The 2023 NFL Draft is in the books, and the Pittsburgh Steelers selected 7 new players throughout the 3-day process. When the dust settled on the event, there were definitely people/coaches/aspects of the team which could be viewed as either a ‘winner’ or a ‘loser’.
No, I’m not calling individuals losers, but essentially suggesting their situation has changed for the worse after the draft.
So, with that being said, here are the winners and losers after the 2023 NFL Draft:
When the team spends a first round pick on a monster left tackle, and a third round pick on a monster tight end, you can only imagine the smile on Najee Harris’ face. If Harris watched college football last season, or just highlights of the Georgia Bulldogs running the football, he has to be happy with the investments the organization has put into the offensive line and by proxy the running game.
The “Pickett Fence” was under construction heading into the 2023 offseason, but it’s safe to say it is nearing completion heading into the offseason workouts. When you think about the additions of Broderick Jones and Darnell Washington to Isaac Seumalo and the other returning offensive linemen you have to be excited by the prospect of the offensive line being able to keep the pass rush at bay to give Pickett time to deliver passes down the field. Oh, and adding a 6’7” target to the mix doesn’t hurt either...
If Canada ever said he wasn’t able to get the job done due to the fact the didn’t have the players in place to succeed, he can’t say that anymore. The additions of Jones and Washington should be the finishing touches on what is a young, but promising offensive roster. If Canada can’t get it done with this roster, he’ll be looking for new job opportunities starting as early as this winter.
Calvin Austin III
Heading into the draft there were many Steelers analysts/writers who believed the team should draft a wide receiver at some point during the process. Whether it was someone like Zay Flowers or Jordan Addison, I believed what the Steelers do, or don’t do, would be telling as it pertains to how they view Calvin Austin III. The fact the team didn’t draft a receiver this year should show the confidence the organization has in Austin and his overall health heading into his sophomore season.
Cole Holecomb / Elandon Roberts
Just like Austin, the newly signed linebackers of Holecomb and Roberts had to be watching the NFL Draft wondering if the team would invest a high pick on the inside linebacker position. Think about the team signing Mitch Trubisky in 2022. Trubisky had to feel as if he got a new lease on his NFL life, only to find the team drafts Kenny Pickett in Round 1 and the days of his time as a starter were immediately numbered. Unlike Trubisky, Holecomb and Roberts didn’t have the same result at their position in the draft, giving them hope for 2023 and possibly beyond.
When you are a position coach, you have to always be banging the table for players to be added to get talent added to your room. The Steelers did that in a big way with the additions of Broderick Jones in Round 1 and Darnell Washington in Round 3. Both will need to be more polished, but Meyer has to be thrilled with the additions to the offensive front added in the draft.
I was someone who openly bemoaned the Steelers depth at defensive back, or lack thereof, across the board. Well, after the draft, and that includes the signing of Chandon Sullivan on Day 3 of the draft process, that has certainly changed. Adding Joey Porter Jr. and Cory Trice Jr. certainly add some depth across the board. I’m not sold on either rookie being an immediate impact player, but the depth is there now and creates competition.
Omar Khan / Front Office
We all loved what Khan had done after the 2022 draft with the Larry Ogunjobi signing and the Chase Claypool trade. His first full free agency period has been extremely active, and after his first draft of his tenure the fan base is extremely comfortable with Khan as the man in charge moving forward. It was a tremendous draft for Khan and company, and the credit goes well beyond Khan and all the way to his scouts and the entire front office.
This was mentioned briefly when talking about the secondary, but when you look at what has happened throughout the roster, it is impressive. Khan and Weidl have done a lot, but they’ve also done a tremendous amount with developing competition at nearly every position. Think about what they’ve done thus far:
- Offensive line competition
- Secondary competition
- Defensive line competition
I could go on, but you get the picture. The name of the game is competition, and the Steelers did all that, and then some, this offseason.
Patience and Luck
Mike Tomlin talked about how Khan is aggressive in his approach. To an extent, I get it. The trade up in Round 1 made a ton of sense, but other than that? I’d say it was more patience and luck. Anyone who studies the history of the Steelers, from a draft perspective, knows how lucky the organization has been at times. Joey Porter Jr. falling to Round 2. Darnell Washington falling to Round 3. This wasn’t aggressive, it was an act of patience and a lot of luck. They do say sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
Some are suggesting the Steelers will keep four tight ends (Pat Freiermuth, Darnell Washington, Connor Heyward and Zach Gentry) on the roster, but I’m not buying that. Unless Washington isn’t healthy I think they keep three and Gentry is the odd man out. Could they keep four? Yes, but Heyward is the only special teams player of the four, and that would be difficult to justify on game days. Gentry will have to prove his worth in camp.
Dan Moore Jr.
Ben Roethlisberger pumped Moore’s tires on his podcast before the draft, but it did little to reverberate with the Steelers front office. The signing of Broderick Jones is the beginning of the end for Moore at left tackle. Whether it happens on Day 1, or Week 10, it will happen. It’s just a matter of time.
When Moore is replaced at left tackle, it will signify the open competition at right tackle. Okorafor might have been sitting there watching the draft thinking, “That’s Moore’s replacement, not mine.” In theory, he’s right. But in reality, it might mean Moore is coming for his job. Moore is built to be a right tackle, and Okorafor more of a left tackle. Either way, we’re talking about a competition, and may the best man win.
The Steelers signing the players they did, including the undrafted rookie free agents (UDFA) included a fullback. Watt’s price tag might be too high for the Steelers to be willing to pay, and the writing could be on the wall for him to play elsewhere in 2023. Barring injury, or him taking a huge pay cut, it seems Derek Watt might have played his final games of his Steelers tenure.
With the newly signed defensive backs, and Witherspoon’s salary cap hit, it would seem as if his time in Pittsburgh might be coming to an end. Witherspoon might still be in the team’s plans, but I don’t see it. If anything, there is a chance the team could cut Witherspoon and try and re-sign William Jackson III if he was healthy, and likely dirt cheap. Either way, my guess is the moves mad this offseason could also be the end of the road for Witherspoon.
This is the main topic of conversation on my Wednesday “Let’s Ride” podcast. Check it out in the player below: