2023 NFL Draft

Heitritter: Expect Steelers To Have A “Big 3” At Defensive Line In The Draft

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a tendency to tell us who they like during the pre-draft process, making the “Blue’s Clues” game rather fun when predicting what players they will likely take when the draft rolls around in late April. One of their biggest needs this offseason is the defensive line with is currently slated to have Larry Ogunjobi, Tyson Alualu, and Chris Wormley hit free agency. Even if they decide to bring back one of Wormley or Ogunjobi, they should attempt to improve a unit that struggled at times last year stopping the run and generating a pass rush outside of All-Pro Cam Heyward.

When it comes to the 3-tech/4i position in Pittsburgh’s defense, they have a very specific body type they target to play as their base DEs in a 3-4 defense or as their DTs in sub packages. They want DL that stand close to 6’5, weigh around 300lb, and have close to 34” arms, if not longer. This is the body type they looked for when drafting Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt. It was the reason they traded up into the fifth round of the 2021 NFL Draft to select Isaiahh Loudermilk who many considered a reach at that spot, but he matched that body type that is hard to find in today’s league.

Knowing this, it’s difficult to project guys like Pitt’s Calijah Kancey or Tuli Tuipulotu to Pittsburgh even though they are skilled prospects. However, there are three Defensive linemen in this draft class that fit this mold nearly to a tee and likely are squarely in the crosshairs of the Steelers’ draft targets this spring: Clemson’s Bryan Bresee, Florida’s Gervon Dexter, and Wisconsin’s Keeanu Benton.

Bryan Bresee has been one of the players most often linked to the Steelers… and for good reason. Dave Bryan laid it out perfectly in his article prior to the NFL Combine about how Bresee checks several boxes for the Steelers, including the measurables. Bresee came in at 6054, 298lb with 32 1/2” arms, a little short for what the Steelers look for, but not a dealbreaker by any means. He has played up-and-down the LOS from the nose tackle to outside on the edge, but projects as that 3tech/4i at the next level. Bresee talked a lot about his connections to Mike Tomlin and Pittsburgh at the Combine, suggesting that the interest is legit.

Gervon Dexter is a similar body type to Bresee, standing 6055, 310lb with 32 1/4” arms. He also played all over the defensive line for the Gators and would be an ideal fit as a base DE in Pittsburgh thanks to his measurables.  He is a well-spoken man, having talked to him at the Combine and the great formal interview he had with the Steelers who treasure players with character and leadership qualities. Dexter has all of that, having the inside scope in the Florida Football Program who have commended his personality and his dedication to hard work and improving every day.

Pittsburgh’s interest in Keeanu Benton was evident starting at the Senior Bowl after having a conversation with Benton who met with Pittsburgh and said that he is on their radar. It was a legendary “point to the fence” moment for our own Alex Kozora who mentioned that the Steelers better have interest in Benton prior to the Senior Bowl due to his background and play on the field as well as his measurables. Benton stands 6036, 309lb with 33 7/8” arms, nearly fitting their prototype to a tee. Having talked to Steelers personnel about Benton at the Senior Bowl, a member said it was a good call regarding the connection of him to the team based on those exact measurements they look for at the position.

In summary, I expect the Steelers to have a “Big 3” of sorts regarding the base DE position with Bresee, Dexter, and Benton all being logical names for the team to target in this draft. Bresee should be a borderline first round pick while Dexter and Benton more Day Two options, meaning Pittsburgh will be able to likely land one of those three with one of their picks in the first three rounds. While we may not know exactly which one will be a Steeler come May, I would be willing to bet that one of these three defensive linemen will be wearing Black and Gold when it’s all said and done.

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