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.
Monday, we broke down the first of those needs, taking a look at the places that the Steelers have an immediate hole in their starting lineup.
Today, we’re looking at places where the Steelers have their 2022 starter in line to return, but still might want to find an upgrade at that position this offseason.
The Steelers have not traditionally used their free agent resources on a position where they have an incumbent starter in place. Instead, they’ve usually used free agent money to plug holes while drafting players that could be upgrades.
Last season, they did both, signing Mitch Trubisky to fill the hole at quarterback and then drafting Kenny Pickett as an upgrade. In 2021, they drafted Pat Freiermuth as an upgrade over Eric Ebron at tight end. In 2020, it was Chase Claypool being taken to supplant James Washington as the team’s third wide receiver.
These are spots that could be day one or day two selections for the Steelers in the 2023 NFL Draft, but also could not be taken at all if the board does not fall favorably because those starters do remain in place.
Tackle: This feels like the No. 1 opportunity for the Steelers to upgrade their team in this draft. The Steelers got mediocre production out of both starting tackles Dan Moore Jr. and Chukwuma Okorafor in 2022. Of the 21 tackles that played 80% of their team’s snaps this year, Moore was ranked 17th by Pro Football Focus and Okorafor was 19th.
Both are under contract to return for 2023, but are in far from secure positions. Moore has largely failed to secure the blind side of rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett and Okorafor has the double whammy of mediocre performance and a rapidly escalating contract that makes him a potential salary cap casualty.
A free agency upgrade at this position would be pricey in addition to not fitting how the Steelers traditionally do business. But with a deep offensive line class in the 2023 NFL Draft, an early pick going to a tackle would be far from a surprise.
Current roster: Dan Moore, Chuks Okorafor
Guard: The Steelers fared better at guard than they did at tackle in 2022, with free agent James Daniels having a strong season on the right side.
Left guard Kevin Dotson was more up and down, and though he played nearly the entire season, it could be possible for the Steelers to find an upgrade on the former fourth-round pick, especially after two of his missed assignments ended with Kenny Pickett concussions.
Guard is not traditionally a position that teams seek out early in the draft, but this class has a couple options for the Steelers in the late first or early second round, including Florida guard O’Cyrus Torrence.
The Steelers could also find a center like Minnesota’s John Michael Schmitz, and move Mason Cole, who had a strong season at center, to guard. They could also try to upgrade their guard position by moving Moore inside from tackle.
Current roster: Kevin Dotson, James Daniels, Kendrick Green
Nose tackle: Tyson Alualu was one of the worst-graded interior defensive linemen in 2022, according to PFF. Only three interior linemen that played 200 or more snaps had a worse overall grade than Alualu’s 30.4.
With Alualu set to become a free agent (and in all probability, retiring), Montravius Adams would be next up for the Steelers. While Adams can handle the reps, he didn’t fare much better than Alualu. Adams was rated 113th out of the 145 interior linemen to take at least 200 snaps this season.
The lack of faith in Adams and Alualu had the Steelers experimenting with playing Cam Heyward at nose tackle, an experiment that turned into a disaster against the Ravens this season.
League trends have turned away from the Steelers using their nose tackle as much as they have in the past, but they could certainly find a way to upgrade on Adams’ production. With run-heavy teams like Baltimore and Cleveland in the division
Current: Adamas, Jonathan Marshall, Renell Wren