With the 2023 NFL Draft now in the rearview mirror, the attention now shifts to minicamps and OTAs across the NFL.
But there’s still time to look back on the draft class for all 32 teams, as they will be overanalyzed from now through training camp on into the 2023 season. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ draft class has been lauded after landing Georgia offensive tackle Broderick Jones on Day 1 following a trade up with the New England Patriots. The Steelers then added Penn State cornerback Joey Porter Jr., Wisconsin defensive tackle Keeanu Benton, Georgia tight end Darnell Washington, Wisconsin linebacker Nick Herbig, Purdue cornerback Cory Trice Jr., and Maryland offensive lineman Spencer Anderson to round out the draft.
Many pundits have called the Steelers’ draft one of the best — if not the best – in the league. So, where exactly does it stack up?
The Athletic put together a ranking of all 32 draft classes, and unsurprisingly the Steelers’ class landed inside the top 10. However, landing at No. 7 overall was a bit of a surprise as The Athletic’s Dane Brugler had the Steelers class behind the Philadelphia Eagles, Indianapolis Colts, Houston Texans, Seattle Seahawks, Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers.
Brugler called the selection of Washington, the 6-foot-7, 270-pound tight end out of Georgia, his favorite pick of the Steelers’ draft.
“You have to go back over a quarter-century to find the last time the Steelers used a first-round pick on an offensive tackle. It was overdue, and Broderick Jones should develop into a long-term starter. But I have to go with his Georgia teammate, who went 50-60 picks later than expected,” Brugler wrote regarding the selection of Washington. “Washington is one of the most unique players in the draft (which isn’t always a positive thing), but if he puts it all together, this pick will look like a steal.”
Washington was No. 30 overall in Brugler’s rankings entering the draft, but Pittsburgh was able to land him at No. 93 overall following a trade down with the Carolina Panthers in the third round. They picked up a fourth-round selection in the process after trading away their original fourth rounder to the Patriots in the move up to land Jones.
The Steelers met with Washington at Georgia’s Pro Day as well as at the NFL Combine. They also brought him in for a pre-draft visit, suggesting that the interest was alive and well. Rightfully so as the behemoth tight end identifies as “The Sixth Lineman” and decimates opposing defenders in the running game while having the size and athleticism to be a dangerous pass catcher as well.
Outside of the selection of Washington as Brugler’s favorite pick of the Steelers’ draft, the NFL Draft analyst highlighted Trice Jr. as his Day 3 pick that could surprise for Pittsburgh.
“The final player from my top-100 to be selected, Trice is a supersized cornerback with an elite athletic profile,” Brugler writes regarding the selection of Trice Jr. “He was hampered by injuries the past two seasons, but if healthy, he has starting traits with experience at both corner and safety. With their seven picks, the Steelers drafted six players that ranked in my top 100.”
Six players inside Brugler’s top 100 with seven picks overall is quite the impressive haul for the Steelers. Of course, those are just Brugler’s rankings and won’t match what’s inside the war room for the Black and Gold, but there’s no denying it was an impressive haul by GM Omar Khan in his first draft as the Steelers’ GM.
Trice Jr. was the icing on the cake.
He was a consensus top 100 prospect in the draft due to his great length and physicality. Medical concerns dropped him down the draft, which played right into the Steelers’ hands. Double-dipping at cornerback with Porter Jr. and Trice Jr., the Steelers clearly have a type they’re targeting at the position and getting that type of value in Trice Jr. was rather impressive.
We’ll see how the draft class develops over the next 1-2 years before fully coming to a conclusion about it, but on paper it looks like a rather remarkable haul. It might be a bit too low in Brugler’s rankings when all is said and done.