The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2023 NFL Draft class almost unanimously drew praise, and some of the most effusive fans have been the good people at Pro Football Focus. That is what makes their latest power rankings published this morning such a head-scratcher.
You see, they ranked the Steelers 17th in the league. That’s not the odd part. The odd part is that they were ranked 16th before the draft. And to be clear, their pre-draft power rankings were from April 24, just days before the draft. So they had one of the best drafts in the league and yet somehow got worse relative to the rest of the teams. PFF even labeled the Steelers one of the most improved teams. How did that happen?
Well, that’s a credit to the New York Jets and the Cleveland Browns vaulting up their board. Both were ranked behind the Steelers in their pre-draft rankings. The Jets in particular went from 17 to 6, though that wasn’t thanks to the draft but rather due to the trade for quarterback Aaron Rodgers and all of the former Green Bay Packers they’ve signed.
The Browns’ rise from 21 to 9 is somewhat less convincing, especially considering they had no draft picks in the first two rounds, but the argument for them rests on the moves they made on defense, adding safety Juan Thornhill and defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson. They were also fans of the drafting of Siaki Ika. Be that as it may, here is what the outlet says for Pittsburgh, from Amelia Probst and Arjun Menon:
Both Broderick Jones and Joey Porter Jr. should be immediate impact players, but Jones will likely have the biggest impact out of the gate given the development curves from college to the NFL for cornerbacks. Jones also replaces Dan Moore Jr. at left tackle, which should be an upgrade and continue to help Kenny Pickett develop at quarterback. Georgia tight end Darnell Washington, who Pittsburgh selected in Round 3, can effectively be used as an extra blocker and creates a dynamic tandem with Pat Freiermuth.
Wisconsin interior defender Keeanu Benton will be a great rotational piece behind Cam Heyward and Larry Ogunjobi, with the ability to clog the middle against the run and also offer some pass-rush juice from various alignments.
And yet there are 16 teams better than them, apparently, with all of their divisional rivals ranked in the top 10. The Cincinnati Bengals check in at four with the Browns at nine, and the Baltimore Ravens sit at the 10th spot. Baltimore did heavily address the wide receiver position this offseason in addition to re-signing Lamar Jackson.
I do get a bit of a chuckle, however, over how disparate the praise for the Steelers draft now seems in comparison to the power rankings that have been coming out since then. It’s like when you hit a home run when you’re losing by six.
Fortunately, power rankings only matter on paper, not the football field. There are many variables that you can’t account for from season to season to really determine how much better a team is going to be.