I’m usually not one to jump in on the Internet traffic bonanza known as grading things, but if I don’t do it now, right after the Steelers just selected their entire 2023 NFL Draft class, I’m doing a disservice to the click-bait gods in the sky.
I had so much fun last year, the year before that, and the year before that, I figured, why not go for those clicks again?
I only have two grades for this process: Jump for Joy and Smashed Remote.
Obviously, a Jump for joy, as in “When they called his name, I was jumping for joy!” is a positive grade (or plus). I can’t really picture grown adults jumping for joy over the thought of a football player getting drafted by their favorite team, but many often describe this as their reaction to it. Therefore, it must happen a lot.
And if a Jump for Joy is a positive grade, that can only mean a Smashed Remote, as in “If they take that guy, I’m going to smash my remote!” is a negative (or minus). It seems counterproductive to smash something like a remote over a draft choice, but I’ve seen enough people break their flat-screen TVs over a missed tackle to know that it probably happens quite a bit.
OK, let’s dive right into the grades, shall we?
Round One (14th, overall), Broderick Jones, offensive tackle, Georgia
The Steelers entered the 2023 NFL Draft with perceived needs at offensive tackle, cornerback, defensive line and inside linebacker (as well as receiver, safety, outside linebacker and maybe even center/guard). Offensive tackle and cornerback seemed to be the front-runners, however. Thankfully for the Steelers and their fans, both positions were quite deep heading into Round 1. There seemed to be a bit more water in the cornerback end of the pool, though, and when three of the top four offensive tackles went off the board by 14—Paris Johnson Jr., Darnell Wright and Pete Skoronski—while only one of the top corner prospects were drafted—Devon Witherspoon—Pittsburgh had a decision to make.
That decision was to trade a 2023 fourth-round pick to the Patriots in order to move up three spots from 17 and confidently select Jones, the big, athletic left tackle from the two-time defending national champion Georgia Bulldogs.
Listed at 6’5” and 311 pounds, Jones went into the draft with perhaps more athletic ability than any offensive tackle in the class. For example, Jones ran a 4.97 in the 40 at the NFL Combine—the fastest time of any offensive lineman at the event.
Jones is a former basketball player, which may help to explain his quick and nimble feet for such a huge individual. Jones only started 19 games at Georgia and didn’t become a full-time starter until last season. That means he’s raw, but he’s a good kind of raw as evidenced by the fact that he didn’t give up a single sack in 470 snaps in 2022. And did you watch the highlights of Jones dominating those little defensive backs on running plays? Like, seriously, what did those little defensive backs ever do to Jones, other than perhaps talk way too much trash to him for being such little defensive backs?
Jones has pet snakes, which means he’s not afraid of them. I don’t know about you, but I’m afraid of snakes, and I’ll just bet there are plenty of huge defensive players—including the Browns’ Myles Garrett—who may also be afraid of snakes. If Jones can handle snakes, perhaps he can turn himself into the type of left tackle who can handle the likes of Garrett and other great NFL pass-rushers on a regular basis.
In other words, Jones will be the snake to Garrett's mongoose, or is it the mongoose to Garrett's snake? Either way, it could be bad for Garrett and plenty of other NFL pass rushers.
I don't know animals, but I do know that you have to give head coach Mike Tomlin credit for identifying Jones and his potential as far back as last offseason when he met with several Georgia prospects during the 2022 pre-draft process. Jones was a universal name that was mentioned when Tomlin asked those prospects about which Bulldogs to look out for in 2023.
The best thing about the Steelers' trade with New England is it reportedly screwed the Jets out of a chance to nab Jones. Strangely, the Patriots traded that fourth-round pick to the Jets, along with a sixth-round draft choice, in order to move up in the fourth round to select kicker Chad Ryland from Maryland. You would think that a known genius would be aware of the fact that the supply of good kickers far outweighs the demand and basically nullifies the need to draft one.
You also have to love the Steelers' strategy by trading up three spots and only yielding their 2023 fourth-round pick to do so. Pittsburgh had to figure at least one of the first-round cornerback prospects would still be sitting there at 32 when the second round kicked off on Friday night.
Pittsburgh was right.
There could be one annoying aspect about Jones, and that’s his college number: 59. Some poor soul on Twitter photoshopped a Steelers jersey onto Jones’s likeness and left in the No. 59. You know what this led to, right? An entire thread of people saying things like, “Ummmmm, that’s Jack Ham’s number. No way they let him have it.”
Anyway, it took a while, but the Steelers finally pulled the trigger on drafting a tackle in the first round. In doing so, they may have found a true gem, someone with a high ceiling AND a high floor.
Jones could start his rookie year and still be a season or two away from reaching his full potential.
Final tally on the Jump For Joy/Smashed Remote grading scale: Plus-eight (as in, the Steelers only waited a year to find someone who can protect No. 8’s blind side).
Round Two (32nd, overall), Joey Porter Jr., cornerback, Penn State
That’s right, the Steelers went and picked Peezy’s kid, and they didn’t have to do so in the first round. One Jump For Joy. Furthermore, this is a story that writes itself. I mean, the history. The picture of Little Joey smiling into the camera as Big Joey held him in his arms after the Steelers won Super Bowl XL. Two More Jumps For Joy.
Porter Jr. grew up in Pittsburgh and will literally get to stay home now that he’s officially a Steeler. Two More Jumps For Joy.
The drafting of Porter also means possibly witnessing him do a pre-game “Who Ride? We Ride!” when and if he establishes himself as a leader on the Steelers defense. Three Jumps For Joy for that, as well as One Smashed Remote for someone possibly seeing me cry in public.
You also have to talk about the value of drafting a player like Porter at the beginning of the second round. While taking Porter at 17 may have caused plenty of fans to smash their remotes (not me), taking him just 15 spots later led to countless jumps for joy thanks to the inherent draft value (some fans love draft value more than they love touchdowns and/or sex). I cannot count all of them, but I’ll go with 64 Jumps For Joy, equal to the combined number of Porter’s college digit and his dad’s Steelers’ digit.
OK, enough about legacy and value. Can Porter be a good player? Yes, if you go by the scouts and experts who spent many months telling us about his abilities.
Porter only had one interception in college, leading Steelers fans to compare him to Ike Taylor. Three Smashed Remotes. But you remember Taylor’s hands, right? I mean, they were historically bad. No way Porter’s hands could be nearly as bad. Three Jumps For Joy.
Does Porter lack ball skills or just opportunity? Teams basically stayed away from Porter most of 2022, especially after he recorded six pass breakups in a Week 1 win over Purdue. I can't blame those teams, either. After all, opponents only completed 34.6 percent of their passes on Porter’s side when he was playing press coverage in 2022 and 42.3 percent against him, overall. Two Jumps For Joy.
In the spirit of iron sharpening iron, Porter was around for the Antonio Brown days and even got to cover him in practice when AB was at the height of his powers. Four Jumps For Joy.
There’s also the relationship Tomlin has with Joey Porter Sr. Two Jumps For Joy. But there’s also the history Tomlin has with drafting cornerbacks. Two Smashed Remotes.
It’s like that old saying: Don’t let your friends who are bad at drafting cornerbacks draft your kid who plays cornerback. Two More Smashed Remotes.
The drafting of Porter could also bring about an annoying feud involving Steelers/Panthers fans and Steelers/Nittany Lions fans, with each unironically trolling the other over horrible performances by the alum of their rival. One Smashed Remote.
Final tally on the Jump For Joy/Smashed Remote grading scale: Plus-74.
Round Two (49th, overall), Keeanu Benton, defensive tackle, Wisconsin
The Steelers selected DeMarvin Leal in the third round a year ago in an effort to get younger along the defensive line. You can now add Benton to the mix. Much like Leal in 2022, Benton came into the draft cycle as a possible first-round pick, only to slide out of it. That happens, but it doesn’t appear to be an indictment of Benton or his abilities. One Jump For Joy.
Benton isn’t a great athlete, nor is he a flashy player. One Smashed Remote. However, he was a consistent player and starter for the Badgers and was voted Second-Team Big Ten in 2021 and Third-Team Big Ten in 2022. Two Jumps For Joy.
Listed as 6’4” and 315 pounds, Benton seems like a good fit to become the Steelers' next 3-4 nose tackle (at least their modern version of one) and may be versatile enough to play anywhere along the line. One Jump For Joy. And at just 21 years old, he’s young enough to perhaps evolve into something more dynamic than the player he was in college. Another Jump For Joy.
There’s the matter of Benton’s first name—Keeanu—which has undoubtedly been spelled “Keanu” countless times already by Steelers fans who will likely continue to do so unabated. Five Smashed Remotes.
But if Benton is really good, this could also lead to many Steelers fans posting John Wick things on social media. I’ve never been a fan of that movie franchise, but I’ll know when I see a picture or gif of Keanu Reeves as John Wick that it will likely mean Benton (or possibly Keanu Neal) has just done something awesome. Three Jumps For Joy.
Final tally on the Jump For Joy/Smashed Remote grading scale: Plus-two.
Round Three (93rd, overall), Darnell Washington, tight end, Georgia
The Steelers dipped into the two-time-defending-national-champions bag a second time to take Washington, a big, hulking tight end. Not only did the Steelers land Washington, who is listed at 6’7” and 264 pounds, but they did so after trading back 13 spots to acquire a pick in the fourth round. Three Jumps For Joy. Thank goodness they did, too, because if I had to listen to Steelers fans incessantly whine about losing a fourth-round pick in order to move up in the first to take Jones, well, it would have been just as bad as listening to them incessantly whine about not having picks in the fifth and sixth rounds. Five Smashed Remotes.
I spent a good portion of the pre-draft process mocking people like BTSC’s Vacaciones for constantly posting mock drafts that were a little too on the nose. I guess the joke’s on me, considering what Pittsburgh did with its first four selections. Three Jumps For Joy.
This draft put Omar Khan on the map as the Steelers’ rookie general manager. Two More Jumps For Joy.
Unfortunately, Khan’s performance in this draft has caused actual grown-ups to say things like, “Omar continues to eat” or “Omar continues to cook.” You there, in your living room, you’re over 40. And, you there, in that football studio, you’re in a three-piece suit. Both of you need to stop saying those things, right now. Four Smashed Remotes.
Khan has earned quite the nickname, of course. As Tomlin pointed out in the post-draft press conference on Saturday, Khan has been so good, he’s now being called "The Khan Artist." You gotta respect that. Two Jumps For Joy.
Sadly, Omar Khan becoming the Steelers' new general manager has also caused way too many Steelers fans to spell his name “Kahn” over and over again without anyone calling them out on it—until now. Google is your friend. One Smashed Remote.
Anyway, back to Washington. You have to be intrigued by the potential as both a target and a blocker. Washington posted a 4.64 time in the 40 at the NFL Combine, and while he was modestly productive for the Bulldogs—45 receptions for 774 yards and three touchdowns in his three seasons in Athens—it’s easy to picture Washington becoming a matchup nightmare against both linebackers and those little defensive back at the professional level. Four Jumps For Joy.
And while I’m no expert, I can certainly envision Washington, an inline tight end if I ever saw one, allowing Pat Freiermuth to split out wide in two-tight end sets and being that big slot receiver the Steelers seem to desire. Three More Jumps For Joy.
Considering his size and how excited Steelers fans are about him acting as a sixth offensive lineman on running plays, it goes without saying that Washington is a devastating blocker. One Jump For Joy.
But what if it doesn’t work out with Washington? In that case, we’ll have to listen to years of complaining about how Washington was a luxury pick, and that Pittsburgh should have taken an inside linebacker in the third round, instead. Two Smashed Remotes.
And then there’s the inevitable talk of Washington being converted into a tackle. Two More Smashed Remotes. In fact, his NFL.com Draft Profile even hints at it. Yet Another Smashed Remote.
Final tally on the Jump For Joy/Smashed Remote grading scale: Plus-two.
Round Four (132, overall), Nick Herbig, outside linebacker, Wisconsin
The Steelers addressed their depth issue at outside linebacker by selecting Herbig, the brother of Nate, the reserve guard they literally just signed in free agency.
Did they draft Herbig because of Herbig? I can’t imagine the former already having that much pull, which means they must like the latter’s potential. Two Jumps For Joy.
Herbig has been described as having a “hot motor,” because that's obviously going to be the motor of a linebacker with an older brother named Nate Nasty. One Jump For Joy. According to his NFL.com Draft Profile, 26 percent of Herbig’s tackles at Wisconsin resulted in lost yardage. One More Jump For Joy.
Herbig recorded 21 sacks as a Badger, including 20 over his last two seasons. Five Jumps For Joy. He was voted First-Team Big Ten in 2022. Two More Jumps For Joy.
So, what’s the deal with Herbig? Why did he last until the fourth round? Was it because of his weight, a weight I’ve seen listed at both 227 (his Wikipedia Page) and 240 (his NFL.com Draft Profile page)? Four Smashed Remotes.
At any rate, Herbig seems like a decent prospect and someone who can develop into a fine reserve outside linebacker behind T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith. Two Jumps For Joy.
What if he sticks around and becomes a sensation, along with his older brother? You guessed it, the tag-team wrestling t-shirts will be inevitable. I’m thinking Nate Nasty and Nick Nasty (not very creative with the second name, but what do you expect for $8 in the Strip)? One Jump For Joy.
But what if Herbig doesn’t stick around and gets thrown out of training camp faster than one of the Bushwhackers in a Royal Rumble match from the late-90s? That’s right, cries of nepotism will fill social media, and Steelers fans will insist on a blood test for any future draft prospect who even remotely looks like a member of the current roster. Five Smashed Remotes.
If both Benton and Herbig join T.J. Watt as great recent draft picks, Wisconsin could be the Steelers' new Ohio State. Two Jumps For Joy.
But if one or two of these gents have a career arc similar to Isaiahh Loudermilk, Wisconsin could become the Steelers’ new Maryland. Two Smashed Remotes.
Final tally on the Jump For Joy/Smashed Remote grading scale: Plus-three.
Round Seven (241st, overall), Cory Trice Jr., cornerback, Purdue
The Steelers go to the Big Ten looking for a cornerback twice, and the second one’s name is Trice (I came up with that). One Smashed Remote (but only for me).
At 6’3” and 206 pounds, Trice is every bit as big as Porter (if not a bit bigger), and he’s just as fast, posting a 4.47 40-time at the Combine. One Jump For Joy.
Trice was projected as a mid-round pick—at least according to his NFL.com Draft Profile—so to get him in the seventh round seems like quite the bargain. Also, as per an anonymous AFC scout quoted on Trice’s NFL.com Draft Profile, “He’s getting slept on. He can’t play in certain coverages, but that guy is a monster in press.”
Damn! Four Jumps For Joy.
Maybe Trice’s lack of love has to do with him only appearing in 30 games over five seasons at Purdue.
Maybe. Maybe not, but it’s easy to see the Steelers' strategy here: They took Porter, a big, physical press corner in the second round, and they’re taking a flyer on someone with similar traits in the seventh round. If they hit a home run, great! If not, the world always needs more special teams gunners. Two More Jumps For Joy for throwing a low-risk pick at the cornerback spot.
Of course, there’s also the inevitable comparison to Rod Woodson, another big, physical corner Pittsburgh once drafted out of Purdue. Maybe you’ve heard of him? Three Smashed Remotes.
Final tally on the Jump for Joy/Smashed Remote grading scale: Plus-four.
Round Seven (251st, overall), Spencer Anderson, offensive lineman, Maryland
Anderson was a versatile offensive lineman in college, appearing all over the place along the line. One Jump For Joy.
Unfortunately, Anderson played his college ball at Maryland, which means he was only picked because he's one of Tomlin's cronies. Two Smashed Remotes.
Final tally on the Jump For Joy/Smashed Remote grading scale: Minus-one.