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Steelers Analysis

Steelers First Round Strategy Might be a Premium Position

The Pittsburgh Steelers very well might want to focus on premium positions in the first round and deal with the rest later in the class.



Georgia offensive lineman Amarius Mims uses crutches to leave the field after defeasting South Carolina an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, Ga. Mims wa injured in the firt half. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

The Pittsburgh Steelers pick at 20th overall feels less certain than it has in recent years. Usually, there is an obvious player, and while there are a few candidates this year, none of them jump out over one another. But the strategy for how Pittsburgh wants to draft at that spot seems to be coming a bit clearer.

I’ve waxed poetic about this, from their interest in offensive tackles to wide receivers to cornerback. While the lack of interest in first-round centers is glaring, the Steelers’ strategy seems quite clear. It could be any of those three positions, and I would not be surprised, but it sure feels like the team is on a collision course toward taking a premium position, at least if they stick at 20th overall (more on that later).

There are more 30 visits to come, but those three positions are where they are concentrated. The team has put much work into the first-round tackles, cornerbacks, and wide receivers. Position coaches or Mike Tomlin and Omar Khan went to the pro days of top players at those spots. They did, too, at center, so maybe this is all a smokescreen, but I think center will be addressed in the second round. The first round? Best player available at a premium position. Khan values positional value, or if you are at a non-premium position, premium players (ex: Patrick Queen). So, for now, I expect tackle, cornerback, or wide receiver to be the pick, and I’m leaning offensive tackle.

It’s a uniquely deep center class. But it’s not deep in guys who will play right away. That is reserved for a few guys, namely Jackson Powers-Johnson, Zach Frazier, and Graham Barton. If you want to extend it a bit, you can get to some guys like Sedrick Van-Pran Granger.

But history should tell us there might be some signs that the Steelers will not make this move. In a key spot, one of the architects of the draft board and strategy is assistant general manager Andy Weidl. Under his tutelage with Howie Roseman, they did not take a center in the first round. In fact, the interior offensive line was a day-two deal for that team. Cam Jurgens, Landon Dickerson, and Isaac Seumalo were all day two picks.

Then, there comes the pro-day tracking from this season. Listen, I’m not as beholden to the pro day rules this year, either, but you have to put stock into them. It’s quite clear that while the Steelers are doing their work on centers, offensive tackle seems like a higher priority, at least right now. Khan’s draft strategy last year was entirely based on draft value at premium positions. It’s just one draft, but Khan is a more analytically inclined general manager, and him emphasizing premium positions would not be much of a surprise. Nor would it be with Weidl, who, under Roseman, made a living of doing that.

So, a premium position at 20th overall seems far likelier than something like a center, especially with a uniquely laid out board at tackle and cornerback for the team to capitalize this year.