Steelers Projected to Land National Champion in Unconventional 2023 Move

Mike Tomlin

Getty One mock draft predicts the Pittsburgh Steelers and head coach Mike Tomlin to address a position they normally wait to target in the 2023 NFL Draft.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have improved up front on offense this season. But Sports Illustrated‘s Kevin Hanson still predicted the Steelers to address the offensive line this offseason with an unusual draft move for the franchise.

In his latest mock draft released on December 29, Hanson predicted the Steelers to select Georgia offensive tackle Broderick Jones.

“It’s been a decade since the Steelers last drafted an offensive lineman in the first round (David DeCastro, 2012),” Hanson wrote. “Jones made his first four starts to end the ’21 season and was named first-team All-SEC in his first season as a full-time starter in ’22. He has the nimble feet to stay in front of pass rushers and get to the second level as a run blocker.

“The former five-star recruit’s combination of length and movement skills provides the Steelers with a long-term upgrade at left tackle.”

Jones, who was teammates with Pittsburgh rookie wide receiver George Pickens for two seasons, won the National Championship with Georgia in 2021. Jones and the Bulldogs still have the opportunity to repeat as champions this season as well.

How Jones Would Fill a Need for Steelers

The redshirt sophomore started the final four regular season games at left tackle for Georgia in 2021. This season, he has returned as one of the team’s stalwarts up front, starting every game at left tackle for the undefeated Bulldogs.

In the 2023 class, Jones figures to be one of the best available offensive tackles. The most recent ESPN and PFF draft rankings have Jones rated as the No. 3 offensive tackle in the 2023 draft while Bleacher Report ranked Jones as No. 5 at offensive tackle.

The ESPN rankings have Jones slotted as the No. 21 overall player.

Entering Week 17, the Steelers hold the No. 16 overall pick. Most analysts would probably consider Pittsburgh’s current draft position a little bit too early to draft Jones.

However, the Steelers’ first-round pick has been trending downward on the board recently, as the team has won five of its last seven games. There are two more weeks remaining in the season for NFL teams to jockey for playoff (and draft) positioning as well.

There’s also four months for Jones to improve his draft stock. Still, as of right now, regardless of Pittsburgh’s draft position, the Steelers adding Jones would be an upgrade for the team’s offensive line.

The Steelers drafted Maurice Pouncey and David DeCastro in the first round of the 2010 and 2012 NFL Drafts, respectively. But Pittsburgh hasn’t picked a lineman before the third round since then.

Steelers Improving Offensive Line

Pittsburgh’s offensive line didn’t have many places to go but up after Pro Football Focus rated the Steelers line one of the worst seven in the NFL during 2021.

The improvement has been marginal but gradual for the Steelers offensive line in 2022.

PFF has the unit ranked 13th in pass protection this season. The Steelers are also ranked just 26th in run blocking, but Pittsburgh’s running game has gotten better over time this year. The Steelers have averaged 139.5 rushing yards over the last eight games after posting only 87.9 rushing yards per contest in the first seven weeks this year.

Continuity has been a big reason for the Steelers’ improvement up front. Pittsburgh has started the same five players along its offensive line in all 15 games this season.

Behind those five starters, though, the Steelers largely lack depth along their offensive line. That just hasn’t shown this year because of the health of the team’s starters up front.

Pittsburgh can’t count on being as fortunate with injuries on the offensive line next year, so adding depth up front is essential for the Steelers this offseason. Whether or not that’s in the first round may depend on who else the team has on its big board.

Entering Week 17, the Steelers possess 3 Top 50 selections in the 2023 NFL Draft. It would be surprising if one of those picks isn’t an offensive lineman.

If the Steelers elect to end their drought of drafting offensive linemen in the first round, Jones appears to be a solid choice to compete with Dan Moore as a potential long-term starter at left tackle.

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