Connect with us

Steelers Analysis

What are Reasonable Expectations for Steelers Four Top Draft Picks?



Broderick Jones Steelers Omar Khan Mike Tomlin
Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver George Pickens (14) and Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) talk on the field during an NFL football game against the Indianapolis Colts, Monday, Nov. 28, 2022, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/Zach Bolinger)

The Pittsburgh Steelers appear to be headed into the 2024 NFL Draft needing to get starter-quality players out of at least their top two picks, and perhaps more, as the club still has several remaining holes on the roster after free agency.

For the second straight season, the Steelers have four picks in the top 100 of the draft class. So they should be able to fill some of those needs with draft picks.

But is it reasonable to expect a team drafting at No. 20 overall to land multiple starters, including likely needing Day 1 starting options at center, wide receiver and slot cornerback and seeking upgrades or future starters at offensive and defensive tackle, outside cornerback, safety and linebacker?

Let’s take a look at what kind of production the teams picking at No. 20, 51, 84 and 98 have gotten the last few years.

Pittsburgh Steelers QB Kenny Pickett

Pittsburgh Steelers QB Kenny Pickett against the Buffalo Bills, Jan. 15, 2024 – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now


Steelers fans should be pretty familiar with what rookie production looks like from No. 20, as the team just used that pick on Kenny Pickett two years ago. But let’s take a look at a little bit larger sample size to see if he was above or below average for that draft slot.

2023: WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba 17 GP, 3 GS, 6 AV
2022: QB Kenny Pickett, 13 GP, 12 GS, 7 AV
2021: WR Kadarius Toney, 10 GP, 4 GS, 3 AV
2020: OLB K’Lavon Chaisson, 16 GP, 3 GS, 2 AV
2019: TE Noah Fant, 16 GP, 11 GS, 4 AV

Five-year average: 14.4 GP, 6.6 GS, 4.4 AV

That’s a pretty sobering outlook. Only two of the five players was a regular starter in their rookie season, and Pickett had the most impactful rookie year of any of them. Smith-Njigba’s 2023 season, where he did not start most of the year but was still a productive member of the Seattle offense, and appears to be headed to future stardom feels like close to a best-case scenario. Fant, on the other hand, played a lot as a rookie, but has never really panned out as a big difference-maker at the tight end position. He’s essentially an average starter.

The other two never became regular starters for their drafting team, suggesting that there’s a 40% chance that not only will pick No. 20 not work out as a starter for the Steelers as a rookie, but that it never happens at all.

2023 rookie player comps to average:
OT Broderick Jones, 17 GP, 11 GS, 5 AV
C Joe Tippman, 16 GP, 15 GS, 4 AV
WR Marvin Mims, 16 GP, 7 GS, 5 AV
CB Deonte Banks, 15 GP, 15 GS, 5 AV

A.J. Brown Super Bowl

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver A.J. Brown (11) catches a touchdown pass while being defended by Pittsburgh Steelers safety Minkah Fitzpatrick (39) during the first half of an NFL football game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, Oct. 30, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)


The Steelers have done will with their second-round picks in recent years, getting a day one starter in 2022 in George Pickens and two mid-year starters last year in Joey Porter Jr. and Keeanu Benton. But what does the average No. 51 look like?

2023: CB Cam Smith, 15 GP, 0 GS, 1 AV
2022: C Cam Jurgens, 17 GP, 0 GS, 1 AV
2021: OT Samuel Cosmi, 9 GP, 9 GS, 4 AV
2020: CB Trevon Diggs, 12 GP, 11 GS, 4 AV
2019: WR A.J. Brown, 16 GP, 11 GS, 10 AV

Five-year average: 13.8 GP, 6.2 GS, 4 AV

Getting another Brown in the second round for offensive coordinator Arthur Smith would be ideal for the Steelers. He and Diggs are probably the two best players in the sample, so while the average production here is slightly lower, this is still a pick that is capable of producing All-Pro results, and early in their career.

But the downside is that only Brown became a starter as a rookie. It’s going to take a really good pick to come through with that need for the Steelers here.

2023 rookie player comps to average:
OT Blake Freeland, 16 GP, 9 GS, 5 AV
C John Michael Schmitz, 13 GP, 13 GS, 4 AV
WR Quentin Johnston, 17 GP, 10 GS, 4 AV
CB Joey Porter Jr., 17 GP 11 GS, 4 AV

Steelers DE DeMarvin Leal Browns Depth Chart

Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end DeMarvin Leal on Sept. 10, 2023. – Ed Thompson / Steelers Now


Picking starters with either of the first two picks is obviously very possible, and while getting one with both of them seems less than likely, it’s still a feasible possibility. Hitting on three for three is where things start to get iffy, as even the best of this bunch didn’t crack his team’s starting lineup in his first year.

2023: RB De’Von Achane, 11 GP, 4 GS, 7 AV
2022: DE DeMarvin Leal, 11 GP, 2 GS, 2 AV
2021: DE Chauncey Golston, 15 GP, 0 GS, 2 AV
2020: LB Terrell Lewis, 8 GP, 0 GS, 1 AV
2019: DT Khalen Saunders, 12 GP, 4 GS, 3 AV

Five-year average: 11.4 GP, 2 GS, 3 AV

Achane was certainly a big part of the Miami Dolphins offense last year, but was not a regular starter. The rest of this group failed to live up to even that level. Even worse, it took Khalen Saunders until his fifth season to become a regular starter, and none of the rest have done it.

Achane fell into the third round because some saw him as a running back, a non-premium position. The Steelers needs at tackle, cornerback and wide receiver are not that, but center could be an option to find a starter here. Still, it seems extremely unlikely for any team to go three for three.

2023 rookie player comps to average:
OT Dawand Jones, 11 GP, 9 GS, 4 AV
C Jarrett Patterson, 7 GP, 7 GS, 3 AV
WR Jaylin Hyatt, 17 GP, 7 GS, 3 AV
CB JuJu Brents, 9 GP, 9 GS, 3 AV

Quinn Meinerz

Wisconsin-Whitewater center Quinn Meinerz at the 2021 NFL Combine. — Alan Saunders / Steelers Now


Interestingly, there are more players that started right away from pick No. 98 than there were from No. 84, but there’s also one player in our five that didn’t play at all, showing the danger of relying on players from this area in the draft.

2023: NT Siaki Ika, 4 GP, 0 GS, 0 AV
2022: RB Brian Robinson Jr., 12 GP, 9 GS, 3 AV
2021: C/G Quinn Meinerz, 15 GP, 9 GS, 4 AV
2020: LB Malik Harrison, 16 GP, 6 GS, 4 AV
2019: LB Quincy Williams, 11 GP, 8 GS, 3 AV

Again, all of these players are from non-premium positions, so that certainly can be a trend worth watching. But will the Steelers be willing to wait this late to address their lone major non-premium need of center?

2023 rookie player comps to average:
OT Wanya Morris, 14 GP, 4 GS, 2 AV
C/G Juice Scruggs, 7 GP, 6 GS, 2 AV
WR Tre Tucker, 16 GP, 1 GS, 3 AV
CB Carrington Valentine, 17 GP, 12 GS, 3 AV



The Steelers are not likely to get four starters in four picks, that seems clear. They absolutely need starters at wide receiver, center and also need a slot receiver and slot cornerback. They’re going to have to go outside the draft to address at least some of those needs, and if they want to find long-term solutions in places like offensive and defensive tackle, they may need to do that at multiple positions.

They did that last year, when they signed Chandon Sullivan during the draft and Kwon Alexander after to address slot corner and linebacker, but again, those are non-premium positions.

The Steelers have shown a lot of interest in the first-round options at offensive tackle, but it’s going to be very difficult for them to make an impact at offensive tackle early, and still find starters at wide receiver and center later in the draft.