The Steelers are currently in line for a high draft pick, and here are the directions they could realistically go with the top pick in the draft.
It has been a long time since the Steelers have held the top pick in a draft class, and while the current roster has some bright spots, there are definite reasons to think that Pittsburgh will be picking early in the draft. Despite an upset win against the Buccaneers, this team is still a long way from being a top competitor.
What if the Steelers landed the top pick in the draft though? Just what direction could they end up going? While far from a certainty, I wanted to delve into the possibilities of what this team could do if facing the first pick in the 2023 NFL draft. With all of that said, here is a breakdown of the three primary scenarios the Steelers can follow with the top pick in the draft.
Steelers can take a quarterback
On the surface, this is the least likely scenario for the team, but it isn’t an impossible one. The team selected Kenny Pickett in the first round of the draft, a draft that was notably weak in the quarterback department. 2023, on paper, is a different story. The class is headlined by a pair of top prospects and quite a few intriguing options behind them.
The names everyone knows are C.J. Stroud and Bryce Young. Stroud is one of the best pure passers in recent memory while Young is a dynamic athlete with the ability to make big plays. To me, Stroud has the chance to be elite given the arm talent he has. Passing on him would be bold, to say the least.
There are other names that make sense as well. Will Levis has that gunslinger mentality the team wants in their franchise passer. Hendon Hooker has looked like an elite prospect since joining Tennessee. Either could see their stock rise into potentially the top quarterback in the draft. Without question, good quarterback play is key to a successful team.
The question is, will the Steelers be willing to move on from Pickett so fast? Other NFL teams have done so before, and often it has led to success. The Panthers seemingly had Jimmy Clausen pegged as their guy before turning to Cam Newton. The Cardinals moved on from a top-ten pick in Josh Rosen after just one season in favor of Kyler Murray.
Pickett would have to do a lot of things wrong in order for this to make sense. While the start of his career has been exaggerated by fans, he hasn’t been a dumpster fire either. He would need to limit this team greatly in order for them to draft someone else. That said, taking an elite prospect at quarterback is still a faint possibility.
Steelers take the best player available
If the Steelers were to land the top pick in the draft, this is the most likely scenario of what the team does. While being tempted by a top quarterback could sway them, they will likely settle in and target whomever they deem to be the best player available at a position of need. This is how they usually attack the draft in the first place.
The best player as of now is Alabama’s Will Anderson Jr. He was a monster off the edge during his sophomore campaign and has continued that dominance into his junior season. He is the prototypical size for the position and has elite college production. The issue is, the Steelers typically target a position of need. Alex Highsmith may convince the team that edge rusher isn’t a top need, thus Anderson wouldn’t make sense as the first overall pick.
That leaves some defensive linemen like Jalen Carter and Bryan Bresee as potential options. While both are good players and sound run defenders, spending the top overall pick on good, not great players isn’t a recipe for success. Both would need to become far better pass rushers to warrant that top pick, as the value just isn’t there. To be fair though, the Steelers seemingly don’t care much for positional value when targeting a player.
The Steelers could trade back
Without a doubt, this is my top choice of what the team should do if they land the top pick. There will be quarterbacks other teams want, so moving back will be a legitimate option. The Steelers have a lot of needs, so acquiring more picks and still landing a top player would be a huge win for this team.
You could do a small move back and stay in the top five. You would only be looking at a day two pick probably, but you could still likely land one of those top defenders mentioned earlier. Moving back into the top ten could net a first-round pick next year and still land the team a top cornerback or lineman.
The team could be even bolder and move down into the middle of the first round. In doing so, the Steelers would likely receive a haul of picks including multiple top picks in both this draft and next years. Most of the offensive tackle talent is outside of the top ten right now, so this could be a way to land a position of need while receiving a boatload of draft capital in return.
While the odds of the Steelers landing the top pick in the draft isn’t extremely likely, don’t be surprised to see a higher pick than usual this year. If the team does find itself in a premium position in the draft, one of these three options will be how the team goes.