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2023 NFL Draft: Joey Porter Jr. headlines Steelers top Day 2 draft options

More than a few mock drafts had the Steelers taking Joey Porter Jr. in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft. That didn’t happen as Pittsburgh traded up to select former Georgia offensive tackle Broderick Jones with the No. 14 overall pick. The Steelers, however, can still draft Porter after the former standout cornerback did not hear his name called on Thursday night.

The Steelers were back on the clock as soon as the Chiefs made the final pick of the first round. Pittsburgh owns the first pick in the second round (No. 32), a pick it acquired last fall when it dealt Chase Claypool to the Chicago Bears just before the trade deadline. Rest assured, the Steelers will undoubtedly consider drafting Porter, whose father, Joey Porter, starred at outside linebacker in Pittsburgh from 1999-06.

Porter has made no secret what playing for his dad’s team would mean to him. He would also relish the chance to play alongside Patrick Peterson, who played with Joey Sr. during his final NFL season as a member of the Arizona Cardinals. Drafting Porter would possibly allow the Steelers to move Peterson to free safety while moving Minkah Fitzpatrick to strong safety.

Among the top defensive back prospects remaining, the Steelers have the luxury of choosing between Porter and Brian Branch, the former Alabama defensive back who is regarded as the top safety prospect in the draft. While he is a safety by trade, Branch has the ability to play cornerback at the next level. Like Porter, acquiring Branch would give the Steelers desirable flexibility when it comes to the secondary. It would also bulk up a secondary that faces the likes of Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson a combined six times a year.

Which player would be the better fit? Porter has the ideal size and speed for an NFL starting cornerback. He has impressive ball skills that complements his ever-improving footwork and press technique. Porter isn’t the best as far as shedding blocks in run support, however, and he is considered a scheme-specific player.

Branch is smaller than Porter and not as impressive as far as ball production is concerned. He is, however, a more versatile player who was hailed as a high-level run stopper during his time at Alabama.

Basically, it comes down to what the Steelers value more: versatility (Branch) or a more proven commodity at cornerback (Porter). Porter is probably the safer pick, but Branch could eventually blossom into a solid player who could thrive at either safety or corner.

Here’s a quick rundown of possible Day 2 options for the Steelers, who also own the 49th overall pick in the draft. As you can see, pass rusher and interior defensive line are two other areas the Steelers will have to address during the final two days of the draft.

  • CB, Cam Smith, South Carolina: Along with Porter, Smith is the top-ranked cornerback prospect who is still available. During his time in college, Smith made up for his somewhat small frame with his physical play and impressive speed and ball skills.
  • IDL, Keeanu Benton, Wisconsin: Benton would be an ideal fit on the Steelers’ defensive line alongside veterans Cam Heyward and Larry Ogunjobi. Benton was a solid run-stuffer as well as a formidable pass rusher at Wisconsin. He had 4.5 sacks, 36 tackles and 10 tackles for loss during his final season in Madison.
  • EDGE Keion White, Georgia Tech: A converted tight end, White racked up 7.5 sacks and 14 tackles for loss during his final season for the Yellow Jackets.
  • EDGE BJ Ojulari, LSU: After a solid freshman season, Ojulari registered 20.5 sacks and 20.5 tackles for loss during his last two years with the Tigers.
  • EDGE Derick Hall, Auburn: During his last three years at Auburn, Hall tallied 19.5 sacks and five forced fumbles. While he developed into a solid pass rusher, Hall’s strength is his prowess as a run-stopper.
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