Could this year’s draft class be Pittsburgh’s best in ages?

Over the years, the Pittsburgh Steelers have held a standard of excellence. Whether it’s not having a losing season in the National Football League since 2003, having only three head coaches in the last 53 years, or not having a top five pick in the NFL Draft since Terry Bradshaw way back in 1970, year-in and year-out the Steelers pave the way for the rest of professional football.

Heading into the 2023 offseason, there was a buzz about how new General Manager Omar Khan would handle the operations of the team, taking over for retired GM Kevin Colbert at the conclusion of the 2022 NFL Draft.

There were also thoughts about Khan’s assistant general manager, Andy Wiedl, and how the scouting department may operate with the departure of long-time head Brandon Hunt. It appears, on paper, that the Steelers are not only operating with business as usual, but may be trending towards improving their status quo.

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At the core of the Steelers’ drafting success lies an unwavering commitment to scouting. The Steelers have excelled in maintaining a competitive edge through their “Next Man Up” mentality. By drafting and developing depth across all positions.

While talent is undoubtedly crucial like in the experience to win casino cash, the organization places equal importance on selecting players with strong work ethics, discipline, and team-first mentalities. This commitment to character has not only cultivated a positive team culture but has also contributed to the franchise’s sustained success.

These principles are were showcased in this year’s draft, as Khan and his front office operated the three-day event with precision.

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It started with the Steelers moving up three spots in the first round to select a player at what was considered their greatest position of need, taking Georgia OT Broderick Jones with the 14th overall pick. Jones, considered to be one of the top tackles available, was heavily rumored to be a target of the New York Jets, who were on the clock at pick 15.

Khan swapped picks in a trade with the New England Patriots, with the speculation the latter did so to screw their own division opponent.

However, the Steelers general manager still had multiple picks remaining in the top end of the draft, sticking with the family link of a Steelers legend when he shook off trade offers to select Penn State CB Joey Porter Jr. with pick 32: a pick which was earlier acquired midseason in exchange for WR Chase Claypool.

Wisconsin DT Keeanu Benton remained on the board at pick 49, with Georgia TE Darnell Washington, Wisconsin OLB Nick Herbig, Purdue CB Cory Trice, and Maryland OG Spencer Anderson rounding out the rest of the selections.

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It may be quick to judge, but the haul appears to have netted the Steelers a franchise left tackle in Jones, who had one of the preseason’s best pass-block ratings. Porter impressed throughout camp and in the preseason, snagging an interception created by his physicality at the line of scrimmage.

Pro Football Focus graded Benton as the highest rookie defensive tackle against the run. Washington played so well, including his run blocking, that the Steelers released Zach Gentry during the end of the preseason cutdowns.

One of the bigger finds by Khan may be Herbig, who was pegged as being too small to play as an edge rusher, yet managed to generate 3.5 sacks on only 40 total plays this preseason.

Anderson made former starters Kevin Dotson and Kendrick Green both expendable. Khan was able to trade each of the latter two for future picks. And if it wasn’t for Cory Trice’s season-ending injury he sustained during training camp, he too would’ve likely made the final 53-man roster like his peers.

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This makes the entire 2023 Steelers draft class one of the most promising groups the organization has had in years, surpassing even that of the 2022 class featuring Kenny Pickett, George Pickens, DeMarvin Leal, Calvin Austin, Connor Heyward, and Mark Robinson. (Though this is a fine young group with lots of potential too.)

In fact, you have to go back several years to find a more star-studded lineup of potential players. The Steelers 2017 class featured T.J. Watt, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Cameron Sutton, James Conner and Joshua Dobbs. However, only Watt remains with the team, while Sutton was the only player other than Watt to receive a second, long-term contract.

The 2014 class also featured multiple starters with Ryan Shazier, Stephon Tuitt, and Martavis Bryant, though an eventual case could be made for the 2023 class as their story is told. Several other classes could join into the discussion, but right now, the Steelers could potentially have at least four or more major contributors come out of this class, which could only be seen recently with these two groups.

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It stands to reason that the Steelers’ approach remains a beacon of consistency and excellence. Other franchises aspire to replicate their success by incorporating similar principles into their own drafting processes.

In an era where short-term gains often overshadow long-term vision, the Pittsburgh Steelers stand as a testament to the enduring value of a well-crafted drafting strategy. Their dedication to scouting, character assessment, depth-building, and balancing immediate impact with future potential has set them apart – and it appears that Omar Khan and his staff are prepared to carry on the tradition those set before him.

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