The Pittsburgh Steelers' Most Likely 1st Round Targets

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We are just one day away from the 1st Round of the 2023 NFL Draft.  The Carolina Panthers are, for all intents and purposes, on the clock.  Our Pittsburgh Steelers will, as of now, be selecting in the 17th spot of the 1st round.  There was not nearly as much speculation this year as to who the Steelers would take in the 1st round as last year, since they are not trying to replace a quarterback this year.

However, no draft goes without a ton of talk, speculation, and those silly mock drafts that everyone thinks other people care about even though 98% of it will be wrong by the first big trade.  So we must at least speculate on who the Steelers will take in the 1st round, right?

Joey Porter Jr.: Cornerback, Penn State

One of the major needs for the Steelers is at cornerback.  Their top corner from last season, Cam Sutton, was lost in free agency, and even with Sutton the Steelers lack depth at the position.  They did sign Patrick Peterson to fill a hole, but Peterson isn't in his prime anymore.  

Peterson would, however, be a nice mentor for a 1st year corner out of the draft.  A likely candidate, given where he is projected to go in the draft, and his obvious ties to the team is Joey Porter Jr.  Porter played four seasons at Penn State, finishing his final season as a first-team all-Big Ten member.  

He checks in at 6'2.5", 193 pounds, an intriguing combination for a cornerback.  His length is a big factor that has him this high up in the projections.  Combine that with his speed (he ran a 4.46 40-yard dash at the Combine) and those are the types of intangibles you don't find every day in the cornerback market.  You can always improve your skills but size and speed are things that can't be taught.  

One concern I have about Porter is that he had one interception in his entire college career.  That can sometimes be due to quarterbacks not wanting to throw your way, but one is an anomaly.  

Bryan Bresee - Defensive Tackle, Clemson 

As a Pitt fan, I'm very familiar with Bryan Bresee.  He was extremely disruptive upfront to any ACC opponent's offensive scheme during his time at Clemson.  Watching the Steelers the past few seasons, it's been easy to see that a lot of their defensive success is predicated upon their pass rush.  This is most noticeable when linebacker T.J. Watt hasn't been able to play.  He is by far their best pass rusher, and it always feels like something is lacking in the pass rush when he is out.  

Now, T.J. Watts certainly don't grow on trees and he's a one-of-a-kind athlete.  But bolstering the pass rush to not revolve around one guy would be a nice feature and Bresee would go a long way in aiding that.  He was most effective with his pass rushing abilities at Clemson and he became a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks.

Bresee was mainly featured as a defensive tackle at Clemson, but he features the athleticism to play all throughout the defensive line.  However, the Steelers' 3-4 defensive scheme plays perfectly into the skillset that made him so good in college.  There are a lot of positives between his gameplay and the Steelers' that would make this a great match.

As with any prospect, there are some downsides.  Bresee missed the majority of his sophomore season with a torn ACL and he has shown a propensity to injury over his career, making his health, or lack thereof, a bit of a red flag.  He also has shown some weaknesses in the running game, which is something the Steelers greatly need.  Their rush defense has been a major problem the last few seasons and the brunt of that starts up front with the defensive line.

Deonte Brooks: Cornerback, Maryland

I still really like Joey Porter Jr. as the top cornerback target for the Steelers.  However, there are certainly teams ahead of them that also need a corner.  Therefore, Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez, followed by Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon and Porter Jr., could all be off the board by 17.  It's unlikely with how many quarterbacks are also expected to be taken, but not impossible.  

So, if the top three corners are off the board, Brooks could be the guy.  As an aggressive corner, he wowed spectators for his ability to lock opposing receivers down in man coverage.  While Joe Haden fit this to an extent, it’s been a long time since the Steelers have had a true lockdown cornerback.  Especially one that has been reliable enough to cover the opposing team’s best receiver without any concern of lapses or breakdowns.  As a fan, it would be a breath of fresh air to have one of these guys given the talent at the receiver position in the NFL nowadays. 

Banks also turned heads at this year’s Combine, where he ran a 4.35 40-yard dash, had a 42” vertical jump and a 11’4” broad jump.  Those are some extremely impressive numbers.  Impressive enough that it earned him a perfect 10.0 Relative Athletic Score.  This metric has been used in recent years to take a player's cumulative Combine output and round it into a nice, neat number.  

Another thing in his favor is head coach Mike Tomlin's affinity for the University of Maryland.  His son played on the football team there from 2019-2021 and offensive coordinator Matt Canada coached there prior to being hired by the Steelers.  The thing going against Banks is that only one Steelers' scout was seen in attendance for Maryland's Pro Day last week.  However, Pitt's Pro Day was held on the same day and given the sharing of athletic facilities and closeness to the program, that was the focal point for the Steelers' brass.

Paris Johnson Jr - Offensive Tackle, Ohio State

I think the Steelers would love to get Paris Johnson Jr.  The Steelers have spent the offseason either providing weapons to quarterback, Kenny Pickett, or adding ways to protect him.  Johnson would be a great addition to the latter.  However, it is unlikely that he would still be available at 17.  

I wouldn't even consider him if not for three significant reasons.  The first one is that head coach Mike Tomlin and GM Omar Khan were both in attendance for his Pro Day.  The Steelers, in the past, have never selected someone in the 1st round unless either the head coach or the GM was in attendance for their Pro Day.  They, then, also took him out to dinner, the second significant reason.  

The third reason is that just this week, Todd McShay of ESPN reported that the Steelers may trade up in the draft.  If they do, it would likely be to select an offensive tackle.  A trade like that would put them in line for Johnson, but a trade up would be the only way.