While the 2023 draft is still far off, these five early-round prospects have to be scouted by the Steelers this season.
The 2023 NFL draft isn’t on every fan’s radar right now, but NFL teams have already begun assembling their big boards and choosing prospects to scout. The Steelers are no different, as they are likely preparing their scouts for their assignments next season.
While still very early in the process, here are five players that the Steelers need to keep their eye on for the 2023 draft.
Steelers could use an offensive tackle
The Steelers opted to focus their free agency period on addressing the offensive line this past offseason, and this should yield a more competitive group overall in 2022. Add in the development of both Dan Moore and Kevin Dotson and this line could have three starters set going forward.
That leaves center and right tackle as question marks. Unfortunately, the center class doesn’t have a standout right now, but there are quite a few tackles that would make sense for the Steelers. Ohio State has two of them, but the better fit may just be Dawand Jones. The senior prospect has the size the team wants in their tackles and the ability to work well as both a run and pass blocker.
As of this writing, most view Jones as a fringe first-round pick given his potential. He will need another excellent season if he wants to cement himself as a top prospect. Regardless, Jones has the build of a right tackle and would be a worthwhile investment for the Steelers. Keep an eye on him as either a first or second-round pick.
Steelers could be looking to bulk up the defensive line
The Steelers may have a changing of the guard soon along their defensive line. Stephon Tuitt retired this past offseason while names like Tyson Alualu and Chris Wormley are free agents after this year. While the team has invested quite a bit in this group in recent drafts, they will likely still need to find a capable end to play in this system.
From a size perspective, no player better fits what the Steelers want in a base end than Florida’s Gervon Dexter. At 6’6, and 312 pounds, Dexter has the ability to hold his own against NFL tackles and take up space in the run game. Isaiahh Loudermilk got drafted due to having similar physical attributes, as the team has a traditional look they want their ends to have.
Dexter needs to become a better and more consistent pass rusher if he wants to have a shot at going in the first round. Three sacks over two seasons won’t cut it for teams that need to get after the quarterback regularly. If he can show some improvement though in his third collegiate season though, he would be a natural fit for the Steelers somewhere within the first two days of the draft.
Steelers could target a versatile defensive back
The Steelers got to re-sign veteran safety, Terrell Edmunds, this past offseason, but little is guaranteed to him on this team past this season. While Edmunds has steadily improved every season, he is likely close to his ceiling, which means he is a pretty average starter. If the team wants to remake this group next season, he may be out the door.
Antonio Johnson from Texas A&M is a versatile player that can wear a lot of hats for a defense. While playing in college, Johnson has seen some work as a traditional safety, cornerback, and slot defender. His 6’3 frame would make him a good fit as a strong safety with coverage skills. That means he can follow tight ends effectively and work better in space than a player like Edmunds could.
His main issues stem from his box ability. While he can serve in that role, he is a better fit playing a bit deeper in coverage. That said, pairing Johnson with Minkah Fitzpatrick would give the Steelers two capable safeties in coverage, something that they have lacked in recent seasons. His value seems to be a fringe first-round pick right now, so he could be an early favorite for one of the Steelers top picks in 2023.
Steelers could find Devin Bush’s replacement
The Steelers linebacker group is a thrown-together one this season, and quite a few players will be entering a critical year. New face Myles Jack is expected to have a rebound season but based on his previous struggles, that is far from a lock. Meanwhile, Devin Bush is in the final year of his rookie deal and struggled in almost every aspect last season. Neither are locked to be on this team in 2023.
Trenton Simpson out of Clemson could be in play for the Steelers first-round pick because of this. Built in the new linebacker mold (smaller and quicker), Simpson is listed at 6’3 230 and possesses good athleticism. He has been used as both a coverage player and a run stopper and has even shown the ability to rush off the edge.
While Simpson has shown a variety of positive traits, he needs to become more refined as a player and less dependent on his athleticism. That can cut it in college, but he won’t be able to win with just his speed as a pro. If he can take those steps next season, Simpson has to be on a shortlist for the Steelers top pick in the draft.
Steelers could target a premier cornerback
One of the weirdest position groups on paper for the Steelers has to be the cornerback room. Despite possessing three names that could realistically start, there isn’t a top guy that everyone is looking to cover an opponent’s top weapon. This could lead to the team addressing cornerback early in 2023 in hopes of finding that guy.
Eli Ricks is your classic top cornerback prospect from LSU. He has prototypical size at 6’2, 195 pounds, and he has the natural ball-hawking ability you want in a cover corner. Add in his top-level athleticism and Ricks is a name that could become a top cornerback in the league if given the time to develop.
He isn’t strong against the run, but if his coverage abilities continue to hold up, it shouldn’t matter. The main issue with him being linked to the Steelers is where he may go in the draft. Some see him as a top-ten pick which will likely be far too high for Pittsburgh. That said, if he falls a bit, he has to be a top name to link to the Steelers.
The focus for the Steelers has to be on their upcoming season, but that doesn’t mean an eye shouldn’t be kept on the upcoming draft class. These five players must be scouted well, as each would fill a potential need next season. Keep an eye on them as the college season gets rolling.