by David Kuklis
Photo of Rock Ya-Sin courtesy of Silver and Black Pride.
Most analysts would agree that the Pittsburgh Steelers had an outstanding draft on paper based on the needs they had going into the first night of the 2023 NFL selection process. After a disappointing 2022 season without making the playoffs, the Steelers needed to win not only at the draft but during the first wave of free agency. Some say new GM, Omar Khan, and Director of Player Personnel, Andy Weidl, did exactly that.
During the first round of free agency, the Steelers saw many familiar names leave town while some new players made their way into town. There was an upheaval at cornerback, where the Steelers lost starter, Cam Sutton, to the Detroit Lions, part-time starter, Arthur Maulet, in the slot, and injury riddled corner, Ahkello Witherspoon. They backfilled their needs at the corner position with the signing of Patrick Peterson from the Minnesota Vikings and the draft with their 2nd and 7th round picks of Joey Porter Jr. (Penn State) and Cory Trice (Purdue) respectively.
But the team still needs help at the slot position. The Steelers have struggled to replace Mike Hilton since he left and signed with Cincinnati.
In the other part of the defensive backfield, Pittsburgh brought in Keanu Neal at strong safety and re-signed veteran, Damontae Kazee, but lost Terrell Edmunds, their former first rounder and longtime starter. In the preseason, they will have to find out if the other guys on the roster are enough or if one more veteran safeties in the 2nd wave of free agency may help.
The Steelers also completely overhauled the inside linebacker positions by letting all three starters from last year go and signing two free agents (Holcombe and Sanders). They also address the position by drafting another player they hope to kick inside at times (Herbig). Khan and Weidl may still be seeking some additional depth before the season begins, and Draft 412 sees a few potential solutions to their ILB corps on the horizon.
Lastly, the Steelers need depth at the outside linebacker position for rotational purposes. One of their draft picks‚ Nick Herbig, can play inside and outside, but a veteran free agent would help if the salary cap permits. They do have Quincy Roche, but adding a veteran to the position is probably still in the cards for the Steelers.
Here is a list of players Draft 412 thinks may don the Black and Gold as the 2nd season of free agency takes hold with June cuts on the horizon:
The Steelers still need veteran depth here, and it is possible they bring back Myles Jack or sign a veteran pro bowler like Kwon Alexander. Alexander makes for an interesting fit schematically, but so does Rashaan Evans, the former Falcon. Both are floating around the age of 30, but still have some gas in the tank and could provide veteran leadership and depth.
Draft 412 has heard plenty of names mentioned, including veteran talent like Leonard Floyd, Jadeveon Clowney or Frank Clark. Pending salary restrictions, this may be a likely place the Steelers dip their toes back into the market. However, these names are very expensive and thus the Steelers may end up looking elsewhere and hoping Herbig comes along quickly.
The Steelers were rumored to be flirting with the idea of signing veteran Colts' and Ravens' corner, Rock Ya-Sin, during the first round of free agency. Head Coach, Mike Tomlin, has liked Ya-Sin’s play since watching film of him in college and although he hasn’t been a turnover machine, he’s a sure tackler and capable of playing at the boundary or in the slot.
However, the most recent speculation has centered around former Ravens' corner, Marcus Peters, who knows the division and can help immediately if his numbers are affordable. He, like Peterson, is a bit long in the tooth, but the Steelers could squeeze the last few years of his career out of him in Pittsburgh (like they did with Joe Haden) and allow Porter and Trice to come along at their own pace.
In looking at the roster, it is possible the Steelers could have multiple different starters at positions when this season starts and some additional veteran players who have been here may be on the move.
It will be interesting to see if Pittsburgh brings in some former Pro Bowlers at linebacker (both inside and out) and addresses depth at the corner position to ensure there is competition at every position.