The Pittsburgh Steelers have a few different needs they could address with their first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
But NFL Network’s Daniel Jeremiah simplified Pittsburgh’s potential strategy with the No. 17 overall pick when speaking to the media on a conference call on February 24.
If Penn State cornerback Joey Porter Jr. is available, Jeremiah said the Steelers should definitely take him.
He argued the same for two other cornerbacks — Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez and Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon. If either of them are still on the board at No. 17, the Steelers should, without a doubt, draft them, says Jeremiah.
“I would love it for multiple reasons, but it would be fun if Porter were to get there,” Jeremiah said. “I don’t think he’ll fall that far. Gonzalez would probably be gone, as well. I’d be shocked if Witherspoon from Illinois were there.
“If any of those guys somehow manage to get down there, it’d be easy to run the card up for the Steelers.”
Jeremiah made the decision sound easy, but it would still be a nearly unprecedented one. The Steelers have drafted a cornerback in the first round just once over the last 25 years.
Porter Has Sentimental Value for Steelers
It’s obvious to Steelers fans why Jeremiah said it would be fun for Porter to land in Pittsburgh.
His father starred for the Steelers, recording 60.0 sacks and making first-team All-Pro once along with three Pro Bowls from 1999-2006. Porter was the emotional heartbeat of the Steelers defense that propelled the franchise to its fifth Super Bowl during the 2005 season. He then returned to the team as an assistant coach from 2014-18.
Seeing the Porter name back in black and gold will bring a smile to the faces of Steelers fans. But while Porter Jr. has sentimental value for Pittsburgh, he also fills a need.
How a Top NFL Draft Cornerback Fits With the Steelers
Porter has been a popular pick for the Steelers in mock drafts dating back to December. But so has other cornerbacks in the 2023 draft class.
Most recently, CBS Sports’ Tom Fornelli slotted Witherspoon to the Steelers at No. 17.
“I had the Steelers go with Joey Porter Jr. in my first mock, but I’m ditching the family reunion story this time,” Fornelli wrote. “Mostly because Witherspoon wasn’t available at this point of my last mock!
“He is here, and he’s Pittsburgh’s choice, as it needs help at corner, and Witherspoon plays with an edge that I can’t help but believe Mike Tomlin will fall in love with.”
In his first mock draft following the Super Bowl, ESPN’s Todd McShay projected Gonzalez to the Steelers at No. 17.
“If the Steelers can’t retain Cameron Sutton, then Gonzalez makes a lot of sense as a replacement,” McShay wrote. “He has 6-foot-2 size, good length, some serious wheels and high-end ball skills, as evidenced by four interceptions in 2022.
“And if Pittsburgh does re-sign Sutton or add another cornerback via free agency, Gonzalez has versatility to move around the secondary and line up over the slot.”
Even if the Steelers re-sign pending free agent Cameron Sutton, cornerback is arguably the biggest need on the team’s roster. While the Steelers have four veteran cornerbacks signed for the 2023 season, none of them played particularly well in 2022. One of them, William Jackson, didn’t play for the Steelers at all and could be a cap casualty.
With Sutton, the Steelers still finished just 20th in pass defense and allowed the second-most passing touchdowns in the NFL last season. Only the Minnesota Vikings, Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears yielded more passing yards per attempt than the Steelers during 2022.
Pittsburgh is in desperate need of replenishing cornerback with young talent.
The Steelers drafting a cornerback in the first round makes a lot of sense, but it would buck a trend. They haven’t selected one first-round cornerback in the past 25 drafts — Artie Burns in 2016.
Other Possible Picks for the Steelers at No. 17
As Jeremiah detailed, though, there’s a chance Porter, Witherspoon and Gonzalez will all be gone by the No. 17 selection. If that’s the case, Jeremiah argued the Steelers will turn their attention to the offensive line.
The NFL draft expert projected the Steelers to select Tennessee’s Darnell Wright at No. 17. He said Wright, along with other offensive line prospects to be targeted late in the first round, could start right away.
“If they end up waiting on tackle, I think Matthew Bergeron from Syracuse could be one that maybe they take at 32,” Jeremiah said. “There are some good interior options: Steve Avila from TCU, (Florida’s) O’Cyrus Torrence. I think those guys are just plug-and-play.
“You’re not going to win the press conference (or) the draft party with those two guys, but I think they’re just plug-and-play, solid starters immediately.”
In addition to the No. 17 pick, the Steelers hold the No. 32 choice, which is the first selection of the second round.