The Pittsburgh Steelers shrewdly got a head start on their competition by just missing the cut to be a 2023 playoff participant, ensuring they would have the slightest of advantages in any offseason preparations. At least that is the rationale that I am trying to tell myself.
The Steelers haven't had to deal with the distractions that come with being a one-and-done competitor in the postseason tournament, which provides limited value for an obviously rebuilding franchise. As you can see, I am really trying to find a bright side to the Steelers missing out on the playoffs, but even I am not totally sure I am buying what I am trying to sell.
Seriously, I sincerely hope the Steelers have utilized the early start to their offseason to it's fullest, besides making the controversial decision to keep offensive coordinator Matt Canada on the payroll. That questionable decision brings me to the focal point of this article.
What if the Steelers resist the fantasy wishes of a good portion of the fan base and decide to pass on drafting USC WR Jordan Addison in the 2023 NFL Draft? I believe the decision to retain Canada suggests that the Steelers aren't targeting Addison in the upcoming NFL Draft.
First, the obsession with Addison is illogical. The only reason we are even having this discussion is because of the almost instantaneous success enjoyed by the Cincinnati Bengals talented tandem of Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase. Their lightning-in-a-bottle connection started under very different, and unique, circumstances.
The tandem was a one year collegiate sensation, where they helped lead the LSU Tigers to a dominating national championship season in 2020. Burrow was the first overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, and Chase was the fifth overall selection of the first round the following year. The only reason that the Bengals had the opportunity to select both superstars is because they had been one of the worst franchises in the league for an extended period of time.
The Bengals were presented a golden opportunity to capitalize on their own ineptitude, and to their credit, they didn't swing and miss. However, this is not the rebuilding model the Steelers should emulate, because the two franchises share precious little similarities.
The Bengals are better known as the Bungals for good reason. The franchise has never won a Lombardi Trophy, although they have made it to three Super Bowls, and promptly lost all of them, a couple in heartbreaking fashion no less. While it's true the Steelers haven't won a Super Bowl since 2008, they have been to 8 total, winning 6, and haven't endured a losing regular season record since 2003. The Steelers have no plans to hit rock bottom, much less lose often and long enough, to resemble the Bengals in anyway. Why would you want to pattern your rebuild after a franchise renowned for a losing culture anyway?
Second, the participants aren't created equally. Pickett shares some similarities with Burrow, but Burrow was a Heisman Trophy winner and the first overall pick in the draft for a reason. Then you have Ja’Marr Chase, who was widely considered the top receiver in his draft class. The same can't be said about Addison, whose stock dropped slightly after transferring from Pittsburgh, and without the special connection he shared with Pickett.
There is absolutely no guarantee their connection will translate to the NFL. Actually, I don't remember this amount of hype surrounding reuniting a superstar quarterback with his special collegiate connection until Burrow and Chase came along. Gambling on emulating a generational type QB/WR connection doesn't seem like the best business model to me.
Lastly, do the Steelers really need to spend their first round selection on a wide receiver when Matt Canada's offense does a poor job of spotlighting the position? Canada is a strong running game coordinator, but nowhere near as creative or effective as a passing game coordinator. The Steelers turned their 2022 season around by leaning heavily on Canada's run-heavy concepts, with a variety of personnel packages seeing the field.
That's where I believe that the Steelers should consider thinking outside the box in the 2023 draft. Depending on how the draft board falls, if a generational talent at a position of need presents itself, the Steelers need to pull the trigger. But what if the top offensive and defensive lineman the Steelers covet are already off the board? Same thing for the cornerbacks. Maybe the Steelers don't consider any of the inside linebacker prospects worthy of the 17th overall selection. What should the Steelers do in that scenario?
An example of the best player available mindset would be if Notre Dame TE Michael Mayer would happen to fall to pick 17. Mayer is currently considered the top tight end in this draft class, and I don't foresee that changing after the NFL Scouting Combine or schools’ Pro Days. I believe it would behoove the Steelers to consider drafting Mayer, even if Addison is still available. Especially in light of what Matt Canada and the Steelers want to do on offense.
The Steelers were very effective running the ball out of two tight end sets in 2022. Mayer could team with Pat Freiermuth to give the Steelers potentially the most dangerous tight end tandem in the league. Kenny Pickett would have multiple talented options available to exploit the middle of the field, especially off of play-action. Coupled with the resurgent rushing attack lead by Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren, Pickett should get plenty of man coverage looks on the outside for his receivers. Both Freiermuth and Mayer could easily and effectively slide into the slot if and when needed, allowing versatile H-back Connor Heyward to be moved around the formations. It’s not about how many receivers you have on the field, it’s about how many weapons you have on the field.
Michael Mayer would also be excellent insurance in case Freiermuth continues to struggle with concussion tendencies. Freiermuth is well on his way to becoming a type of security blanket for Kenny Pickett, something that the talented young signal caller definitely needs. Pickett can count on Freiermuth to be where he is supposed to be, catch the ball consistently, and fight for every blade of grass after making the reception. That's invaluable for Pickett's development, and his growth would be severely impacted if Freiermuth would be forced to miss an extended amount of action.
Every BTSC member already knows how badly I want the Steelers to strengthen both foundations this offseason, both in free agency and the draft; however, the Steelers have to maximize their draft capital at this stage of their rebuilding efforts. It's imperative the Steelers don't reach for a prospect at an area of need, but instead elevate their roster with the best player available that best fits their system and culture.