The First Round Is Just the Starting Point for the Steelers

They didn’t stop adding talent after drafting Kenny Pickett last year. They need to follow suit — no matter who winds up first on their list this time around.


Last year it was all about the first round, all about the quarterback, all about Kenny Pickett.

But it turned out to be about so much more.

The Steelers need to run that back, beginning this week in Indianapolis. The NFL has convened again in Indy for its annual Scouting Combine, where potential draftees are poked, prodded, tested, questioned and put through a relentless progression of on-field paces designed to separate the best from the busts.

The NFL Draft being the cottage industry it has long since become, speculation is already running rampant regarding the identity of the player the Steelers will eventually anoint as worthy of the 17th overall selection. Published (or podcasted) candidates include Penn State cornerback Joey Porter Jr., Florida interior offensive lineman O’Cyrus Torrence, Oregon cornerback Christian Gonzalez, Alabama safety Brian Branch, Iowa edge rusher Lukas Van Ness, Illinois cornerback Devon Witherspoon, Clemson linebacker Trenton Simpson and Georgia offensive tackle Broderick Jones. (I’m sure there are others — but how many Mock Drafts can one man stomach in late February and early March?)

Less obsessed about but nonetheless critical to the ongoing rebuilding effort are the six picks the Steelers will make after Round One.

They landed much more than just Ben Roethlisberger’s long-term successor last April when they picked Pickett. In wide receiver George Pickens (second round), defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal (third round), and tight end Connor Heyward (sixth round), the Steelers added players who made varying degrees of significant contributions as rookies and project as even more significant contributors moving forward.

Linebacker Mark Robinson (seventh round) hardly played and wide receiver Calvin Austin III didn’t play at all last season, but there’s still reason to suspect both of those players may yet become part of the solution sooner rather than later.

If it works out as anticipated, last year’s draft will be remembered for much more than the acquisition of Pickett. If the same proves true of this year’s haul, the rebuild/retool/reboot has a chance to accelerate into a jump-start.

The 17th overall pick is a big deal, as first-round selections always are. But whether they decide upon a cornerback, a safety, an offensive tackle or a defensive linemen initially, the Steelers need to keep checking the prerequisite boxes as the draft proceeds.

“I think they’re really set up well,” NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah maintains regarding the Steelers and the seven total selections at their disposal. “I think where they’re positioned with their picks, No. 17, No. 32, No. 49 and No. 80, I think you can get four starters with those four picks.”

Four starters might be a bit ambitious, but opportunity is most definitely knocking. Four significant contributors if not building blocks — or more when factoring in the 120th, 236th and 243rd overall selections — shouldn’t be beyond the Steelers’ grasp.

New General Manager Omar Kahn needs to pick up where old General Manager Kevin Colbert left off. Pickett may have been the headliner last April, but he wound up with a supporting cast that mattered.

This year’s first-rounder also needs plenty of company, because chances such as this don’t come around every draft.

The more the merrier, now more than ever.

Categories: Mike Prisuta’s Sports Section