It’s time: Defensive linemen the Steelers should focus on in this year’s draft

With the 2023 NFL Draft less than a week away, fans are wondering who the Steelers are going to select with their picks – what players do they have targeted at certain position to make this guess?

I will approach this draft with the idea that the Steelers are a team trending upward. Having said that does not mean the Steelers can always use the “best player available” card for every pick. That is a luxury not many teams can afford to apply these days.

You may or may not know what positions are necessary to be filled this year. In my opinion, of course, I break down the needs versus wants into a few categories:

  • Absolutely must have: Cornerback, Defensive Line, Inside Linebacker
  • Sure, would be nice to have: Tight End, Safety, Offensive Line

What area under the “must have” is the most important to the Steelers to get into the playoffs and the Super Bowl? I can make an argument for all three.

In my last column I felt the Steelers should double-down on cornerbacks. And I still believe that. 

I feel inside linebacker isn’t a higher priority as the Steelers signed two free agents this offseason, though they can get one in the draft too. Who knows, maybe they will find another “gem” in the undrafted free agents, like they did finding a running back last year with Jaylen Warren. (I still have great hope that second-year LB Mark Robinson will continue to progress into a starter too.)

However, this draft is very deep with cornerbacks and rather shallow in defensive line talent. Cam Heyward is still a great player, but he will not play forever. Even with him in the lineup there is no way the Steelers can roll six quality defensive lineman in and out of the game. 

Whether you like it or not it’s time to put some high draft picks into this area of the defense. Below, by draft rounds I will provide my opinion on several different defensive lineman.

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First to Second Round Picks

Calijah Kancey, Pittsburgh – 6’1″ 281 lbs.

If he is still available at 17, I could see the Steelers going back to the Pittsburgh well again. I have watched a lot of film on YouTube and Kancey holds.

He is extremely slippery and has a good get off. He will need to get stronger to anchor better against the bigger offensive lineman, but he can get into the backfield and stop the backs for a loss or sack the quarterback.

Mazi Smith, Michigan – 6’3″ and 335 lbs.

Mike Tomlin and other members of the Steelers staff were at the Michigan Pro day. Michigan has a lot of talent but I suspect that they were really giving Mazi Smith a look-see.

He can anchor his position well. He has a positive get off. And he is one of the best players at shedding blocks.

Tomlin doesn’t go to workouts just because he has nothing better to do. He went there for a specific reason, and I think Smith is the reason. He is only 21 and he is trending up. I really like Mazi and I think he can be an excellent pro. 

Keeanu Benton, Wisconsin – 6’4″ 309 lbs.

I really like this kid. He does remind me of Stephon Tuitt, and that is high praise. He works hard and can anchor the defensive line like Mazi Smith can. 

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Second to Third Rounds Picks

Siaki Ika, Baylor University – 6’4″ 358 lbs.

Space-eater. Great against the run.

Kobie Turner, Wake Forest- 6’2″ 288 lbs.

Great motor. A little small but plays to the whistle.

Zacch Pickens, South Carolina – 6’4″ 291 lbs.

Bull Rush. He is very strong, but he has no other moves than trying to run over the offensive lineman.

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Later Rounds

Gervon Dexter, Florida – 6’6″ 310 lbs.

He is a hit or miss prospect, but you have to like the height and weight. He is big enough to anchor the middle and bat down some balls. 

Adetomiwa Adebawore, Northwestern, 6’1″ 282 lbs.

A tweener. But like a lot of the players on this list, he has a motor and can put on weight. 

Bryan Bresee, Clemson – 6’5″ 298 lbs.

I hear a lot of talk about Bresee, but I don’t get it. I watched a lot of his tape and if he is anything, he is inconsistent. He misses tackles and gets injured a lot. 

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And my first round pick is…

If the Steelers select a defensive lineman in the first round, I do hope it’s Mazi Smith. I think he has great potential and could replace Heyward on the line when the latter retires.


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