2023 Steelers Draft Review: What I Got Right, What I Got Wrong

The 2023 NFL Draft is officially in the rearview mirror and we’re recapping what took place. The site has plenty of film rooms, profiles, and analysis on all the newest Pittsburgh Steelers. For me, I wanted to take a step back and basically evaluate how myself and, by extension, the front office did. The things I thought pre-draft that turned out to be right and the things I thought that turned out to be wrong. This year, there was a healthy mix of both.

What I Got Right

1. 17 & 32 Position Order

In that, my final mock draft had the team taking an offensive tackle at 17 and a cornerback at 32. That’s effectively what happened, the team trading up for Broderick Jones at 14 – I wrote in early April if the team was going to move up, it’d be for him or Paris Johnson – and then taking Joey Porter Jr. at 32.

I got the players wrong, having Darnell Wright and Tyrique Stevenson in my mock draft, but the needs identified with the team’s first two picks. Given the lack of depth at tackle, it was always more logical to address that first and go corner, with a much deeper class, at 32. It was so deep the Steelers grabbed Joey Porter Jr. there, someone they may have taken at 17, and definitely someone I didn’t expect to completely fall out of night one.

2. The Keeanu Benton Selection (Sort Of)

I should’ve had the courage of my conviction to include Benton in my final mock. But one of my first pre-draft videos way back in January was about why Benton was a perfect fit for the Steelers. With near-ideal height, weight, and length, Pittsburgh took him at #49. He’ll play nose tackle but also can move around the line. It’s hard to find players with Benton’s makeup and he was an easy player to identify if you knew what to look for.

3. Lack Of Slot Corner Interest

I sounded the alarm about the need for the Steelers to draft a slot corner though didn’t spend much time watching them out of the belief Pittsburgh had little interest drafting someone. And they didn’t. The corners the Steelers looked over in the pre-draft cycle were big and physical outside guys: Joey Porter Jr., Julius Brents, Kelee Ringo, Tyrique Stevenson, Christian Gonzalez. Instead, the Steelers signed veteran Chandon Sullivan to enter the mix, though it’s a poor Band-Aid that has me worried about a 2021 repeat where Pittsburgh thought a bunch of low-end talent would compete, elevate each other’s game, and solve the problem. It didn’t. And this time, Cam Sutton isn’t around to save the day.

4. Nick Herbig And Pittsburgh’s Bloodlines

The one name I did hit in my mock draft was Nick Herbig. Though I have reservations, all the Steelers need to know is that you have a brother or dad who played in the league. And if you can be his teammate, lock the pick in. The old-school Steelers like guys who have been around the game at the highest level and have football in their DNA. It made Herbig a logical fit even if the Steelers will stubbornly keep him as an EDGE rusher. I’m looking forward to when he moves to inside linebacker within 12 months.

5. Trading Up In First Round

Predicting trades is tough but it became clearer later in the process that if Pittsburgh was going to move, it would be to go up. And to go get a tackle. Paris Johnson was too far away, going sixth overall, but the Steelers jumped the Jets one spot to nab Jones. Nice to be on the fun end of that transaction. Pittsburgh had enough Day Two capital to make it unnecessary to go down and GM Omar Khan continues to show his aggressiveness and willingness to go get his guy. He did.

What I Got Wrong

1. Interior Offensive Linemen Interest

While Pittsburgh used a seventh-round pick on the versatile Spencer Anderson, I thought it would come higher, putting Cody Mauch at #49 in my mock. I’m happy to be wrong, taking a backup interior player that early would’ve been unwise, but the Steelers’ heavy pre-draft interest in the top guards and centers ended up not correlating to draft day. Instead, the team focused on the defensive line by taking Benton.

2. Trading Out Of 32

Starting Day Two, the Steelers were sitting pretty. They could stay and take Porter or trade down and drive up the price in the process with the several teams getting involved. Ultimately, I said on the podcast Pittsburgh would cave and trade down. Wrong. They held firm and drafted Porter and moved down at pick #80 to acquire a fourth rounder given up in the Broderick Jones deal.

3. Pass-Rushing DT Over More Interior Guy

After signing several interior run stuffers, I thought Pittsburgh might look for a more clearly defined pass rusher along the d-line. It’s why I mocked them Karl Brooks to play three-tech in sub-packages. But they stuck with Benton, who shows quick hands and can get after the quarterback with surprisingly good bend but is never going to be a high sack guy. He’ll get 3-5 per year, not 8-10 like Cam Heyward. Pittsburgh’s goal was to stop the run first and that’s why they went with Benton.

4. UDFA Model Might Change

Perhaps this one was wishing more than hoping but with a new face in the GM chair, I theorized Pittsburgh would spend money on the undrafted class. Primarily, by offering partial base salary guarantees to match what nearly the rest of the NFL does. Though the data on UDFA deals is limited, based on the names they signed, it doesn’t appear anything has changed here.

Pittsburgh continues to offer meager signing bonuses and bring in some of the worst-looking classes. While they have found James Pierre and Jaylen Warren, their overall groups over the past 5+ years have been ugly. It’s not even about finding diamonds in the rough but chunks of these groups aren’t even hanging around on the practice squad. Some haven’t even made it to camp.

5. We’d Have Clarity On DeMarvin Leal

Last Monday, Mike Tomlin essentially said the Steelers didn’t know what they were going to do with Leal and that it would be dependent on what the team did – or didn’t – draft. Even post-draft, I still really don’t know. Herbig is going to be an EDGE rusher but I question how much he’ll hold up there. If I had to guess, Leal will try to add weight and play more d-line but his path still seems uncertain. And the clock is ticking.

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