Shiny new toys.
That’s what the Steelers have been accused of drafting the past few years.
The Steelers were accused of that in some circles when they selected receiver Chase Claypool in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft.
Pittsburgh was definitely criticized for its shiny new toy fetish after selecting running back Najee Harris and tight end Pat Freiermuth in the first and second rounds of the 2021 NFL Draft. You can also throw in the selection of punter Pressley Harvin III because the drafting of a punter or kicker never has a good ending if he doesn’t turn into an elite player.
The Steelers were even accused of the new toy syndrome in 2022 when they selected quarterback Kenny Pickett in the first round, receiver George Pickens in the second round and receiver Calvin Austin in the fourth round.
Where was the real commitment to the foundation of any team, the trenches? What about cornerback or outside linebacker? They’ve been lacking a true stud at the former position for quite a while, and they’ve seemingly needed depth at the latter position for years.
You can argue that the Steelers certainly needed to upgrade themselves at the receiver, running back, tight end AND CERTAINLY the quarterback spot in recent years, but the cry for help in other areas, but especially in the trenches, was quite audible.
Cry no more.
The Steelers selected seven players in the just-completed 2023 NFL Draft, and it’s hard to find a shiny new toy anywhere in the box.
Pittsburgh picked a stud offensive lineman in the first round, a stud cornerback in the second round, a defensive lineman later in the second round and the Mount Washington of tight ends in the third round.
The Steelers selected a potential backup outside linebacker in the fourth round, a player who should quickly double as a special teams demon—if a linebacker with a “high motor” can’t excel on special teams, shame on him for six weeks.
Pittsburgh selected a potential diamond in the rough in round seven. I’m talking about cornerback Cory Trice. There’s likely a reason he lasted that long, a reason that won’t be revealed to us until he gets to training camp and has to start practicing football in pads. In the meantime, we can gush over his potential and call him the “steal of the draft.”
As for Spencer Anderson, the offensive lineman the Steelers drafted with their second seventh-round pick? He appears to be the red-headed stepchild of this class (mainly because he played at Maryland), but I remember when Kelvin Beachum was the afterthought of the Steelers' 2010 Draft.
Anyway, only one offensive player from the Steelers 2023 draft class will be eligible to catch a pass without declaring himself, and his name is Darnell Washington, the giant tight end from Georgia.
Washington is the only prospect whose selection could be considered luxurious. Then again, there was a perceived need for an upgrade at the No. 2 tight end spot prior to the draft, and Washington was named as a possibility for the Steelers, along with Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer. Not only did the Steelers get a talented tight end, but they got someone who should quickly make his presence known in the trenches.
You can argue all day long about past drafts and whether or not the Steelers focused their picks on the right positions, but would you give back Harris, Freiermuth, Pickett or Pickens at this point?
As I said after the selection of Broderick Jones, a team can’t focus on every position at once—at least not with premium draft choices. You have to pick and choose in the moment based on the board.
The Steelers spent the past few drafts addressing just about every area of their roster. They didn’t do it all at once, but they did most of it.
They appeared to focus on physicality and toughness in this draft. Too late or better late than never?
Given how some of those shiny new toys from previous drafts have been progressing, I’d like to think it’s the latter.
We shall see.