If the Pittsburgh Steelers are interested in drafting former Pitt wide receiver Jordan Addison, they are hiding it extremely well — something the Steelers aren’t typically known for when it comes to their draft prospects.
In the last two seasons, the Steelers have made little secret about their pursuit of Kenny Pickett and Najee Harris, respectively.
While Omar Khan’s work in free agency this offseason has opened the club up to be able to take just about anything with the team’s two picks in the first 32, and slot receiver remains high on the team’s list of needs, it just doesn’t seem like they’re that interested in Addison, who transferred from Pitt to USC in 2022.
Two weeks ago, the Steelers did not send Khan or head coach Mike Tomlin to Addison’s pro day at USC, instead deciding to watch Iowa State edge rusher Will McDonald IV.
On Monday, Aaron Wilson of KPRC Houston reported a whole list of teams that has met with Addison in the pre-draft process, including the Buffalo Bills, New York Giants, New England Patriots, Minnesota Vikings, Houston Texans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Dallas Cowboys.
The Steelers were notably absent from that list.
The team did meet with Addison at the NFL Combine — where Addison told them to come get him — showing at least some level of interest, but despite the fact that he played college football with starting quarterback Kenny Pickett, that interest has not been followed up on.
It doesn’t seem like the Steelers care very much that Addison played with Pickett, either. Head coach Mike Tomlin was asked at the NFL Annual Meeting about the trend of pairing college quarterbacks to their receivers that has included Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase from LSU to Cincinnati, Tua Tagovailoa and Jaylen Waddle from Alabama to Miami and DeVonta Smith and Jalen Hurts from Alabama to Philadelphia.
He didn’t seem particularly intrigued by the concept.
“You’re talking about major programs at LSU and Bama,” Tomlin said. “They’ll have multiple guys on teams that played there. I don’t know that there’s an agenda there. I think the draft and the moving parts of the draft are so complex that there might not be a lot of discussions about that.”
Asked more directly if the Steelers would want to draft Addison because he played with Pickett and Pickett has been championing his cause, Tomlin was succinct: “No.”
Asked about the position in general, Khan had some interesting words.
“We’re obviously going to look at the slot position and identify what the slot means to us,” he said. “The slot receiver for everyone is a little different.”
What does that mean? Well, the Steelers do have some options despite obvious need at the position, but all of their options are essentially cut from the same cloth. They have Gunner Olszewski (5-foot-9 1/2, 190 pounds), Anthony Miller (5-foot-11, 199 pounds) and Calvin Austin III (5-foot-8, 162 pounds).
Contrast that to the two players that have gotten the vast majority of the snaps at the position over the last few years: JuJu Smith-Schuster (6-foot-1, 215 pounds) and Chase Claypool (6-foot-4, 238 pounds).
If the Steelers’ lack of obvious interest in Addison (5-foot-11, 173 pounds) is taken at face value, Khan’s comments may provide a clue as to why. The Steelers have three options for a smaller slot receiver that can get by with separation and elusiveness. What they lack is a slot man with power, contested catch ability, and blocking prowess.
With the Steelers among the number of NFL teams that likes to run out of a three-receiver set, the slot receiver is an important blocker for them in the running game. The lack of size of the Steelers’ current slot options largely precludes them from making an impact in that area.
So if the Steelers are interested in slot receivers, but might only be interested in players that fit the profile of a bigger slot receiver. One of those options is Ohio State wide receive Jaxon Smith-Ngijba, who combines elite separation with with a 6-foot-1 frame.
The Steelers sent Khan and Tomlin to his pro day in Columbus. Ole Miss do-it-all receiver Jonathan Mingo (6-foot-2, 220 pounds) is coming to Pittsburgh for a pre-draft visit. If the Steelers take a wide receiver early to fill their need in the slot, expect it to be a bigger player than Addison.