The Pittsburgh Steelers have had a productive offseason, and the team looks to be a talented one with potential to make the playoffs in 2023 despite having a lot of young players. To realize that potential, the Steelers will need impact from their rookie class, but which of the Steelers rookies is the most important for the Steelers to be successful this coming season?
The most likely players are the early picks, and that starts with Broderick Jones. The Steelers offensive line has seen a lot of upgrades in the past two off-seasons, with the additions of James Daniels, Mason Cole, Isaac Seumalo, Nate Herbig and others. But no addition is as big as Broderick Jones. The Steelers tackles were arguably the weak link in the offensive line in 2022, and the Steelers added two guards to the roster in free agency. Even with both starters at tackle returning, the potential upgrade from either Chukwuma Okorafor or Dan Moore Jr. to a player with superstar potential is a big deal. While Broderick Jones has a lot to learn and will have growing pains transitioning to the NFL, he was incredibly successful in college as a dominant run blocker and a pass protector who didn’t give up a sack as his Georgia Bulldogs went undefeated and won a National Championship.
The 2023 Pittsburgh Steelers offense is going to rely on running the ball effectively and on growth from their young quarterback to score more points and win more games. Broderick Jones protecting Kenny Pickett’s blind side and providing dominant run blocking at left tackle would go a long way towards facilitating an improved Steelers offense.
Joey Porter Jr.
The Steelers haven’t had a lockdown outside corner in a decade, and Joey Porter Jr. has a chance to be that player. In a division with Ja’Marr Chase, Amari Cooper and Odell Beckham Jr., Joey Porter Jr. will have great opportunity to make an immediate impact on the Steelers defense, for good or bad. If he isn’t up to the challenge, the Steelers will be hard-pressed to win the division. With four of the Steelers six division matchups, and both games against the Bengals, coming in the second half of the season, Porter Jr. will have time to grow into the job before facing his toughest matchup of the year. For the Steelers to have a shot to overtake the Bengals and reclaim the title of AFC North Champions, Joey Porter Jr. will need to be playing great football by then.
The defensive line is the heart and soul of every great Steelers defense, and for the Steelers to have a great season in 2023, that defensive line is going to need to step up. The problem is that defensive line doesn’t look much different than the one that was inconsistent in 2022. The Steelers lost several rotational veterans and replaced them with depth pieces. The only real hope for an upgrade on the defensive line is from their draft pick, Keeanu Benton. Benton is expected to play both nose tackle and defensive tackle, and the Steelers will need both his size and youth to augment their older starting duo. Add to this the Steelers linebacker group is being completely rebuilt and will need the line in front of them to carry more of the load, especially early on as they learn to play together. It’s clear that a strong rookie season from Keeanu Benton would be a massive boon to the Steelers defense, and could be key to a successful season.
Darnell Washington won’t be playing offensive line, but he may be one of the most impactful blockers on the Steelers offense in 2023. The Steelers are already preparing Washington for his role as the #2 tight end, where his main usage will be lining up next to a tackle and blocking edge rushers in the run game. Washington and first round pick Broderick Jones have experience playing together and Washington could be a big help to Jones in the early parts of the season. When you add in his athleticism and good hands, Washington doesn’t just add blocking, but threat in the passing game that a player like Zach Gentry does not bring. Having a tight end that can block defensive lineman and stretch the field on passing plays is a huge weapon even if he doesn’t get a lot of targets. And when his team used him to stretch the field and throw into space he helped create Washington increased his value with devastating downfield blocking. The Steelers need to add big plays to their offense, and Washington could help create them with his blocking in-line, his athleticism as a receiver, and with his ability to stretch defenses and block downfield.
While I can see the importance of each of the first four picks of the Steelers 2023 draft class, and am excited for the potential the Steelers could reach if all four play well as rookies, my pick for the most important Steeler rookie is Joey Porter Jr.
If Porter Jr. is past his rookie struggles by Week 11, the Steelers should have a great shot at winning the division. Patrick Peterson and Joey Porter Jr. facing off against Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins will be a major plot line in the Steelers matchups with the Bengals in Weeks 12 and 16. If the Steelers want to win the AFC North in 2023, Joey Porter Jr. will have to have a very good rookie season.
Now that you know who I think is the most important Steelers rookie, it’s your turn to vote for the rookie that is most important to the Steelers success in 2023, and let me know why in the comments below.
Which Steeler rookie is most important to the Steelers success in 2023?
Joey Porter Jr.
Other (explain in comments)