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Steelers Analysis

Setting Steelers Needs for 2024 NFL Draft

Following the Steelers moves in free agency, they have four very clear needs they must address in the NFL Draft and post-draft free agency.

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Steelers Friday Night Lights
Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line during Friday Night Lights practice at Latrobe Memorial Stadium, Aug. 4, 2023 -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Omar Khan has been busy throughout the NFL offseason, but that work is not done as the NFL Draft will help fill out many voids in the team. The Steelers still have significant needs on their roster. How do they shake out now that Khan has started to lay the groundwork for the 2024 season?

STEELERS TIER 1 NEEDS

WIDE RECEIVER

The Steelers traded Diontae Johnson to Carolina and released Allen Robinson II. They did sign Van Jefferson and Quez Watkins, but they still have a huge need next to George Pickens and arguably need another player, too. So, this is a natural double-dipping spot for the team.

The Steelers have been linked to San Francisco 49ers star Brandon Aiyuk and Broncos receiver Courtland Sutton on the trade market. Former Cincinnati Bengals slot man and Pittsburgh native Tyler Boyd remains on the free agent market. Aiyuk, Sutton, and Boyd are three very different players, and that highlights the depth of the Steelers’ need here. Johnson was the starting Z wide receiver. Robinson was the starting slot receiver. They need one of each, and will likely acquire at least one during the 2024 NFL Draft.

Top Free Agents:
Odell Beckham Jr., Boyd, DJ Chark, Michael Gallup, Byron Pringle, Hunter Renfrow, Michael Thomas, Marquez Valdez-Scantling
Rd. 1 Draft Options:
Brian Thomas Jr. – LSU, Adonai Mitchell – Texas, Xavier Worthy – Texas, Ladd McConkey – Georgia
Rd. 2 Draft Options:
Roman Wilson – Michigan, Xavier Legette – South Carolina, Ricky Pearsall – Florida, Ja’Lynn Polk – Washington, Malachi Corley – Western Kentucky, Troy Franklin – Oregon, Keon Coleman – Florida State
Rd. 3 Draft Options:
Devontez Walker – UNC, Jalen McMillan – Washington, Jermaine Burton – Alabama, Brenden Rice – USC, Johnny Wilson – Florida State, Javon Baker – UCF

Pittsburgh Steelers C Mason Cole

Pittsburgh Steelers center Mason Cole during practice on Jan. 3, 2024. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

CENTER

Like wide receiver, the Steelers’ need at center is entirely of their own creation, as the club released Mason Cole earlier this offseason.

That is starting to look like it might have been premature. The Steelers have not signed a player to replace Cole, despite bringing in at least one center — Buffalo’s Mitch Morse — on a free-agent visit. Now, Morse and nearly every other player that has started at center in their NFL is off the free agent market.

What the Steelers have left to pick from is three players with significant blemishes: Connor Williams of the Miami Dolphins tore his ACL in Week 14 last year and is not yet near health, Brian Allen of the Los Angeles Rams played just one full season out of the last five, and Nick Gates was released by the Washington Commanders one year into a three-year deal last year.

General manager Omar Khan talked up the positional versatility of guards Nate Herbig and James Daniels during his chat with the media at the 2024 NFL Combine. But Herbig has played just 49 career snaps at center and Daniels hasn’t played there at all since 2019.

There needs to be some kind of addition at the position, and the options are slim.

Top Free Agents:
Cole, Gates, Williams
Rd. 1 Draft Options:
Jackson Powers-Johnson – Oregon, Graham Barton – Duke
Rd. 2 Draft Options:
Zach Frazier – WVU
Rd. 3 Draft Options:
Sedrick Van Pran – Georgia, Mason McCormick – South Dakota State, Tanor Bortolini – Wisconsin, Hunter Nourzad – Penn State, Beaux Limmer – Arkansas

STEELERS TIER 2 NEEDS

Pittsburgh Steelers CB Patrick Peterson

Pittsburugh Steelers DB Patrick Peterson against the Cincinnati Bengals, Dec. 23, 2023 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

SLOT CORNERBACK

The Steelers shored up their outside cornerback position in the Johnson trade, acquiring Donte Jackson from the Carolina Panthers, and then getting him to take a pay cut to make the cap work. Between Jackson, Joey Porter Jr., Darius Rush and Cory Trice Jr., the Steelers have four players at outside cornerback, more than enough to go into the season.

But none of those players have regularly or extensively played in the slot. Rush did a little bit last year as the Steelers’ Dime cornerback, but at 6-foot-2, 198 pounds, he’s certainly better-suited outside. Jackson has the body type for it, but played just five snaps in the slot for Carolina in 2023.

Now, the good news for the Steelers at cornerback is that there are options, including the incumbents, as free agents Patrick Peterson and Chandon Sullivan have not signed with another team. The other is that slot cornerbacks usually don’t cost a lot in terms of cap space or draft capital.

Top Free Agents:
Tre Herndon, Peterson, Sullivan, K’Waun Williams
Rd. 1 Draft Options:
Terrion Arnold – Alabama, Quinyon Mitchell – Toledo, Nate Wiggins – Clemson, Cooper DeJean – Iowa
Rd. 2 Draft Options:
Ennis Rakestraw Jr. – Missouri, T.J. Tampa – Iowa State, Kamari Lassiter – Georgia, Mike Sainristil, Michigan, Max Melton – Rutgers
Rd. 3 Draft Options:
Andru Phillips – Kentucky, Kris Abrams-Draine – Missouri, Jarvis Brownlee – Louisville, Renardo Green, Florida State

Pittsburgh 2024 NFL Draft Prospect Georgia OT Amarius Mims

Georgia offensive lineman Amarius Mims (65) is shown aginst South Carolina during the first half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 16, 2023, Ga. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

TACKLE

The Steelers have one of their tackle spots locked up long term with Broderick Jones currently playing right tackle. The idea is for him to eventually move to left tackle and replace Dan Moore Jr., who is entering the final season of his contract.

This isn’t a place for a stop-gap-free agent, really. Even if the Steelers use their first-round pick on a tackle, Moore will be in competition with that player, but it is a deep tackle class, and there are a stunning amount of options for the team, so this could be a spot they could look to address.

If they were to sign a free agent, that guy would have to start, and honestly, there are only two of those options.

Top Free Agents:

Donovan Smith, Mekhi Becton, David Bakhtiari

Rd. 1 Draft Options:
Olu Fashanu – Penn State, Taliese Fuaga – Oregon State, JC Latham – Alabama, Troy Fautanu – Washington, Amarius Mims – Georgia, Tyler Guyton – Oklahoma
Rd. 2 Draft Options:
Kingsley Suamataia – BYU, Jordan Morgan – Arizona, Patrick Paul – Houston, Kiran Amegadjie – Yale, Roger Rosengarten – Washington
Rd. 3 Draft Options:
Blake Fisher – Notre Dame, Matt Goncalves – Pitt, Delmar Glaze – Maryland, Javon Foster – Missouri, Christian Jones – Texas

STEELERS TIER 3 NEEDS

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

The Steelers have all of their top four defensive linemen returning, but it’s a position that needs attention beyond the No. 5 depth option, a spot manned by Armon Watts in 2023. Cam Heyward is 34 and coming off a major injury. Larry Ogunjobi struggled in 2023. Keeanu Benton is extremely promising, but there is a lot of worry with the depth and future of the group. It could be a sneaky spot to address if the right player is available.

Not including free agents since they don’t need bodies as much as they need depth and future players at the position.

Rd. 1 Draft Options:
Byron Murphy – Texas, Johnny Newton – Illinois
Rd. 2 Draft Options:
Braden Fiske – Florida State, Darius Robinson – Missouri, Kris Jenkins – Michigan, Ruke Orhorhoro – Clemson, Michael Hall Jr. – Ohio State
Rd. 3 Draft Options:
Leonard Taylor – Miami, DeWayne Carter – Duke, McKinnley Jackson – Texas A&M, Maason Smith – LSU, T’Vondre Sweat – Texas, Mekhi Wingo – LSU

Steelers LB Mark Robinson

Steelers linebacker Mark Robinson against the Indianapolis Colts, Dec. 16, 2023 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

INSIDE LINEBACKER

The Steelers have four on their active roster after signing Patrick Queen in free agency, but the team having to go “off the couch” to find an injury replacement instead of being able to use Mark Robinson in 2023 was not a ringing endorsement of the second-year player. There’s a chance they could still look to upgrade this position, including with their own free agents, Kwon Alexander and Myles Jack.

Top Free Agents:
Alexander, Zach Cunningham, Jack, Shaq Leonard, Blake Martinez, Tyler Matakevich
Rd. 3 Draft Options:
Payton Wilson – NC State, Junior Colson – Michigan, Cedrick Gray – North Carolina, Jeremiah Trotter Jr. – Clemson
Rd. 4 Draft Options:
Tommy Eichenberg – Ohio State, Trevin Wallace – Kentucky, Edefuan Ulofoshio – Washington
Rd. 6 Draft Options:
Curtis Jacobs – Penn State, Ty’Ron Hopper – Missouri, Marist Liufau – Notre Dame, J.D. Bertrand – Notre Dame, Tyrice Knight – UTEP, Jaylan Ford – Texas, Nathaniel Watson – Mississippi State, Steele Chambers – Ohio State, Michael Barrett – Michigan