Coming off of a terrific haul, the praise continues to roll in for the Pittsburgh Steelers regarding their 2023 NFL Draft class.
Not only did the Steelers land potential starters with seemingly every pick, at least according to Pro Football Focus, Pittsburgh landed two players on The Athletic’s “All-Draft Pick” team Monday.
In the “All-Draft Pick” team put together Monday by Nick Baumgardner and Diante Lee, the Steelers landed two players on the team.
Tight end Darnell Washington and defensive tackle Keeanu Benton earned spots on the “All-Draft Pick” team due to team fit and draft slot value.
“The medical concerns on Washington clearly resulted in a tumble, and Washington’s massive frame does bring added cause for worry. However, in what could turn out to be a generational tight end class, Washington is the most NFL-ready blocker, and I’m not sure it’s close,” Baumgardner and Lee write. “The Steelers are adding an offensive tackle who can run routes and catch. That’s what happened here. If Washington’s health holds, this is a slam dunk.”
Washington was a great pick for the Steelers, getting him at No. 93 overall in the draft after trading down from No. 80 overall with the Carolina Panthers.
Pittsburgh had clear interest in Washington, meeting with him at the NFL Scouting Combine and then bringing him in for a pre-draft visit a week before the draft. They ultimately landed the former Georgia star, pairing him with Pat Freiermuth in a rather strong tight end room that also has Zach Gentry and Connor Heyward.
Washington’s blocking ability is well-known, to the point where he’s been called “The Sixth Offensive Lineman.” He’s an absolute mauler in the run game and his presence is going to benefit the Steelers’ run blocking and lead to the team playing a lot more 12 personnel.
In the passing game, Washington is going to be an interesting target. At 6’7, he has a size advantage over pretty much anyone who would guard him, and his speed makes him intriguing as a vertical threat next to Freiermuth in Pittsburgh’s offense. He provides more upside as a blocker and as a receiver than Gentry, and it would be surprising if Washington wasn’t Pittsburgh’s No. 2 tight end on the depth chart by the start of the regular season.
His NFL pass-catching production will definitely surpass his collegiate production, even though Freiermuth is going to be Pittsburgh’s main weapon at the position. There are just so many things Washington does that make him so hard to guard, especially at his size, and in Pittsburgh’s scheme, which will be run-heavy and likely a 12-personnel heavy, Washington is a strong fit.
Then there’s Benton, who landed at defensive tackle on The Athletic’s list with Philadelphia’s Jalen Carter.
“…The Steelers have been looking for agile, versatile interior defenders to place around Cameron Heyward. Larry Ogunjobi was a smart addition last year, but bringing in young players who have some knowledge of the aggressive 3-4 defensive philosophy Pittsburgh runs was necessary,” Baumgardner and Lee write. “Benton was a key piece of stunts, twists and slants at Wisconsin, and his foot speed on the interior makes him an interesting piece of Pittsburgh’s pass-rushing stable. He has good hands, and his play reflects a high football IQ.
“He doesn’t have the most play strength, but it’s not a critical flaw, and his tools cover for him more often than not. Expect him to be more of a rotational player than starter early, and for him to succeed on obvious passing downs.”
Benton brings an intriguing package of strength and athleticism to the position for the Steelers. As defensive coordinator Teryl Austin stated following the selection of Benton, the Wisconsin product is much more polished as a run defender than a pass rusher, and that shows up on tape.
Benton comes in with a solid amount of college production, and his combination of size and traits fits perfectly in Pittsburgh. Alex Kozora was all over Benton to the Steelers back in January given that he checked pretty much every box the team looks for, and four months later Benton is a Steeler.
How well he develops as a pass rusher will be key for Benton to see more snaps than just when the Steelers are in their base defense with him at the nose tackle. With his size, traits and overall testing numbers, there’s no reason Benton shouldn’t be able to take that next step as a pass rusher and really develop an all-around game on the interior.
Coming out of a terrific draft, it isn’t much of a surprise that the Steelers landed two players on The Athletic’s “All-Draft Pick” team, especially two key picks in the trenches on both sides of the football. The hype is rather high for the draft class overall; now let’s see them deliver.