The Pittsburgh Steelers season isn’t over quite yet, but with just a 28% chance to make the playoffs, it doesn’t seem too early to start looking toward the future. With the 2024 NFL Draft just months away, set to take place Thursday, April 25 through Saturday, April 27, 2024 in Detroit, Michigan.
As we inch closer to the season finale, NFL mock drafts are in full swing; let’s take a look at who mock drafters are projecting the Steelers to take in Round 1. Ahead of Week 18, the Steelers project for the No. 18 overall pick in the draft.
J.C. Latham, OT, Alabama
TL;DR — At 6’6” and 360 pounds, J.C. Latham is a true career right tackle who would allow Broderick Jones to slide back over to the left side of the line and play at his natural position. His frame is monstrous, playing at 360 pounds in his junior season though he moves better than you’d guess for a dude that size to pair with the strength. Latham has started at right tackle for the last two seasons, but did play some reps at right guard as a true freshman — some versatility the Steelers could value given how the OL has played out over the past couple of seasons.
The Steelers continue to have winning seasons no matter who is on the roster. Their offensive line remains a unit to upgrade. 2023 rookie OT Broderick Jones has played well, but pairing him with Alabama road grader JC Latham will give an instant boost to the level of physicality of their run game and pass protection. Kenny Pickett would have his best OT duo since entering the league.
2023 first-round pick Broderick Jones has been a success for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but moving him back to his natural position at left tackle and finding the right tackle of the future would be a massive win for Pittsburgh. JC Latham was a crucial factor in Alabama’s offensive success in 2023, and his ability to dominate as a run blocker and keep rushers away from the pocket will have him coveted by all teams looking for right tackle help.
Taliese Fuaga, OT, Oregon State
TL;DR — At 6’6” and 334 pounds, Taliese Fuaga is another career right tackle whose size and power render him a total bulldozer on the offensive line. Since Fuega became a full-time starter in 2022, he hasn’t given up a single sack in 700 pass-blocking snaps, but his best asset lies in his abilities as a run blocker — the top-graded run blocker among all offensive tackles in 2023 per PFF. Fuaga’s skill in the run game could be a huge complement to what the Steelers have built with the duo of Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren this year.
Taking offensive tackles in the first round in back-to-back drafts would be surprising after going nearly 30 years without doing it at all, but it would be a wise decision for the Steelers. Fuaga is a dominant presence on the right side, with the punishing playing style that would make him a perfect fit in Pittsburgh opposite Broderick Jones.
Kool-Aid McKinstry, CB, Alabama
TL;DR — This season, needs along the offensive line have come to the forefront of most people’s minds when pondering a direction the team could take in the 2024 NFL Draft. Still, seeing the impact of a shut-down cornerback like Joey Porter Jr. does raise a temptation to further build out the secondary, which is aging fast without much depth to offer. CB2 Patrick Peterson continues to tease a switch to safety closing out his career, which could put the Steelers in a spot of great need. McKinstry ranked as PFF’s eighth-highest-graded cornerback with an 88.8 overall defensive grade, having played an integral role in both coverage and run support this season — the top cornerback prospect on their big board. The only question is whether or not he’d fall to the Steelers at No. 18.
McKinstry has shutdown CB1 potential. For schemes that rely on more man coverage, he’s very comfortable playing in press and with his back to the ball. Plus, he has one of the highest forced incompletion totals in the country over the past two seasons.
The Steelers did the right thing by investing in a future starting cornerback in 2023, selecting Joey Porter Jr., but they need to continue to do so, even with a first-round pick this year. Their secondary is aging fast beyond Porter, and Mckinstry is one of the most experienced press-man cornerbacks in the draft. The soon-to-be Alabama product has forced 28 incompletions over the past two seasons.
What position do you hope the Steelers target in Round 1 of the 2024 NFL Draft? Any other prospects catch your eye throughout bowl season? Join the Behind The Steel Curtain community and let us know in the comments!