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Day 1 Steelers Combine Takeaways: Top Early Targets, LB Interest Shows

The Pittsburgh Steelers gave some hints of their NFL Draft plans heading into the NFL Combine after the first day of media interviews.



Pittsburgh Steelers NFL Combine

INDIANAPOLIS — The NFL Combine is upon us again, and while athletic testing in shorts has its weaknesses, the event is massive. Between interviews, medicals, and testing, teams will learn more about players than they were just about anywhere else. On Wednesday, the edge rushers, defensive linemen, and off-ball linebackers met with the media. What about the Pittsburgh Steelers’ draft process did we learn? Here are Steelers Now’s takeaways from the day.

Alan Saunders

🏈 I have no idea what the Steelers are going to do in this draft.

That’s not entirely true. I have a good idea of what the Steelers need and what they like and how they operate. I’m pretty sure of what they’re not going to do. But for the first time in a few years (maybe since 2019?) I’m really not sure what’s going to happen. They have an obvious need at center that will likely take one of their first three draft picks. Other than that, tackle, cornerback, linebacker and defensive line all seemed to be on the board coming into this week, and the fact that they interviewed some of the top defensive linemen and linebackers already likely means that we can’t cross anything off the board yet.

Free agency will provide some clarity, but my big early takeaway is that this might be the hardest-to-predict Steelers draft in quite some time.

🏈 The Steelers’ fascination with NFL bloodlines are usually a good way to narrow the field down to try to figure out some players that might be of heavy interest for the Black and Gold.

Not this year.

Just today, I talked with Michigan defensive tackle Kris Jenkins Jr. (father Kris, Carolina Panthers, uncle Cullen, Green Bay Packers), Ohio State linebacker Tommy Eichenberg (brother Liam, Miami Dolphins) and Clemson linebacker Jeremiah Trotter Jr. (father Jeremiah, Philadelphia Eagles). There are plenty more on the docket for the rest of the week, too.

🏈 NC State linebacker Payton Wilson continues to be one of the most intriguing players in the draft for me. He’s a bit of a unicorn in terms of body type, as a tall, slender, fast linebacker. But I think his build fits the coverage needs of the position quite well in 2024. The Steelers did not formally interview him here after talking to him at the Senior Bowl. So their interest may have cooled, or perhaps they feel like they got a good bead on him in Mobile. Either way, he’s probably the fourth linebacker on the board for me and could be an interesting fit in the third or fourth round.

🏈 If I had to put the linebackers in order right now, I’d go Edgerrin Cooper, Junior Colson, Jeremiah Trotter Jr. and then Payton Wilson. It gets a bit messier after that, but Cedric Gray of North Carolina stands out from the rest of the pack for me. It’s still early. Let me see how they run,

🏈 I have no idea how to rank the defensive tackles. They’re all so different. The Steelers formally interviewing McKinnley Jackson (who I didn’t think was very good at the Senior Bowl) but not talking to Illinois’s Johnny Newton (who didn’t go to Mobile) is a head-scratcher. I have a feeling they may stand pat at DT early. It there’s one player that feels like a Steeler to me, it’s Florida State’s Braden Fiske. Unfortunately, it was impossible to get within 25 feet of the Michigan City, Indiana native here today. So I wasn’t able to learn much more about him.

Nick Farabaugh

🏈 Junior Colson comes across to me as someone the Steelers will love. I know Jeremiah Trotter Jr. and Edgerrin Cooper feel like guys they will like a lot, and I bet they will, but between Colson’s tape and demeanor, he fits what they like. From talking to Colson, he is a fiercely loyal leader with a ‘C’ patch in his future. And the tape is great, too. Colson played through multiple injuries all season, including wearing a cast on his hand and not losing any effectiveness. There is a type of toughness a team rallies around, and the intangibles for Colson are fantastic. The coverage ability stands out on tape, too. Colson has a ton of positives and feels like the top guy in this class to me.

🏈 Conversely, I wish I got to talk to Michael Hall. While undersized, he feels like the type of pass-rush jolt the team needs. But the defensive line shined in their ways today. T’Vondre Sweat stuck out because he is unapologetically himself and has a fantastic sense of humor. But Clemson’s Ruke Orhorhoro is a plus multiplier on the defensive line. I see nothing but upside in his pass rush game with his get-off and length. Meanwhile, he is versatile and can play up and down the line as an elite-level run defender. Hall and Orhorhoro feel like possible Steelers targets, even if they are both on different sides of the spectrum with their current perceived strengths.

Derrick Bell

🏈 Every cycle, there are a couple of prospects that have formal visits with the Steelers that pique your interest, mainly because they are just names that you didn’t expect. Byron Murphy is one of those guys for me this year, considering it’s a pairing that I really didn’t think much of coming into the week. But when you think about the uncertain future of the Steelers defensive line around Keeanu Benton, adding a player this talented shouldn’t be frowned upon even if there are other perceived bigger needs. Murphy’s flexibility, explosiveness and raw power stand out and the idea that there’s even more to unlock down the road is particularly intriguing.

🏈 The most insightful interview of the entire day came from Troy pass rusher Javon Solomon, who led the FBS with 16 sacks last season. An undersized speed rusher, he showed improved hand usage and an expanded pass rushing toolkit this past season which led to career numbers across the board. After hearing him talk about his love for the game, borrowing moves from other rushers throughout the season and his preparation, it’s hard to not root for this guy. Pittsburgh won’t be spending premier draft capital on an edge rusher this spring, but they do fancy undersized guys that have a quick first step and a relentless motor. The hit rate on day-three pass rushers is poor but Solomon has traits that you would bet on in that range.