If you want to hear about an organization that absolutely maximized the value of their seven draft picks, look no further than Mike Tomlin’s Steelers. With a sharp front office led by Omar Khan (formerly of New Orleans) and Andy Weidl (formerly of Philadelphia), Pittsburgh’s team-building brass had themselves quite a draft weekend in 2023.
The running theme we heard out of Pittsburgh leading into the draft was a wise one, “build the Pickett fence” for second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett. We saw evidence of this Kenny confine strategy when Khan and Co. brought in new guards Isaac Seumalo and Nate Herbig through the earlier part of free agency. The barrier building didn’t stop there as the Steel Curtain selected Broderick Jones, an offensive tackle out of Georgia, with the 14th overall selection in round one – the second of three 1st round Georgia Bulldogs making their way to Pennsylvania. Jones was our OT3 (OT2 depending on your positional view of Peter Skoronski) and 12th overall prospect, going just two slots after where we had ranked.
Go ahead and consider the Steelers as winners in the highly anticipated late-April trade of Aaron Rodgers from the Packers to the Jets. How so? Had the 13th pick been omitted in the Aaron Rodgers trade (as many expected), who’s to say Broderick Jones would even be available for the Steelers at 14? As another AFC team in need of an improved offensive line, the Jets slid back to 15 overall in the Rodgers deal, while the Packers jumped up to pick 13 and eventually selected edge rusher Lukas Van Ness out of Iowa. This opened up the possibility for Pittsburgh to trade into the 14th slot, which had originally belonged to New England. Apparently, the Patriots did not take too kindly to the Jets adding an MVP quarterback to the division, and took the opportunity to let another team jump their divisional foes for the last remaining top-tier offensive tackle. The Jets, like the Packers, also selected an Iowa edge rusher in Iowa State’s Will McDonald IV – never having the chance at adding Jones to their line at 15 – a common mock draft pairing. The next offensive tackle selected would be Anton Harrison to the Jaguars at 27.
Consider us a few of many of the fans shocked to not see our CB3 Joey Porter Jr. get his name called in Round 1. With the Steelers picking 32 overall to open up Round 2 thanks to the Chase Claypool trade with the Bears, most fans had quite the feeling we’d see another Joey Porter in Pittsburgh going into Day 2. And sure enough, they did it. In another steal among many in this Steelers rookie group, the top two picks of Jones and Porter Jr. were enough to feel great about this. JPJ should immediately play significant snaps as a boundary corner.
Adding to the defense again in Round 2, the Steelers selected our DT4 out of Wisconsin, Keeanu Benton, with their 49th pick overall. The Steelers needed as many bodies up front in their aging 3-4 defense and Benton gives them a startable option immediately after his dominant Senior Bowl campaign. This was the pick that had us beginning to really lean into this particular draft until the slide of our TE3, Darnell Washington of Georgia, stopped 57 spots after where we had him ranked pre-draft at pick 93. The selection of Washington in the third made for roughly the fourth Top 50 ranked player selected by Pittsburgh from our pre-draft rankings. He could see a ton of playing time early, helping out Kenny Pickett in a variety of ways, blocking and receiving. We could have called this class an A+ then, but wait, there’s more!
The Steelers rounded out this draft class with a couple of defensive steals. In the fourth, the selected a smaller, but very effective edge rusher in the aforementioned Nate Herbig’s younger brother, Nick out of Wisconsin (same as T.J. Watt). Then they scooped up a huge steal in cornerback Cory Trice, who could potentially be this year’s version of Tariq Woolen for us. Surprisingly, Trice was the calculated biggest value of the group, selected 129 spots below where we had him ranked pre-draft (this was a 4th-round graded corner drafted in the 7th). The only explanation we can think of is the possibility that Trice may have had some medical red flags. But still, if the two corners of this group, Porter Jr. (9.71 RAS) and Trice (9.65 RAS), don’t pan out it won’t be because they aren’t athletic enough. Finally, despite no pre-draft grade from us, going with a guard out of Maryland, Spencer Anderson, is a return to the top of this article – building that Pickett Fence. The Steelers did an incredible job in this year’s draft, getting incredible surplus value by our board and adding franchise building blocks with multiple first-year starters. They earned an A+ according to us this year.