For the first time in over two decades Kevin Colbert won’t be in the Pittsburgh Steelers war room during the NFL Draft. Colbert, who was named the Steelers first ever official general manager in 2010, had been with the organization since 2000 through 23 NFL Draft classes and two Super Bowl victories. The former GM and shot caller in Pittsburgh used his last ever first-round pick on quarterback Kenny Pickett.
Now, a new braintrust has been entrusted by the Rooney family to build a roster strong enough for Mike Tomlin to bring the Lombardi back to the Steel City. For the Pittsburgh Steelers to win their seventh Super Bowl in the coming years, GM Omar Khan and assistant GM Andy Weidl will need to give Tomlin, Pickett, and co. the tools to succeed in an AFC North whose other three starting quarterbacks have combined for six Pro Bowls all before they’ve turned 30 (assuming Lamar Jackson sticks in Baltimore).
Khan has been with the organization since 2001 working his way up to VP, football and business administrations before being promoted to GM. While he’ll have final say in the war room, Weidl is the one who builds the board.
The Pittsburgh Steelers assistant GM was hired by Khan from Philadelphia where he served as Howie Roseman’s VP of player personnel and right hand man. Prior to spending over six years with the Eagles, he cut his teeth under Ozzie Newsome in Baltimore and Randy Mueller in New Orleans, where he and Khan originally worked together.
With four picks in the top 80, Khan and Weidl have a chance to make a big splash in their first draft running the show together. There’s reason to be optimistic in Pittsburgh with Tomlin always giving the Steelers a chance to succeed and Pickett showing flashes of promise as a rookie; this draft can set the Steelers up for years to come.
Pittsburgh Steelers 7-round Mock Draft
Round 1, No. 17: Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland (6-0, 197)
It’s no secret that the Pittsburgh Steelers have been eying cornerbacks and offensive linemen throughout the 2023 NFL Draft process. It would be foolish to project almost any other position to them with the 17th overall pick, unless a blue-chip player tumbled into their laps. Sadly for Khan and Weidl, it’s hard to imagine any of the top three cornerbacks (Devon Witherspoon, Christian Gonzalez, Joey Porter Jr.) or top three offensive linemen (Peter Skoronski, Paris Johnson Jr., Broderick Jones) still being on the board here.
With the offensive line talent in this class dropping off quickly after the top three, it seems unlikely any will still be available at 17. When it comes to cornerbacks it’s more likely one of the top three is there, but with Witherspoon and Gonzalez potentially both going top-10 and the New England Patriots and Washington Commanders both having cornerback needs and picking ahead of Khan and Weidl, there’s a better chance than not that Porter Jr. is off the board.
While Porter Jr. has been tied to Pittsburgh because of his physical play and obvious bloodlines, there’s another corner in this class with similarly impressive press ability and a connection to the Steelers. Maryland’s Deonte Banks played with Tomlin’s son Dino, a receiver for the Terrapins prior to transferring to Boston College this past season. Trading down a few slots and taking Banks would be ideal, but with a likely run on corners happening in the early 20’s the Pittsburgh Steelers might be happy getting their guy here.
The redshirt junior from Baltimore has been something of a late riser in a loaded cornerback class. After a season-ending shoulder injury in 2021, Banks broke out this year with 38 tackles, 8 passes defensed, and an interception showcasing his ability as a press-man corner with eye-popping traits.
With Banks propensity for smothering receivers at the line of scrimmage like he’s trying to choke them out in the octagon and his freakish athleticism, he’s the perfect type of cornerback to bet on even if it’s a few picks earlier than expected.
He plays with a certain swagger that tends to be an asset at the cornerback position and he’s got no fear when it comes to taking on ball carriers. His physicality both in press and as a tackler will be something Steelers defensive coordinator Teryl Austin will covet.
While he does need to clean up his footwork at times and can be caught guessing with undisciplined eyes, both of these flaws can be coached and there just aren’t many corners with the physical traits he possesses (42-inch vert, 11-4 broad, 4.35 40, 10.0 RAS at the NFL Combine) and the tenacity he brings to the field. Banks has a similar makeup to that of Ravens Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey.
Round 2, No. 32: Anton Harrison, OT, Oklahoma (6-4, 315)
Assuming the Steelers select a cornerback at No. 17, they should still be in position to nab one of the tier two offensive tackles at No. 32. Coming from Philadelphia, Weidl understands the value of adding in the trenches and he and Khan did so by bolstering the interior offensive line during free agency (they signed two former Eagles in Isaac Seumalo and Nate Herbig). With the pick acquired from the Chicago Bears in the Chase Claypool trade, Pittsburgh can find their left tackle in Oklahoma’s Anton Harrison.
Unlike Tennessee’s Darnell Wright and Ohio State’s Dawand Jones, Harrison is a natural left tackle (Wright struggled at left tackle in 2021 before moving back to right tackle this year and Jones played right tackle throughout his collegiate career). One of the youngest players in the draft (born in 2002), Harrison can compete with Dan Moore immediately to protect Pickett’s blindside.
At his best in pass protection, Harrison has the foot speed to reach his landmarks on time against speed, the hand placement to deal with creative pass rushers, and the anchor to batten down against power. Even better, he shows impressive awareness when dealing with defensive line games.
While still developing as a run blocker, Harrison could afford to add strength to improve his power at the point of attack, but he’s shown the athleticism to make reach blocks and climb to the second level to clear out linebackers. He plays similarly to Bills left tackle Dion Dawkins.
Harrison has the athleticism and technique in pass protection to earn the starting left tackle job in Pittsburgh as a rookie and would help to solidify the front Khan and Weidl have been working to build.
Round 2, No. 49: Keeanu Benton, IDL, Wisconsin (6-4, 309)
While interior defensive line isn’t the Steelers biggest need with Larry Ogunjobi back on a three-year deal, Cameron Heyward still playing at a Pro Bowl level, and the positive reviews on last years third-round pick DeMarvin Leal, Wisconsin’s Keeanu Benton would be a perfect fit in the black and gold.
With Pittsburgh having a potential out in Ogunjobi’s contract after this season and Heyward turning 34 next month, injecting more talent into the trenches could make a lot of sense. Weidl comes from the Eagles where Roseman was never one to shy away from adding hog mollies even when it wasn’t the biggest need; Benton could help take some pressure off of both Ogunjobi and Heyward.
More reason to be excited about this potential fit, Benton spent a ton of time playing nose tackle in odd man fronts for the Badgers and could compete with Montravius Adams for snaps there. Tomlin and Austin will love his versatility to hold the point and two-gap as a nose, anchor down and absorb space as a 1-tech, and penetrate and make plays at 3-tech.
A multi-year starter at Wisconsin (36 starts in four years), Benton leaves Madison with 15 TFLs and 7 sacks over the last two seasons despite being asked to predominantly play nose tackle, a role that didn’t showcase his athleticism and gap shooting ability. He then flashed everything you could ask for at the Senior Bowl where he repeatedly won one-on-one pass rush drills with a lightning quick first step and heavy hands.
Benton is an impressive athlete (7.34 3-cone, 9-3 broad, 1.74 10-yard split) who brings both power and quickness to the interior as a run defender and a consistent pass rush plan thanks to his hands and body control. He’s the exact type of interior defensive lineman Pittsburgh covets.
Round 3, No. 80: Jonathan Mingo, WR, Ole Miss (6-2, 220)
Few teams in the NFL, if any, have developed receivers like the Pittsburgh Steelers. They seem to consistently find receivers outside of the first-round and turns them into Pro Bowlers (Hines Ward, Antonio Brown, Mike Wallace, JuJu Smith-Schuster, etc.). After a stellar rookie campaign (801 receiving yards), George Pickens appears to be next.
With Pickens and Diontae Johnson—yet another non-first-round receiver who has made a Pro Bowl in Pittsburgh—Khan and Weidl have Pickett’s top two receivers set in stone. Now they must find a slot receiver for their young quarterback.
Despite Colbert selecting Calvin Austin, a speedster out of Memphis in the fourth-round last year, he’s no sure thing after missing his entire rookie season with a foot injury. Austin is solid insurance if there’s no receiver the Pittsburgh Steelers love in the top 100 picks, but if Ole Miss’ Jonathan Mingo is here at No. 80, that feels like a match made in heaven.
Mingo is a big-bodied receiver who can create after the catch using his size, yet possesses the explosiveness to win downfield; he clocked a 4.46 40 with a 10-9 broad and 39.5-inch vertical at the NFL Combine. For Lane Kiffin and the Rebels, Mingo played both on the outside as a ball-winning X and in the slot as a powerful mismatch; that ability to move around and win in both ways will be a huge attraction for Pittsburgh. They’ll also love that he’s a willing blocker in the run game.
During his time in Oxford, Mingo racked up 1,758 receiving yards and 13 total TDs on 112 catches while flashing similarities to former Ole Miss star AJ Brown with his size and athleticism. In the NFL, he’ll look a lot like former New York Jets receiver Quincy Enunwa with his ability to be a mismatch as a power slot.
Round 4, No. 120: Daniel Scott, S, Cal (6-1, 208)
Without another pick on Day 3 prior to the seventh-round, No. 120 holds plenty of value for Khan and Weidl. The Pittsburgh Steelers are in a great position to go with the best play available at this spot, but that’s not to say they don’t have needs still given how the first three rounds in this mock went down.
Pittsburgh could afford to add an edge rusher or off-ball linebacker here, however, a bigger need is at safety after Terrell Edmunds left for the Eagles. With Damontae Kazee still on the roster and the recent signing of Keanu Neal, the Pittsburgh Steelers would be smart to add a high-floor safety prospect like Cal’s Daniel Scott into the fold.
Scott, a three-year starter for the Golden Bears, is a physical box safety with experience playing both two-deep and over top of slots in an overhang role. His versatility, instincts, and willingness as a tackler make him a worthwhile addition to the safety room.
Few defensive backs have gotten as much out of the lead up to the NFL Draft as Scott who had a terrific Senior Bowl week and an even better NFL Scouting Combine. In Indianapolis, Scott ran a 4.45 40, jumped 39.5 inches in the vertical and 10-8 in the broad, and clocked a jaw-dropping 6.75 3-cone time.
Secondary coach Grady Brown will be enamoured with Scott’s athletic potential as a developmental starter while special teams coordinator Danny Smith will love that he logged over 600 special teams snaps in college.
Round 7, No. 234: Lonnie Phelps, EDGE, Kansas (6-2, 244)
It’s more likely than not that the Pittsburgh Steelers will be signing a veteran edge rusher in the coming months (they’ll probably reunite with Bud Dupree) to pair with TJ Watt, who’s coming off an injury-filled season, and Alex Highsmith, who’s in a contract year. With just Quincy Roche and Jamir Jones as true edge players behind Watt and Highsmith right now, look for Khan and Weidl to add at least one rookie to the room.
Kansas’ Lonnie Phelps parlayed a breakout 2021 season with Miami (OH) into a transfer portal call up to the Power Five with Kansas this year where he led the Jayhawks in both TFLs (11.5) and sacks (7).
A high-energy pass rusher, Phelps does a good job utilizing his burst and hands as a pass rusher and isn’t afraid to try different moves. In his repertoire he’s shown speed-to-power, a club-swim, a euro step, and a fake-spin-swipe.
A nice Senior Bowl and good testing numbers (4.55 40 and 9-11 broad) should help Phelps get drafted on Day 3; plus his non-stop motor will be a huge selling point.
Round 7, No. 241: Anfernee Orji, LB, Vanderbilt (6-1, 230)
The off-ball linebacker position in Pittsburgh used to be a point of pride, but the Pittsburgh Steelers have struggled with it dating back to Ryan Shazier’s career-ending injury. Despite spending draft capital and money on the position every offseason, it’s still an issue.
It’s now Khan and Weidl’s turn to try and fix it and they got the party started by signing Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts. Neither move is a long-term answer, and unless they spend a high draft pick on the position in the 2023 NFL Draft (it’s a weak linebacker class), it likely will continue to be an issue heading into next offseason.
With that being said, there’s quite a few high upside linebackers that could contribute on special teams who should be available at the end of the draft.
Vanderbilt’s Anfernee Orji is a spectacular athlete (4.53 40, 38.5-inch vert, 10-2 broad, 7.0 3-cone) who did a lot with very little around him in college. He finished his career with 269 tackles and 21 TFLs for some bad Commodore teams.
A natural Will linebacker, Orji flies to the football and has impressive range and solid take on skills. He also showcased his fluidity in coverage during East-West Shrine Bowl week and could go a few rounds higher if a team is willing to bet on his potential.