Since the days of the Super Steelers ended there is no one position that has captured the imaginations of Steelers Nation the way outside linebackers have. Whether its been Greg Lloyd, Kevin Greene, Joey Porter, James Harrison or Bud Dupree there’s nothing the ignites the passions of the Black and Gold faithful as an outside linebacker making a “Splash Play.”
In 2023 the Pittsburgh Steelers fielded their best tandem of outside linebackers since the days when James Harrison and (a healthy) LaMarr Woodley played together. But does that mean Pittsburgh should or even forgo a blue chip outside linebacker should he fall to them in the 2023 NFL Draft?
Alex Highsmith after intercepting LaMarr Jackson. Photo Credit: Nick Wass, AP.
Steelers Depth Cart at Outside Linebacker: The Starters
Just how good is T.J. Watt? Well, he only registered 5.5 sacks in 2023 after missing seven games due to injury, but with him in the line up the Steelers were able to upset the defending AFC Champions at home. Without him they struggled and lost to teams like the Jets and the Browns.
Even if T.J. Watt took a good 4 or 5 games to regain his form after returning from his injury, he still forced other teams to account for him.
And thanks to that, Alex Highsmith registered 11 of his career high 13 sacks in games that T.J. Watt played. Highsmith didn’t simply improve his pass rushing, but he also did a better job of setting the edge and helping stuff the run.
Steelers Outside Linebacker Depth Chart: The Backups
Behind the T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith the Steelers have… no one?
That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but on their own website they list Chapelle Russell, Emeke Egbule and Tae Crowder. All of whom are listed as “Linebacker.” Presumptively, at least one of those guys can move outside. Right?
Steelers Draft Needs Scale 2023
The Steelers 2023 Draft Needs @ Outside Linebacker
If press reports are correct, the Steelers offered Bud Dupree a one year deal and Bud said, “Thanks but no thanks” and took a two year deal from Atlanta. So its not much of a stretch to conclude that Omar Khan and Mike Tomlin were counting on Bud Dupree’s return to Pittsburgh.
That hasn’t happened.
So as a consequence the Steelers now have a player bordering on being a generational talent and a player on the verge of being a Pro Bowl caliber outside linebacker backed up by… Guys who will be lucky to make practice squad come September.
In a nutshell, the Steelers certainly don’t need to draft an immediate starter, but they do need to find someone who can play quickly if injury should strike.
So, the Steelers need at outside linebacker heading into the into the 2023 NFL Draft should be considered as Extreme.
Playing defensive line for the Pittsburgh Steelers isn’t just about helping the team win games, its also about maintaining a legacy.
In 2021, the Steelers defensive line was a glaring liability. Looking back at the 2022 season it is safe to say that the Steelers defensive line once again helped Pittsburgh win football games.
In the 2023 NFL Draft it is time for the Steelers to start looking for defensive lineman who can defend its legacy.
Paying homage to Franco, Cam Heyward leads Steelers out of tunnel. Photo Credit: Karl Roser, Steelers.com
Steelers Depth Cart at Defensive Line: The Starters
Cameron Heyward hasn’t lived up to the Steelers legacy at defensive line. Yes, you read that right. You can’t say Cam has lived up to the legacy because he has added to it. In 2022, Cameron Heyward logged 10.5 sacks, batted away 4 passes, forced one fumble and dropped 14 players behind the line of scrimmage.
And he did it at age 33.
When Stephon Tuitt announced his retirement in June of 2022, things looked bleak. Absent Tuitt, Cam Heyward had looked like a future Hall of Famer playing along side NAIA second stringers. However, Omar Khan went out and signed Larry Ogunjobi.
Larry Ogunjobi’s 1.5 sacks and 7 tackles for a loss might look pedestrian, but with Ogunjobi in the line up, the Steelers field the 8th best defense against the run instead of the 32nd best defense against the run in 2022.
The Steelers signed Montravius Adams off of the New Orelans practice squad in November 30 and he improved the defense. He started 17 games in 2022 contributing to the turn around against the run.
The Steelers also have Isaiahh Loudermilk whom they traded up to get in the 2021 NFL Draft. As a rookie Loudermilk saw playing time on a horrible defensive line but still managed to flash. His second season was a disappointment, with Loudermilk not even suit up for the first four games and only seeing 18% of the snaps after that – down from 29% as a rookie.
Omar Khan has been aggressive in adding to the defensive line in free agency signing Breiden Fehoko and Amon Watts who look like good value signings.
Steelers Draft Needs Scale 2023
The Steelers 2023 Defensive Line Draft Needs
The Steelers are basically in the same place they were a year ago on defensive line. They’ve got starters on defensive line, one of whom is aging, and they’re OK in the middle. Behind that they’ve got a lot of names.
“Ah, but DeMarvin Leal!” you counter? Yes he looked good in limited action as a rookie, you could have said the same thing about Loudermilk this time a year ago. While Loudermilk’s draft status will likely earn him another season, it isn’t too much of a stretch to say he’s 2023’s version of Henry Mondeaux
“Ah, but the free agency signings” you protest? Breiden Fehoko and Amon Watts do offer a lot of potential and “Upside” but they’re basically replacements for Tyson Alualu and Chris Wormley.
Put that all together and the Steelers need at defensive line going into the 2023 NFL Draft should be considered as High.
There haven’t been many Steelers draft picks who turned out better than Alan Faneca over the past few decades.
Faneca was a guard from LSU who the Steelers selected in the first round (26th, overall) of the 1998 NFL Draft.
Hall of Fame Guard Alan Faneca was forced to play tackle at times during 2003. Photo Credit: George Gojkovich, AP via the Athletic
It didn’t take long for Faneca to become a fixture on the Steelers’ offensive line; he started 12 games at left guard as a rookie and a total of 153 over his 10 years in Pittsburgh. While Faneca did become a full-time starter right away, he didn’t earn his first trip to the Pro Bowl until 2001.
Faneca was also named a First-Team All-Pro in ’01, an honor he would achieve a total of six times during his distinguished career. Faneca was also named a Second-Team All-Pro twice and was voted to the Pro Bowl a grand total of nine times in 13 years.
Faneca finished out his career with stints with the Jets and Cardinals after leaving Pittsburgh as a free agent following the 2007 season.
Faneca was regarded as the top guard of his era, as he started a total of 201 games over 13 years and was named to the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 2000s.
Faneca is now a member of the Steelers Hall of Honor and, more fittingly, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame after being enshrined in the summer of 2001.
OK, we get it, Tony. Alan Faneca was special. What’s the point of this article?
The point is, I remember exactly where I was when the Steelers picked him in the first round back in 1998
Where was I? I was stocking shelves at this store called Save-A-Lot. (That’s right, insert your jokes about a sportswriter stocking shelves here.)
Not only was I stocking shelves at work, but I was barely paying any mind to what was happening during the first round of the 1998 NFL Draft. In fact, I don’t think I even found out who the Steelers picked until I got home from work later that afternoon. What was my initial reaction when I found out about the selection of Faneca? I believe it was something along the lines of, “Cool.”
I had never even heard of Alan Faneca, but maybe that’s because I was pretty much over the annual NFL Draft by that point.
Pittsburgh was coming off the 1997 season in which it made the playoffs for a sixth-straight time and played in the AFC title game for the third time in four years.
Yancey Thigpen advances on Ray Crockett. Photo Credit: Steelers.com
While I didn’t know the fun was about to be over (Pittsburgh would miss the playoffs for three-straight seasons, starting with a disappointing 7-9 campaign in 1998), my zeal for the annual draft had long since been replaced by how awesome the Steelers had became at actual football during the 1990s.
The Steelers were mediocre-to-horrible in the 1980s, and it was in this reality that I found the NFL Draft to be exhilarating as a teenager desperate to fill the void of those Super 70s teams I had only heard of. Which high-profile college prospects from the big-time schools would come to Pittsburgh and save the day?
Maybe that’s why my reaction to the Steelers’ first-round pick in 1988 was much different.
I looked forward to that year’s draft more than any before or since. Who would the Steelers take, and would it be Lorenzo White, a high-profile running back from Michigan State?
The Steelers selected 18th in the first round, and White was still available when it was their turn to pick. I was so happy, I, a 15-year-old moron, began to run around my grandmother’s house, screaming, “We’re gonna get Lorenzo! We’re gonna get Lorenzo!”
Pittsburgh wasted no time turning its pick into the commissioner.
“With the 18th pick in the first round of the 1988 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers select….Aaron Jones, defensive end, Eastern Kentucky.”
I was crestfallen. I may have even shed a tear or two. My dreams had been shattered.
I never even heard of Jones, and despite the fact that I eventually found his name listed as the second-best defensive end prospect when I reviewed the draft preview from that morning’s paper, I was still pretty darn upset.
Dick Haley and Chuck Noll at St. Vincents in 1991. Photo Credit: George Gojkovich, Getty Images via FOX News.
Jones went on to have an unremarkable career and was yet another failed attempt by head coach Chuck Noll and Dick Haley to recapture the magic of the Steel Curtain defense from the previous decade.
I continued to live and die with the draft over the next few years until Bill Cowhercame along in 1992 and brought with him the winning Steelers culture I spent my youth yearning for.
While I haven’t lived and died for the draft in quite a while, I definitely pay more attention to it now than I did the day Pittsburgh selected Faneca a quarter of a century ago.
It’s hard not to pay attention to the annual NFL Draft in this 24/7 news cycle we find ourselves in. Thanks to social media, podcasts and blogs, the draft is top news from the second the Steelers season ends in January until many weeks after they select their new class in April.
But the 1990s taught me a lot about what really matters when it comes to prospects like Alan Faneca.
It’s not about whether or not I know anything about him. It’s not about the position he plays. It’s not about the school he played football at.
All that matters is what he can do to help the Steelers on Sunday afternoons in the fall.
I don’t even have to know who this prospect is in order to enjoy that.
Tight ends in threes. The Steelers have carried three tight ends, no more or no less, on their roster seemingly forever.
As the 2023 NFL Draft approaches, the Steelers have 3 tight ends under contract for coming season. Yet, this draft is said to be deep at tight end. Does that mean the Steelers can ignore the position?
Pat Freiermuth and Zach Gentry at Acrisure Stadium. Photo Credit: USA Today Sports via Bestodds.com
Steelers Depth Cart at: The Starter
How do you know where the Steelers stand at Tight End? How about this: Moouth!
That’s the sound that Steelers fans have been waiting to chat and hear since Heath Miller retired. Watching Pat Freiermuth’s play over the first two years of his it is easy to see why.
Pat Freiermuth immediately established himself as a starter, a reliable “Go To” target in the over the middle and a leader on the field. Thus far he’s caught 123 passes on 177 targets for a 69.5% catch rate, while hauling in 9 touchdowns. If his catch percentage dropped, his yards per reception (or target) and his first down catches increased.
You can’t quite say “Pat Freiermuth is unquestionability the Steelers long-term answer at tight end” however, because he has had 3 concussions in two years. Freiermuth insists he’s not worried about it, but the Steelers would be foolish not to be concerned.
Steelers Tight End Depth Chart: The Backups
The Steelers drafted Zach Gentry as a project with their fifth pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. Injuries and his learning curve kept him from doing much in 2019 and 2020, but in 2021 Gentry emerged with a respectable season, showing signs that he could be a legitimate number 2 NFL tight end.
He really didn’t do much to build on that in 2022 but the Steelers still resigned him, although that second contract comes with a bit “but” (see below.)
Heyward only touched the ball 14 times, but he made those count, delivering big plays that helped break open the games against the Buccaneers, Falcons and Browns and helping seal the win over the Raiders.
Steelers Draft Needs Scale 2023
The Steelers 2023 Draft Needs @ Tight End
The 2023 NFL Draft is said to be deep in tight ends. But the Steelers really don’t have the luxury of drafting a tight end early.
But be clear about one thing, everything about Zach Gentry’s contract, from its one year length, its meager $152,000 signing bonus and the fact that it’s a hair over the veteran minimum salary, says “You can be cut at St. Vincents without a second thought.”
However, the Steelers don’t have a 5th or a 6th round pick, which is where you’d typically find a backup tight end.
But just because Pittsburgh’s draft capital might not allow them to draft a tight end, doesn’t change the fact that going in to the 2023 NFL Draft the Steelers need at tight end must be considered as Moderate.
2022 was a banner year for the Steelers rushing attack. For the first time since 2007, Mike Tomlin ran Willie Parker “Until the wheels fell off,” the Steelers rushed for over 2,000 yards.
That’s a dramatic improvement for a franchise that has struggled to run the ball consistently ever since James Conner got injured in the middle of the 2018 season.
Do the Steelers need to address running back in the 2023 NFL Draft to sustain that improvement? Let’s find out.
Derek Watt blocks for Jaylen Warren. Photo Credit: Karl Roser, Steelers.com
Steelers Depth Cart at Running Back: The Starter
In his rookie season Najee Harris became the first Steelers running back to crack the 1000 yard mark since Le’Veon Bell in 2017. In his sophomore season, Najee Harris became the first Steelers back to have back-to-back 1000 yard seasons since Bell’s ’17 campaign.
It wasn’t easy.
As a rookie, Harris ran behind a weak offensive line, but succeeded in running strong and, at times, making it look easy. Harris suffered a foot injury in training camp and the offensive line’s run blocking was subpar during the first half of the season.
Harris struggled through the first 8 weeks of the season. Many of his critics pounced, arguing that his mediocre rushing averages proved that Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert had erred in investing a first round pick in him in 2021.
But if his stat line failed to impress, for my money, Harris continued to pass the “eye test” early in the season. The fight was there, even if the blocking wasn’t, and it seemed obvious he was nursing an injury.
Like they did with nearly everyone else on the team, Steelers Nation saw a different Najee Harris after the bye week. Harris began running with authority and power, 6 of his seven touchdown, and logging 3 90 yard plus games, including 111 yard effort in the road win over the Ravens.
Perhaps most impressively, Harris earned his second straight 1000 yard season while playing nearly 20% fewer snaps than he had in 2021.
Steelers Running Back Depth Chart: The Backups
The emergence of Jaylen Warren is the reason why Najee Harris was able to remain on the sidelines for close over 200 more snaps than he had has a rookie. Warren made the Steelers as an undrafted rookie free agent, first earning a roster spot and then carving out a role as their third down back.
As a rookie, Jaylen Warren played in 31% of the Steelers offensive snaps, both on third downs and rotating in with Harris. He only ran for 379 yards with a season-high effort of 76 against the Ravens, but he proved himself to be a true number 2 running back.
Beyond Warren on the depth chart is Anthony McFarland. McFarland returns to the Steelers on a futures contract, after spending 2022 on the practice squad, save for his activation against the Colts. McFarland only ran for 30 yards in that game and caught 2 passes for 11 yards, but for the first time since the Steelers drafted him in 2020, he looked like he belonged in the NFL.
The Steelers also have Jason Huntley and Master Teague on their roster.
The Steelers 2023 Draft Needs at Running Back
As of this writing, both Derek Watt and Benny Snell remain unsigned. The Steelers may have seen enough from McFarland to pencil him in as the third string running back, but there’s no one on the roster remotely capable of taking Watt’s spot.
The Steelers need to beef up their depth at running back this off season, but lacking a 5th and 6th round pick, they’ll be hard-pressed to do it in the draft. Which is a shame because their need at running back going into the 2023 NFL Draft should be considered as Fair.
Looking around the league at the “mega contracts” other teams were giving wide receivers, Omar Khan opted to resign Diontae Johnson to a 2 year extension worth $36,710,000 dollars with 19 of that fully guaranteed.
Johnson’s performance in 2022 didn’t live up to the terms of the his contract, as his catch percentage dropped, he developed a nasty habit of running backwards after the catch, and didn’t pull in a touchdown.
George Pickens only had 52 catches (remember when Louis Lipps would lead the Steelers in receiving with 50 catches?), but 4 of those were for touchdowns, and he displayed incredible ball skills in making them.
Steelers Wide Receiver Depth Chart: The Backups
The Steelers number three wide receiver is none other than Gunner Olszewski who has 14 receptions to his NFL name. To put that into perspective, he had 8 runs from scrimmage last season.
The Steelers also have Calvin Austin, 2022’s 4th round pick who spent his rookie year on injured reserve. Omar Khan has made it clear the Steelers are counting on him, and there’s every reason to take him at his word.
The Steelers also have Anthony Miller who has 140 catches and 18 starts on his resume.
Omar Khan has endorsed the Steelers wide receiving corps and Pittsburgh let Steven Sims walk in free agency when they easily could have kept him in the Steel City.
The Steelers do have two solid starters at wide receivers, and some decent potential behind, them, but its only potential so their need at wide receiver going into the 2023 NFL Draft should be considered as High.
When asked if he was happy about his offensive tackles at the recent NFL owners conference Mike Tomlin offered a curious response, “Happy is a dangerous word. I’m comfortable.”
Mike Tomlin’s the man who never seeks to “take comfort” in style points, moral victories or silver linings offered by statistics drawn from losing performances. Yet he’s “comfortable” with his tackles.
Does that mean the Steelers will not or should not seek to strengthen themselves at tackle in the 2023 NFL Draft? Let’s take a look.
Chucks Okorafor in the Steelers 2021 win over the Bears. Photo Credit: Emilee Chinn/Getty Images via StillCurtain.com
Steelers Depth Cart at: The Starters
In the spring of 2018 the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers had one of the best offensive lines in the NFL was almost taken for granted. With Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert having moved away from their “plug and patch” offensive line building philosophy and Mike Munchak providing tutelage a strong line seemed to be a given.
Okorafor did well in those match ups, but lost the competition to start at right guard in 2020 to Zach Banner, but when Banner got hurt, he stepped in and started 15 straight games. Chukwuma Okorafor returned to start 16 games in 2021 at right tackle. The conventional wisdom at the time was that Okorafor had done “OK” as a starter.
Starting opposite Okorafor at left tackle is Dan Moore. A lot of fans are down on Moore, but how many 4th round picks start as rookies at left tackle on opening day? Moore did. He started there all year, and unlike fellow rookie starter Kendrick the Steelers saw no need to replace him.
Steelers Offensive Tackle Depth Chart: The Backups
The cupboard is pretty thin here folks. The Steelers recently signed Le’Raven Clark to provide depth. And that’s it. They don’t even have any guys on “futures contracts.”
Le’Raven Clark does bring 64 games and 18 starts worth of experience for those of you taking notes.
The Steelers 2023 Draft Needs @ Offensive Tackle
Mike Tomlin might be “comfortable” with his two starting tackles but there’s no way he can be comfortable with his depth. And there’s a reason why the Steelers signed Chuks Okorafor to a 3 year contract – offensive tackles are very expensive to sign on the open free agent market.
It is much, much more cost-effective to draft then and then resign them.
While Okarfor and Dan Moore are legitimate starting NFL tackles, both upgradeable in the medium term and in the immediate term the Steelers need depth as in, they need a kid who can step in and play in the event of an opening-day injury, as their need at offensive tackle going into the 2023 NFL Draft is Extreme.
The Watts’ signing is a bit of a surprise, given that the Steelers have already signed Breiden Fehoko who is also a fellow defensive tackle. As Tim Benz of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, points out, this double dip on the part of the Steelers is understandable given that they’re basically replacing Chris Wormley and Tyson Alualu two free agents who won’t be back.
What’s more puzzling is the decision to cut Jamir Jones.
Jamir Jones was the only experienced outside linebacker behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith. And if it’s true the Jones coming in to spell Watt and/or Highsmith for an extended period would have left opposing offensive coordinators licking their chops, he did play nearly 60% of special teams snaps.
Are the Steelers signaling that another free agent signing at outside linebacker is imminent?
Perhaps Pittsburgh’s about to come to terms with Bud Dupree? Time will tell.
Thus far Omar Khan has basically followed the path Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin blazed in free agency of shoring up depth in key areas to avoid a situation where they need to reach to fill a need.
Moreover, these signings have come positions which can be cost-effectively addressed in free agency.
Still, it is a little peculiar that Omar Khan would sign two guards and two interior defensive lineman while leaving the cupboard bear behind the Steelers starters at outside linebacker and offensive tackle – even if those positions expensive to fill via free agency.
With that said, with experience playing for the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears, Armon Watts has experience in 57 games, has made 22 starts in which he’s logged 8 sacks and forced 3 fumbles. Assuming he’s arriving in Pittsburgh at or near the veteran minimum he could be a good value signing.
Let’s face it. Offensive line isn’t “Sexy.” An offense might need to field five lineman, but the other six men are said to play “The skill positions.” Even then, interior offensive lineman get short shrift.
Quibble you do?
Take a look at how NFL teams prioritize Center and Guard in the draft and in how they spend their salary cap. Heck, offensive tackles get Hollywood movies made about them. Try making On the Blind Side about a guard.
During the last two springs both Kevin Colbert and Omar Khan have invested heavily in interior offensive line positions. Does that mean the Steelers can ignore them in the draft? Let’s take a look.
Mitch Trubisky at the line of scrimmage. Photo Credit: AP, via Tribune-Review.
Steelers Depth Cart at Center and Guard: The Starters
The leader of the Steelers offensive line is unquestionably James Daniels. Kevin Colbert signed him last spring to a 3 year 26 million dollar contract, after Daniels had finished four years as a starter in Chicago.
Last year Colbert also signed Mason Cole to play center, after Cole had played for 3 years in Arizona and 1 Minnesota. Cole helped shore up a position that had been a weakness was solid all season.
Here’s where it gets interesting.
Officially speaking, Kevin Dotson is the Steelers other starting guard. Kevin Dotson was the Steelers 4th round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft and while he missed games in both 2019 and 2020, the Steelers line was certainly stronger with him playing. Dotson fortunately played all 17 games in 2022.
But that didn’t stop Omar Khan and Andy Wedil from going out and signing Isaac Seumalo, who brings 7 years of NFL experience with the Philadelphia Eagles totaling 81 games and 60 starts, including 17 last season. The money the Steelers are paying Seumalo makes it clear that they’re not bringing him to Pittsburgh to be a backup.
Steelers Guard and Center Depth Chart: The Backups
When talking about depth at guard and center it would remise not to point out that both James Daniels and Isaac Seumalo have some experience at center. As does Nate Herbig, whom the Steelers signed as a free agent from the New York Jets (although he is another ex-Philadelphia Eagle.)
The Steelers also have Kendrick Green, their 2022 3rd round pick who was their starting center for most of 2022. Green also has position flexibility at guard, and many feel he’s more naturally suited there.
The Steelers 2023 Draft Needs @ Center and Guard
“You can never have enough good offensive lineman” the old adage goes. And that’s a sound philosophy. But the Steelers have three if not four starter-capable guards, a former 3rd round pick, and an established starter at Center.
And oh, by the way, 3 of those guards have experience playing center. And the Steelers only have 7 picks this year. Therefore, their need at both center and guard going into the 2023 draft should be considered as Negligible.
I believe Steelers fans fear this more than anything when preparing for the annual NFL Draft.
Think Terrell Edmunds, a player the Steelers definitely reached for when they selected the safety out of Virginia Tech in the first round (28th, overall) of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Of course, Edmunds went on to have a solid-to-good five-year career in Pittsburgh before finally spreading his wings and becoming an Eagle in free agency. Just try telling that to the Steelers fans who could never get over the lack of Troy Polamalu-like splash and pizzazz.
Steelers sign Donte Moncief, pictured burning Artie Burns in 2017. Photo Credit: Matt Kryger, Indy Star
Everybody and His Brother knew that cornerback was a prime need for the Steelers heading into the 2016 NFL Draft. The Steelers wanted William Jackson. The Bengals got him first. So the Steelers reached for Artie Burns. After a respectable rookie year, Burns started off year 2 OK but got shaky as the year progressed, opend 2018 as the starter but got benched and his career imploded shortly thereafter.
Fear not, Steelers fan, because it doesn’t look like your favorite professional football team will have to reach for a position of need when the 2023 NFL Draft kicks off on the evening of Thursday, April 27.
For one thing, the Steelers will be drafting damn-near in the middle of the first round (17th).
That’s right, unlike the 2018 draft when Pittsburgh, selecting near the end of the first round due to having an excellent 2017 regular season, missed out on three highly-thought-of inside linebackers (unfortunately, the organization was in desperation mode after the horrific spinal injury suffered by Ryan Shazier on December 4, 2017), the Steelers should have a shot at at least one high-pedigreed prospect who would address a specific position of need.
The two most important positions of need for the Steelers (in my humble opinion) are cornerback and offensive tackle (and not necessarily in that order).
If you go by the many big boards and the endless mock drafts that are produced on the regular, it’s easy to see that there are a lot of high-end prospects at both cornerback and offensive tackle.
By my count, there are no less than six corners who could go in the first round–including Christian Gonzalez (Oregon); Devon Witherspoon (Illinois); Joey Porter Jr. (Penn State); Cam Smith (South Carolina); Deonte Banks (Maryland); and Kelee Ringo (Georgia).
As for offensive tackles, there are at least five–including Paris Johnson Jr. (Ohio State); Pete Skoronski (Northwestern); Broderick Jones (Georgia); Anton Harrison (Oklahoma); and Darnell Wright (Tennessee).
That’s 11 prospects from two different positions who would very well go in the first round.
You throw in the handful of quarterback prospects who will likely be drafted before 17–including C.J. Stroud (Ohio State); Bryce Young (Alabama); Anthony Richardson (Florida); and Will Levis (Kentucky)–and there is no way Pittsburgh won’t have a shot at a promising cornerback or offensive tackle.
And we can’t forget about the likes of Will Anderson, EDGE, Alabama; Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech; Nolan Smith, EDGE, Georgia; Jalen Carter, DL, Georgia; Calijah Kancey, DL, Pitt; Lucas Van Ness, DL, Iowa; Bryan Bresee, DL, Clemson; Bijan Robinson, running back, Texas; Quintin Johnston, WR, TCU; and Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State.
Many of those prospects will also be off the board by the time Pittsburgh selects at 17.
It’s going to be damn-near impossible for Pittsburgh to reach at cornerback or offensive tackle.
Also, if the Steelers, an organization that perhaps has a better grasp of its needs than I do, decides that an edge, receiver, defensive lineman or safety (can’t forget about Alabama’s Brian Branch) is too good to pass up at 17, well, they also have the first pick of the second round (32, overall) to address either cornerback or offensive tackle with a quality prospect–likely someone from the aforementioned pool of players.
Or, since the depth at corner appears to be greater than the depth at offensive tackle in the 2023 NFL Draft, Pittsburgh could snatch up one of the top linemen, knowing that a quality defensive back will probably still be there at 32.
Obviously, the draft is a crapshoot, and for every Troy Polamalu, there is at least one Devin Bush (usually three or four, unfortunately).
But the more high-end prospects there are at positions of need, the better chance a team will have of not reaching for a player.
The Steelers should be sitting pretty in that department in 2023.