With every NFL offseason comes the opportunity for all 32 teams to improve their rosters through the NFL Draft. While many teams will be looking for players that fit their specific system or team needs, for a storied and successful franchise like the Pittsburgh Steelers, there are certain prospects that just seem to be fits stylistically. Toughness, physicality, and unwielding motor are hallmarks of football in the Steel Town, and their are several players in this draft that fit that “play like a Steeler.”
Let’s look at seven prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft I believe fit that description.
Devon Witherspoon, Cornerback
Illinois, 6’0”, 181 lbs.
Witherspoon is regularly described by scouts and evaluators as the most physical cornerback in this draft class. When you turn on the tape, it’s easy to see why. He’s not the biggest corner in the draft but he plays with a tenacity that just makes you think “Steeler”. In coverage, he’s sticky and physical, rarely giving receivers the space they need to run a clean route and get separation. He’s also an extremely willing tackler in run support on the edge, and he flows downhill well on screens, taking on blockers in space and often making sure open field tackles. He would be a welcome addition to Pittsburgh’s secondary.
Darnell Washington, Tight End
Georgia, 6’7”, 270 lbs.
The massive Bulldog’s tight end is as physical as they come as a blocker, often looking more like a 3rd offensive tackle on the field than a TE. He is happy to sit inline and just shove linebackers and defensive ends around to open up holes in the run game. That physicality extends to his skil as a receiver, where Washington effortlessly boxes out defenders on high-point catches and barrels over would be tacklers after the catch. Washington’s ceiling is sky high, much like the player himself, and he’s only going to get better as a pass-catcher. He could quickly become a favorite teammate of Najee Harris, Jaylen Warren, AND Kenny Pickett on offense.
Sydney Brown, Safety
Illinois, 5’10”, 211 lbs.
Sydney Brown might be the most “Steeler-like” player in the entire draft. He’s a literal missile in the open field, and you do not want to be in his sights if you’re a ball-carrier. Many talent evaluators, including my cohost on The Steelers Fix podcast, Andrew Wilbar, compare his gameplay to a Steelers great, Troy Polamalu. He flies to the football with a reckless abandon that just screams “Steelers football.” He’s also an enforcer in coverage, forcing receivers to make business decisions on crossing routes and targets over the middle of the field. Steelers Nation would fall in love with Brown quickly if he were drafted by the team.
Zacch Pickens, Defensive Tackle
South Carolina, 6’4”, 291 lbs.
As a Steelers fan, you can’t watch film of Pickens in college and not think, “Mike Tomlin would love this guy on his defense. Pickens is a prototypical Steelers defensive tackle prospect with great length and an unrelenting motor. From snap to whistle, Pickens gives 110% every play, no matter his assignement. As a run defender, he uses his length well to stack and shed blockers and make initial contact in the hole. You have to respect his tenacity as a pass rusher, and he has the skills to improve in that area at the next level. In all, he’s a true Steelers-type defender on the interior.
Dorian Williams, Linebacker
Tulane, 6’1”, 228 lbs.
Don’t let the fact that Williams didn’t play in the SEC fool you. This guy plays an aggressive, attacking style of football that fits what the Steelers like out of their off-ball ‘backers. He has real coverage chops, especially when asked to handle athletic tight ends in-line or split out. He’s not the biggest linebacker on the field, but he makes up for a lack of size with sheer will and motor, and can hunt down ball-carriers or pass-catchers sideline to sideline. The Steelers added some real thumpers in Free Agency this year, but look for them to add a real run-and-cover style Linebacker like Williams at some point in the NFL Draft.
Jalen Wayne, Wide Receiver
South Alabama, 6’2”, 210 lbs.
The Steelers love big slot receivers who can handle tough targets in the middle of the field and be chain movers on possession downs. Jalen Wayne is that type of pass-catcher. He’s a savvy route runner for his size, with really good footwork and feel for the route. After the catch, he’s got real “YAC” ability, using his length and size to pick up quick chunks of yardage and turn short throws into big gains. For a Steelers team likely looking to add that brand of play to their receiver room, Jalen Wayne fits the bill for Pittsburgh.
Jon Gaines II, Interior Offensive Line
UCLA, 6’4”, 300 lbs.
If you want to talk about a “Steelers guy” in this draft along the offfensive line, it’s Jon Gaines II. The versatile O-lineman can play Center or Guard at a starting level, and is one of the more athletic linemen in the entire draft. The Steelers absolutely love long, athletic dudes on the interior who can pull and run and get to the second level of the defense on running plays. Gaines is that type of player, and he brings experience at all 5 positions on the OL. His best might be center, where the Steelers could be looking for a guy to groom as current starter Mason Cole’s replacement as soon as 2024.
CB Joey Porter Jr. (Penn St.)
OL Cody Mauch (N. Dak. St.)
DT Gervon Dexter (Florida)
ED Byron Young (Tennessee)
I believe these seven players would be amazing fits in the Steelers locker room based on their skillsets and play-styles. Who are some prospects in this draft class that you think “play like a Steeler”? Anyone on my list that you disagree with? Let me know in the comment section below.
With the NFL Draft less only a few days away, be sure to check out The Steelers Fix podcast from The Steel Curtain Network with myself and Andrew Wilbar for all the latest Steelers draft news and notes. Check out the latest show below: