Scan the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ current depth chart, and their needs are abundantly clear: Safety, cornerback, offensive tackle.
The latter was a position most talked about the Steelers snagging in the 2023 NFL draft — that is, until free agency hit.
They spent three of their five outside free-agent signings on the offensive line with Isaac Seumalo, Nate Herbig and Le’Raven Clark. Per Dale Lolley at Steelers.com, Seumalo and Herbig have experience with all three interior positions, which could take them in any number of directions. Similarly, in 2022, the Steelers spent $72 million signing free agents Mason Cole (center) and James Daniels (guard), and signed tackle Chuks Okorafor to a new three-year deal.
Speaking for the first time since January, Mike Tomlin appeared to drop a hint at his team’s first-round draft plans at the NFL owners meetings sharing that he’s “comfortable” with the offensive line as it currently stands, including tackles Dan Moore Jr. and Okorafor.
“Happy is a dangerous word,” Tomlin said. “I’m comfortable.”
The only problem is Okorafor and Moore are arguably two of the worst offensive linemen in the league. Tomlin doesn’t seem fazed by it, though. In fact, quite the opposite.
“He is mature beyond his years,” Tomlin said about Moore via The Athletic. “He brings a professional approach. He has proven to be durable and available, which are big things. He works to eliminate mistakes and that speaks to continual improvement. I just like what he has done and it all stems from his mature and professional approach to business that allowed those things to transpire.”
The Steelers haven’t drafted a lineman in the first round since David DeCastro in 2012.
Top Offensive Tackles for Steelers in the 2023 NFL Draft
Mike Tomlin isn’t known for tipping his hand to plans but was relatively transparent in 2021 and 2022 about taking a running back and quarterback when they selected Najee Harris and Kenny Pickett.
Should he be putting up a smokescreen instead, and Tomlin’s Steelers have every intention of grabbing a tackle in the first round; the top consensus guys are Ohio State’s Paris Johnson Jr., Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski and Georgia’s Broderick Jones.
A March 27 mock by the love-to-be-hated analytics site Pro Football Focus has Pittsburgh taking tackle Jones at No. 17; a player repeatedly mocked to the Black and Gold this offseason.
“The run on tackles will be fascinating to watch in the first round,” Paris Johnson Jr., Broderick Jones or Peter Skoronski could be the first tackle off the board, and once that happens, expect the other two to go quickly. Here, the Steelers select Jones, who allowed just two sacks and 17 total quarterback pressures in his college career.”
Mike Tomlin Keeps Dropping Hints About Steelers
Another aspect of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ plans hinted at by Mike Tomlin was the potential to move newly-acquired cornerback Patrick Peterson to safety. It’s a shift that NFL insiders were alluding to after he was signed in free agency, and now sounds like is on the table for consideration.
Tomlin said his versatility and smarts lend Peterson to being interchangeable in the backfield, and the switch seems to be a foregone conclusion.
Moving the three-time All-Pro to strong safety alongside free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick makes all the sense in the world. Not only because Peterson is on the downside of his career, but the Steelers chose not to re-sign free agent Terrell Edmunds.
Should that scenario become reality, it bumps up cornerback ahead of left tackle as their top position of need. In addition to Edmunds, the Steelers also parted ways with corner Cameron Sutton who took a $33 million ($22 million guaranteed) contract to play with the burgeoning Detroit Lions.
In one of the deepest corner drafts in recent memory, PFF ranks their top three corners as Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon, Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez and Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr.
That’s what’s great about this time of year — you never really know what the Pittsburgh Steelers have up their sleeves. We’re 30 days from finding out as the 2023 NFL Draft begins Thursday, April 27, at 8 p.m.