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2024 NFL Draft

Beyond 2024: Where Could Steelers Draft for Future Needs?

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Steelers QB Kenny Pickett WR Diontae Johnson
Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Cam Hayward runs out of the tunnel before a game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Dec. 23, 2023. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

Let’s continue our Pittsburgh Steelers 2024 offseason needs assessment with an eye toward the future. On Monday and Tuesday, we broke down where the Steelers have immediate starting holes and upgrade needs for the 2024 season.

But so many of the team’s best draft moves have come with an eye to the future in mind. Players like Cam Heyward and Troy Polamalu barely played as rookies. Instead, they were drafted to fill a future need.

Today, we’re looking into the future from 2024 to the places where the Steelers might want to plan ahead for future needs this offseason.

Monday: Immediate Starting Needs
Tuesday: Upgrade Needs
Wednesday: Future Starting Needs
Thursday: Immediate Depth Needs

First, let’s recap. We established on Monday that the lone true hole on the roster this offseason is at cornerback, where both Chandon Sullivan and Levi Wallace are free agents and Patrick Peterson can man only one of the two spots. On Tuesday, we talked about potential starter upgrades at left tackle, center, quarterback, slot wide receiver and strong safety.

So what about the places on the roster where the team might be set for 2023, but they could use an injection of future talent?

STEELERS 2024 FUTURE NEEDS

Quarterback: Kenny Pickett will likely be the starter in 2024, even though Art Rooney II said he’s not ruling out making a big-swing move like a trade for Justin Fields. The Steelers will also pair Pickett with a quarterback that has a legit chance of knocking off, a 1-B to his 1-A. That might be Mason Rudolph, or it could be someone from the outside like Ryan Tannehill.

But no matter what happens with those first two spots, the Steelers will likely need a third quarterback, with Mitch Trubisky almost assured of being a salary cap casualty. For the first time in a while, they’re in position to draft a developmental quarterback.

Pickett might turn out just fine with a new coordinator, a new offensive scheme and another year under his belt. If he does, great. A player the Steelers draft in 2024 could develop into a long-term backup for him, the way Josh Dobbs served with Ben Roethlisberger. If Pickett doesn’t work out, and the Steelers get into another situation where the season looks hopeless and they’re tempted to turn to their third quarterback in desperation again, they would be well-served to have that player be one that actually possesses some upside this time around.

Imagine if the Steelers had gotten the performance they got out of Rudolph out of a rookie third-day draft pick. People would be talking like they had the next Brock Purdy on their hands. Quarterback is too important of a position to not keep taking swings at it until you have a franchise guy locked up, and Pickett is certainly not there. So a third-day quarterback could be just what the doctor ordered for the Steelers in this year’s draft.

Unfortunately, that may be a tough sell when you look at the actual players. A rough Senior Bowl nearly all around left Tulane’s Michael Pratt, South Carolina’s Spencer Rattler and Florida State’s Jordan Travis looking like the best of the bunch, but it’s not a deep group. Even though there may be a desire for the Steelers to add such a player in 2024, it just might not work out.

Under contract beyond 2024: Kenny Pickett, Mitch Trubisky

Wide Receiver: The Steelers have one wide receiver position locked up for the foreseeable future with George Pickens. We’ve already identified the other, in the slot, as a spot in need of an immediate upgrade over Allen Robinson II, who is likely to be cut anyway. The third spot is currently manned by Diontae Johnson, but he is entering the final year of his contract.

Will the Steelers want to sign Johnson to an extension? They have been hesitant to give out third contracts to wide receivers in the past, and they will likely want to have money available to extend Pickens when his contract ends.

The Steelers could kill two birds with one stone here if they can find a player that can play in the slot immediately, while also projecting to be a starter on the outside that could replace Johnson. Someone like Roman Wilson from Michigan would seem to fit that bill.

Under contract beyond 2024: George Pickens, Calvin Austin III

Pittsburgh Steelers DT Ed Thompson

Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Cam Hayward runs out of the tunnel before a game against the Cincinnati Bengals on Dec. 23, 2023. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

Defensive Tackle: Heyward is 34 years old and entering the final season of his contract — a deal that will have to be renegotiated for salary cap purposes. Heyward says he’s not retiring, and so the Steelers will likely have him back for 2024. But there is definitely a need to draft and develop a future replacement, especially at a position where players often take time to work their way up to a starting role.

Keeanu Benton could provide some of that long-term upside at one spot on the defensive line, but he’s only one player, and with Montravius Adams a free agent, he’s currently slotted in as the starter at nose tackle. If the Steelers can hit on another early-round option like Benton, they could shape the future of their defensive line for years to come.

Under contract beyond 2024: Larry Ogunjobi, Keeanu Benton, DeMarvin Leal

Inside linebacker: Elandon Roberts and Cole Holcomb are both back and penciled in as starters for the 2024 season, but it’s a tenuous grip on things right now. Roberts is entering the final year of his contract. Holcomb has now had consecutive seasons stopped short due to injury.

Mark Robinson provided better depth toward the end of the season, but the team was forced to rely on calling Myles Jack out or retirement to start him in a playoff game because of the lack of depth.

This does not appear to be a deep draft class at linebacker, but the Steelers will certainly be combing through it to try to find one.

Under contract beyond 2024: Cole Holcomb, Mark Robinson

Cornerback: We’re back to our very first need of the week, at cornerback, where Peterson will man either the inside or outside spot in 2023, and the other will likely be filled by a new addition to the team. No matter where Peterson plays, he’s 33 and likely isn’t a part of the team’s long-term plan.

The Steelers do have some developmental depth here, especially at outside cornerback, where Darius Rush and Cory Trice Jr. have shown promise.

But they have never really recovered from the dual free agency losses of Mike Hilton and Cam Sutton in the slot, and even if Peterson holds down that role in 2024, he’ll be 34 this summer and has just one year left on his deal. A long-term replacement for the position would go a long way.

Under contract beyond 2024: Joey Porter Jr., Corey Trice

Immediate Starting Needs: CB or SCB
Upgrade Needs: LT or RT, C, SWR, SS, QB
Future Starting Needs: QB, WR, DT, ILB, CB or SCB
Immediate Depth Needs

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