2023 NFL Draft

Heitritter: Look For Steelers To Draft Future Starter At Strong Safety In Middle Rounds

The Pittsburgh Steelers have had one heck of an offseason thus far under the guidance of GM Omar Khan and assistant GM Andy Weidl. Gone are names like Cameron Sutton, Devin Bush, and Robert Spillane while the roster has added new faces including Isaac Seumalo, Nate Herbig, Cole Holcomb, Elandon Roberts, and Patrick Peterson. Pittsburgh also has brought back Larry Ogunjobi and Damontae Kazee, retaining two key defenders try and replicate their play down the stretch of the 2022 season.

While it’s huge that Kazee is back in the fold as that opportunistic, ball-hawking defensive back, starting strong safety Terrell Edmunds remains unsigned, with his odds of returning to Pittsburgh decreasing by the day as the team signs more outside free agents. While Kazee provides more splash than Edmunds ever has in Pittsburgh, he isn’t the long-term solution at the position. He turns 30 this summer. He also lacks the size (5’11, 174lb) and durability to hold up as an every-down, in-the-box defender. Kazee is better suited as the third safety that can move around or play centerfield and allow Minkah Fitzpatrick to utilize his versatility.

While this safety class isn’t anything special at the top, excluding versatile DB Brian Branch out of Alabama, there are several prospects that should become capable starters within their first two seasons. Alex Kozora put it best in his most recent mock draft: Pittsburgh needs to add a strong/box safety, but they should look at long-term options too in order to find more than a quick fix at the position, giving them someone to pair with Fitzpatrick for the foreseeable future.

Kozora and I both gave the Steelers Alabama S Jordan Battle in the third round in our most recent mock drafts. Battle fits what the team looks for at the position, having plenty of playing experience for a prestigious program at Alabama. He doesn’t have tons of upside but should provide a stable floor and become comparable to Edmunds in terms of play and production early in his NFL career.

Antonio Johnson is another bigger-bodied safety who fits the mold as a strong safety/nickel defender. The Texas A&M product isn’t the most fluid in coverage but can be an enforcer over the middle and should get drafted somewhere on Day Two.

JL Skinner from Boise State is another long, lanky defender that could fill the need at SS on Day Two of the draft. Illinois’ Sydney Brown, Florida State’s Jammie Robinson, and Penn State’s Ji’Ayir Brown all come in smaller packages, but have the requisite skill sets, production, and play demeanors to contribute heavily as box/strong safeties if asked to do so in Pittsburgh’s defense.

The Steelers have done a great job retooling the interior of the offensive line, overhauling their LB corps, and retaining a guy like Larry Ogunjobi on their DL. One of the team’s biggest needs is reliable depth at safety, instead of relying on a break-the-glass option like they have in the past. However, it may be wise to draft a starting-capable player in the middle rounds. The value would be there and it would add a player that can learn and develop from a coach like Grady Brown while playing alongside Minkah Fitzpatrick, one of the game’s best, on the back end of the defense.

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