The 2023 NFL draft has concluded and if you read the grades and reviews of the Pittsburgh Steelers selections, nearly all conclude this was a grand slam for the Black and Gold. This might rival past Steelers drafts for the best ever, excluding the 1974 draft which was historic for Pittsburgh.
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Heading into the draft the Steelers had several areas in need of improvement. Most important was getting quarterback Kenny Pickett some protection up front. Pittsburgh nailed that need with their first pick in the opening round by drafting Broderick Jones from the defending national champion Georgia Bulldogs.
What the Steelers get in Jones is one of the highest-rated offensive linemen in this year’s draft. At 6’5” and 311 pounds the 14th overall pick in the draft brings to the Steelers an overall Next Gen Stats score of 85 which was second-best among available offensive tackles in this year’s draft.
Broderick Jones is a beast plain and simple. He might end up being a throwback to the Steelers’ offensive linemen of old. Big, nasty, and aggressive. Jones is very athletic as you will see in his highlight video often pancaking opponents. He should be a starter in his rookie season.
Steelers Nation is going to love the second pick of the draft, especially for those who remember Joey Porter. That’s because his son Joey Porter Jr. is following in his father’s footsteps and is now a Pittsburgh Steeler and former Penn State Nittany Lion. The only difference is Joey Senior played linebacker but Junior plays cornerback. That’s good news for Mike Tomlin as he tries to bolster a rather weak secondary at the cornerback position. Coming to the Steelers from Penn State, he stays in Pennsylvania and will push for a starting role in his rookie season.
The other five draft picks are as follows and in draft order:
Round 2, 49th pick overall-Keeanu Benton, defensive line, University of Wisconsin. There’s no harm in bolstering your defensive line and with Benton the Steelers get a stout lineman who weighs in at 309 pounds and was ranked 6th best at his position in this year’s draft. A former amateur wrestler, last season at the University of Wisconsin he made 35 stops 10 of which came for a loss, and also sacked opposing quarterbacks 4 ½ times with two passes broken up all while starting 12 games. Count on Benton to see much playing time in 2023.
Round 3, 93rd pick overall-Darnell Washington, tight end, University of Georgia. Washington joins first-round pick Broderick Jones coming out of Georgia so the two will remain teammates. With Washington, the Steelers get a massive tight end to complement Pat Freiermuth. Pittsburgh’s incumbent tight end has shown great hands in his NFL career thus far but Washington brings excellent blocking abilities. Darnell Washington is a mountain at 6 feet 7 inches and 264 pounds. Among tight ends in the 2023 draft class, Next Gen Stats ranks him second best. Washington is strong with 21 reps on the bench press at the combines and runs a 4.64 40. Behind Freiermuth are Zach Gentry, Rodney Willims, and now Washington who will push the others as the backup and run-blocking tight end this forthcoming season.
Round 4, 132nd pick overall-Nick Herbig, linebacker. Some experts are calling this pick the steal of the draft. My first impression of Herbig was that his face reminds me a bit of former Steelers linebacker Chad Brown. Like Brown and current Steelers linebacker Alex Highsmith, Nick Herbig comes to the NFL with a big motor. While not among the top linebackers in the draft, he did push the 225 pounds on the bench press up 25 times at the combines. Herbig comes out of Hawaii where he grew up and then played his college ball at Wisconsin. As Jones and Washington mentioned before, Herbig joins Keeanu Benton to remain, teammates, as they were at Wisconsin. Herbig opted out of staying with the Badgers for his senior year after making the Associated Press’s All-American team as a third teamer and also earning the First Team All-Conference. For the season in 2022, he made 47 tackles, 15 ½ for a loss but the big number was sacks which he had 11. Pittsburgh has always had a strong linebacking corps and Herbig may just be the next Jack Ham given his athleticism and football smarts.
Round 7, 241st pick overall. Cory Trice, Jr., defensive back, Purdue. Cornerback was a definite need for the Steelers heading into this draft and by signing veteran Patrick Peterson and drafting Joey Porter Jr., they’ve already strengthened that area. It never hurts to add more depth. Trice might be a reach to even make the team but he will get the opportunity to show his stuff this summer at St. Vincent’s College during Steelers training camp in Latrobe.
Round 7, 251st pick overall. Spencer Anderson, Maryland, offensive lineman. Pittsburgh’s version of their “Mr. Irrelevant,” the last man in their draft is Anderson who will provide depth and competition among the Steelers offensive line. His final two seasons with the Terrapins showed consistency and durability. In 2021 Anderson was an honorable All-Big Ten Conference selection where he was a starter in each of the team’s 13 games. Nine of those were at right tackle. Last season he started in all 13 games all but one at right guard. In the other game, he moved to Right Tackle. He is a long shot to make the team and if he does make the cut it will most likely be on the practice squad.
As all drafts go, sometimes it takes several years to see any impact. But this year’s Pittsburgh Steelers draft class has the potential for immediate impact. In 2022 Mike Tomlin’s 15-year streak of winning seasons was in jeopardy and after a 3-7 start to the season, it appeared that the Steelers would have their first losing season since Tomlin took over in 2007. But the team rallied behind their coach to win six of their last seven games including their final four and finish 9-8 preserving Tomlin’s streak. That record also kept them out of the basement in the AFC North where Cleveland finished last at 7-10.
With this draft class and the growth of quarterback Kenny Pickett as well as one of his main targets George Pickins gaining experience, expect the Pittsburgh Steelers to come back strong in the 2023 season and be a playoff contender.