National outlets have been gushing over the Pittsburgh Steelers 2023 draft class, and really who can blame them? The front office filled most of the obvious holes and found terrific value in nearly all of its picks across all three days. Pinpointing which pick is truly the best of the class in Pittsburgh is an interesting exercise, one that ESPN’s Todd McShay undertook following the NFL Draft.
The veteran draft guru specified that his exercise wasn’t to pinpoint the best player in each team’s rookie class, but rather the value of the selection in relation to scheme fit, team needs and where the player was on his personal board at the time of the selection to determine the best pick in the class.
McShay opted for the Steelers’ first of two second-round selections, Penn State cornerback Joey Porter Jr., as the best selection for the franchise over the weekend.
Although family ties certainly play a role in the warm and fuzzy optics of the selection, McShay pointed to the need at the position with the loss of Cam Sutton in free agency and a poor result in pass coverage last season as the top reasons for his decision. Porter Jr. should push for time on the outside against Patrick Peterson and Levi Wallace and make an immediate impact, McShay said, pointing out that his worrisome ball production for the Nittany Lions doesn’t tell the whole story.
“Critics of his game will point to just one interception over four seasons, but they’re ignoring the fact he forced incompletions on 37.9% of his targets last year, best in the entire nation,” McShay wrote.
Of course, Porter Jr.’s size profile and physicality are drawing points beyond his namesake. He was, after all, believed to be a first-round talent regardless of Pittsburgh’s intentions to leave Kansas City with him on the roster. That speaks enough for what is expected of him. Selecting him at the top of the second round despite a desire to rack up picks after Kentucky quarterback Will Levis fell out of the first round should suggest quite a bit of what the Steelers are hoping to get out the No. 32 overall pick. McShay added that Porter Jr. was the second-highest rated player on his board behind Levis heading into Day 2.
To shine a light on just how praised the Steelers class is, McShay also wrote that if he was in a position to name a 1B to Porter Jr.’s 1A, he’d opt for the 49th-overall pick in Wisconsin defensive tackle Keanu Benton.
“He’s a fantastic run defender with a lot of power, and while he’s not going to put up big sack numbers as an interior pass-rusher, Benton is disruptive,” McShay added.
Benton will likely work into the rotation, seeing most of his play on earlier downs. Nonetheless, he’s a fit in the Steelers scheme and the team needed an injection of youth on the defensive interior. As such, his acclimation to the speed of the game at the next level is likely all that stands between him and considerable playing time up front.
As for the rest of the AFC North, McShay said Boston College wide receiver Zay Flowers was the Baltimore Ravens’ best pick, the Cincinnati Bengals’ best selection was Michigan cornerback DJ Turner, and Tennessee wide receiver Cedric Tillman was the best choice for the Cleveland Browns. His thoughts on all 32 teams’ best picks can be read here with an ESPN+ subscription.
For as rough and tough a reputation as the division holds, it appears McShay is most intrigued by what these teams will do in the passing game. Now that each team has a franchise quarterback in place, it’s not a bad idea to see how these passing games, whether offensively or defensively, will stack up with the prolific offenses in the entire conference.