There are many directions that the Pittsburgh Steelers can go come the NFL Draft. Do they want to attack defense early and often, or do they want to prioritize protecting Kenny Pickett and giving their young signal-caller weapons? These are questions not only posed by Steelers fans across the world, but also by draft analysts like ESPN’s Matt Miller.
In an ESPN+ article today, Miller listed Pittsburgh’s biggest needs and discussed the different ways the team could go come draft day. For needs, he listed right tackle, wide receiver, inside linebacker, cornerback, and slot corner. Notably, Miller left off left tackle as a need, which likely means he believes in Dan Moore Jr.
When talking about the Steelers’ first pick, Miller said he can see Pittsburgh looking to continue building its Pickett Fence and targeting Tennessee’s Darnell Wright.
“The Steelers’ first pick is at No. 17 overall and could go in many directions,” wrote Miller. “Right tackle is a clear need, and Tennessee’s Darnell Wright has good value at that spot. He’s a fantastic run-blocker.”
Wright is 6’5″ 333 pounds and played primarily right tackle at Tennessee. He has experience at left tackle if the Steelers do want to move him there. Wright has normally been seen as a late first rounder or early second rounder in mock drafts but come draft night that could be seen differently. A talented player, if he is drafted he would certainly help out the Steelers in both the run and pass game.
Despite being the highest-paid defense in the NFL last season, the Steelers defense still needs some help. After losing defensive back Cameron Sutton in free agency, their cornerback room took a hit even with the addition of Patrick Peterson. Pittsburgh’s inside linebacker room has been a mess since Ryan Shazier’s career-ending injury and even with a revamp in free agency the Steelers still need help there. Miller believes the moves the team made this free agency are only short-term fixes and sees the draft as a place to find long-term solutions.
“The defensive depth chart is full of short-term fixes and future needs,” he wrote. “A best available at cornerback can’t be ruled out, with 32-year-old Patrick Peterson and 27-year-old Levi Wallace slotted into starting roles. And while linebacker isn’t a likely Round 1 pick, having Elandon Roberts and Cole Holcomb penciled in as starters leaves room for upgrades.”
The question then arises: When will Pittsburgh draft a cornerback and an inside linebacker? Given positional value and a weaker linebacker class Pittsburgh likely won’t address that position until Day Two, but cornerback is 100% on the cards at 17. If one of the top three cornerbacks, Christian Gonzalez, Devon Witherspoon, or Joey Porter Jr. is on the board at 17, I expect the Steelers to draft them with their first-round pick.
There is one more need Miller mentioned: wide receiver. On paper the Steelers wide receiver corps is good, but it is also very thin. Diontae Johnson and George Pickens are a great 1-2 punch, but at slot Calvin Austin III remains a question mark and there is almost no depth behind any of them. Drafting a wide receiver at some point seems inevitable.
“Additionally, adding another receiver would be a very Steelers-like pick, as Diontae Johnson and George Pickens could use another running mate,” wrote Miller.
The Steelers have taken receivers early in drafts before when it didn’t seem necessary. While it seems unlikely, if a receiver the team likes drops to them on Day Two don’t be surprised if general manager Omar Khan drafts a receiver early on in the draft again.
There are a lot of options of where Pittsburgh goes in the NFL Draft. This is just Matt Miller’s opinion, but it will certainly be fun looking back to see how many of his perceived needs the Steelers actually addressed during the draft.