You probably wouldn’t want to play poker with Steelers general manager Omar Khan. At least not if you want to have enough money to pay your mortgage afterward.
Working through his first NFL Draft, Khan maneuvered the board masterfully, trading up to get offensive tackle Broderick Jones in the first round, then turning down multiple offers to trade back with the 32nd pick to take cornerback Joey Porter Jr., a player the Steelers would have strongly considered taking with the 17th pick in the first round had they not moved up for Jones.
After that, they played the long game again, taking defensive tackle Keeanu Benton at pick No. 49 in the second round before sliding back a bit in the third round to recoup the fourth-round pick they had traded in the first round to go up and get Jones.
If that weren’t enough, the player the Steelers would have taken had they stayed at pick No. 80 in the third round, Georgia tight end Darnell Washington, wound up still being available when they picked at No. 93 after making a trade with the Carolina Panthers.
And with that fourth-round pick they acquired, they selected outside linebacker Nick Herbig of Wisconsin, another player they would have considered taking at pick 80 if they had stayed put.
“We were sitting there in the third round, when the call came about trading back we just evaluated it, and we had a good feel for how many players were left that we’d be interested in, and got the top guy on that list,” Khan said. “He was still sitting there, and the opportunity to pick up a fourth, which we had lost, was going to be a long wait if we didn’t have an extra pick. Fortunately, we got it because we think we got a really good football player in Nick Herbig.”
No wonder the Steelers are being lauded for having one of the better, if not the best, drafts this year.
Depending on whose list you look at, they got value all through their seven picks, including a gift in the seventh round when they took Purdue cornerback Cory Trice Jr., who many analysts had as a Day 2 selection, and then offensive lineman Spencer Anderson, who most assumed would go in the middle of Day 3.
Value ruled the weekend. And the Steelers are arguably a much better team today than they were prior to the draft.
- All of that being said, the one player I wouldn’t expect to be a Day 1 starter is Jones.
Jones is a great prospect, an extremely athletic big man. But don’t be disappointed if he opens the season behind Dan Moore at left tackle. Jones started only 19 career games in college, so it wouldn’t be surprising if the Steelers try to ease him into things.
The others? They have more well-defined roles, starting with Porter, a big, physical cornerback who will battle for a starting job out of the gate.
As defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said, there won’t be a “redshirt” for Porter. He’ll be thrown into the mix. So will Trice.
And Benton has enough potential that he could be the starting nose tackle. After all, he was a two-time state runner-up at heavyweight as a wrestler in Illinois and played 45 career games in college. He knows how to maneuver in tight spaces.
Washington will have an immediate role as a blocking tight end, bringing rare athleticism to that position. As much as the Steelers used two- and three-tight end packages last season, you’d better believe they have an idea of what they want to do with him.
And Herbig immediately steps in as the top reserve at outside linebacker. That should mean he plays 15 or so snaps each game.
- So, the offensive line should be better with the free-agent additions and what they added in the draft. The pass catchers, particularly last year’s second-round pick George Pickens, should be ready to break out. They added a big, athletic body to the tight end room. And the duo of Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren at running back is extremely solid.
There also should be no question about what this team wants to do when it has the football. You can put it on blast on the Acrisure Stadium jumbotron.
“On offense (we added) two guys that block and are physical and so that’s certainly part of it,” said Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada. “That’s what we’re trying to do. I think Coach (Mike) Tomlin said it really clear – there’s no secret of what we’re trying to do and how we’re trying to play football.”
The Steelers want to play bully ball.
But that doesn’t mean they still don’t have big expectations for quarterback Kenny Pickett in his second season. And no matter how well the Steelers run the ball, they’ll still need Pickett to make 10 or so high-level throws per game.
- The NFL is expected to announce its schedule Thursday night. Then, the Steelers will hold their rookie minicamp next weekend. After that, OTAs kick off.
Dale Lolley hosts The Drive on Steelers Nation Radio and writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.
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