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Senior Bowl

Saunders: Five Final Steelers Thoughts from Senior Bowl Week



Pittsburgh Steelers Senior Bowl

MOBILE, Ala. — I love it here. If you’ve never been to Mobile, Alabama, it’s one of my favorite small cities in the country. It has history, it has culture, it has Mardi Gras, and for a week in February, it has the entire NFL in town for the Senior Bowl.

This was my fourth Senior Bowl and I am already looking forward to coming back here in 2025. I love the people, the food, and getting to talk football with some of the best and brightest from all over the country.

Myself and Nick Farabaugh have already written a ton and will continue to in the coming days and weeks leading up to the 2024 NFL Draft, but I wanted to share some final thoughts concerning the Steelers from the Senior Bowl here to wrap up the weekend.

People Like the Arthur Smith Hire

My viewing of the second practice session on Tuesday was severely limited by the news of the Steelers hiring offensive coordinator Arthur Smith in the middle of it. The hiring of Smith does not seem to have gained widespread appreciation in Pittsburgh, but as I spoke to some of the smartest people in the game in Mobile, most of them seemed to think it’s a move that will work out well for the Steelers.

Smith is well-respected in coaching circles, so that could have something to do with it. But I think there is a general sense of the team’s roster and Smith’s style meshing together in a way that could get the best out of each other.

Steelers HC Mike Tomlin Is Still a Senior Bowl Rock Star

I understand that there’s a significant percentage of people with 412 or 724 area codes that would like to see someone else coaching the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2024. But man, it’s just such a different level of appreciation for Tomlin when you get outside the city. Even after a few less-than-stellar years, he is treated like a celebrity among celebrities when the league gets together.

I asked more than one Senior Bowl participant if they had a moment where it really set in for them that they’re embarking on a lifelong dream and are just one step removed from playing in the NFL. The nearly unanimous response to that question was the first time they popped into a meeting this week and saw Steelers coach Mike Tomlin across the table.

No NFL head coach is as involved in the Senior Bowl process as Tomlin is. And you know he’ll be front and center at the combine and pro days, too. He is, to use his words, a “football lover” and for him to spend more hours on the field and in meetings than almost any other head coach this week underscores how absurd it was that we took the notion of him stepping away from the game seriously.

The Senior Bowl Quarterbacks Stink, Bad News for Steelers

I am not a scout, but I know enough to know what I saw this week from the quarterback position wasn’t good. You get to talk to more than a few scouts over the course of a week, and I didn’t hear a single good word about the play of nearly any of the quarterbacks.

Spencer Rattler might be the exception, rising his draft stock in my eyes from the middle of Day Three to the beginning of it. Michael Pratt is someone that I was higher on than most, and he met my expectations. You can throw Florida State’s Jordan Travis in with those guys, but that doesn’t exactly give the Steelers a lot of options in the quarterbacks department in this draft class.

I came into the week expecting the plan for the Steelers to be cut Mitch Trubisky, sign a veteran, and draft one. Now, I’m not so sure.

Offensive Line Depth Is Real

There were many good offensive linemen that were not here in Mobile. Top 10 picks Joe Alt and Olu Fashanu declined. Later likely first-round tackles J.C. Latham, Amarius Mims skipped Mobile. Tackle Troy Fautanu and centers Sedrick Van Pram and Graham Barton missed with injury.

When you take a look at the group we did have in Mobile, and then add that group to it, WHEW. This is a deep, deep offensive line class. 
Even the guards, which the Steelers don’t really need, look good to me. Omar Khan and Andy Weld seem to want to build inside out. It could be a banner year for that strategy.

In general, the Steelers needs line up well with the strengths of this class, with quarterback and linebacker the possible exceptions.

Beware Trade Downs

The general consensus of this draft class is that it is deep at specific positions, but not overall, and that trade-downs, forever the darling of analytically minded draft analysts, may be a tougher sell this year.