Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Teryl Austin got to spent some time with a potential Steelers draft target on Tuesday night.
Austin, a 1987 Pitt alum, was at Petersen Events Center on Tuesday for the Panthers’ men’s basketball team’s win over Boston College. Alongside him at courtside were some other former Pitt football players, including 2023 NFL Draft prospect Calijah Kancey.
Kancey, 21, is likely not a stranger to Austin, having practiced alongside the Steelers for all of his three seasons with Pitt. But the 6-foot, 280-pound defensive tackle now finds himself in the thick of a draft process where the Steelers have a great need along the defensive line.
Three of the Steelers’ top six defensive linemen are set to hit free agency in March, including starter Larry Ogunjobi and backups Tyson Alualu and Chris Wormley. Their other starter, Cam Heyward, will be 34 later this spring and has openly contemplated how long he wants to keep playing.
The Steelers used a third-round pick on DeMarvin Leal in 2021, but he played mostly defensive end in the base 3-4 defense and rush end in the 4-2 Nickel and 4-1 Dime. They need players that can play from the five-technique (traditional 3-4 end) inside to 4-2 defensive tackle and nose tackle.
Kancey has never played the nose at Pitt, but he fits the mold as a somewhat undersized defensive tackle that could also play end in the Steelers’ 3-4 defense. He excels as a pass rusher and uses penetration to disrupt run plays, with 14.5 sacks and 27.5 tackles for loss over the last two seasons.
🏉 The Steelers landed an Alabama defensive back in the latest mock draft by Ryan Wilson of CBS Sports.
Wilson’s mock that dropped on Tuesday has the Steelers taking Crimson Tide safety Brian Branch. The 6-foot, 193-pound DB did a little bit of everything for Alabama the last three seasons, playing all over the defensive secondary.
“Brian Branch isn’t the first name you hear about when the conversation turns to Alabama’s defense, but maybe he should be,” wrote Wilson. “He’s a sure tackler, can blitz off the edge, and is solid in coverage. And if Nick Saban trusts him, that’s all you need to know about his NFL prospects.”
Branch would likely project to play slot corner for the Steelers, but could also be a candidate for work in their three-safety package if it persists beyond 2022.
🏉 Other mock drafts from Tuesday:
Walter Football: Penn State CB Joey Porter Jr.
College Football News: Illinois CB Devon Witherspoon
NFL Draft Blitz: Illinois CB Devon Witherspoon
Football Outsiders: Georgia OT Broderick Jones
Pro Football Network: Georgia OT Broderick Jones
Clutch Points: TCU WR Quentin Johnston