Almost instantly, the Pittsburgh Steelers' 2023 draft was hailed by many as a slam dunk success. If you didn't know any better, you would think that the class the Steelers just assembled will one day rival Pittsburgh's fabled 1974 rookie class that yielded five future Hall of Fame players.
OK, it's safe to say that the Steelers' recent draft class won't rival the '74 class in terms of gold jackets worn and championships won. But they may very well add to the franchise's collection of Super Bowl hardware when it's all said and done.
A nine-win team the past two years, the Steelers appear to be poised for their first season of double-digit wins since 2020. Pittsburgh's rookie class, a group headlined by first-round pick Broderick Jones and second-round pick Joey Porter Jr., will surely play an integral role in a potential playoff run for the black and gold this season.
Now that the dust has settled, here's a closer look at what the Steelers didn't do in the 2023 NFL Draft, as well as the one thing GM Omar Khan and Co. definitely got right.
What Steelers didn't do
- No skill position players drafted
That's right. For the first time, the Steelers did not select a running back, a quarterback or a receiver during the draft. Pittsburgh did sign former Minnesota quarterback Tanner Morgan and former San Diego State running back/receiver/returner Jordan Byrd as undrafted free agents.
As Mike Tomlin noted during his post-draft presser, the team's recent acquisition of former Pro Bowler Allen Robinson made receiver less of a priority leading up to the draft. Allen is now part of a solid receiving trio that also includes former Pro Bowler Diontae Johnson and last year's rookie standout George Pickens. Byrd, who scored touchdowns at four different positions in college, will try to earn one of the last spots on the roster while competing against Calvin Austin III, Gunner Olszewski and Cody White, among others.
The Steelers' running game could have used some new blood via the draft. Injuries limited third stringer Anthony McFarland to just three games over the past two seasons. Master Teague, who recently re-signed with the Steelers, is also coming back from an injury that sidelined him for the entire 2022 season. Jason Huntley, the only running back currently on the roster, hasn't played in a regular season game in two years.
While the Steelers' depth at running back could be better, there's no reason to sweat about Pittsburgh's quarterback situation behind Kenny Pickett and Mitch Trubisky. As noted earlier, the Steelers picked up Morgan after the draft, and they will add a fourth quarterback to the mix sometime between now and the start of training camp. Elite quarterbacks may be hard to find, but backup quarterbacks are anything but.
What the Steelers definitely got right
- Addressed each of their biggest needs
Like a weekend shopper successfully checking off their grocery list, the Steelers' brass systematically checked off everything on their proverbial pre-draft wish list. Pittsburgh did so in succession, starting with offensive tackle when they traded up three spots to acquire Jones with the 14th overall pick.
Jones and the Steelers are a match made in football heaven. Tomlin acknowledged Jones' lack of starts at Georgia when he called him a "Diaper Dandy" shortly after drafting him. Jones' lack of experience in college was likely one of the reasons why he wasn't the first offensive tackle taken off the board. But in Pittsburgh, Jones doesn't have the pressure of starting right away. He will instead be asked to fill the team's current need at swing tackle while playing behind Dan Moore Jr. and Chukwuma Okorafor.
Not even the most optimistic mock draft had Porter still being available when Pittsburgh was on the clock with the 32nd overall pick. But to the surprise of pretty much everyone, Porter was still available after the 31st pick was submitted on Thursday night. The Steelers, after fielding calls for the 32nd pick, ultimately decided to take the hometown kidin Pittsburgh.
The addition of Porter also fills a void in Pittsburgh's defense that was left by Cam Sutton's offseason departure. Porter's arrival may open the door for Patrick Peterson to switch positions from cornerback to free safety. That will allow Minkah Fitzpatrick to move from free to strong safety.
With their next pick, the Steelers checked off the next item on their list: interior defensive line. They did so by taking Keeanu Benton, one of the top-ranked interior defensive lineman prospects in the draft. Benton was the first of two former Wisconsin Badgers defenders the Steelers selected in the draft. The second was outside linebacker Nick Herbig, the younger brother of Pittsburgh offensive lineman Nate Herbig.
Of all the Steelers picks, Herbig may be the one with the biggest upside. He had 20 sacks, 30 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles during his final two seasons in Madison. Like Jones, Herbig isn't tasked with being an immediate starter. Instead, he will be asked to provide quality depth behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith while also cutting his teeth on special teams.
Don't worry, we didn't forget about one of the other underrated picks of the Steelers' draft. Like Porter, not many people thought former Georgia tight end Darnell Washington would still be available late in the third round. But there he was, all 6-foot-7 and 265 pounds of him, when the Steelers were on the clock with the 93rd overall pick. Pittsburgh didn't hesitate and moved quickly to draft Washington, who embraces blocking the way offensive linemen embrace all you can eat buffets.
"I think the awesome thing about him besides his measurables is his mindset," Tomlin said of Washington, whose blocking helped Georgia average over 205 rushing yards per game last season. "Here's a guy that I think maybe has 'sixth offensive lineman' on his license plate. He embraces the things that come with being who he is, and knowledge of self and embracing that I think is one of the things that made him attractive, besides the unique physical traits and the things that he's been able to accomplish. The mindset, the willingness, too, is equally exciting."
Pittsburgh capped off the draft by adding more depth at cornerback and offensive line. In Cory Trice Jr., the Steelers acquired a big, physical defensive back who had a knack for making big plays during his time at Purdue. Their final pick, Spencer Anderson, thrived at Maryland while getting starts at guard, center and tackle over the past two seasons.
Time will ultimately determine whether or not the Steelers' 2023 draft was a success. But it certainly has the potential to be one of the better ones for a franchise that has a slew of notable drafts over the past 50-plus years.