Heitritter: Defensive Line Could Get Pushed Down Steelers’ List Of Priorities Come Draft Day

We are less than two weeks away from the start of the 2023 NFL Draft, and the Pittsburgh Steelers’ draft plans seem to be taking shape before our very eyes. Based on the team’s pre-draft visits, formal interviews at the NFL Combine, as well as their activity on the Pro Day trail, it appears that offensive tackle and cornerback are the heavy favorites to be Pittsburgh’s first two draft selections come the team’s 17th and 32nd draft choice. Obviously, you never want to speak in absolutes as a player along the lines of Bryan Bresee or John Michael Schmitz may prove to be too much of a value to pass up at the top of the second round, but the need and value are trending towards OT and CB.

Prior to the start of free agency, Pittsburgh’s biggest need on the roster appeared to be defensive line with the likes of Larry Ogunjobi, Chris Wormley, and Tyson Alualu scheduled to hit free agency while having very little proven production on the roster outside of Pro Bowl DL Cameron Heyward. However, the Steelers brough back Ogunjobi on a three-year deal while also signing DL Breiden Fehoko and Armon Watts to battle for snaps at the nose tackle position. This gives Pittsburgh a DL room of Heyward, Ogunjobi, Watts, Fehoko, DeMarvin Leal, Montravius Adams, Isaiahh Loudermilk, Renell Wren, and Jonathan Marshall.

Wren, Marshall, and Loudermilk don’t really move the needle much for Pittsburgh outside of depth and could see snaps if needed and Fehoko, Adams, and Watts are more journeymen that have their niches, but shouldn’t be seen as full-time starters. Still, while Pittsburgh could add another developmental 3-technique with pass rush upside or a true nose tackle earlier in the draft, Pittsburgh has done a good job solidifying the depth of the defensive line while locking in Ogunjobi to start alongside Heyward for 2023 and hopefully beyond.

In the same breath, Pittsburgh has put a profound emphasis on overhauling their OL, signing OG Isaac Seumalo to start at G opposite James Daniels while also landing IOL Nate Herbig who is a starting-caliber player himself that can be a versatile interior player in-case of injury. Given the amount of Pro Day visits OL Coach Pat Meyer has been on and the interest Pittsburgh has had on the top tackles, it shouldn’t shock anyone if Pittsburgh targets a player like Tennessee’s Darnell Wright or Ohio State’s Dawand Jones with one of their first two selections.

The same could be said for CB as Pittsburgh has brought in a ton of Day One and Day Two cover men, including Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr. who is likely the favorite to be their first-round selection if still available along with Kansas State’s Julius Brents, Georgia’s Kelee Ringo, Maryland’s Deonte Banks, and Mississippi State’s Emmanuel Forbes along with several others.

While assistant GM Andy Weidl comes from a background of adding depth and talent to the defensive lines in Philadelphia, that also applies to the EDGE position which Pittsburgh sorely needs to address. This draft class is deep when it comes to talented pass rushers, meaning the Steelers could lands themselves quite the value on Day Two of the draft to beef up their defensive front.

With slot WR, LB, and S all also being smaller needs that could be addressed, there is a realistic possibility that the Steelers may way till Round 3 or 4 to select a defensive lineman based on how free agency has turned out as well as how they have shown their hand during the pre-draft process. Still, there are plenty of quality prospects in the range that make a lot of sense for Pittsburgh. Bowling Green DL Karl Brooks was super productive in the MAC as a pass rusher and was brought in for a pre-draft visit while Pittsburgh also sent DL Coach Karl Dunbar to his Pro Day, making him a prospect that should be considered at either #80 or #120 overall should Pittsburgh pass on DL early.

Other names like Byron Young from Alabama, Keondre Coburn from Texas, Zacch Pickens from South Carolina, or even Florida’s Gervon Dexter or Baylor’s Siaki Ika could be available later after Round 2 if they slide a little on draft day, giving Pittsburgh a quality option at either DE or NT that can rotate in as a rookie as he develops into a big contributor and hopefully a start down the road. We shall see what Pittsburgh’s plans are regarding the DL position in the draft soon enough, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see them address the position later than people would expect.

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