After showing real promise as a rookie in the 2022 season, which included a 7-2 run down the stretch and saw him lead four game-winning/fourth-quarter comeback drives, it’s pretty clear that the Pittsburgh Steelers need to build around quarterback Kenny Pickett moving forward.
That means doing everything possible to put him in a position to succeed, adding in the trenches to protect him, adding another weapon or two around him, and really going all in on the signal caller while he’s on a cheap, affordable rookie contract.
For Pro Football Focus’ Steve Palazzolo, ideally, that’s adding a wide receiver in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft over any sort of help along the offensive line, much like the Cincinnati Bengals did in the 2021 NFL Draft, grabbing Ja’Marr Chase out of LSU at No. 5 overall to pair with 2020 No. 1 overall pick Joe Burrow, reuniting the college teammates.
The Steelers could have a shot at doing that same thing in April with Pickett’s former Pitt teammate and current USC wide receiver Jordan Addison in the running as the top receiver in the draft class. Pickett has already made his pitch for Addison to rejoin him in the black and gold, and the calls for Addison to be a Steeler in the draft are already starting to reach a fever pitch.
Palazzolo added to the fire on Thursday during an appearance on 93.7 The Fan with hosts Andrew Fillipponi and Chris Mueller on the PM Show, stating that adding a receiver will do more for Pickett than an offensive lineman would in the first round.
“Receiver. Always receiver,” Palazzolo stated, according to audio via 93.7 The Fan. “This was a hot topic in Cincinnati two yeas ago. …that was the debate all leading up to the draft. As much as you need to have a good offensive line, we saw last year the Bengals did not have a good offensive line, but Ja’Marr Chase literally won them games.
“Not every receiver is of that level, but I do think building that receiving core and having either an elite wide receiver one or just having three or four pass game options is the way to win in today’s NFL. And you have to make sure the offensive line is good enough; I don’t think you need an elite offensive line, it just has to be good enough.”
Using the Bengals as an example regarding the selection of Chase at No. 5 to reunite him with Burrow over going with offensive lineman Penei Sewell at that spot, it worked out very well for the Bengals. Chase set records and helped the Bengals get to the Super Bowl.
While Addison, at least right now, doesn’t appear to be on Chase’s level, it makes some sense to reunite the record-breaking pairing that simply dominated college football in 2021 at Pitt. There’s obviously familiarity there between Pickett and Addison. They’d be able to hit the ground running together again in 2023, and the addition of a guy like Addison would strengthen the receiving room behind Diontae Johnson and George Pickens.
Of course, protecting Pickett should also be the priority, and the passing game is only as good as the quarterback delivering the football, assuming he has time to stand in the pocket and find his guys.
Adding a receiver like Addison feels like a serious luxury pick for the Steelers, which is a bit confusing considering the clear, obvious holes the roster has on the defensive line, inside linebacker and cornerback, not to mention along the offensive line. That’s largely why it feels like drafting Addison is wishful thinking for the Steelers, but crazier things have happened.