For the first time in 23 years, the Pittsburgh Steelers will have someone other than Kevin Colbert running the show during the draft. Omar Khan, a longtime Colbert assistant, is surely hoping to acquire players in this year's draft who can help add to the franchise's expansive trophy case.
Khan's fingerprints can already be seen on the Steelers' upcoming draft. He was able to acquire the 32nd overall pick from Chicago in exchange for Chase Claypool before last year's deadline. This week, he swapped seventh-round picks with the Rams former Pro Bowl receiver Allen Robinson. The addition of Robinson not only gives the Steelers a veteran wideout, it eliminates the need to select a receiver during the early stages of the draft.
Khan and assistant GM Andy Weidl did a solid job filling most of the team's biggest needs during free agency. They specifically tackled interior offensive line, inside linebacker and the secondary with the signing of eight-time Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson. With those areas of the roster solidified, the Steelers will use the draft (and subsequent undrafted rookie free agency period) to fill out the rest of their roster.
With the start of the draft just days away, here's how the Steelers can pull off the perfect 2023 NFL Draft, starting with the No. 17 overall pick.
Steelers 2023 draft picks
Round 1, No. 17 overall
Round 2, No. 32 overall (from CHI)
Round 2, No. 49 overall
Round 3, No. 80 overall
Round 4, No. 120 overall
Round 7, No. 241 overall (from MINN)
Round 7, No. 251 overall (from LAR)
Draft the best available OT
There's a very good chance that the Steelers draft an offensive lineman in the first round for the first time since selecting future six-time Pro Bowler David DeCastro with the 24th overall pick in the 2012 draft. Look for the Steelers to use their first-round pick to select one of the top offensive tackles in the draft.
There are currently four offensive tackles expected to be taken within the first 20 picks of the draft. Ohio State's Paris Johnson Jr. and Tennessee's Darnell Wright are slated to be top 10 picks, while Northwestern's Peter Skoronski and Georgia's Broderick Jones are expected to be selected around the time the Steelers are on the clock with the No. 17 overall pick.
If offensive tackle is the play, it would be a gamble for the Steelers if they choose to stay where they currently are in the first round. That's why it should come as no surprise if the Steelers decide to trade up in order to make sure that they acquire a tackle. The Bears, who currently own the No. 9 overall pick, could be a potential trade partner for Pittsburgh. A possible trade with the Bears could include Chicago's No. 9 and No. 61 picks in exchange for Pittsburgh's No. 17 and No. 49 overall picks.
This would likely give the Steelers the chance to take one of the draft's top two offensive tackle prospects in Johnson and Wright. Both players would help solidify an offensive line that has undergone a significant transformation in recent years. Johnson excelled in Columbus last season after making the move from right to left tackle. Wright was a four-year starter at Tennessee that included time at both tackle spots.
Use second and third picks on IDL and CB
Outside of offensive tackle, these are the two areas the Steelers most need to address during the draft. Pittsburgh needs a young stud to flank Larry Ogunjobi and Cameron Heyward on the defensive line. The Steelers also need to beef up a secondary that lost starters Terrell Edmunds and Cam Sutton during free agency.
Calijah Kancey and Joey Porter Jr., two players with Pittsburgh roots, are surely on the Steelers' radar. Kancey excelled as a run-stuffer as well as a pass rusher during his time at Pitt. Porter, the son of former Steelers standout OLB Joey Porter, is one of the top-ranked cornerback prospects in the draft. Brian Branch, Alabama's versatile defensive back, would also be a smart first-round pick for the black and gold.
There's a good chance that all three players will be available when the Steelers are on the clock with the 17th pick. There's a slight chance, however, that any of them will still be available when Pittsburgh is back on the clock with the 32nd pick. That may compel them to trade back into the first round unless the Steelers decide to acquire other players at that position.
Other possible Day 2 options at cornerback include Maryland's Deontae Banks and Jakorian Bennett, Georgia's Kelee Ringo and Alabama's Eli Ricks. Day 2 options at IDL include Northwestern's Adetomiwa Adebawore, Michigan's Mazi Smith and Florida's Gervon Dexter Sr.
Reinforcement for Watt and Highsmith
For the last two years, the Steelers were largely unsuccessful in their attempts to find an adequate backup pass rusher behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith. After previously going the free agent route, expect the Steelers to select an edge rusher once their more pressing needs have been filled, likely at the end of Day 2 or the start of Day 3.
An ideal pick here would be Notre Dame's Isaiah Foskey, who left South Bend as the program's all-time career sack leader. He had 20.5 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss during his final two years with the Irish while helping the blue and gold win 20 games over that span.
Along with his pass rushing prowess, Foskey was hailed for his leadership ability during his time with the Irish. He is also an accomplished special teams player, a valuable asset for any backup.
One edge rusher likely won't be enough, however. Expect the Steelers to use multiple picks to help bolster a pass rush that has been one of the league's best over the past half-decade. A late Day 3 option could be Mississippi State's Tyrus Wheat, who racked up 17 sacks in 31 games for the Bulldogs.