3 things I love about Omar Khan's drafts as Steelers GM (and 2 things I despise)

Omar Khan has certainly left his mark since taking over as the general manager, and while most of it has been good for the Steelers draft-wise, I do have two issues.
 Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Omar Khan
Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Omar Khan / Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers are in a very new era under Omar Khan, and that hasn’t been more apparent than during the draft. While Kevin Colbert deserves a lot of credit for the Steelers' success this century, his drafts at the end of his career were abysmal. Khan taking over has been a breath of fresh air for this team.

That said, everything hasn’t been perfect for Khan. There have been some notable trends that stick out as trouble to me, and I hope that they get resolved sooner rather than later. Here are three things that Khan is getting right in the draft and two things I hate about his style.

Things Steelers are doing right with Omar Khan

Value over everything else

The overarching theme over the past two drafts has been the Steelers prioritizing the value that can be found in the rookie class. They have done this in a variety of ways. For starters, the team has done a great job of figuring out what the strengths are in a given draft and adding players from those positions. For positions that are shallow, this team makes sure to address in free agency, while the deeper positions are left open for the draft.

To be fair, the Steelers' needs have also coincided with the general strengths of the past few drafts, but the team has capitalized on this. Their draft boards have also broken favorably over the past two seasons. The team has still taken names like Darnell Washington, Payton Wilson, and Mason McCormick when needs dictated other options though. On the flip side, those picks are all perceived as really good value.

Through two seasons, the Steelers seem to be playing the draft as great teams do. Sure, you add talent at positions that are lacking, but you also target your genuine top players on the board. It’ll be curious to see how this team pivots when need and value don’t match up all the time, but it seems like Khan has a real focus on player value when he is on the clock.

Focus on the trenches

Before Khan was promoted, Pittsburgh's investment in the trenches was putrid. The offensive line was in shambles and the defensive front seven had good core starters but no depth. The new regime has flipped the script, as eight of their draft picks over the past two seasons have gone to either offensive linemen or a defensive player in the front seven.

In turn, the offensive line looks like one of the strengths on the roster with healthy depth. The defensive line is a work in progress, but I would expect the heavy investments to shift over that way in the near future. That said, the focus has been on the trenches for this team, and it is an investment I expect to pay off overall.

Look to free agency after the draft

On the surface, not addressing all of your needs in a given draft class would be a bad thing. That said, the Steelers saw day three picks being taken and forced into significant roles late in Colbert's career. This ultimately failed, as those later-round picks need to be focused on whoever is the best value even if they don't fill an immediate need. Such was the case with the McCormick pick this year.

Instead, Khan seems very willing to see how the draft unfolds and add a free agent or two afterward to fill those remaining needs. This allows them to prioritize getting the best players and not throwing unprepared rookies into the fire. It is a double-edged sword, as it leaves holes on this team year after year (looking at you slot cornerback), but it is the better long-term.

Things Steelers have me nervous about with Khan

Who cares about injuries?

One trend that seems risky is the Steelers' perceived view on injuries during the predraft process. They have drafted two players with extensive injury histories that they selected each year as well as two players that reportedly fell due to long-term knee issues. Add in Zach Frazier who is coming off a broken leg and there are some risks with their classes.

Injuries are an impossible-to-predict aspect of the game, and it could easily come to pass that none of these concerns are major ones. However, if in a year or two we see some of these players struggle to take the field or even retire early, it won’t matter how good the perceived value was on draft day.

Khan has forsaken the UDFAs

My least favorite aspect of the Khan regime draft-wise actually occurs after the draft wraps up. The undrafted rookie classes have been upgraded in recent years with deeper rookie pools. Teams have been able to consistently find quality names from these ranks, but they have to pay up for them. Before Khan, the Steelers had maintained their old ways of thinking, offering very little money and signing big but relatively lackluster undrafted classes.

I was hoping Khan would have modernized this process, but that hasn’t been the case. In fact, he has further killed the Steelers' undrafted rookie classes, as they have been greatly reduced in his two years running things. 2023 saw no notable players and only one holdover from last offseason. This year's class was smaller but featured at least one solid player. That said, it seems like undrafted rookies are the least of this team's concerns.

Let me make myself clear, I think Khan has done an excellent job in the draft since taking over. His two positives far outweigh the negatives. That said, I do have some long-term injury concerns with the class, and I genuinely wish that this team would try and bring in better undrafted rookie classes.

Next. Ranking the Steelers 2024 undrafted rookie free agents. Ranking the Steelers 2024 undrafted rookie free agents. dark