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Setting realistic expectations for the Steelers 2023 NFL Draft class

The Pittsburgh Steelers have high hopes for their rookie class, but what are some realistic expectations for the group?

NFL: MAR 02 Scouting Combine Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers, and their fan base, have extremely high hopes for the seven players who were drafted in the 2023 NFL Draft. Hopes are always high for draft classes, but setting realistic expectations is the best course of action for fans as they prepare for a new season.

Could these player out-perform these expectations and prove to be players who can contribute right away? Absolutely, but as you’ll see setting the bar in a realistic fashion might be perfect for this 2023 draft class.

Let’s get to it...

1st Round: Broderick Jones, OT

There is a section of the fan base who says the Steelers need to start Jones at left tackle regardless of any camp competition with Dan Moore Jr. This same group of individuals suggests if the team traded up to select Jones, he should start from Day 1.

I can understand this theory, but I don’t buy into it. Thrusting a player into a position which he isn’t ready for can lead to disaster. A rookie left tackle who might not be ready going against the San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns and Las Vegas Raiders could lead to issues for the offense, and the health of Kenny Pickett.

If Jones can win the job, then it’s a best-case scenario; however, I’m preparing myself for Dan Moore to start at tackle until the team feels comfortable with the rookie being the anchor on the left side.

2nd Round: Joey Porter Jr., CB

Porter has a skill set which can be utilized early in his rookie season, but I don’t feel it will be as a full-time player. Instead, I think the team will consider Porter a player who can contribute to sub packages early and hopefully develop into a larger role by season’s end.

While some might view this as a disappointment, this isn’t suggesting Porter won’t have a role, it just might not be the starting role many were expecting.

2nd Round: Keeanu Benton, DL

When I spoke with Alan Saunders on my Monday podcast, he brought up a great point when talking about Benton. If all he is going to be asked to do as a rookie is be a nose tackle, fans shouldn’t expect much from him in 2023. The Steelers just don’t use the nose tackle much in their defense anymore.

However, if Benton can show the flexibility, and versatility, to flex to the defensive end/tackle position and become a rotational player there, his role will be much larger than if he is nothing more than a plug-and-play nose tackle. If Benton can prove his worth, his role could expand quickly.

3rd Round: Darnell Washington, TE

Of all the 2023 rookies, Washington is the player I expect will have the biggest impact right away. Washington’s blocking is already his forte, and his ability to man the edge will have a big impact on the offense, mainly Pat Freiermuth.

Allowing Freiermuth to be more of a slot option, compared to an in-line blocker, will have a huge impact on the team. But back to Washington, if he can also show some prowess as a pass catcher, think about the mismatches the team could have with him in the lineup. Sure, he might be nothing more than a blocker 90% of the time, but if that 10% he makes big plays down the seam on play-action passes...he could be deadly.

4th Round: Nick Herbig, LB

Since the Steelers signed Markus Golden, Herbig’s expectations have changed dramatically. If Herbig can be a special teams demon, he will earn a helmet on game days. If he can show some versatility and be a part of the rotation as a pass rusher, that’s an added bonus.

When it comes down to it, the hope is Herbig isn’t asked to do much in 2023. Why? Because that means T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith and Golden remain healthy.

7th Round: Cory Trice Jr., CB

Referring back to my conversation with Saunders on Monday’s “Let’s Ride” podcast, he stated he thinks Trice will play as a rookie. The guy has made a lot of plays throughout Organized Team Activities (OTAs) and minicamp, and I could see a similar role for Trice as stated with Porter earlier.

Trice might be a special teams player early, but carve out a role for himself by season’s end. For a 7th round pick, these expectations are actually quite lofty. It’s typically a situation where you wonder if they’ll make the 53-man roster, instead we are talking about a potential role on the defense.

7th Round: Spencer Anderson, OL

Speaking of just hoping to make the roster, that is where Anderson would fall. In fact, I believe Anderson’s best shot is to find his way onto the practice squad. However, if Anderson is a versatile a lineman as many suggest, there is a chance he could unseat someone like Kendrick Green for a roster spot. But he’ll have to prove that in training camp and the preseason first.

This was the topic of the latest episode of the “Let’s Ride” podcast. Be sure to check it out in the player below: