With the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft just a day away, the anticipation is almost over. In less than 36 hours, we will know who the Steelers drafted with their first pick, ending a season of speculation as the 2023 Pittsburgh Steelers roster continues to take shape before our very eyes.
Pittsburgh has had one of the most active offseasons in franchise history in GM Omar Khan’s first offseason at the helm, signing a flurry of free agents who figure to start or at least rotate in at their respective positions. The also traded the Los Angeles Rams for WR Allen Robinson II, moving down a few spots in the final round of the draft to secure a reliable veteran Kenny Pickett can rely on in his second season.
While the team still has several notable holes, like CB and OT, that need to be addressed in the draft, Pittsburgh has done a good job of keeping its options open take the best players available in the draft. However, position of need is likely to factor in some when the bullets are flying, and names are coming off the board. Saying this, I personally don’t think the Steelers should target a WR in this draft.
This is hard to say, being a relative WR junkie who enjoys watching their tape the most along with edge rushers. WR is the fun toy that you can see the production pop on tape in terms of combative catches, explosive plays after the catch, and clutch TD receptions. While this draft class isn’t great when it comes to the wide receiver position, there are several players that should be available in the middle rounds who present great value, including Michigan State’s Jayden Reed, Mississippi’s Jonathan Mingo, and Alex Kozora and my personal favorite, Oklahoma’s Marvin Mims. All these guys and more can be seen as future NFL starters with the potential to outplay their draft slotting when it’s all said and done.
While Pittsburgh has crushed the draft when it comes to taking WRs in the past and shouldn’t be completely opposed to adding another pass catcher at an immense value, they currently have a logjam at the position. Diontae Johnson and George Pickens are entrenched as the top two guys with Robinson factoring in as one of the best WR3s in the league. The team also has Calvin Austin III coming off a foot injury, essentially getting another fourth-round draft pick at the position since he never took a snap for the team in 2022. They also just re-signed Miles Boykin to be a core special teamer and have Anthony Miller and Gunner Olszewski, who are battling for a roster spot.
Another factor to consider when drafting a mid- to late-round WR is the opportunity cost lost at drafting another position that still offers great value at a greater need. The EDGE class is extremely deep in this draft. Several players, like USC’s Tuli Tuipulotu and Tennessee’s Byron Young, could be available in the middle rounds to solidify OLB3 behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith. The CB class is also deep, having names like Darius Rush from South Carolina, Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson from TCU, and possibly even Clark Phillips from Utah available in the third round.
The Steelers have done a lot of work on the center class and Ricky Stromberg from Arkansas as well as Juice Scruggs from Penn State could come in and eventually become the team’s long-term starter at the pivot. The DL crop in the middle rounds also presents some good value with players like Florida’s Gervon Dexter and Bowling Green’s Karl Brooks. Pittsburgh could also be in position to land a Year One starter at LB or S with guys like Jordan Battle from Alabama, Sydney Brown from Illinois, Noah Sewell from Oregon, and Henry To’oTo’o likely available in the third round. Pittsburgh could opt to take a pass catcher, but rather at TE and select Luke Schoonmaker from Michigan or Tucker Kraft from SDSU, who would greatly benefit the running game as well.
This isn’t to say that Pittsburgh should eliminate WR from its draft board. Rather, it should be viewed as a lesser priority than a month ago as the Steelers have a veteran like Robinson to contribute now and a young player like Austin III, who can develop this season and become the team’s #3 in the future. The draft should yield great value at other positions as well, players who could make more of an immediate impact than a WR would, making it sensible to pass on the wide receiver position for this draft.