Here at Steelers Now, we’ve talked a lot in the pre-draft process up to this point about what the Pittsburgh Steelers may do this week in the 2023 NFL Draft.
But that’s not what this is. Instead of breaking down the options for their plausibility, let’s just look at what would be good and bad moves for the Steelers to make. All of this, is of course, almost entirely subjective. But I think it’s being done from a place of knowledge. I covered many of these players in college, I’ve attended the Senior Bowl, NFL Combine and pro days and talked to countless staff and front office members along the way to arrive at these opinions.
That being said, they could be wrong and I’m sure you’ll all tell me why in the comments.
THREE STEELERS DRAFT MOVES TO LIKE
TRADING UP FOR A LEFT TACKLE
The Steelers are not, in my opinion, going to get a left tackle at No. 17. They used their last two first-round pick on a quarterback and a running back that need the offense line to play better to reach their full potential. If I was general manager, I’d have done this in the opposite order, because linemen take longer to develop, but it is past time for the Steelers to invest heavily in the offensive line via the draft.
The place to make the biggest impact is at left tackle, and I think they need to move up at least ahead of the New York Jets at No. 15 in order to make sure they get one, whether it’s Paris Johnson Jr., Broderick Jones, or perhaps, Peter Skoronski.
The Steelers don’t need seven rookies in this class. Losing the extra pick won’t hurt and it can be recovered by moving down from No. 32, if necessary. More on this in Locked On Steelers.
DAY TWO CORNERBACKS
There are a lot of cornerbacks in this class, maybe more than any in recent memory. The Steelers certainly don’t need to take one in the first round to get a good one, and given the team’s propensity to swing and miss at that position, I’d actually prefer they went somewhere else with the first pick and address corner later, where a miss will have a smaller impact and the talent pool is just as deep. There are about 15 impact talents at corner in this draft class. It shouldn’t be hard to find one later.
I also think the Steelers’ need at corner has been slightly overstated. Patrick Peterson was awesome last year, and while he’s getting older, showed minimal signs of slowing down. Ahkello Witherspoon was very good before his early 2022 injury. Levi Wallace is at least a serviceable regular. That’s not a disaster of a position group. They do need to find someone that can be a cover-first slot corner.
GET KENNY A WEAPON
The Steelers shored up their immediate wide receiver and tight ends needs by bringing back Anthony Miller, Miles Boykin and Zach Gentry on free agent deals and trading for Allen Robinson II. But they shouldn’t let the existence of those players stand in the way of adding to the overall group of playmakers. Whether it’s at wide receiver, tight end, or even running back, the Steelers need to get Kenny Pickett one more weapon in this draft class, particularly of use in the passing game.
When Omar Khan was listing the position groups he likes in this class on Monday, Mike Tomlin went out of his way to laud the tight end class, and I definitely agree. Pat Freiermuth is a good player, but has struggled with inline blocking and might be better suited to a predominately flex role. A Darnell Washington would look really good next to him.
THREE STEELERS DRAFT MOVES TO DISLIKE
DARNELL WRIGHT AT NO. 17
Wright is a player that has been moving up draft boards pretty consistently late in the process, and I don’t really see it. To me, Darnell Wright is probably more of a right tackle than a left tackle and I don’t think there’s a reason to pay a premium for that kind of player.
If the Steelers can’t trade up for a top tackle, and one doesn’t fall, a cornerback like Joey Porter Jr., or a defensive lineman like Bryan Bresee or a wide receiver like Jaxon Smith-Nijiba would all be better picks here.
There have been some work-ethic concerns floated about Wright, but for me, it’s just about paying big draft value for a player with relatively little upside and leaving a large weakness at Kenny Pickett’s blindside.
INSIDE LINEBACKER AT NO. 32
Yes, the Steelers need another inside linebacker, particularly one with some coverage skills. But the first pick of the second round isn’t the place to take one in this class. I don’t have a single ILB that high on my board, not even the freakishly toolsy Trenton Simpson from Clemson.
This is not a good linebacker class and all have significant downsides. There are players that will be taken later in Round 2 or Round 3 that I like just as much as the top options. Linebacker is a position to wait on.
A few years ago, when the Steelers drafted Dan Moore Jr., they needed a tackle that could play right away. They sacrificed upside for play-now ability in that pick, and that’s part of the reason it’s high on their list of positions to be addressed this year.
The Steelers have no glaring needs. There isn’t a position they need someone to play this year. There are highly rated players in this class that just do not have the same ceiling as others, like Oklahoma tackle Anton Harrison, Syracuse cornerback Garrett Williams, Ohio State edge rusher Zach Harrison and Alabama safety Jordan Battle.
To me, those guys are plug and play options, which is why they’re highly rated, but they sacrifice too much in upside. The Steelers would be better off going for high boom/bust potential types like Ohio State tackle Dawand Jones, Purdue cornerback Cory Trice, Georgia Tech edge rusher Keion White and Penn State safety Ji’Ayir Brown.
Failing that, players that are guaranteed to fit a bit-part role and do it well shouldn’t be overlooked, either. Give me Baylor nose tackle Siaki Ika or Auburn coverage specialist inside linebacker Owen Pappoe or Utah physical slot cornerback Clark Phillips III. Those players may never be stars, but they can better fill those roles than picking average generalists.