After the Pittsburgh Steelers went 7-2 following their bye week in 2022 to finish the year 9-8, the team has kept the positive momentum going this offseason by staying active in looking for ways to upgrade the team. Not only have they hit free agency to add players like guard Isaac Seumalo, cornerback Patrick Peterson and linebackers Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts, they have also explored the trade market, picking up former Pro Bowl wide receiver Allen Robinson in a trade earlier this week. It’s been a good offseason in Pittsburgh, and coupled with how the team finished last year, PFF’s Brad Spielberger believes a strong 2023 NFL Draft could help the Steelers contend next season.
One stat that Spielberger looks at is expected points added and allowed per play. In 2022, from Weeks 1-9, the Steelers ranked 28th in expected points added per play at -0.105, while they were a measly 25th in expected points allowed per play at 0.042. Post-bye, the Steelers were a brand-new team, placing fourth in expected points added per play in Weeks 10-18 at 0.078 and fifth in expected points allowed per play with a -0.083 mark.
Obviously, that improvement was due to a variety of factors. That includes the return of outside linebacker T.J. Watt, who missed seven games with an injury suffered in Week 1, and a schedule that got a good bit easier in the second half of the year. But the Steelers still took care of business and looked like one of the best teams in the league. The run game and offensive line improved, while Kenny Pickett took major strides throughout his rookie season, showing why the team selected him in the first round.
While Spielberger said Pittsburgh is “acting out of character” this offseason, he thinks there’s more the team can do. He wants them to draft an offensive tackle and a cornerback early, even if that player isn’t a Day 1 starter.
“The Steelers’ offensive line with new starting guard Isaac Seumalo also has quality interior depth to overcome potential injuries, but adding a tackle early in the draft will be smart long-term move, even if that player serves as the swing tackle in 2023,” he writes.
While the Steelers might be comfortable starting Dan Moore Jr. and Chukwuma Okorafor next season, adding behind them with someone who could take over in 2024 or 2025 while essentially pushing out LeRaven Clark wouldn’t be bad. Clark doesn’t offer much in terms of production or upside. An early-round tackle who can morph into a future starter would be a good selection for the Steelers, whom Spielberger says also need a cornerback early.
“On defense, T.J. Watt‘s return was an obvious catalyst for better performance down the stretch, and adding a premier cornerback in a first round loaded with options would help the unit to continue playing at a top-five level,” he writes.
Cornerback is Pittsburgh’s biggest remaining need. In such a deep draft class for the position, the only question is whether the Steelers take someone at No. 17 or wait and get a talented player at No. 32 or No. 49 in the second round. PFF has Pittsburgh’s ideal draft shaking out by taking Maryland cornerback Deonte Banks at No. 17, Oklahoma OT Anton Harrison at No. 32 and Wisconsin DL Keeanu Benton at No. 49.
All three are players who visited with the Steelers pre-draft, and that would be a nice two-round haul for Pittsburgh — and it’s one that PFF thinks would boost the team to contender status. In a week, all the speculation will be over and we’ll see who the Steelers actually select to get back on track in 2023, but this wouldn’t be a bad outcome.
Regardless, it’s already been a good offseason, and I can’t wait to see how the 2023 Steelers look come Week 1 next year. Hopefully, the team can pick up right where it left off in 2022.