2023 NFL Draft

Heitritter: Free Agent Signings Decrease Need To Draft Nose Tackle & Safety Early

The Pittsburgh Steelers have historically looked to address a majority of their roster needs prior to the start of the draft. GM Omar Khan and assistant GM Andy Weidl have done a great job of that in the lead up to the 2023 NFL Draft, signing ILBs Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts, OGs Isaac Seumalo and Nate Herbig, CB Patrick Peterson, S Keanu Neal, and DL Breiden Fehoko and Armon Watts as outside free agent acquisitions. On top of this, Pittsburgh brought back several of its own, retaining DL Larry Ogunjobi, S Damontae Kazee, and TE Zach Gentry.

When looking at Pittsburgh’s roster needs, CB and OT often rank near the top of the list. While the team did bring in OT Le’Raven Clark and Peterson this offseason to add to those rooms, Clark is nothing more than a body taking up space as depth. Meanwhile Peterson is a grizzled veteran who shouldn’t be seen as a long-terms solution at the position, suggesting Pittsburgh should look to solidify both positions with premium draft capital.

While still could look to add one of the top safeties or nose tackle prospects in the draft, I personally would expect these positions to be pushed down their priorities list based on their recent additions. NFL analyst Daniel Jeremiah recently discussed the 2023 draft class, calling the safety class “paper thin” and called it a bad year to need a safety who can contribute at a high level right away. Sure, there is versatile Alabama DB Brian Branch, who is considered the top safety in this draft class. After that, there are more role/niche prospects that do a couple of things well, but don’t possess a well-rounded game.

The Steelers have one safety spot on lock with All-Pro Minkah Fitzpatrick. While Neal and Kazee may not be seen as 1,000-snap, every-down starters at the respective stages in their careers, both have ample starting experience and do well in the roles asked of them. Pittsburgh can easily have Fitzpatrick be the every-down safety with Kazee being more of the coverage safety. Neal can play more of the sub package linebacker/box safety role that Terrell Edmunds did, giving Pittsburgh three capable players that can mix and match or roll out onto the field in three-safety packages.

When it comes to nose tackle, Pittsburgh may be lacking that high-upside or 10-year starter in the middle, but it has more than enough guys to contribute at that spot for at least 2023. Montravius Adams is coming back after somewhat of a down year in 2022, but he appeared to come into his own at the end of the season. The Steelers signed Breiden Fehoko, who profiles more as a two-down run plugger that can take up space and force double teams to keep LBs clean. They also just signed Armon Watts, a versatile defensive lineman who has played outside the guards but was mainly a first- and second-down defender who lined up inside the guards last season in Chicago.

With these three, as well as Larry Ogunjobi, sprinkling in at the nose tackle spot, Pittsburgh will likely allocate its premium draft capital on other positions like offensive tackle or cornerback. They could target top-tier NT prospects like Michigan’s Mazi Smith and Baylor’s Siaki Ika. But given the value of the nose tackle position relative to draft position — as well as the sheer number of bodies Pittsburgh has added to the room this offseason — I wouldn’t expect them to address the position with their first three draft picks. The same is true at safety unless, as in the case of nose tackle, a phenomenal value falls into their lap at #49 overall in the second round.

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