With the first few days of free agency behind us, it is easier to narrow down which positions the Pittsburgh Steelers will target in the 2023 NFL Draft. The team signed veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson, two linebackers in Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts and a guard in Nate Herbig. Considering these were all positions of need that the team was often mocked to target, the list is now shorter.
Thursday, Trevor Sikkema of Pro Football Focus released a three-round mock draft. In doing so, he projected the Steelers to select Ohio State offensive tackle Dawand Jones with their 17th pick, Wisconsin defensive tackle Keeanu Benton with their 32nd pick, Georgia cornerback Kelee Ringo with their 49th pick, and Florida defensive tackle Gervon Dexter Sr. at pick 80.
“Mike Tomlin was front and center for Dawand Jones as he was throwing defenders out of drills at the Senior Bowl (in a good way),” Sikkema said in justifying his projection of the Steelers taking Jones at 17. “Drafting him to play right tackle would allow the Steelers to move Chukwuma Okorafor back to left tackle, where he played in college.”
For the reasons that Sikkema explained, it is certainly plausible for the team to select Jones at 17. A 6’8” physical specimen, Jones recently met with the Steelers. Though the team has not selected an offensive tackle in the first round since 1997, the new regime may break this trend. Moving Okorafor to left tackle, where he has both professional and college experience, is certainly not a bad idea. Granted, this scenario pushes Dan Moore Jr., who the team has ample confidence in, out of the starting lineup. However, if Jones pans out, it’s a worthwhile investment for Pittsburgh and their investment in Kenny Pickett as a potential franchise quarterback.
The selection of Benton is also plausible. Though the team recently re-signed Larry Ogunjobi, the future of the defensive line is still in question. Aside from 33-year-old Cameron Heyward, the line does not look great. Indeed, the team has not invested a high pick in the position in recent years, and Heyward is arguably the team’s only above-average defensive lineman. As we saw in 2019 and 2020, pairing Heyward with a high-caliber player such as Stephon Tuitt can yield a great defense, and Benton is a worthwhile investment.
If Ringo is available at 49, it would be a surprise if the team does not select him. However, Ringo played on the outside for the vast majority of his snaps in 2022, and the team recently signed Peterson to fill that role alongside Levi Walllace or Ahkello Witherspoon. What the team needs most is a slot corner to upgrade from Arthur Maulet, and Ringo being a primarily outside corner may make for a strange initial fit. However, Ringo is a high-upside player, and was a consensus top-10 pick coming into 2022. If he is somehow available at 49, it would be all but shocking for the team to bypass him.
With the 80th pick, the mock draft had Pittsburgh doubling down on the defensive line by selecting Dexter Jr. from Florida. Dexter, who has a pre-draft visit scheduled with the team, is a high-motor player that would fit well alongside Heyward and Ogunjobi on the interior of the defensive line. Dexter has the measurables that the team looks for in a 3-technique/4i, and certainly has the potential to develop into a plus-starter in the league.