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2023 NFL Draft

Drafting for Depth: Where Do the Steelers Need Help Beyond the Starting Lineup?




With the 2022 NFL season fully in the rear-view mirror with the completion of Sunday’s Super Bowl, let’s turn our attention fully to the Pittsburgh Steelers and their 2023 offseason.

The Steelers have a bumper crop of their own players that are set to hit the free agent market in March, and also likely have eyes on upgrading some position groups after a 9-8 season left the team on the outside looking into the 2022 NFL postseason.

So where are the team’s biggest needs of the offseason? As I have in previous years, I’ve brown down the team’s needs into four categories: immediate starting needs, starting upgrade needs, future needs and depth needs.

Today, we’re looking at places the Steelers have a need to increase their depth before the start of the 2023 season. Remember that we’ve already addressed places with immediate starting needs on Monday.

Monday: Immediate Starting Needs
Tuesday: Upgrade Needs
Wednesday: Future Starting Needs
Thursday: Immediate Depth Needs


These are positions where the team has solid starters — or we’ve already identified a lack of a solid starter — but also needs depth behind those starter and could address those needs, especially on day three of the draft.

Tight end and fullback: This is one of the most-pressing needs on the entire offense, as the Steelers go into the offseason with both backup tight end Gentry and fullback Derek Watt set to hit free agency, and basically no one else.

The Steelers probably won’t sign both, and with Connor Heyward versatile enough to fill either role, the team could kind of go either direction when it comes to making a second addition to this position.

Either way, one true tight end plus Heyward on the roster is not going to cut it heading into the offseason.

The Steelers also do not have a one-for-one backup of Pat Freiermuth’s skillset. Gentry is more of a blocker. Heyward is shorter, a better ball-carrier and not as a good of a route runner. If Freiermuth were to miss extended time, a lot of the Steelers offensive game plan would have to be heavily modified.

It should be fairly easy for the Steelers to find a more versatile backup option than the ones they have.

Backups on the roster: Conner Heyward

Tackle: Even if the Steelers decide to go into the 2023 season with Moore and Okorafor in place as the team’s starting tackles, there’s no question that the depth at that position was lacking last season.

Veteran backup Jesse Davis is a free agent, though he was passed up for playing time by Trent Scott (also a free agent) for most of the season. Neither figure to be playable for anything other than small stretches. 

Getting a young tackle with some projectability in addition to serving as a backup upgrade would be a win for this position group.

If the Steelers go the upgrade route, drafting a tackle with the idea that they would start over Moore or Okorafor, that could negate this need by bumping someone down the depth chart. But Okorafor is a potential cap casualty and the team could try Moore at guard in that scenario, too. Either way, finding another tackle seems like a good idea, and this is a deep draft class that should yield quality into day three.

Backups on the roster: None

Center: Starter Mason Cole was one of the biggest bright spots on the Steelers offensive line in 2022, despite playing through a season-long foot injury.

But backup J.C. Hassenauer is a free agent and hasn’t shown much in limited chances over the last few seasons. The Steelers could take a center in the later rounds and upgrade their depth. Cole also is only under contract for two more seasons, so a projectable young player could line up to replace him in the future.

Backups on the roster: Ryan McCollum, Kendrick Green

Defensive tackle: This is the fourth straight day this week I’ve talked about the interior defensive line, so I might be starting to sound like a broken record here, but stay with me.

The Steelers have a current starting need at defensive tackle, to fill the place left by Larry Ogunjobi’s pending free agency. They have a future starting need at defensive tackle, to prepare for Cam Heyward’s eventual retirement. They also have an upgrade need at nose tackle, where Montravius Adams returns, but was only so-so in 2022.

If the Steelers sign or draft a replacement for Ogunjobi and an upgrade over Adams, and draft a potential future replacement for Cam Heyward, they can probably get by with what they have.

But those upgrade and future needs are far from sure things, and if they don’t do all of that, they’re going to fall short of the necessary rotation at the position. Tyson Alualu and Chris Wormley are free agents, leaving the team with just two of its top five interior linemen from 2022 in the fold.

DeMarvin Leal seems more suited to playing outside linebacker, rush end and 3-4 defensive end than sub package defensive tackle. If the Steelers decide not to address their future need at this position, they will likely still need another stop-gap in the Wormley mold.

Backups on the roster: Isaiahh Loudermilk, Jonathan Marshall, Renell Wren

Outside linebacker: The team’s lack of depth at this position was badly exposed in 2022 with T.J. Watt’s injury.

It’s likely that free agent Malik Reed will not be retained, and even if you count Leal with this position group, the need for some rotational depth here is massive. The team has tried and missed in consecutive offseasons by bringing in Reed and Melvin Ingram to attempt to fix this spot. Maybe this year, they’ll try the draft?

Funny enough, they tried that in 2021, too, but lost Quincy Roche on waivers to then New York Giants. He’s back, and could potentially fill this need if he becomes the player the Steelers thought he could be when they drafted him.

It wouldn’t hurt to get another iron in the fire, though, at this critical position for the Pittsburgh defense.

Backups on the roster: Emeke Egbule, Quincy Roche

Quarterback: The Steelers go into the 2023 offseason with two quarterbacks on their roster in Kenny Pickett and Mitch Trubisky. Trubisky may or may not still be around by the time the season gets here, with his starting quarterback-level salary a prime target for the Steelers to save some cap space.

Either way, the Steelers have carried three quarterbacks on their active roster for almost all of Mike Tomlin’s tenure as head coach, so they’re one short. The team could probably find a capable backup in free agency, but they also might look to the draft for a player that can be Pickett’s long-term backup. At the very least, this year, it wouldn’t be a waste of a seventh-round pick.

Backups on the roster: Mitch Trubisky

Strong safety: The Steelers have a big starting need here with Terrell Edmunds set to hit free agency for the second time in two seasons, but they also have a significant backup need, as well.

Damontae Kazee is also set to become a free agent, and the Steelers seemed to like having a three-safety “heavy” Nickel package available to them because of the freedom that it afforded Minkah Fitzpatrick.

Kazee could certainly be re-signed, but this is also a deep safety class with options for a replacement into the third day.

Backups on the roster: Tre Norwood, Elijah Riley, Kenny Robinson, Scott Nelson

Wide receiver: We already covered the Steelers’ need for a starting slot receiver, but depending on how they fill that need, they could have a need for a backup outside receiver, as well.

At the start of last season, Chase Claypool filled both roles as a slot receiver that could also move outside. After his trade, the only other backup outside receiver was Miles Boykin, and he is set to become an unrestricted free agent.

Backups on roster: JaMarcus Bradley, Dez Fitzpatrick, Cody White