The all-star showcases are now in the books and all eyes have turned to the NFL Combine coming up in just a few weeks’ time. While there, the 2023 NFL Draft class invited to the event will be put through a rigorous week of physical testing, medical examinations, media interviews, and individual team interviews. While there, several media sites, including us here at Steelers Depot, will attempt to get to know some of the better prospects in this draft class as well as ask if the respective teams they cover have had contact with these prospects in the form of formal interviews.
Last season, QBs and OL were two of the most important positions the Steelers had to address in the offseason. This led to us here on the site diving into the tape on each top prospect at these positions as well as several us interviewing these players at the all-star games and NFL Combine to see if they had been in contact with the Steelers.
Pittsburgh stayed away from the OL last season in the draft, addressing the position in free agency by signing James Daniels and Mason Cole to man the LG and C positions, respectively. They performed well in these roles last season, providing more stability and consistency to the OL that struggled mightily in 2021. While the left side of the OL including LT Dan Moore Jr. and LG Kevin Dotson played better down the stretch of 2022 as well, their frustrating inconsistencies and lack of upside as staters at their respective positions have many Steelers fans clamoring to once again address the trenches and draft a LT, LG, or both to replace both Dotson and Moore in the starting lineup.
However, the more the offseason wears on, the more I get the feeling that the Steelers are comfortable sitting pact with the five guys they have. The organization has shown support for Dan Moore Jr in his first two seasons in the league, sticking with him as the starting LT since he got drafted in the fourth round of the 2021 NFL Draft. They had the opportunity to pull him last season when he struggled but stuck by him as he has shown slow yet steady growth.
Kevin Dotson has also been mightily inconsistent at times, being named the most frustrating Steeler by Alex Kozora in a previous post during the season. He had ten penalties on him alone in 2022 with most of those fouls being mental errors that have plagued him since coming into the league in 2020. Still, Dotson improved his play down the stretch as well, being more consistent from a play-to-play basis while excelling as a run blocker as Pittsburgh embraced the ground game in the second half of the season.
I started the pre-draft process back during the regular season, breaking down some of the top OL prospects in this draft class and how they may be an upgrade along the OL for the Steelers. Names like Peter Skoronski, O’Cyrus Torrence, and John Michael Schmitz popped up as logical early-round investments that could either challenge or usurp Moore and Dotson for their starting jobs.
However, after seeing how the OL finished the season and understanding the importance of continuity amongst that group, I am now in the mindset that the Steelers will indeed “run it back” with all five starters in 2023. We have already seen Pittsburgh embrace stability on offense by retaining OC Matt Canada for another season, and with an OL that was gelling at the end of the 2022 campaign, I don’t if the organization sees breaking that up as a net positive regarding the draft capital needed to potentially upgrade that unit.
When I was down at the Senior Bowl, I also got an interested nugget of information from a former Steelers player as we watched practice and talked OL prospects together. He said that he expects the team to ‘run it back’ with all five starters next season based on conversations he has had with people in the building. He did mention that the team could look to add depth and develop younger guys, but that the notion he has from the team is that they are comfortable with all five guys starting again at their respective positions in 2023.
When looking at the current state of the roster, it makes sense why Pittsburgh may be inclined to ‘run it back’ with the same five guys next season. The Steelers project to retain nearly everyone on offense in starting roles while the defense currently has several glaring holes at DL, ILB, CB, and SS. While we may expect the likes of CB Cam Sutton and SS Terrell Edmunds to be retained, this will limit the amount of cap space Pittsburgh can use to go out and address the other positions on defense with starting-level talent.
Therefore, it’s logical to suggest that Pittsburgh may turn to the draft to add young, talented defenders along the defensive line, at off-ball linebacker, or in the secondary with their early round selections to properly fill these holes by use of the draft and free agency.
While the Steelers could look to address the OL, the influx of a young rookie LT or LG may not turn the needle much for the offense in its entirety given the factors of Matt Canada improving the offense or Kenny Pickett taking a necessary leap forward in Year Two. However, this team has shown that they want to control time of possession, run the ball, and play championship-caliber defense to compete and win games. The OL certainly improved in the run blocking department last season, but the defense is looking at an extreme makeover to continue playing as an exceptional level like Pittsburgh has traditionally done. This has led me to believe that Pittsburgh will indeed ‘run it back’ with the OL in 2023.