Steelers Don’t Have To Corner the Market When They Tackle The Draft

Not being a member of that oh-so-tight inner circle on the South Side, I don’t know for certain who the Steelers are about to draft. But I know what I’d do.
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With the NFL Draft at long last upon us, we’ll soon be able to move on from the endless succession of mock drafts and focus on actual selections rather than a proliferation of prognostication.

The latter has resulted from the reading, listening and viewing public’s unquenchable thirst for the former.

But that doesn’t make the vast majority of it much more than an educated guess at best.

Charlie Weiss, the former head coach at Notre Dame and former offensive coordinator in New England and Kansas City, put that in perspective last week while fulfilling his current duties as an analyst on SiriusXM’s NFL Radio.

“Unless you’re in the building (an NFL team’s facility) you don’t know,” Weiss insisted regarding forecasts of what team would pick which player where. “And even if you’re in the building, unless you’re the head coach or the GM you still don’t know.”

That might not have been Weiss’s contention word for word, but that was the gist of it.

In some facilities, the owner might be in the loop, too.

But either way, it’s a very select few.

Not being a member of that oh-so-tight inner circle on the South Side, I don’t know for certain who the Steelers are about to draft.

But I know what I’d do:

  • I’d pounce on Alabama safety Brian Branch if possible at No. 17 overall (first round). The Steelers’ most pressing needs are at cornerback, offensive tackle, interior defensive line, edge rusher and inside linebacker. But there’s also an opening at safety in the wake of Terrell Edmunds’ departure. And Branch could likewise contribute as a slot corner, as a linebacker-safety hybrid and even as a pass rusher off the edge. Forget position designations, Branch is a football player.
  • I’d take one of the top three offensive tackles (Peter Skoronski of Northwestern, Paris Johnson Jr. of Ohio State or Broderick Jones of Georgia) in the event Branch isn’t an option at No. 17.
  • If Branch and the tackles have already heard their names called in advance of the Steelers’ first-round selection, I’d gladly settle for one of the top three cornerbacks (Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon, Oregon’s Christian Gonzalez or Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr.).
  • Porter, in particular, would be intriguing, in part because of the family history with the team. The connection is a reason to run to Porter, not away from him.
  • “I would want Joey Porter Jr. over both of them,” Weiss maintained, comparing Porter to Witherspoon and Gonzalez. “The No. 1 reason I would want Joey Porter Jr. is he’s Joey Porter’s son.”
  • If all else failed, I’d draft defensive lineman Brain Bresee of Clemson or defensive lineman Lukas Van Ness of Iowa and sleep well knowing I’d drafted a player capable of contributing inside and off the edge.

As for the rest of it, depending on how things fall in Round One, I’d have my eyes on the following guys as the draft progresses:

  • At No. 32 overall (second round), Maryland cornerback Deonte Banks or Northwestern defensive lineman Adetomiwa Adebawore would address needs now and later. So would Georgia’s Nolan Smith, who’s, for the most part, regarded as an edge rusher but looked at by some as more of an inside linebacker fit in the NFL. If it winds up being the latter, Smith might not get drafted as quickly as many suspect (a Mock I participated in this week with a couple of other wannabe GMs had Smith lasting until Cincinnati’s first-round pick at No. 28 overall; you never know).
  • At No. 49 overall (second round), Matthew Bergeron of Syracuse or Anton Harrison of Oklahoma would suffice as the offensive tackle the Steelers need to get at some point, assuming they haven’t checked that box already.
  • At No. 80 overall (third round), Michigan State wide receiver Jayden Reed would offer great value as a slot receiver and a punt returner. Wide receiver has to be addressed eventually. Reed’s take-it-to-the-house capability in the return game would constitute a two-for-one bargain.
  • At No.120 overall (fourth round), Wisconsin’s Nick Herbig projects as an inside linebacker even though he made a name for himself rushing off the edge for the Badgers. Herbig might slip a bit as a result. “The more you can do,” once a Chuck Noll catchphrase, is a theme worth pursuing as often as possible in this draft for the Steelers.
  • At No. 241 overall (seventh round), Florida A&M edge rusher Isaiah Land intrigued at the Senior Bowl as well as in 2021, when he amassed 19 sacks. You can never have enough edge rushers.
  • And last but not least, at No. 251 overall (seventh round) the Steelers could do a lot worse than Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham, who accounted for more touchdowns at his alma mater (120) than Lamar Jackson (119).
  • I’d be reluctant to trade up or down unless the return on such a transaction was overwhelming because the of the opportunity to collect in volume with four picks in the Top 80, including two that are traditionally valued as first-round selections (No. 32 overall is considered a second-round pick by the NFL this time around because Miami forfeited its first-round opportunity, but it’s still the 32nd-overall selection).

The Steelers aren’t that far away but nor are they one player away.

Grab as many quality players as you can and get better in as many areas as you can.

Let the picking finally begin.

Categories: Mike Prisuta’s Sports Section