It is reasonable to expect the Pittsburgh Steelers to address their defensive line over the course of the next few days during the 2023 NFL Draft. Whether or not that might come today, in the first round, remains to be seen, but the betting favorites seem to be offensive tackle or cornerback.
If they do go defensive line, however, or defense in general outside of the secondary, that pick could be Lukas Van Ness—if they have any shot at him. The Iowa product is a tremendous talent, with his biggest issue being the decision of whether to ask him to put on weight or drop weight.
According to Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “the Steelers really like him”, and from his description, they are not entirely committed to putting him at defensive end or outside linebacker, rather preferring to let it play out naturally to determine the best fit.
Dulac said that he would put weight on him and let him follow in Cameron Heyward’s footsteps. Notably, his Post-Gazette colleague Ray Fittipaldo feels the same way, believing that he would be a very fine choice in the first round and that it would be suitable to give him time to bulk up and play on the end.
“He’ll be a fit if he can add 10-15 pounds over a year or so, and that may not happen in year one”, Fittipaldo said on 93.7 The Fan in the weeks leading up to the draft. “I just think he’s your prototypical five-technique that they’re looking for once he adds that extra weight”.
As far as Dulac’s insinuation that the Steelers may not be profiling him as one or the other before they have him at their disposal, I think that’s entirely plausible given how they have handled DeMarvin Leal thus far. A 2022 third-round draft pick, the Steelers have still not committed to him putting on or dropping weight and what his ultimate role will be.
But for Leal, he is more likely to be a rotational depth piece. If you’re using your first-round pick on Van Ness—which you would have to if you wanted to get him, and odds are he’s not even going to be there at 17—you know he’s going to be your guy. You’re going to want to know where they guy will be.
In terms of actually getting him, it’s hard to pitch a trade up for a projection player. Unless you have a clear plan for exactly what you want to do for somebody, it’s hard to argue in favor of moving up. If he falls to 17, then you have the conversation. But beyond that, you can’t give up extra resources, I think.