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2023 NFL Mock Draft: Steelers add a run-stopping OLB with their top pick

In the latest mock draft, the Steelers go with an edge rusher before anything else.

Auburn v Georgia Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers are pushing through the 2023 offseason. With free agency well underway to shape next season’s roster, it will be followed by the NFL draft in April. The Steelers have already added some free agent acquisitions before making their first draft selection. Player pro days will also shape the team’s big boards before the draft.

When talking about mock drafts or NFL free agency, you have to first identify the team’s main needs for the offseason. Before any gains or 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 plenty of chances for the Steelers to shape their roster prior to April, their goal is usually to get into position to draft the best player available rather than target a specific position. When it comes to what position the team will select with their first pick, it is certainly up for debate.

In a recent mock draft by Bleacher Report, they have the Steelers addressing the outside linebacker position before anything else. With the Steelers having two starters entrenched on the edge, they are in need of some depth that could come through the draft. 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 | Nolan Smith | OLB | Georgia | Sr. |

Although it’s getting later in the draft process, there may be some players fans are not familiar with. If this is the case, here is a breakdown of Smith according to

Nolan Smith NFL Draft Scouting Report

EDGE, Georgia Bulldogs

Nolan Smith is an emotional leader on and off the field for the Georgia Bulldogs. Smith is viewed in high regard by his teammates and coaches as a dynamic leader in the locker room. He brings a level of energy that is not easily replicated. Smith became the starting OLB/EDGE for the Bulldogs in 2021. His impact was obviously felt early on, even on a defense with multiple NFL draft picks.

When studying Smith, the three words I wrote down to capture/describe his game were: physical, violent, and relentless. As a result, Smith is a difficult task to block in the run game, especially for tight ends. His full-body strength is on display consistently but his base is where it begins. Smith digs his feet into the turf and creates a nearly immovable object versus the run. I appreciate the ferocity he plays with because that is not a teachable trait—you either have it or you don’t. He approaches every play with a “you can’t block me” mentality and I love it. To add to his power and physicality, he is an explosive downhill athlete. His first step, when used properly, can propel him upfield and into action quickly. His athleticism is shown when asked to drop into coverage even in small instances but he does not look like a fish out of water.

Smith is a former five-star recruit and finalist for the Anthony Munoz Lineman of the Year award as a senior. Due to his stellar run defense, Smith projects as a potential three-down defender in year one. He will make his impact felt as a run defender and earn his keep, as he develops in the pass-rush department. Smith has an explosive first step to threaten offensive tackles outside shoulders. His punches land with the power to shock blockers but shedding is still a work in progress. That being said, he is unrefined with his hands to effectively defeat pass blocks with optimal quickness. He’s overly reliant on his first step, length, and power to overcome opponents, which can limit his ceiling to the next level. Becoming more technical with his hands to deconstruct and shed blocks can unlock his full potential at the next level. Smith has admirable flexibility where he can bend around the edges or slice across the blocker to win the inside track.

Projecting to his third year, Smith can be a full-time edge defender that will not come off the field. A fully-developed Smith can be a dangerous weapon to deploy off the edge versus opposing offenses. Smith’s ability to work well in tight quarters or in a wide-nine alignment can put offensive tackles in conflict. Having an edge defender that can drop into coverage, stuff the run, and get after the passer cannot be undervalued.

Top Reasons to Buy In:

An enticing blend of size and athleticism

One of the most physical players in college football

A two-way defender, impactful versus the run and pass

Top Reasons For Concern:

Undeveloped pass rusher

Can be viewed as a tweener/hybrid defender without a defined role

Hand-to-hand combat skills need improvement

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 Smith with their first pick? Or do you feel there is a better player at this position, this position should be avoided, or that Smith won’t be around at the 17th pick? Personally, I don’t have edge rusher as position for the Steelers to take high in the draft unless someone is there they simply can’t pass up. And when it comes to Nolan Smith, I see him all over the place in mock drafts from in the top 10 to the last pick of the round. I’m not sure that he’s a guy at that position that blows the Steelers out of the water to where they wouldn’t still draft someone else if Smith was there at 17. But the Steelers going with an edge rusher in the first round would surprise me, and if they add another in free agency prior to the draft it would send my shock level through the roof. So for my final thoughts about the pick, it is more about the position than the player.

I will also say that I was originally going to highlight Smith in a mock draft from The Athletic but it was hidden behind a pay wall so I went with the one from Bleacher Report.

Note: This series began in January and will run all the way up to the 2023 NFL Draft. Each week highlights 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.