Ahead of Week 18, we polled Steelers fans on their hopes for the direction the Steelers will take in the 2024 NFL Draft.
Perhaps unsurprisingly given the team’s struggles this year, the majority of those polled (79%) leaned in favor of the Steelers utilizing their first-round pick on an offensive player.
21% of Steelers fans hope the Steelers draft an offensive tackle.
I’m surprised the vote didn’t lean heavier in favor of offensive tackle here, to be honest. After trading up to draft OT Broderick Jones — the presumed future starter at left tackle over Dan Moore Jr. — it was actually Chuks Okorafor he wound up replacing at right tackle after having been benched in Week 9. However, despite a couple of strong starts out of the gate, Jones has had some struggles exposed as the season has gone on, which has been a reminder of what the Steelers’ long-term goal needs to be — which is to get Jones back to playing his natural position. That would likely mean drafting one, of course.
For what it’s worth, Alabama OT J.C. Latham has been a popular choice for the Steelers in recent NFL mock drafts, though that could change now that the Steelers will be drafting a bit later thanks to their miraculous postseason run.
37% of Steelers fans hope the Steelers draft a center.
This is arguably the most glaring need of all on the offensive line amidst a season of struggles for veteran Mason Cole. In addition to plenty of issues snapping the ball, he’s struggled in pass protection, with the second-lowest PFF pass-blocking grade among the 32 centers to play 500+ snaps on the season. He’s allowed the fourth-most pressures among centers in that cohort, even though they’ve translated to just two sacks on the year. The real question is how early they’d move to select a center in the draft.
Centers aren’t drafted in the first round all that frequently, with just seven having been drafted in the first round over the past 10 years. Those first-round centers included Tyler Linderbaum (Ravens, 2022), Cesar Ruiz (Saints, 2020), Garrett Bradbury (Vikings, 2019), Frank Ragnow (Lions, 2018), Billy Price (Bengals, 2018), Ryan Kelly (Colts, 2016) and Cameron Erving (Browns, 2015). Just four of them are still starting at the center position (Linderbaum, Bradbury, Ragnow, Kelly), while two have transitioned to other positions on the OL (Ruiz, Erving). Price, meanwhile, has bounced around the league since his rookie contract expired, having most recently signed with the Cowboys practice squad in September, missing the season with an undisclosed injury on IR.
For what it’s worth, it doesn’t seem at this point as though there’s a center on any consensus big board that’s a lock to go in Round 1 at this point in the offseason, so perhaps the value at the position will come a bit later in the draft.
21% of Steelers fans hope the Steelers draft a quarterback.
Though there are hopes from some (not all) Steelers fans that the team would look to move on from Kenny Pickett in 2024, it seems less than likely. The Steelers will give their former first-round pick every opportunity to be their franchise quarterback, even if erring in favor of Mason Rudolph in their greatest moment of need heading into the playoffs.
It’s fair to say that it’d be difficult for any organization to evaluate their quarterback in the offensive system that former offensive coordinator Matt Canada had installed. However, giving Pickett a longer leash given Canada’s influence on his development also probably means they’ll give him at least another year (or two, even) to adapt to a new offensive system before feeling like they’ve given him a full opportunity to evaluate his future.
That line of thought syncs well with the latest commentary surrounding the quarterback situation from NFL insider Ian Rapoport, who stated recently that the team “does not want to move on from (Pickett) after the season.” Time will tell.