Can The Steelers Compete In The AFC In 2023 With A Good Draft?

For the Pittsburgh Steelers, the standard is the standard.

What is that supposed to mean? For a franchise that has won six Lombardi Trophies, this means fielding a competitive roster, making the playoffs, winning playoff games, and pushing for an appearance in the Super Bowl with a chance to add to the trophy case. In just his second season, HC Mike Tomlin managed to do that, leading the Black and Gold to their sixth Super Bowl Championship in breathtaking fashion.

Since then? Tomlin and the Steelers haven’t exactly lived up to that standard, doing just enough to be competitive, but rarely making Super Bowl pushes. The 2016 team made it to the AFC Championship Game, only to get bounced by the eventual Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots. Pittsburgh had arguably a better team the following season in 2017, but failed to win a playoff game as they were dealt a first-round exit by the Jacksonville Jaguars at home.

Since that loss, the Steelers haven’t won a playoff game. Not one. Nada. Zilch. Zippo. That marks a six-year playoff victory drought. The team made the playoffs in 2017, 2020, and 2021, but saw quick exits from of the big dance by the Jaguars, as mentioned, and the Cleveland Browns and Kansas City Chiefs, the last of whom showed that this team wasn’t even in the same stratosphere when it comes to playing with the top dogs in a 42-21 beatdown.

Tomlin and company have had to make do with less during this period, overcoming the loss of Ben Roethlisberger in 2019 as well as his retirement last season, keeping the ship afloat amidst the storms. However, the standard and the expectation of this franchise is the pursuit of championships. Meaning? It’s about time this team delivered and won a stinking playoff game.

The Steelers find themselves in a loaded AFC Conference with the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Joe Burrow, Josh Allen, Justin Herbert, and now Aaron Rodgers all in the mix of QBs leading talented teams. We saw flashes from Kenny Pickett in the second half of his rookie season as the team finished 7-2 down the stretch, but to expect him to put the team on his back and will this franchise to a title in his second season is wishful thinking.

That is where GM Omar Khan, Tomlin, and the rest of the front office went to work this offseason, building a roster that can support Pickett in this quest to end the team’s playoff drought.

Pittsburgh had the busiest offseason in recent memory, signing veterans like CB Patrick Peterson, S Keanu Neal, LBs Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts, and OL Isaac Seumalo and Nate Herbig to bring veteran experience and leadership to the team as well as filling several important holes at their respective positions. The team re-signed several of its key free agents, including DL Larry Ogunjobi and S Damontae Kazee to retain key contributors and prevent other holes to be created. The Steelers also went out and acquired WR Allen Robinson II from the Rams at a bargain price, bringing in a veteran receiver who can be Pickett’s best friend as an experienced, reliable piece in the passing game.

As we approach the draft, Pittsburgh has gone a long way from being an afterthought to a team that can be a sneaky contender in the AFC in 2023. This isn’t to say the Steelers are now at the same level as the Chiefs or Bills as a team, but they are better equipped to battle with these teams this coming season compared to that last few years where they got spanked round by the conference heavyweights.

The Steelers can address key needs like long-term solutions at OT and CB as well as EDGE and DL depth to complete the renovation of the OL and bolster the defense to better defend against the potent offenses they expect to face. Adding OL like Tennessee OT Darnell Wright or Minnesota C John Michael Schmitz could help take the running game to the next level.  Drafting a CB like Maryland’s Deonte Banks or South Carolina’s Cam Smith will help this team defend WRs like Amari Cooper, Tee Higgins, and Ja’Marr Chase in their own division.

Regardless of what happens this weekend, I don’t think Pittsburgh will be in position to realistically compete for a Super Bowl in 2023. I do think that if they hit this draft out of the park and that Pickett can take that next step forward, this team will put an end to the playoff victory drought and be able to make some noise in a Wild West of an AFC Conference.

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