How many times have we seen it happen? There is a player that a certain team is aspiring to draft, but before they are on the clock, another team with the same positional need snags them before the other team is on the clock. Steelers fans may recall the 2016 draft, when everyone in their mother knew the Steelers had their eyes set on William Jackson III. Sure enough, the Bengals took him one pick ahead, and the Steelers ended up with Artie Burns, passing on higher-ranked prospects such as Mackensie Alexander and Xavien Howard.
What could happen this year? As we well know, nothing is off the table in the NFL Draft, but it is good to be aware of the other teams in your division and their respective team needs. Today, we are going to take a closer look at the team needs of the Steelers’ three division rivals and determine whether or not this could impact who the Steelers will draft.
Let’s start off with the Cincinnati Bengals. We do not yet know where the Bengals will be picking, but according to NFL.com’s Eric Edholm, their top three team needs are defensive back, offensive tackle, and tight end. Here is what Edholm had to say:
If impending unrestricted free agent Hayden Hurst walks this offseason, there will be a need for a three-down blocker and receiver at tight end to help balance the offense. Two other tight ends on the roster, Drew Sample and Mitchell Wilcox, also have expiring deals, and Devin Asiasi is entering a contract year in 2023.
Tight end is not one of the top needs for the Steelers, but defensive back and offensive tackle both are. Fortunately, the Steelers will be picking ahead of the Bengals, barring a trade-up. What gets tricky is if the Steelers pass on corner in the first round while Cincy takes one. I do not know when the run on corners will take place, but what I do know is that the Steelers do not want to be stuck with the leftovers in a corner class such as this one. It is a deep class, but if the Steelers want a corner that is relatively NFL-ready and not a project (ala Third-Degree Burns), they will likely need to use that first pick on one. The only exception might be Clark Phillips III from Utah, but he may be destined to the slot in the NFL.
How about the Ravens? Here is Edholm again:
Right now, it seems fair to assume impending free agent Lamar Jackson will be back in Baltimore in 2023. However, if the Ravens opt to use the franchise tag on Jackson, the team’s salary cap maneuvering will bear monitoring, since they might have to make cuts that will affect other positions. The situation makes the team’s needs difficult to project.
Although Baltimore will be picking behind the Steelers as well, they are also a cornerback-needy team. NFL.com lists corner, receiver, and edge rusher as the team’s biggest needs. I do not see them taking an edge rusher early after taking David Ojabo last year, but receiver is a position to watch in the middle rounds. The Steelers may need to add some depth to the receiving corps, and Baltimore has not forgotten the team that stole Calvin Austin III from them just one year ago. That could be an area where their plans could conflict with Pittsburgh’s.
Lastly, we check in with the Cleveland Browns, a team whose biggest needs are comprised of defensive line, receiver, and tight end. Here is more analysis from Edholm:
The defensive issues from earlier in the season haven’t been completely fixed, but the late-season improvement has been tangible. So, that side of the ball won’t be ignored this coming offseason, but the key focus should be surrounding Deshaun Watson with as much talent as possible. If the Browns want to become more of a 12 personnel (two tight end sets) team, they likely will need to consider a higher pick on another tight end.
While the Browns do not possess a first-round pick, they do have a common need with the Steelers: defensive line. The Browns were 25th in the league against the run this season, and adding some additional heft would be a welcome acquisition. The Browns do own a pick in Round 2 that is ahead of the Steelers’ second pick of the round, and if the Steelers do not take a defensive tackle with one of their first two picks, Cleveland may be a legitimate candidate to take one option off the Steelers’ draft board.
Which team needs catch your eye in the AFC North? Do you see another William Jackson/Artie Burns scenario happening in the 2023 NFL Draft? Be sure to share your thoughts on this and all things Pittsburgh Steelers in the comment section below!