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Steelers Mock Draft 2.0: Joey Porter Jr. makes sense in Round 1

PITTSBURGH — It was during the early stages of the OTAs last year that Mike Tomlin reviewed his new warm-up draft picks.

Somehow, the conversation shifted forward a year, and an all-too-familiar name popped up — an up-and-coming junior cornerback from Penn State named Joey Porter Jr.

“He’s definitely a first-rounder,” Tomlin told a reporter. “He’s big, big, fast – he’s really good. Safe first round.”

Tomlin would know. He has known Joey Porter Jr. since he was 6 years old. Joey Porter Sr., who ranks fifth on Pittsburgh’s all-time list, was hired as the Steelers’ assistant defense in 2014. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania and at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the south side.

During his academic career in nearby North Allegheny, Porter Sr. and Tomlin watched side by side as Porter Jr. dominated the WPIAL. Over the summer, Porter Jr. and Tomlin’s sons Mason and Dino trained before training with the likes of Antonio Brown and Joe Haden. As was routine, Tomlin stepped in and showed the little boy some clues.

“I remember doing one-on-ones with AB when I was a little kid, so that was a nice treat. I know he wouldn’t go 100 percent, but to be able to compete against him was special,” Porter Jr. said at the NFL Combine last week. “Me and Coach T were pretty cool. I was very close friends with his sons Mason Tomlin and Dino Tomlin. When I moved to Pittsburgh, we used to play basketball at the Boys & Girls Club when we were young, and we just had this bond.”

The Steelers have two of the top 32 picks, which is their most since 1989. Their two second-round picks are the most they’ve had this round in more than half a century. That means they have enough draft capital to target Porter and still get away with help along the O-line.

(Note: Pick numbers beyond #95 will not be finalized until the league announces equalizer picks.)

First Round (No. 17) — CB Joey Porter, Jr., Penn State

Relationship aside, the Steelers need a physical and talented cornerback. Porter is exactly that, and he’s being put into the area where the Steelers make their first-round pick. Porter wasn’t cheering for the combine, but his 4.46 40 is fast enough to keep up with a 6-foot-2 1/2, 193-pound frame. Porter fits what the Steelers want – a versatile and physical cornerback who can man-mark.

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He was a third-team all-conference pick in 2021 and started in all 13 games (51 tackles, one interception, four pass breakups). He was named a second-team All-American and a first-team All-Conference in 2022. He also won the team’s MVP award (27 tackles, 11 pass breakouts in 10 starts) despite missing two late-season games with appendicitis.

The Steelers haven’t put much emphasis on corners over the years. Artie Burns in 2016 is their only first-round cornerback since Chad Scott in 1997. They haven’t developed many corners over the years, with the exception of Cameron Sutton, who is a free agent. Even with Sutton returning, the other corner kick is missing and can be seen as a huge need.

Others considered: OT Paris Johnson, Ohio State; DL Bryan Bresee, Clemson

Second Round (No. 32) – OG O’Cyrus Torrence, Fla

The Steelers need immediate help on the left side of the offensive line. They have Kevin Dotson and Kendrick Green as left guard options and can always push Dan Moore Jr. to guard if needed, but the Steelers would be fine with keeping Moore on the left. Torrence is a massive inside offensive lineman who would fit in left guard.

Typically, the taller of the two guards plays on the left. Measuring 6ft 5 and 330 pounds at the combine, Torrence has had back-to-back solid seasons, earning Pro Football Focus grades of 88.0 in 2022 and 88.2 in 2021 in Louisiana. Torrence had a great Senior Bowl and well tested for its size at the combine harvester. Coincidentally, Torrence went to Louisiana before moving to Florida. Dotson played for the Ragin’ Cajuns before being drafted by the Steelers three years ago.

Others considered: ILB Jack Campbell, Iowa; CB Kelee Ringo, Georgia

Second Round (#49) – OT Matthew Bergeron, Syracuse

The Steelers tend to add tackles in the third round and Bergeron could be the sleeper in the group. Despite Moore having 33 starts in two years and Chukwuma Okorafor signed for two more years, immediate depth with a potential starter on hold is required.

Bergeron has gone from being a mere recruit to a second-day draft pick. He’s very similar to Moore in that he’s a much better pass blocker than a run blocker. Bergeron allowed 12 presses on 392 pass-blocking snaps for a 2022 pass-blocking grade of 80.9 per PFF. The Steelers need to start strengthening the line with draft picks instead of too-rans.

Others considered: ILB Trenton Simpson, Clemson; C John Michael-Schmitz, Minnesota

Third Round (#80) – WR Nathaniel Dell, Houston

When it comes to day two receivers, the Steelers will always be in the game, even with players like Diontae Johnson and George Pickens on the list. The Steelers have a glaring hole at the slot position that will be handed to Calvin Austin in the spring and summer. Whether he sticks to it is still open.

Dell should be a better choice, but it had a slow 40-yard (4.49) dash for its size (5-foot-8, 165 pounds) at the combine. However, his 10-yard split of 1.49 was very good. Dell would fit in a Matt Canada system to move before snapping. At its size, it might be too close to what Austin offers. Still, one can’t discount his performance: 199 catches and 29 touchdowns over the past two years.

Others considered: WR Cedric Tillman, Tennessee; Kante Nick Herbig, Wisconsin

Fourth Round (No. 119) – OLB KJ Henry, Clemson

The Steelers know what it’s like to have TJ Watt out. The year before, they knew what it meant to miss both Watt and Alex Highsmith for a game. Depth has been a big issue with outside linebackers for some time. They’ve used a plethora of journeymen to fill the Deep role, including Malik Reed last year.

Henry isn’t a plug and play type, but could provide snaps. He was the Tigers team captain and has the athletic ability to pressure the quarterback. He had 51 tackles and 3 1/2 sacks last year. Analysts either love him or hate him. “He destroys tight ends,” said NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah. “I think he’s instinctive. You will see them on the edge and he will be able to see jet sweeps coming from the other side and be able to easily expand and make plays naturally. He has a nice little counterattack.”

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Others considered: DL Jaquelin Roy, LSU

Seventh Round (#236) – LB SirVocea Dennis, Pitt

The Steelers will lose several special teams players in free agency. Dennis is a versatile and talented linebacker who can play against special teams while learning the game. Dennis played with Pitt. If it weren’t for his size (6-1, 225), he would be much higher on many teams’ boards based on his stats over the past two years and his intangibles as a leader. The Steelers only have Myles Jack and Mark Robinson signed as inside linebackers.

Others considered: Edge Tire Wheat, Mississippi; TE Austin Stogner, South Carolina

Seventh Round (No. 248) – QB Max Duggan, TCU

The Steelers need to add a young quarterback in the draft who plays similar to Kenny Pickett. Duggan proved to be a winner at TCU last year and got a chance to show what he can do in the NFL. If the Steelers are keeping Mitch Trubisky, a project like Duggan makes sense.

Others considered: QB Jaren Hall, BYU

(Photo by Joey Porter Jr.: Rich Barnes / USA Today)

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