By: Joe 412
The Steelers emerge from their bye week to face the New Orleans Saints as all teams hit
the halfway mark of the NFL season. For top college football prospects, they begin to round the
turn and head for home in the last month of the NCAA regular schedule. Draft 412 feels this is a
perfect time to take a beat from the disappointing (but expected) NFL season and outline a
“way too early” draft board for the stumbling Steelers, starting with positions of need.
There is no argument here—the Steelers have plenty of holes to fill. Most notably, the
team must find appreciable upgrades along the offensive line, which they’ve largely ignored in
recent drafts. Sure, the sexy picks they made at skill positions brought the team the services of
Najee Harris and Kenny Pickett but no matter who lines up under center or carries the rock, this
current group of starters continue to rank among the worst in the league.
Coupled with the team’s obvious age and lack of run stopping power along the
defensive line—and paired with inconsistent inside linebacker play, the Steelers could spend
their early picks “filling gaps” with some big uglies. They will also need to account for attrition,
for what appears to be the eventual departure of ILB Devin Bush to free agency. Some will say
this is addition by subtraction, but middle backers will need to be addressed either in the draft
and or by trade/free agency next summer.
Then there’s the enigmatic position of cornerback, one that has haunted the team with
failed or underwhelming picks, forcing them to take a run at William Jackson in a deadline trade
with the Commanders. The team didn’t forfeit much in terms of future draft capital, but if
Jackson’s performance this season earns him a role with the team in 2023, there will be an
appreciable cap hit to an already expensive, defensive-heavy payroll.
Lastly, there is a need for consistency at the wide receiver position. With the departure
of Chase Claypool to the Chicago Bears, the Steelers are left with promising rookie George
Pickens, a Jekyll and Hyde performer in Diontae Johnson and then “a bunch of guys” at the
position. Yes, they did add Calvin Austin III in last year’s fourth round, but injuries have
prevented him from seeing the field.
With likely a top 10-15 first round slot and two top 10-15 second rounders (accounting
for the draft capital returned from the Bears for Claypool), the Steelers may find themselves in
a situation to address many of these holes by the end of the draft’s day two. The Claypool trade
gives them the dry powder to move up or back in the draft, which will make for an interesting
So, where do they go? Simply put, and to steal a Tomlinism, the Steeler may let the draft
week talk to them. But that’s no fun. Using the current rubric for NFL drafts, first round worthy
positions should be reserved for quarterbacks, left tackles, cornerbacks and edge rushers… or
generational talents at other positions (see Troy Polamalu). Positions such as nose tackle, inside
linebacker and even receivers can be drafted in later rounds.
Using that philosophy, Draft 412 has prepared a short list of “names to watch” over the
final weeks of the college season, featuring some prospects that the Steelers may have an
Unlike some drafts, there are no sure-fire, can’t-miss David DeCastro or Maurkice
Pouncey types for the Steelers to target, but Draft 412 feels that there are 5-8 projected
starters that may be “plug and play” for the team over the next ten years. We all know how
much Mike Tomlin likes big school talent, and there are four prospects that Draft 412 has
targeted that may be of interest to him and newly minted General Manager Omar Khan on the
first night of selections:
Peter Skoronski, Northwestern – Skoronski is a 6’5” 315lb tackle that is sitting atop
many draft boards and will likely take a top 5 pick to secure. He’s a near perfect pass protector
that gets off the ball quickly and finishes his blocks through the echo of the whistle. He may not
be there for the Steelers but he would be a strong fit for the current scheme in Pittsburgh.
Paris Johnson Jr., Ohio State — Johnson, a former blue-chip recruit for the Buckeyes
could be the first or second tackle off the board next April. An excellent run blocker and one
that never quits on blocks, Johnson can be a nice fit for the Steelers, who will look to get stud
running back Najee Harris back on track. Johnson’s a good pass blocker but will need to learn to
be patient at the next level, using his length to keep edge rushers at bay rather than letting
them get into his pads.
Olu Fashanu, Penn State — Fashanu’s 6’5”, 320lb frame at tackle would be an
interesting choice for the Steelers. An underclassman that would need to declare early, Fashanu
still has room to grow and add strength, as he will only be 20 years old at the draft. He’s
impressed NFL scouts with a short but impressive resume in the run happy Big Ten Conference.
He’s got a mean streak that NFL teams covet but will need to mature a bit as a pass protector,
learning to use both his strength and technique to defeat NFL caliber edge rushers.
Broderick Jones, Georgia — The 6’4” 310lb tackle with SEC caliber experience has
helped make the Dawgs one of the NCAA’s top units in 2022. Equally good at run and pass
blocking, Jones is both agile and powerful, and can get to the second level consistently. But he,
like Fashanu, needs to be more patient in pass blocking. This can be taught through experience
and technique, and Jones projects to be a mid-first round selection.
Analysis: If the Steelers stay put and make a selection in the top 10-12 picks, one of these
highly projected linemen might be the trick to fixing an ailing OL heading into the 2023 season.
There’s plenty of time left to grade this top group, and of course bowl games, senior bowls, the
scouting combine, and personal workouts to consider. And by then, we may add a few more
prospects to the conversation. But if the Steelers are hunting for an offensive lineman, don’t fret… help is on the way.