The 2023 NFL Combine kicks off this week in Indianapolis with players flying in for medical evaluations, interviews with teams and the media, and on-field testing as they attempt to raise their draft stock and impress all 32 teams in attendance. This will be my second trip to Indianapolis covering the Combine for Steelers Depot with Joe Clark joining me to interview several of the top prospects in this year’s draft class.
With interviews starting on Wednesday and on-field testing and on-field workouts starting on Thursday, I have come up with a list of five prospects that you need to keep an eye on regarding their interviews as well as how they test in Lucas Oil Stadium.
Bryan Bresee, DL, Clemson
As Dave Bryan highlighted in a recent post on Bresee, he likely could be a play that the Steelers should be linked to for various reasons. He checks all the boxes from what the Steelers look for in DL prospects, being listed at 6053, 305-pounds with another outlet has Bresee possessing 33-inch arms and 10 2/8-inch hands. On top of that, Bresee is a former top recruit with great pedigree, having been seen talking to HC Mike Tomlin last year during the Clemson Pro Day while watching his teammates test.
Still, Bresee is one of the more polarizing prospects in this draft class as the projected first-round pick has battled injuries the last two seasons and has struggled to play with any sort of consistency, showing several technical flaws to his game. NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah told me teams are split on Bresee during his conference call, and that the Combine will be his chance to put his critics to rest by showing teams he is fully healthy and impressing with his movement skill in the on-field workout.
Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State
If you had to make a short list of players that could be drafted by the Steelers this year, Joey Porter Jr. would need to be near the top of that list. Porter is indeed the son of former Pittsburgh Steelers OLB and OLB coach Joey Porter Sr. and played at North Allegheny High School in Pittsburgh before staying in-state to play for the Nittany Lions. While the ball production for Porter was great during his college career, he was near the top of college football last year in terms of pass deflections.
Listed at 6’2, 194lb, Porter has the frame you look for in a boundary CB. On top of that, Porter’s wingspan is projected to be one of the longest in Combine history at the position, only helping his case to be a first-round lock. Should he post a massive wingspan, test well in the 40 and change of direction drills, and show fluidity in the drills, Porter could elevate his stock out of Pittsburgh’s reach at #17 overall, being that Jeremiah has already stated that he doesn’t think Porter will make it there.
Brian Branch, DB, Alabama
Brian Branch has often been seen as the top safety prospect in this year’s draft class, a position that Pittsburgh may need to address with Terrell Edmunds and Damontae Kazee expected to hit free agency but hasn’t been considered one of the team’s top needs this offseason. Even if Terrell Edmunds is re-signed, Branch still could be a valuable selection since he can start right away in the slot and is reportedly working with the CBs at the Combine this week. All-Pro CB Jalen Ramsey once made the transition from safety in college to CB in the pros, and Branch could potentially be doing the same thing this year. With Pittsburgh needing to improve its secondary, Branch could be the best overall player on the board when they pick and could be the team’s starting nickel/outside CB depending how he looks in drills.
Keeanu Benton, DL, Wisconsin
The Pittsburgh Steelers made their affinity for Wisconsin’s Keeanu Benton well-known during their time at the Senior Bowl as Tomlin told Benton that he is on the team’s radar as a player that fits what they look for on the defensive line. Benton had a good week in Mobile but is looking to follow that up with a strong Combine to really send his draft stock in an upward trajectory. He has shown pass rush upside for weighing 312lb at the Senior Bowl and having worked primarily as a NT in the Badgers’ defensive system. Should Benton test well and look athletic and fluid in drills this week, he could cement himself as a second-round lock and a candidate for one of Pittsburgh’s two picks in that round.
Jack Campbell, ILB, Iowa
For the longest time, the Pittsburgh Steelers have struggled finding a capable off-ball linebacker to make up for the loss of Ryan Shazier. They swung and missed on Devin Bush who is likely leaving in free agency while Myles Jack is being considered a potential cap casualty after an underwhelming 2022 season. The Steelers need a gritty, smart run defender in the middle of the defense, and Jack Campbell from Iowa can be that guy. He possesses rare size and length for the position (6’5, 246lb) and has been one of the best run defenders and pass coverage defenders the last few seasons according to advanced analytics at Pro Football Focus.
Still, Campbell’s overall athleticism remains a question mark in terms of his long speed and quickness to change directions. Many expect Campbell to be a mediocre tester while other draft experts like Ben Fennell think that he could shock people with his numbers, potentially having a Leighton Vander Esch-type of Combine. “LVE” was a player many linked to the Steelers in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, and if Campbell can represent himself well in Lucas Oil this week, he could easily be a player Pittsburgh considers in the second round this April.