Sometimes Lady Luck Ain’t Fair: Cory Trice’s Injury Begins the Winnowing of the ’23 Steelers Draft Class

It only took the first day of padded practices. The injury was actually contactless. Yet the winnowing of the Steelers 2023 draft class has begun.

And its first victim is 7th round draft pick Cory Trice.

Cory Trice is a 6’3” cornerback who played in 30 games for Perdue making 5 interceptions. Trice tore an ACL in his left leg 2021, but he rebounded to post a strong season for the Boiler Makers in 2022.

Cory Trice, Cory Trice injury

Steelers 7th round pick Cory Trice is carted from the field. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

Despite his injury history, Dane Brugler of The Athletic rated him as the 14th best corner in the draft and the 88th best player overall. NFL scouts felt differently. Trice didn’t go a 88, but 153 picks later. Still, when the Steelers drafted him at 241 in the 7th round, drafnics immediately pronounced him as “steal.”

Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell took stock of Trice’s medical history and draft pedigree to conclude: “They HAD to take this cornerback.”

Maybe they did. And maybe couple of 3 years from now we’ll say that Corey Trice was to Lombardi Number 7 what Deshea Townsend was to Lombardi Number 5 and Lombardi Number 6. Let’s hope so.

But today the story on Corey Trice is something different and cautionary, if not darker:

  • Lady Luck plays as big of a role in successful NFL drafting as does science and art.

Normally when you think of Lady Luck’s role in the draft you think of the players you could or couldn’t take. Think of missing out on William Jackson and getting Artie Burns instead. Or not getting O.J. Simpson and having to “settle” for drafting Joe Greene.

  • But Lady Luck continues playing her role long after a pick reaches the podium.

All reports on Corey Trice from OTA’s, Minicamp and non-padded practices were positive. This kid looked like a keeper. Yet, on Tuesday August 1st, Kwon Alexander tackled Jordan Byrd. Corey Trice didn’t touch either man or anyone else during the play, but as soon as it was over he stood in in pain favoring his left side, having sustained an injury to his right leg.

“That’s just unfortunate,” Mike Tomlin explained, “but that’s football and life.”

Tomlin is right. Sometimes Lady Luck just ain’t fair.

In 2011 running back Baron Batch started off at St. Vincents looking like a late round steal, only to tear his ACL. Further back, 6th round pickc ornerback Barron Miles was having a very strong camp until suffering a knee injury in the 1995 Steelers preseason game against the Bills, and was lost for the year.

Batch returned in 2012 to earn 49 yards on 25 carries, but Barron Miles never played down in the NFL, (although he was quite successful in the CFL.)

Those two fared better than Senquez Golson, the Steelers 2nd round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. Golson missed his rookie training camp with a torn rotator cuff, suffered a Lisfranc injury in his second summer at St. Vincents, got injured again in ’17 and after being cut he spent a few days on Tampa Bay’s practice squad and was done.

That’s three NFL careers – two would-be steals and one premium pick – all ended in the blink of Lady Luck’s eye.

  • Corey Trice should remain hopeful. Lady Luck sometimes grants second chances.
Greg Lloyd, Rashaan Salaam, Steelers vs Bears 1995

Greg Lloyd closes in on the Bears Rashaan Salaam in the Steelers 1995 win over the Bears. Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images via the Bleacher Report

Ahead of the Steelers 1987 draft Tom Donahoe spied a dominating outside linebacker in some grainy footage from Ft. Valley State. The Steelers picked Greg Lloyd in the 6th round that spring, but Lloyd tore an ACL in preseason against Washington and spent his rookie year on IR. Lloyd got injured again in the summer of 1988 and spent the first seven games in IR.

But Lloyd appeared in the final nine games of 1988 including four starts.

Here’s where things get a bit uncanny. Where did Lloyd make his first start? On November 13th 1988 at Philadelphia. Where was his last start for the Steelers? November 23rd, 1997 where he injured himself on the turf at Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium during the 1997 Steelers loss to the Eagles.

It would seem that even when she grants second chances, Lady Luck certainly lacks no sense of irony.

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“Don’t Fear the Reacher” – Steelers Fans Need Not Fear a Reach in the 2023 NFL Draft

The dreaded reach.

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.

  • Artie Burns provides another great example of a reach. 
Donte Moncrief, Steelers sign Donte Moncrief, Artie Burns, Steelers vs Colts

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.

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Appearances Can Deceive: Steelers Trade Once Promising Chase Claypool to Bears

In a  out-of-character move, the Steelers traded Chase Claypool to the Chicago Bears and acquired William Jackson from the Washington Commanders ahead of the NFL’s trading deadline.

In return for Claypool, the Steelers get the Bears 2nd round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft and to get Jackson the Steelers sent their 6th round pick in the 2025 NFL Draft while getting the Commander’s 7th in the 2025 NFL Draft.

Wow! What to make of this?

Two quick thoughts that come to mind are:

  1. Appearances can be deceiving
  2. Welcome to the Reign of Khan

Let’s dive into both in more detail.

Chase Claypool, Steelers vs Eagles

Chase Claypool scores a 2nd quarter touchdown vs the Eagles. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune Reivew

“Your Eyes Can Deceive You. Don’t Trust Them” – Obi Wan Kenobi

The day was October 11th, the venue Heinz Field, the opponent for the 4-0 Pittsburgh Steelers was the Philadelphia Eagles and the star of the show was Chase Claypool.

Claypool had joined the Steelers as a 2nd round pick out of Notre Dame in the 2020 NFL Draft. Coming into the game Claypool had a modest 6 catches, including a touchdown. He’d flashed a bit in the opener vs the Giants, catching Ben Roethlisberger’s only long pass of the night winning Unsung Hero Award honors.

But against the Eagles, Claypool exploded, scoring 4 touchdowns including one on a reverse. Claypool would finish the year with 62 catches and 9 touchdowns in the air, adding another on the ground. He won rookie of the year honors.

  • The Steelers seemed to have found another steal as a second pick wide receiver.

Claypool entered 2021 as a starter and although one would have expected his role to increase even more with JuJu Smith-Schuster’s early season injury, his production declined to 59 catches and a measly 2 touchdowns. Claypool’s 2021 season is best remembered by his decision to showboat after catching a pass at the end of the Minnesota game.

The clock was running and Claypool cost the Steelers at least, if not one snap in a game that expired with Pat Freiermuth coming oh-so close to pulling in a touchdown pass.

  • In 2022 Claypool has been more consistent, and shown a lot of heart after the catch.

Still a second round pick that will likely be early in the second round was too much for the Steelers to turn down.

  • With William Jackson the story differs.

The Steelers wanted William Jackson going in to the 2016 NFL Draft. The Bengals took him a pick before and Pittsburgh settled for Artie Burns. William Jackson went on to start for 59 games in Cincinnati, whereas Artie Burns only played in 58 games in Pittsburgh. Still, the Bengals allowed Jackson to depart in free agency to Washington.

Despite starting 16 games for the Commanders, Washington was clearly ready to move on from Jackson, giving him away at a fire sale price.

  • Mike Tomlin has never shied away from picking up someone else’s discarded cornerback.

The Steelers reportedly wanted Justin Gilbert in the 2014 NFL Draft, and snapped him up when Cleveland was looking to move him in 2016. Alas, Gilbert logged 11 defensive snaps on the year. In contrast, the Steelers snapped Joe Haden up when Cleveland cut him in 2017, and Haden was a 5 year starter and team leader.

Reign of Khan: Be Agressive

When the Steelers tabbed Omar Khan to replace Kevin Colbert, Khan assured the press that he would continue the Steelers Way. And thus far he’s doing that – while making his own mark.

However, under Khan the Steelers Way is becoming more aggressive.

This summer the Steelers Minkah Fitzpatrick and Chris Boswell to contract extensions. The Steelers surely would have targeted the duo for new deals under Kevin Colbert, but for over a decade Colbert’s policy was to wait until the tail end of the summer to get the deals signed.

In contrast, Khan showed no hesitation and got both players resigned as soon as OTAs and Minicamp were over.

The approach to Diontae Johnson showed an even bigger change. Johnson wanted a new contract, but the Steelers clearly weren’t going to sign him to one of the mega deals that wide recievers are getting league wide. Under Colbert, its a fair bet to suggest that the Steelers would have simply let him play out his contract and become a free agent.

Omar Khan’s strategy was to offer Johnson a sort of hybrid contract that fell well-short of the mega deals wide outs are getting, yet was more than a simple “Prove it” deal.

  • The Chase Claypool trade offers another contrast.

When have the Steelers traded away a player during the season? I know that in the 1993 season, Tom Donahoe and Bill Cowher sent Tim Worley off to Chicago. But I can’t remember them shipping someone out since then. And certainly not a starter.

Yet under Khan, the Steelers have made the calculation that they’re not going to resign Claypool and that they can get more value for him in the 2023 NFL Draft than they can for the balance of the 2022 season and the entire 2023 season.

That decision leaves Kenny Pickett a bit in a bind, as behind Johnson the Steelers only have George Pickens, Gunner Olszewski, Miles Boykin and Steven Sims.

But the move shows that Khan is playing the long game, which is good to see.

 

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