Over the last two seasons the Pittsburgh Steelers have leaned heavily into rebuilding the trenches on both sides of the football.
In free agency, that’s included the additions of offensive linemen Mason Cole, James Daniels, Isaac Seumalo and Nate Herbig, as well as guys like Larry Ogunjobi, Armon Watts, and Breiden Fehoko defensively. That work has continued in the draft as the Steelers have added players like offensive lineman Broderick Jones and defensive lineman Keeanu Benton from the collegiate level.
There’s very clearly an emphasis from the Steelers to rebuild their lines and play a certain way.
That emphasis could continue, at least according to The Athletic’s Dane Brugler, who dropped his way-to-early 2024 NFL Mock Draft Tuesday. In the mock, he has the Steelers picking inside the top 10 (based on Vegas odds to win the Super Bowl) and landing LSU defensive tackle Maason Smith.
“LSU had high expectations for Smith last season until he suffered a knee injury in the season opener while celebrating a play. If Smith returns to full health this season, he will regain his first-round trajectory,” Brugler writes regarding the selection of Smith at No. 10 for the Steelers.
Smith checks in at 6-foot-6, 310 pounds and was the top defensive line prospect in the country coming out of Terrebonne High School in Louisiana in 2021. Smith earned Freshman All-American honors after appearing in nine LSU games with four starts in 2021. His first career start came against McNeese State at Tiger Stadium as a freshman, and he dominated, recording six tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss and 3.0 sacks. He finished his freshman season with 19 tackles, 5 tackles for loss and 4.0 sacks.
Smith was expected to break out for the Tigers in 2022 under first-year head coach Brian Kelly, but disaster struck for Smith in the first quarter of the season opener against Florida State.
While celebrating a play made behind the line of scrimmage against the Seminoles, Smith jumped up in the air and came down awkwardly on his left knee. He suffered a torn ACL in the process, ending his 2022 campaign.
Despite the injury, Smith remained around the team all season long while redshirting and reportedly took on a mentorship role along the defensive line for the Tigers.
Brugler is going out on a limb projecting Smith as a top-10 pick after just 10 career games (five starts) in college. But the imposing defensive lineman is in for a big year in 2023, assuming he’s back to full health. Should he be able to build off of his strong freshman season, Smith’s size and pedigree should have him high on draft boards during the 2024 NFL Draft cycle.