For the first time in more than 30 years, the Pittsburgh Steelers selected a Pitt player in the first round of the NFL draft last April.
But in the latest 2023 NFL mock draft from The Athletic, the Steelers made it Pitt players in the first round two consecutive years.
The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly predicted the Steelers to choose Pitt defensive lineman Calijah Kancey in the first round of the 2023 NFL draft.
“The Steelers let neighbor Aaron Donald slip through their fingers in the 2014 draft,” Kaboly wrote. “They won’t make that mistake twice.”
Kancey beat Donald’s 40-yard dash time at the NFL combine, running the sprint in 4.67 seconds. That’s the fastest 40-yard dash time ever recorded by a defensive lineman since the combine’s timing standardized in 2003.
Donald ran the drill in 4.68 seconds at the 2014 NFL combine.
Before drafting quarterback Kenny Pickett in 2022, the last time the Steelers selected a Pitt player in the first round was guard Tom Ricketts in 1989.
How Kancey Fits With the Steelers
The Steelers have been very active in NFL free agency. The team has added key veterans at cornerback, linebacker and along the offensive line.
But outside of re-signing Larry Ogunjobi, the defensive line has remained unaddressed.
The Steelers could badly use an influx of young talent in the unit. Pittsburgh doesn’t have a single defensive lineman younger than 28 who has at least 500 NFL career snaps on the roster.
Kaboly argued that adding Kancey, who has a similar skillset to Donald and has seen his draft stock rise since the NFL combine, would give the Steelers the young, talented defensive linemen they badly covet.
“Though Kancey has a long way to go to come close to matching Donald’s career, the similarities are eerie — same college, same style, same athleticism and same size,” Kaboly wrote. “Kancey shot up the draft board after running a 4.67-second 40-yard dash at the combine.
“He’s undersized for what the Steelers look for in a defensive tackle, but everything is out the window with the new front-office regime of GM Omar Khan and assistant GM Andy Weidl. With Cameron Heyward turning 34 in May, it makes total sense.”
Kancey posted 31 total tackles, including 14.5 for loss and 7.5 sacks as a junior at Pitt in 2022. Over his entire career, he had 91 total tackles, including 34.5 for loss and 16 sacks, along with 3 pass defenses and 1 forced fumble.
Steelers History of Choosing Pitt Players
One could argue that perhaps history played a part in the Steelers selecting Pickett last season.
In 1983, the Steelers passed on Pitt quarterback Dan Marino, who went on to become a Hall of Fame signal caller for the Miami Dolphins. Instead of Marino in the first round, the Steelers picked nose tackle Gabe Rivera, who was paralyzed in a car accident during his rookie season.
In 2014, Donald went to the then St. Louis Rams two selections before the Steelers drafted linebacker Ryan Shazier.
Like with Pickett, Kaboly argued that the Steelers won’t let another Pitt star who could immediately fill a need leave western Pennsylvania.
Drafting a Pitt player in the first round a second consecutive season, though, would certainly buck a trend. Other than Pickett and Ricketts, the only other Pitt player the Steelers have selected in the first round during their history was defensive back Paul Martha in 1964.