It’s well known at this point just how remarkable the haul was for the Pittsburgh Steelers from the 2023 NFL Draft.
Landing not only offensive tackle Broderick Jones, but cornerbacks Joey Porter Jr. and Cory Trice Jr., defensive tackle Keeanu Benton, linebacker Nick Herbig and tight end Darnell Washington was something that was seemingly unfathomable in the build up to the draft, due to the high rankings for guys like Jones, Porter and Washington.
What seemed unfathomable and impossible became reality for GM Omar Khan as the Steelers put together one of the best draft classes in the league during the three-day draft in Kansas City.
The praise rolled in hard and heavy for the Steelers, and it continued Wednesday as ESPN’s Matt Miller placed four Steelers inside his top 100 best picks of the draft. That included three inside the top 30 with all four landing inside the top 40, making for quite the haul for the Steelers.
Porter, the long, physical corner out of Penn State, landed at No. 4 overall in Miller’s rankings Wednesday, one spot ahead of Seattle cornerback Devon Witherspoon, who went No. 5 overall in the draft.
“Porter is the first non-Round 1 selection on the board here, and it isn’t just about the heartwarming story of a player being drafted by his father’s former team,” Miller writes. “JPJ was my No. 15 overall player and ended up getting drafted 17 selections later, speaking to the value of the pick. As for scheme fit, he’ll be the team’s CB1 as a rookie thanks to his toughness at the line of scrimmage and when attacking the ball in the air.”
The story is rather heartwarming as Porter heads home to Pittsburgh to play for the same franchise where his father played, won a Super Bowl and later coached. But as Miller points out, the greatness of the Porter selection for the Steelers is about much more than the family storyline.
Landing Porter at No. 32 overall to open the second round was a massive steal for the Steelers, considering he was a consensus first-round pick throughout the draft process before ultimately sliding out of the first round. That worked out very well in the Steelers’ favor as Pittsburgh was able to scoop up a player it knows well while addressing a major need in the secondary for not only the 2023 season, but long term as well.
Along with the Porter selection, Pittsburgh’s drafting of Georgia offensive tackle Broderick Jones — in a trade up to No. 14 overall with the Patriots — cracked Miller’s top 15, landing at No. 13 overall, one spot ahead of where he came off the board.
“The Jones pick was awesome for several reasons but primarily because the Steelers played the board well and jumped the tackle-needy Jets. The need for a plug-and-play left tackle had been kept quiet in Pittsburgh, and Jones fits there,” Miller writes. “He is raw as a prospect, but his power and agility on the move will make him an immediate star in the run game with developmental ability in passing situations.”
The Steelers did very well jumping the Jets and landing Jones, addressing a major need on the offensive line in front of second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett. Though he profiles as a plug-and-play guy, it seems unlikely — at least as we sit here today — that the Steelers are just going to hand him the starting job at left tackle.
It will be quite interesting to watch Jones and third-year pro Dan Moore Jr. battle for the job in training camp.
After Jones, the Steelers’ selection of Georgia tight end Darnell Washington at No. 93 overall in the third round cracked the top 30 best picks for Miller, coming in at No. 26. Washington was the No. 30 overall player for Miller in his pre-draft ranking.
“This was not a need pick in any way — Pittsburgh has Pat Freiermuth — but I still love it because the Steelers stole some value,” Miller writers regarding Pittsburgh’s selection of the Georgia star. “Washington had knee injuries that caused him to drop to No. 93 overall, but there aren’t many 6-foot-7, 270-pound tight ends running 4.64-second 40-yard dashes. It’s a worthwhile risk at that point in the draft to invest in rare traits.”
The pairing of Washington with Freiermuth longterm is going to provide a ton of headaches for opposing defenses. The fact that the Steelers landed such a physical freak like Washington in the third round just adds to the terrific value the Steelers got in that draft slot.
It’s really no surprise that Miller had the selection so highly ranked in his piece for ESPN.com.
Finally, Miller placed the selection of Purdue’s Cory Trice Jr. in his top 100, coming in at No. 37 in the rankings, one of only seven seventh-round picks to be highlighted in the top 100, and the only one within the top 50.
“The Steelers got one of the steals (no pun intended) of the draft if Trice can stay healthy. He had a third-round grade on my board thanks to his size and physical style of play,” Miller writes regarding the selection of Trice by the Steelers. “Trice will join fellow rookie Joey Porter Jr. to potentially form the team’s future at cornerback.”
The Steelers certainly got a steal in Trice, who was a consensus top 10 cornerback in a deep, talented draft class at the position but fell in large part due to medical concerns. That’s a benefit for the Steelers, who added a second long, physical, athletic cornerback with Porter in the same draft class, seemingly shoring up the position of most need in one fell swoop.
We’ll see how the draft class develops and produces on the field over the next few seasons, but there’s no denying Pittsburgh made out quite well in the draft.