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Looking at the Pittsburgh Steelers three biggest defensive needs prior to the draft

When should the Steelers draft a cornerback, defensive lineman, and inside linebacker in the 2023 NFL Draft?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 10 Missouri at Kansas State

With each Big Board article this spring, the BTSC crew has been publishing a second article complementary to that respective portion of the board. This week, we’ll be doing something slightly different. With the draft right around the corner, we’ll be combining the analysis for whether or not (or more realistically, when) the Steelers should draft a cornerback, defensive lineman, and inside linebacker this draft.

If you have thoughts as to how the Steelers should go about addressing their three biggest defensive needs this draft, let us know in the comment section below. Let’s see what our resident draft analysts have to say.


Ryland B.: Cornerback is absolutely the Steelers’ biggest draft need this offseason, but that doesn’t mean the position has to be their first round pick. I’m a firm believer in not locking into picking certain positions at specific picks. To further that line of thinking, this is one of the deepest corner classes in recent memory, meaning the Steelers could still draft a corner with some above-average starting potential as late as round 3. That being said, I still think Pittsburgh should target the position with their first round pick or one of their second round picks (the earlier the better). If one of Christian Gonzalez, Devon Witherspoon, or Joey Porter Jr. are there at pick 17, they’d be hard to pass up on unless a premier OT prospect is available. If not though, some other names I like in the late 1st/early 2nd round range include Julius Brents and Deonte Banks, but there’s other intriguing names later in the draft as well. Just take a look at the CB Big Board article here for an exhaustive list.

Cornerback is also one of the positions the Steelers could double up on in this year’s draft. Arthur Maulet isn’t a terrible slot corner, but the Steelers could be looking for an upgrade there as well as on the outside. Steven Gilmore is an intriguing option later in the draft, but Clark Phillips from Utah, and possibly even slot corner/safety Brian Branch from Alabama could be potential options at well. The Steelers’ secondary could use a number of reinforcements.

Noah E.: Cornerback should be a top priority for the Steelers in the 2023 NFL draft. After losing Cam Sutton in free agency Pittsburgh is left with an aging Patrick Peterson, Levi Wallace, and they are really the only notable names. Nobody is left to play in the slot, and there is no current replacement for Peterson when he decides to hang up the cleats. Joey Porter Jr. is my personal CB1, but Witherspoon and Gonzalez are not far behind. If any of those 3 were to fall to 17 it would be a mistake to not take a hard look at them. This is also a very deep cornerback class, and if things don’t go their way early on, Pittsburgh could find good value at pick 49.

Defensive Line

Ryland B.: With Cam Heyward and Larry Ogunjobi returning, defensive line isn’t as huge of a need as some are making it out to be. That isn’t to say that the Steelers’ rotation behind them is particularly strong, however — I’d just put CB and OT as significantly higher priorities. If those positions are shored up, I’d love to see the Steelers find a stud defensive tackle to develop in rounds 2 or 3. Keeanu Benton is my guy in this range. He’d be an immediate contributor as a run stuffer with a much higher ceiling in the future.

Noah E.: Pittsburgh added Breiden Fehoko and Armom Watts in free agency, and while they could certainly be good players we still lack a true nose tackle. Someone that can eat space, take on double teams and just be a wrecking ball in the center of the defensive line like former Steeler Casey Hampton. This class has two guys that fit that bill, Michigan’s Mazi Smith and Baylor’s Siaki Ika. I’m not saying the Steelers need to draft either one of these guys, but I would love it if they did. A lineup of Highsmith, Ogunjobi, Ika/Smith, Heyward, and Watt would give offensive coordinators nightmares.

Inside Linebacker

Ryland B.: The signings of Elandon Roberts and Cole Holocomb, and even Keanu Neal to a certain extent, give the Steelers a solid rotation of thumpers in the middle of the defense (especially with Mark Robinson on the same depth chart). What’s missing is a true sideline-to-sideline, coverage-capable ‘backer. This is much easier said than done, as the Steelers have been unsuccessfully trying to find someone to replace Ryan Shazier ever since his tragic injury. Jack Campbell and Trenton Simpson could be options early in the draft to fill this role, as could someone like Daiyan Henley a bit later. Of course, the risk with drafting a coverage linebacker is possibility with ending up with another Devin Bush. Still, I think the Steelers need to try to add some more athleticism to the center of their defense before the start of the season.

Noah E.: Similar to the D-Line, Pittsburgh added two new guys during free agency, Elandon Roberts and Cole Holcomb. I expect both of these guys to play vital roles in the Steelers’ success, but I also don’t expect them to be stars per se. Linebacker is a position that I think has become less of a need as we get closer to the draft but it’s not a position the Steelers should avoid. Someone that has good range and can cover man-to-man would be nice to have. I’m a big fan of Dee Winters and Demarvion Overshown.

Make sure to fill out the poll below, and thank you on behalf of the entire big board crew for reading BTSC draft content this offseason.


What position should be the Steelers’ top defensive priority in the draft?

This poll is closed

  • 75%
    (453 votes)
  • 12%
    Defensive line
    (77 votes)
  • 11%
    Inside linebacker
    (67 votes)
597 votes total Vote Now