggled with various injuries, Johnson came in and began right where his counterpart left off. Not once in his four years of college did he eclipse 125 rushes in a season, but that is more a positive than a negative, as there is very little wear and tear on the tires. Averaging 6 yards per carry in 2022, Johnson was incredibly efficient, displaying the needed agility, speed, and power to dominate in the NFL. While his work as a receiver has been limited, he has taken advantage of the opportunities he has been given, and he has proven to be dangerous with the ball in his hands after the catch. Do not sleep on this runner, my friends, because he has the talent to achieve anything.

Olusegun Oluwatimi, IOL, Michigan (99)

Andrew Wilbar: Olu’s offseason has been frustrating to watch. His 2022 tape was incredible, and don’t get me wrong when I say that tape is still the most important thing to pay attention to when evaluating a prospect. However, he had some down moments at the Senior Bowl, and his testing at the combine was subpar, to say the least. His arms measured in shorter than 33”, he ran a 5.38 in the 40 with a 1.86 split, and his agility in on-field drills was nothing special. This has affected his draft stock greatly, as he was once in a position to vie for the consensus number one center in this class. On tape, though, the man simply knows how to play football and bully people. He was a huge factor in Michigan’s win over Ohio State last year, springing two huge runs that were both taken to the house by Donovan Edwards. He is a mid-round prospect who could develop into a fantastic center if his lack of elite physical traits do not get in the way.

Charlie Jones, WR, Purdue (104)

Adam C: Jones has a good feel for the game, and has excellent hands, regularly coming out with the ball on contested catches. He is tough, hardworking and fights through contact well in his routes. Good, smooth route runner with deceptive speed, running a 4.43 40-yard dash at the combine. He will work better against zone heavy defenses, as he is smart enough to manipulate defenders and utilize leverage to get open. He needs to work on releases as they tend to not vary. Also, much more effort is needed in run blocking at the next level. However, he does offer some special teams value, and has room to develop, with only 1 year of high production in college. He likely enters the league as a back-up receiver and punt/kick returner, but with high upside which teams will like.

Aidan O’Connell, QB, Purdue (110)

Noah_E: Aidan O’Connell is your prototypical pocket passer. He’s got good size with great ball placement and touch. He throws with anticipation and isn’t afraid to attack the middle of the field. However, he lacks the velocity and arm strength to consistently hit deep throws, as evident by his 29.6 completion percentage on deep throws in 2022. O’Connell’s footwork is sloppy, and his pocket presence is mediocre. Basically, he folds under pressure. He can extend plays, but I wouldn’t count on him to be a real threat as a runner. At best I think he could be a solid but fun backup. I see a lot of Gardner Minshew in him.

Eric Gray, RB, Oklahoma (118)

Andrew Wilbar: I had a chance to talk with Eric earlier this winter, and he gave some insight as to how much of an impact DeMarco Murray has had on his game. Murray, of course, is the Oklahoma running backs coach, and his fingerprints on Gray’s game are quite evident. Despite the incredible speed Murray had in his prime, Eric Gray has a nearly identical skill set, from size, to vision, to elusiveness, to shiftiness, to power. While their running styles have plenty of similarities, what impresses me the most about Gray is his balanced game. He can do a little bit of everything, and he is willing to do the dirty tasks in pass protection. He will get blown up on occasion, but his willingness to hang in there and withstand a beating on occasion shows his toughness and determination. I believe Gray has starter potential in the NFL, and he would be an absolute steal if he falls out of the third round.

Owen Pappoe, ILB, Auburn (119)

Andrew Wilbar: I had a chance to talk with Eric earlier this winter, and he gave some insight as to how much of an impact DeMarco Murray has had on his game. Murray, of course, is the Oklahoma running backs coach, and his fingerprints on Gray’s game are quite evident. Despite the incredible speed Murray had in his prime, Eric Gray has a nearly identical skill set, from size, to vision, to elusiveness, to shiftiness, to power. While their running styles have plenty of similarities, what impresses me the most about Gray is his balanced game. He can do a little bit of everything, and he is willing to do the dirty tasks in pass protection. He will get blown up on occasion, but his willingness to hang in there and withstand a beating on occasion shows his toughness and determination. I believe Gray has starter potential in the NFL, and he would be an absolute steal if he falls out of the third round.

Clayton Tune, QB, Houston (236)

Noah_E: A starter for the last three-and-a-half years at Houston, Clayton Tune has what it takes to be an NFL quarterback. He has prototypical size and great mental abilities. He possesses elite escapability, great pocket presence, and very smooth footwork. He utilizes his strong arm and quick release to make throws look effortless. His accuracy is a tad inconsistent, especially as a deep passer, but overall his ball placement is solid. Now he isn’t going to go out there and make those jaw-dropping throws with insane arm angles like the Patrick Mahomes or the Josh Allens of the world. But he makes the throws that he’s asked to make and even without the physical gifts, I think if anyone is NFL-ready, it’s Clayton Tune.