The Pittsburgh Steelers won’t intentionally tank, but finishing as a bottom-four team may actually benefit them in the long run.
Like it or not, the Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t a very good team in 2022. No matter what happens the rest of the way, they won’t be competing for a Super Bowl title this year. The sad truth is that this team grossly lacks talent and depth on their roster right now, and they need to build their foundation before they can make a legitimate push.
Knowing this: what is the endgame here? Is it important to win some meaningless games against bad opponents down the stretch if the Steelers are still going to fall short of the playoffs? I would argue that this is counterproductive in helping this team in the 2023 season and beyond.
There’s no question we want to see improvement from rookie QB Kenny Pickett late in the season, and while I will still be rooting for this to happen, I also think the Steelers could benefit greatly if they finished with a top-four pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
A top-four pick would give Steelers terrific options in the NFL Draft
Why a top-four pick, you ask? This isn’t just some arbitrary number. If you do some research on next year’s class, you can get a pretty good idea of why a top-four pick would be needed to put the Steelers in a terrific position in April.
As of now, it seems highly likely that at least two quarterbacks will go inside the top four — potentially even picks 1 and 2 overall. Though the Steelers won’t be giving up on Pickett after just one season, holding one of these picks would give them tremendous options.
Their best option would likely be a trade-back scenario. This is something Andy Weidl has had great success with in the past. The Steelers could turn their top-four pick into a pair of first-round picks and maybe even a day-two pick the following season. By doing so, they can still address key positions in the first round like offensive tackle and cornerback. This is in addition to already owning two second-round picks.
If the Steelers end up with a top-four pick but can’t find a trade partner to move back, they would still be in great shape. As I mentioned, I think at least two quarterbacks will go this early in the draft, so Pittsburgh wouldn’t have to worry about the few teams ahead of them targeting the players that they would.
This means that Omar Khan and Andy Weidl are almost guaranteed to come down with a generational talent. From my evaluation, there are two of those players in this class: Alabama EDGE Will Anderson and George DL Jalen Carter.
I understand that the Steelers have some positional needs that are bigger than EDGE or DL, but passing on these players would be a mistake (if they can’t trade back, of course). Both Anderson and Carter are talented enough to be among the best in the NFL at their position, and they are cornerstone players you can build a team around.
Picking just outside the top four doesn’t guarantee you one of these players. In fact, I would be somewhat surprised if Anderson or Carter were still on the board when the fifth pick rolls around (that’s how good they are). After them, there is a massive tier drop-off in talent and there might not be much of a difference between pick 5 and pick 12.
I don’t like to actively root for the Pittsburgh Steelers to lose, but at the same time, I know it’s what’s in the best interest of their future. Landing a top-four pick this year would give them ample flexibility in which they would be guaranteed to come away from the 2023 NFL Draft with either an elite football player or at least a pair of first-rounders in a trade-back.