Buckle up. Because I am back.
For the first time in more than 20 years, the Pittsburgh Steelers have a new GM, Omar Khan replacing Kevin Colbert, to run the show. And despite my best efforts (i.e. sending the Steelers an envelope stuffed with all the mock drafts I’ve made since 2010), I was overlooked as Colbert’s heir. This is my villain origin story. I’ll prove them all wrong.
And so I return to show the Steelers what they missed out on. You’ll rue the day, Rooney.
This is our ninth season at creating and mapping out a Pittsburgh Steelers’ offseason. Somehow, you all haven’t gotten tired of my many, many failures and foolish missteps along the way. A hearty God Bless You for that. For those reading this for the first time: welcome and prepare to think far less of me.
Using Fanspeak’s Ultimate GM simulator (I’ll leave a link at the bottom of this post), I am running through a Steelers’ free agency, cutting, re-signing, and adding outside free agents, before jumping right into the 2023 NFL Draft with the rest of the league. I get only one shot at this. If I screw up, something statistically probable, then I just gotta live with it. And you’ll be able to see it.
This isn’t just me against the simulator. It’s me against Omar Khan. Which one of us is truly the Pittsburgh Steelers’ best GM? Khan, who has been in the NFL for more than 20 years, a cap wizard, learning from one of the best general managers of this generation. Me, small height, big heart, with many fears (heights) and anxieties (long green lights…what sinister game are they playing). It might not be a fair fight but I’m up for the challenge.
Some quick background. For this exercise, I’ll use Fanspeak’s Steve Shoup’s Draft Board. Of course, we’ll use the official draft order, play on “difficult” difficulty (whatever that means), set it to “classic” speed (again, no clue what that means), and the computer will draft off the same board as myself.
Before we do anything else, we gotta check on our cap situation. It…isn’t looking great. Right now, in the red. Our first mission is to create space with the option to restructure deals or release anyone on our roster.
It should be noted there is a nasty black hole in this universe. Some players just don’t seem to exist. FB Derek Watt? He’s not in here. In this world, the Watts are a family of two. TE Zach Gentry? On a milk carton somewhere. Ditto S Damontae Kazee. But we have…WR Kirk Merritt. Who? Yeah, I don’t know either. He’s not a Steeler but this world likes to just vomit players onto your roster. We’ll go ahead and cut him.
CB William Jackson III is an easy one. He can go relax at his spa and figure out his next move. It sure won’t be in Pittsburgh, clearing a considerable amount of cap space that will help prevent us from ordering off the Dollar Menu. Then there’s QB Mitch Trubisky. He’s not happy to be here. Volunteers, not hostages, you know the story. The cap space we can clear by dumping him is too hard to ignore. We axe him, too.
With a restructure to EDGE T.J. Watt, we decide not to touch FS Minkah Fitzpatrick’s deal; we’re left with a nice basket of money.
Heading into the re-sign phase, we have $32.4 million in cap space. There’s a lack of nuance and context and it probably doesn’t fully and accurately describe the cap, but I don’t ask questions when I get to spend $32 million.
Here’s a quick look at mostly restructures but a couple of cuts around the league. WR Adam Thielen cut in real life and here in this sim. Tough week.
Next up, we gotta figure out which Steelers are coming back. The list of free agents we can re-sign. Remember, Gentry, Watt, and Kazee have been Thanos-snapped.
I’m starting with our biggest swing of all: CB Cam Sutton. This team’s top free agent won’t come cheap. But losing him to someone else could cost this team more. Here’s our offer: Three years/$31.5 million with a $12.6 million signing bonus.
Is this going to be enough? Or does Sutton want the moon and the stars? I submit the offer, cross my fingers, and see what he says.
Signed! I knew Sutton was a reasonable man. Grass isn’t greener on the other side and The Steelers Way strikes again. I press my luck with SS Terrell Edmunds. With a weak safety draft class, it’d be foolish to let Edmunds walk. He’s reasonably priced, still young, and a good system fit. Two years, $6 million, just under a $2 million signing bonus.
Will Edmunds join Sutton?
Another one! Who says being a GM is hard?
Finally, our attention turns to LB Robert Spillane. Trusty and reliable like an old Toyota Corolla, he’s better off in Pittsburgh than anywhere else. With that pitch in mind, his offer comes in just under Edmunds’. Two years at $5 million with a $1.25 million signing bonus. For him, that’s good money.
And he accepts that, too. A perfect day. Sutton, Edmunds, and Spillane all come back with ease. There will be outsiders to bolster this roster but for tonight, I’m happy with how things look.
With those contracts inked, an updated look at our cap situation.
$20.2 million in the bank heading into free agency. That’s good because this roster still has work to be done. Before we dive into Day One of the new league year, here’s a look at the Steelers’ roster: 59 players on it.
Pre Free Agency Roster (59)
QB: Kenny Pickett
RB: Najee Harris, Jaylen Warren, Anthony McFarland, Jason Huntley, Master Teague
WR: Diontae Johnson, Gunner Olzsewski, George Pickens, Calvin Austin III, Dan Chisena, Anthony Miller, Steven Sims, Dez Fitzpatrick, Ja’Marcus Bradley, Cody White
TE: Pat Freiermuth, Connor Heyward, Rodney Williams
OT: Chukwuma Okorafor, Dan Moore Jr.
OG: Kevin Dotson, James Daniels, Bill Dunkle
C: Mason Cole, Kendrick Green, Ryan McCollum
DL: Cam Heyward, Isaiahh Loudermilk, DeMarvin Leal, Renell Wren
NT: Montravius Adams
EDGE: T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, Quincy Roche, Emeke Egbule, Jamir Jones
ILB: Robert Spillane, Myles Jack, Mark Robinson, Chapelle Russell
CB: Cam Sutton, Ahkello Witherspoon, Levi Wallace, Arthur Maulet, Duke Dawson, Madre Harper, James Pierre, Chris Wilcox
S: Terrell Edmunds, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Elijah Riley, Miles Killebrew, Tre Norwood, Kenny Robinson, Scott Nelson
K: Chris Boswell
P: Pressley Harvin
LS: Christian Kuntz
Here’s a look at the re-signings around the NFL. Nothing incredibly notable and things at least look a little less broken than past iterations, though age is apparently just a number to Fletcher Cox and the Philadelphia Eagles. None of our potential free agent targets stayed with their current team, though I would’ve enjoyed signing LB Germaine Pratt just to troll Matt Canada.
FREE AGENCY – DAY ONE
Don’t forget about a position. Don’t forget about a position.
That’s the sticky note attached to my desk after forgetting cornerbacks were a thing in last year’s exercise. All I need out of free agency is two good defensive linemen, an inside linebacker, a backup quarterback, a tight end, **deep breath** a couple of veteran offensive linemen, and maybe a corner and a receiver. Just do all that and I’m a happy GM.
But you eat an elephant a bite at a time. So I get to work.
Here are some of the top free agents available, highlighted by OT Orlando Brown Jr., DT Javon Hargrave, and CB Byron Murphy.
As fun as a Hargrave reunion would be, I don’t even think about putting down that kind of cash. I get a lay of the land of the quarterback market, so clearly needing a backup behind Kenny Pickett now that Trubisky is out the door. Here are the notable names.
With Larry Ogunjobi hitting free agency, the defensive line sure looks weak. I jump there to see the biggest names on the market.
Like I did with Sutton, I want to start with a big swing. One of the names I highlighted on my wishlist: DE Zach Allen. The James Daniels of the defensive line, he’s still only 25 but comes with lots of experience, 35 career starts, and coming off a career-high 5.5 sacks for the Arizona Cardinals last season. But that combination comes with a price. Like a smart negotiator, or at least not a dumb one, I start a little low. There’s risk, this is the open market and he could sign elsewhere. But I don’t want to overshoot things with so many other areas I want and frankly, need, to address.
Allen’s offer? 4 years, $34 million with a $13.6 million signing bonus.
We won’t know his reaction until the day is so for now, we submit the offer and move onto other business of the day.
Starting with backup quarterback. There’s a clear void behind Pickett, the only QB on the roster. Trubisky cut. Mason Rudolph’s blocked my phone number. Radio shock jocks are wondering if Ben Roethlisberger could come out of retirement and become Pickett’s mentor. New York’s Mike White has always been one of my favorites, a tough, gritty dude who had a very quick flame with the Jets. And he’s my first call. Two years, $4.6 million with a little over one million of that guaranteed at signing.
What else? The top prize is Buffalo ILB Tremaine Edmunds. One Edmunds brother signed a contract in Pittsburgh. How about we make it two? Let’s go for broke. Ten years, $180 million, fully guaranteed. Let’s reset the market. Let’s change the world.
Ok, you know I’m kidding. Fun as signing Edmunds would be to any contract – definitely not *that* one – it’s not going to happen. I’m a GM, not a miracle-worker. No offer is submitted to Tremaine Edmunds.
Switching back to reality, offensive line depth is important. It’s also completely non-existent, not even having Trent Scott or J.C. Hassenauer as subpar backups. Kelvin Beachum’s career has shown amazing staying power and he’d be a fantastic veteran and community presence this franchise would love to have.
Here, an offer is submitted to his agency, Relativity Sports, at two years, $5.7 million with a healthy $2.28 million signing bonus. Another one we’ll wait for at the end of the night. That’s three offers for the day: Mike White, Zach Allen, and Kelvin Beachum. Time to call it a night and see what – if anything – we have added to this roster.
Only one out of three but we caught the biggest fish in the sea. Allen takes the deal and we have found ourselves a starting defensive end next to Cam Heyward. White and Beachum secure the bag elsewhere at price points we certainly weren’t going to pay. The Eagles celebrated St. Patty’s Day a little too hard, but overall, it’s a good day for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Here’s a quick look at the rest of the league. Bengals’ SS Vonn Bell gets a nice deal to go to Chicago while Cincinnati gets Mike McGlinchey on a surprisingly cheap, one-year pact. Marcus Davenport is the big winner of the day while the Giants…I don’t know what they’re doing with Matt Pryor over there.
Free Agency – Day Two
With a big deal like Allen closed, it’s important to check in on our cap health. One name signed and we’re already down to $14.3 million.
With White off the board, we pivot to an arguably more attractive option as the team’s #2 QB – Philadelphia’s Gardner Minshew. Reliable backup, great mustache, what’s not to like? He’s worth more than White, two years at $8.2 million but with a base salary nearly half of what Trubisky was owed.
I’m back looking at offensive tackles. Brandon Shell has spent most of his career at right tackle but has logged some work on the left side. Good enough for me as a #3 OT. A two-year, $5 million offer ships out his way.
Before we wrap today up, I take a glance at the receiver market. Hey Mike Tomlin, who should I sign? Adam Thielen or Adam Thielen? Tough call.
We attempt neither. Instead, the Colts’ Ashton Dulin is a pretty interesting and under-the-radar guy. Good size, three touchdowns on just 28 catches the last two years with quality special-teams value to replace Miles Boykin. Two years ago, Dulin had 17 tackles. Two years, $4 million should get the job done. I think. I hope.
Day Two is in the books. Let’s see the results.
Yet again, 1/3. But it was critical to land an experienced backup quarterback and Minshew is onboard. Two days, two free agents. A review of other free agents who signed. Byron Murphy replaces James Bradberry in Philadelphia while JuJu Smith-Schuster takes his talents to South Beach. And I guess the Atlanta Falcons new QB is Baker Mayfield.
Free Agency – Day Three
Our cap has been reduced by a couple more million.
Back on the o-line prowl for some economical backups. Buffalo’s Greg van Roten isn’t getting any younger but is a competent interior swingman. It’s a bit of a low-ball but to send something that isn’t another two-year offer, it’s a one-year deal worth $1.75 million with 30% of that coming in the form of signing bonus.
Though Allen has been added along the d-line, there’s still a hole in the middle. Montravius Adams underwhelmed last season and Tyson Alualu retires after a long and great career. With an uncertain d-line class, the focus shifts to a big plugger in the middle to stop the run. The Rams’ A’Shawn Robinson is as good as it gets. Don’t ask him to rush the passer but he’ll clog the ground game. This deal feels more than fair, three years at $15 million.
So Dulin, van Roten, and Robinson. I guess it’ll just be another one-for-three kind of outcome.
No, no, and no. Our first clean slate of rejections. A disappointing day and we hope for a brighter tomorrow.
A look around the league. Joe Flacco signs a two-year deal to head all the way to Seattle. Joe, you’re 38. Call it a career. Do you…do you need money, man? Because I’ll give you some money. Just a way to say thanks to losing to the Steelers in all those important games.
Free Agency – Day Four
No signings mean our cap situation is unchanged.
With Gentry gone and Connor Heyward not blocking anyone the way he did, a big-bodied tight end is critical. Cycling through options, Tyler Kroft is quietly a solid option. Don’t ask him to do much of anything in the passing game but he’s a pure-blocking type.
Here we go again with “backup offensive lineman with some versatility.” Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Cleveland’s Ethan Pocic stepped up in a pretty meaningful way in the middle last season and Pittsburgh knows him pretty well. He gets two years, $4.2 million with a $1.47 million signing bonus.
Similar situation with WR Zach Pascal. Like Dulin, a big-bodied and versatile receiver who is solid on special teams and comes cheap. Two years, $4 million for him.
All three offers are submitted. Let’s hope for better end.
If this were Chutes and Ladders, I’m definitely on the Chutes. Another goose egg. Each deal seemed reasonable but apparently it’s not enough. We trudge on.
Free Agency – Day Five
Round and round we go. Next up on the o-line free agency train is Kansas City’s Nick Allegretti. Younger at 26 who has played guard and center, he gets a two-year, $5 million deal with $2 million in the form of a signing bonus, a little heavier on the guaranteed to hopefully get someone to sign or else this entire draft class will be oops, all offensive linemen to try and shore that unit up. At some point, someone’s gotta take the cheese.
The quest for a big ugly along the d-line continues. They don’t come much bigger than Andrew Billings, who should have a “Caution: Makes Wide Turns” sign on his back. We flip a two-year, $6 million offer to his agent.
And another swing at tight end. Eric Tomlinson has been one of the game’s underrated blockers, which is good because he sure doesn’t catch passes. Just 27 of them in his 10-year career. One year, $1.25 million to see if he wants to keep his career going.
Day is done. Let’s check the scoreboard. Big money, no Whammies, stop!
Well, we finally get Allegretti. Depth secured. Billings and Tomlinson say no. Free agency begins to become less active league-wide, though Julio Jones joins the Washington Commanders to catch passes from, uh, *technical difficulties*
Free Agency – Day Six
Allegretti’s deal puts us under $10 million in available cap space, though I’m not trying to run right up against that number by free agency’s end.
Ugo Amadi was a solid suggestion from assistant GM Dave Bryan earlier in the offseason. I give it a shot, a slot corner/safety who can contribute on special teams and we could use all of that on this roster right now. Light money here, one year worth $1.5 million with a $300k signing bonus.
We take one last swing at big ‘ol A’Shawn Robinson Last time, we offered 3 years/$15 million. Here, we up the ante to 3 years/$18 million with a bigger signing bonus at $7.2 million. I don’t care what he or his agency thinks. That’s a solid offer, just below what we gave Zach Allen. It’s as high as I’m willing to go. Take it or leave it.
He leaves it. But Amadi doesn’t. It wasn’t the one of the two I wanted more but it’s something. Orlando Brown finally lands in Atlanta. They know they need a good OT if Baker is going to be their quarterback.
Free Agency – Day Seven
Cap space check-in. After four signings, $7.5 million to play with.
I dunno, how about Poona Ford? Someone has to take an offer, right? If you want a defensive lineman who has leverage, it’s him. The dude isn’t even 6’0. But it hasn’t stunted his career. Sixty-three starts over the last four years and seven sacks over his last three, a sneaky good signing. We’ll see if two-years, $8.6 million with a hearty $3.01 million signing bonus does enough for him.
That’s all I want to see. Can I get a defensive lineman or not? I just want to sign one and move on. Please, Poona. Please sign.
Sigh. Onto tomorrow.
Free Agency – Day Eight
At this point I’m just thumbing through nose tackles like looking through the phone book. What about Greg Gaines? Doesn’t turn 27 until May with 8.5 sacks over the past two seasons for the Rams. If one Rams DT like Robinson won’t sign, maybe I can coax another. I offer the same deal as Ford’s, though I’m bordering on that whole “insanity is doing the same thing over and over” problem. Two years, $8.6 million.
Anything else? After being spurned by Dulin and Pascal, I circle back to receivers. Darius Slayton is interesting as a speed/vertical threat but I can’t offer a big enough role for him and don’t even send over a contract. It’s just a waste of time. Instead, I call up Miami’s Trent Sherfield. Lost in the shuffle behind Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill, he averaged nearly 14 yards per reception while playing a healthy percentage on special teams throughout his career, 40% in 2022. Two years, $4.6 million with a $1.61 million signing bonus to see if he’ll bite.
No and no. And wait – Tyler Kroft?! Two years for $2.4 million total? I offered him way more than that days ago. And now he’s settling with Carolina? The lure of a #1 overall QB is too much, I guess. I let Kenny Pickett know what’s going on. Build that chip on his shoulder.
Free Agency – Day Nine
Poona? You up, Poona? I’m desperate. I can’t leave free agency without a nose tackle. Using draft capital on one isn’t my plan. He wins. A big offer comes his way. Three years (maybe everyone just hates two-year deal, the illusion of security without really offering anything, it’s the ‘we’ll cut you next year’ deal) worth $14.1 million and a $6.48 million signing bonus. That is hefty.
Whyyyyyyyy. It’s easier to sign Lamar Jackson than this guy.
Free Agency – Day Ten
Last day. Last chance. I pivot back to Billings and throw up a prayer. Three years, $14.1 million and a $5.64 million signing bonus.
Assuming that it doesn’t work out, given the previous week, I also send a small deal to RB Travis Homer to be our #3 running back. It’s a one-year, $1.75 million contract. One more signing for the road.
Let’s see what lands.
Swish. Good at the buzzer. Billings is our fifth and final free agent signing. Here’s a recap of the names we inked.
CB Cam Sutton – 3 years, $31.5 million ($12.6 million signing bonus)
DE Zach Allen – 4 years, $34 million ($13.6 million signing bonus)
NT Andrew Billings – 3 years, $14.1 million ($5.64 million signing bonus)
QB Gardner Minshew – 2 years, $8.2 million ($3.69 million signing bonus)
SS Terrell Edmunds – 2 years, $6 million ($1.8 million signing bonus)
OG Nick Allegretti – 2 years, $5 million ($2 million signing bonus)
LB Robert Spillane – 2 years, $5 million ($1.25 million signing bonus)
DB Ugo Amadi – 1 year, $1.5 million ($300k signing bonus)
Our cap space finishes up a tad over $4 million.
2023 NFL Draft
Fast forwarding to late April’s draft to finish the offseason. A reminder of the picks we have heading into the big weekend:
Round One – 17th Overall
Round Two – 32nd Overall
Round Two – 49th Overall
Round Three – 80th Overall
Round Four – 120th Overall
Round Seven – 234th Overall
Round Seven – 241st Overall
Seven picks in total. Ideally, I don’t want to wait all that time between the fourth and seventh round. Whether or not I can bridge that gap, that’s up to the draft gods.
Before the Carolina Panthers even turn in the card for the 1st-overall pick, I get a call. Minnesota Vikings’ GM Kwesi Adofo-Mensah is on the other line. In fact, I receive two offers but Minnesota’s is far more enticing, the Vikes looking to move up and a chance for the Steelers to go down. The terms of the proposal:
In other words, Pittsburgh sends #17 while Minnesota sends #23, #87, #119, and #158. This…this is a no-brainer. Though it’s impossible to know what the board is going to look like at #17, there’s the risk of missing out on a big name who falls, picking up another day two pick plus a fourth and a fifth to begin bridging that gap at the expense of going down only six spots can’t be passed up. I accept before Minnesota can change its mind. Just like that, we’re up to ten picks.
Round One – 23rd Overall
Round Two – 32nd Overall
Round Two – 49th Overall
Round Three – 80th Overall
Round Three – 87th Overall
Round Four – 119th Overall
Round Four – 120th Overall
Round Five – 158th Overall
Round Seven – 234th Overall
Round Seven – 241st Overall
According to Fanspeak, here’s our list of needs heading into the draft.
More holes than a Shia LaBeouf movie.
NFL Draft – Round One
Let’s kick the draft off. With the first pick of the 2023 NFL Draft, the Carolina Panthers select Ohio State QB C.J. Stroud. Here’s the top five: In typical fashion, the Seattle Seahawks throw a major curveball, selecting Clemson’s Bryan Bresee 5th overall. Such a Pete Carroll thing to do.
And the top ten.
With the 17th pick, the Vikings select Georgia CB Kelee Ringo. In a way, I’m kicking myself because Oregon CB Christian Gonzalez, the apple of my eye, was one of the draft’s surprise fallers. Inexplicably, the Vikings passed on him at 17 for Ringo. He went the next pick to the Detroit Lions, a great fit for DC Aaron Glenn. Still, I’m happy with the choice I’ve made. The 23rd pick creeps closer and here’s how the picks unfolded right in front of us. Pittsburgh’s officially on the clock.
The top tackles? Gone. The top corners? Gone. WR Jordan Addison? Sorry Kenny Pickett, he’s in Green Bay. The Big Board contains these top names.
Some great choices here. O’Cyrus Torrence, the best true guard on the board. LB Trenton Simpson is a hyper-athlete. Brian Branch can play all over in the secondary and Alabama safeties have worked out well for Pittsburgh before. But I’m not taking any of them.
This is the point where I’m confident no one else will read anything that happens below. You’re going straight to the comments to yell at me. And hey, perhaps I deserve it. Maybe this is why I am the armchair GM, not the dude actually tasked to run it. Because I’m going unexpected at #23. I’m changing this offense.
I’m taking Georgia TE Darnell Washington. And you can’t stop me.
No longer will this offense be a base 11-personnel system with three receivers on the field. That worked during Ben Roethlisberger’s prime and though there’s confidence in Kenny Pickett, this scheme has changed. Zigging as other teams zag. We’re going physical, big-people like Baltimore or San Francisco. You can win with that. It may require a new coordinator, see you in my office next year Matt Canada, but the building blocks begin now. A 12-personnel team that runs the ball, builds off it with creative play-action, and some classic bully-ball to win the trenches. Other players can help achieve that goal but Washington’s frame and style is so unique that there’s no one else in the class like him. With the confidence of a boatload of picks at our back, we’ll figure everything else out later. Washington is our man.
Here’s how the rest of the first round ends, important notes as we sit top of the clock at #32 for Round Two.
First Round Selection – Darnell Washington/TE Georgia
NFL Draft – Round Two
Surprisingly, no trade offers come in but I’m not terribly interested in moving down. We’ve already made our move and having more than 10 selections just seems gluttonous. Here’s the top of the board to kick Friday off.
Torrence still there and I know there’s a large group of Steelers fans begging me to take him. But I don’t love his game as much as others, and there’s another guy I’ve had my eye on: Kansas State CB Julius Brents. Like Washington, he’s a Planet Theory type. Only so many guys with his build who move like him. An asset for the Steelers’ man coverage-heavy defense, he’s the guy at #32. I’m not waiting. That’s our man. Brents, Cam Sutton, and Levi Wallace is a top three I can get onboard with.
Moving to the middle of the second round, I’m working on a plan. I want to be aggressive here, utilize the extra picks I picked up. It starts at pick #49. With inside linebacker intentionally being ignored in free agency, the draft is our only option. Build from within instead of Band-Aiding it with Mark Barron, Jon Bostic, Avery Williamson, Joe Schobert, Myles Jack, ohmygod that’s such an ugly list. Please make it stop!
You know where this is going. We’re heading to Iowa for Jack Campbell. Two-hundred forty-nine pounds with great angles and a quality athlete who gets depth in zone coverage, this is our man at #49. No doubt about it. We turn the card in as soon as we’re on the clock.
At #49, the offensive line class still looked good. A little lighter at tackle, that class never runs nor stays deep, but the interior group is good. We’re not waiting until pick #80 to see it evaporate. I get on the phone and start trying to move up. After waiting a few picks, the Detroit Lions are about to get on the clock at #55. They’re light on picks. I send the following offer:
Pittsburgh sends #80, our initial fourth rounder #119, and a 2024th third round selection for the Lions’ #55 and a sixth-round pick for good measure, #196. We have ourselves a deal.
And I’m getting our guy. The best offensive lineman still on the board. Minnesota center John Michael Schmitz, who has the size and length to kick out to guard and challenge Kevin Dotson. Four picks in the top #55 and as far as I’m concerned, they’re all home runs. It’s beautiful. I’m not used to my plans turning out so well.
Second Round Selections – Julius Brents/CB Kansas State + John Michael Schmitz/OG Minnesota
NFL Draft – Round Three
More offers come in to start the third round. Washington gives me the chance to move back and recoup that fourth rounder but I pass. Detroit…what are you doing Detroit? They’re trying to send pick #80 that was ours back in some sort of come-to-life Draft Day movie. That’s not how this works, bud.
Both get declined and I wait it out until pick #87, the one we picked up from the Vikings pre-draft. My fingers are crossed though, hoping to land one of the top tackles still available with eyes specifically on Maryland OT Jaelyn Duncan, a prospect who can ideally sit for a year and challenge for a starting spot in 2024. But Duncan is gone before 87. So is TCU’s Blake Freeland. And I’m in the first awkward spot of the draft. There isn’t a tackle I love still around. Here are the top overall names on the board:
I land on taking the best tackle available and he’s still worth the pick: Oklahoma’s Wanya Morris, with great size and long arms. He has played left and right tackle and spent two years at Tennessee before transferring to the Sooners. He’s the pick at #87.
Third Round Selection – Wanya Morris/OT Oklahoma
NFL Draft – Round Four
The third and final day. But it’s going to be a busy one for the Steelers and our handful of picks. My plan is to look again at the o-line or perhaps EDGE rusher. But once we get on the clock at #120, the value of the board again steers us in a direction. Alabama safety Jordan Battle has his issues. He needs to trust his instincts but he’s easily the best guy on the board. Safety is a need with Kazee gone and depth a bit thin behind Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds, knowing Tre Norwood came off a disappointing sophomore season. In a weak safety class, it’s surprising to see him fall this far and Battle is the man. That’s our pick for the round.
Fourth Round Selection – Jordan Battle/S Alabama
NFL Draft – Round Five
We patiently wait our turn here with a gameplan of who and where we want to target. Here’s the picks ahead of #158.
And our target is there at pick #158. Continuing to add to the defensive line with South Carolina’s Zacch Pickens. Career production is light but the size, length, and versatility are all there. In the fifth round, it sure beats trading up to get Isaiahh Loudermilk. The pick is in.
We’re snooping around to try to trade back into the fifth round but there’s no takers. Neither the Packers nor the Rams will take a sixth and a seventh for a late fifth. We’ll wait until the sixth round and hope our top prospect is still hanging around.
Fifth Round Selection – Zacch Pickens/DE South Carolina
NFL Draft – Round Six
Good news. He is. It’s Louisville DL Yaya Diaby, miscast as a base defensive end who has Anthony Chickillo type of vibes, though Diaby profiles as a better athlete and bendier pass rusher. Falling into our laps, he’ll compete for EDGE depth as he learns a new position. The 196th overall pick in the draft, saying ‘yes yes’ to ‘Yaya.’
Sixth Round Selection – Yaya Diaby/EDGE Louisville
NFL Draft – Round Seven
And finishing things up with our final two selections. Some fun dart throws we can take, not feeling the need to address any one position. In 2021, the Steelers’ draft started with a first-round quarterback and ended with a seventh-round signal caller. A similar story here. A first-round tight end mirrored by a seventh-round pick, though it’s not our final one.
See, the thing about switching to a 12-personnel team is that depth is needed. The Ravens have roughly a quintillion tight ends in the hopper to cycle through. Size and blocking is our aim. We’re dipping into small-school waters with North Dakota State’s Noah Gindorff: 6’6, 263 pounds with 33+ inch arms, he didn’t make plays downfield but has a nose for the end zone with 12 scores on 44 career receptions while being lauded for his blocking. The pick is in.
A handful of picks later, it’s time for our final selection. How should we spend it? This team still only has two quarterbacks on the roster and there’s at least a more compelling case to take a #3. Do I do it? Become everything that I hate? There are some interesting names like Fordham’s Tim DeMorat, regarded as having one of the stronger arms in the entire class.
But no. It just isn’t logical. I look elsewhere at one of Owen Straley’s favorite guys. UAB’s Starling Thomas V. A freak athlete who will look to compete in the slot and round out the cornerback room. The fifth in the seventh, that’s the draft.
And if you’re wondering (because I am), Mr. Irrelevant, #259 to the Houston Texans, was Louisville OT Trevor Reid.
Seventh Round Selections – Noah Gindorff/TE North Dakota State + Starling Thomas V/CB UAB
A recap of the two trades we made.
Pittsburgh Sends: #17
Minnesota Sends: #23, #87, #119, #158
Pittsburgh Sends: #80, #119, 2024 3rd
Detroit Sends: #55
And welcome the ten newest members of the Pittsburgh Steelers, our 2023 draft class.
#23 – Darnell Washington/TE Georgia
#32 – Julius Brents/CB Kansas State
#49 – Jack Campbell/ILB Iowa
#55 – John Michael Schmitz/OG Minnesota
#87 – Wanya Morris/OT Oklahoma
#120 – Jordan Battle/S Alabama
#158 – Zacch Pickens/DE South Carolina
#194 – Yaya Diaby/EDGE Louisville
#234 – Noah Gindorff/TE North Dakota State
#241 – Starling Thomas V/CB UAB
We have 16 roster spots to fill the remainder of our 90-man roster. We agree to terms with the following UDFAs. Some of it is talent, some of it is for roster construction. Gotta have enough offensive linemen to get through a camp.
Lindsey Scott/QB Incarnate Word
Malik Cunningham/QB Louisville
Deneric Prince/RB Tulsa
Monte Pottebaum/FB Iowa
Tre Tucker/WR Cincinnati
Richard Gouraige/OT Florida
Isaac Moore/OT Temple
Jovaughn Gwyn/OG South Carolina
Robert Mitchell/OC North Carolina Central
Scott Matlock/DE Boise State
Stephon Wynn/DL Alabama
Ryan Greenhagen/ILB Fordham
David Perales/EDGE Fresno State
Robert Soderholm/LS VMI
Brad Robbins/P Michigan
Zack Long/K Tulsa
Cunningham is one of the biggest names here with a legitimate chance to make the team as the #3. Prince has the size we look for, Tucker is a sleeper in the slot, Gouraige is a draftable candidate while Moore is a Swede who started a ton of games in college. Greenhagen is one of my dudes who once had – no joke – 31 tackles in a game against Nebraska. And of course, you can’t forget about the specialists, especially Soderholm at VMI, truly one of the Combine’s biggest snubs.
If you’re wondering, here are the draft hauls from around the AFC North.
Training Camp/Preseason Roster
With the roster complete, here’s how the 90-man depth chart looks heading into the summer and the trek to St. Vincent College.
And the roster whittled down to 53 for Week One. Which I can only assume will be on the road. Again.
QB: Kenny Pickett, Gardner Minshew
RB: Najee Harris, Jaylen Warren, Deneric Prince
FB: Connor Heyward
WR: Diontae Johnson, George Pickens, Calvin Austin III, Dan Chisena, Anthony Miller*, Steven Sims
TE: Pat Freiermuth, Darnell Washington, Noah Gindorff*
OT: Chukwuma Okorafor, Dan Moore Jr., Wanya Morris
OG: Kevin Dotson, James Daniels, John Michael-Schmitz
C: Mason Cole, Nick Allegretti, Ryan McCollum*
DE: Cam Heyward, Zach Allen, DeMarvin Leal, Isaiahh Loudermilk, Zacch Pickens*
NT: Andrew Billings, Montravius Adams
EDGE: T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith, Jamir Jones, Yaya Diaby*
LB: Myles Jack, Robert Spillane, Mark Robinson, Jack Campbell
CB: Cam Sutton, Levi Wallace, Julius Brents, James Pierre, Arthur Maulet, Ahkello Witherspoon*
S: Minkah Fitzpatrick, Terrell Edmunds, Miles Killebrew, Jordan Battle*, Ugo Amadi
K: Chris Boswell
P: Pressley Harvin III
LS: Robert Soderholm
*Denotes Week One inactive.
With a 14-man practice squad.
QB: Malik Cunningham
RB: Master Teague
FB: Monte Pottebaum
WR: Dez Fitzpatrick
OT: Richard Gouraige
C: Robert Mitchell
DL: Scott Matlock, Renell Wren
EDGE: Quincy Roche
LB: Ryan Greenhagen
CB: Starling Thomas V
S: Scott Nelson, Kenny Robinson, Elijah Riley
Only one draft pick doesn’t make the team, seventh round pick CB Starling Thomas V. He lands on the practice squad. Here’s your Week One depth charts.
WR Gunner Olszewski, G Kendrick Green, and S Tre Norwood are the three most notable cuts while for the second-straight season, an UDFA running back makes the 53: Deneric Prince. John Michael Schmitz beats out Kevin Dotson for the starting LG job, the only change along the starting offensive line. Defensively, DeMarvin Leal will float between EDGE and d-line, the latter coming mostly on third downs in sub-packages and obvious pass situations.
The results are…pretty good. And I hope that isn’t bragging. You’ve seen past versions. Some of them have been an absolute mess with get-you-fired kind of oversights. The draft turned out well, collecting a ton of talent. It’s easy to do that with four picks in the top 55 and 10 selections overall. Free agency wasn’t the boon I wanted it to be, but the identity of the offense has been changed and the trenches were addressed. Overall, it’s more a talented roster.
The weakest areas are wide receiver and offensive tackle depth. Better hope Calvin Austin is everything the team believes and needs him to be. Behind Diontae Johnson and George Pickens, the group looks iffy. But the switch to the 12 personnel-based offense mitigates that to a degree. A veteran tackle would’ve been ideal and made me feel more comfortable than a fourth-round rookie, though the team just did that with Dan Moore and lived to tell the tale. Certainly there were chances to grab a solid tackle prospect earlier in the draft. Push came to shove, I just went in a couple other directions. The d-line depth isn’t the best either but the starters look strong. If Kenny Pickett and the other young offensive names can make the jump they’re capable of, there’s every reason to believe this squad will return to postseason action.
Will they win the playoffs? Hey, I’m just the GM. Go ask the head coach.
If you’d like to try your hand at your own Pittsburgh Steelers’ mock offseason, you can sign up for Ultimate GM below. It is a paid service to combine free agency and the draft, though you can do them separately for free. I’d love to see your results below. I know many of you can top what I did.