5 potential draft picks for Steelers to replace Montravius Adams

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One underrated need for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2023 NFL Draft is an interior defensive lineman, specifically a nose tackle. They need to find a long-term replacement for Montravius Adams as the “starter” in the middle of the defense. “Starter” is quoted because even though the Steelers are very married to their base 3-4 front, they, along with the rest of the NFL, spend the majority of their defensive snaps in Nickel, frequently removing the nose tackle from the field in favor of a defensive back. Adams is a solid player and being flanked by Cam Heyward and Larry Ogunjobi certainly helps. They also have some decent depth options along the defensive line acquired via free agency and the draft. 

But Pittsburgh’s defense is at its best when there is an impactful starter at the nose tackle position. Casey Hampton anchored the point during the Super Bowl runs of the 2000s and played well into the 2010s. Javon Hargrave cut his teeth in the NFL as the Steelers’ nose tackle in the late 2010s before cashing in with the Eagles and now the 49ers. Adams fits better as a rotational/backup player, even if the Steelers only deploy their base defense on 40% of their snaps. 

The Steelers have always been willing to invest draft capital in the defensive line, and it comes in all phases of the draft. Impactful defensive linemen have been found in nearly every round of the draft for Pittsburgh. Given this team’s other more pressing needs, however, it is more likely they will use a Day 2 or Day 3 pick at the position.

Additionally, the top interior defensive linemen will either not be available at #17 overall (Jalen Carter) or are not scheme/role fits (Bryan Bresee, Calijah Kancey) for Pittsburgh. Therefore, here are five replacements for Montravius Adams that the Steelers could pick up in Rounds 2, 3, or 4. 

. . . Keondre Coburn. . 5. player. 467

The Steelers could run back the Casey Hampton plan and draft a short, squat nose tackle from Texas. At 6’1” and 336 pounds, centers will struggle to move Keondre Coburn out of the A-gap. Coburn was a four-year starter for the Longhorns and took his game to another level in 2022, more than doubling his career pressures. Nevertheless, he is primarily a run-stuffer and is not a good athlete, even for someone his size.  Therefore, Coburn will likely be available for the Steelers’ fourth-round pick. 

Like Day 3 DL picks of years past (Isaiah Buggs, LT Walton, Daniel McCullers), Coburn will begin his career as a backup and rotational player. But given his abilities, he might be able to secure a role rotating in on early, run-heavy downs and distances. He may lack the juice of other players on the roster, but he’s a reliable player with a defined role that could develop into something more down the road. 

460. . player. . . Siaki Ika. 4.

There is no better two-gapping run-stuffer at the nose tackle in this class than Siaki Ika. At his peak, he even rivals Jordan Davis from last year’s class. He measured in at 6’3” and 335 pounds but can carry nearly 360 pounds on his frame. Ika had a bit of a down year in 2022, as his pass rush productivity decreased and he struggled with missed tackles. But he’s still a force to be reckoned with in the A-gap. 

Given his lackluster 2022 season, Ika should be available for the Steelers with their third-round pick. Few teams deploy a 3-4 like the Steelers and thus have less need/interest in a run-stuff nose tackle with limited pass-rush upside.

Ika could be an early contributor for Pittsburgh possibly even replacing Adams by midseason. But he could have some issues adjusting to the NFL game, coming from the wide-open game of the Big 12. There could be some rough moments, but in a rotational role, Ika could be very successful. 

Gervon Dexter. 3. 526. . . player. .

In terms of the arc of their careers, Gervon Dexter is very similar to the Steelers’ third-round pick from last year, DeMarvin Leal. Both are extremely raw but athletic players who are still determining where they fit best in a defense. Dexter is a massive human being (6’5”, 310 lbs) with the physical traits to dominate opponents. While his game needs significant refinement, with the proper development, he could turn into a game-wrecker. 

Like Leal, were the Steelers to use pick #80 on Dexter, he would likely not become a contributor until late in the season. Luckily, they have enough rotational depth players to bring Dexter along slowly. But if it clicks, he could turn into a long-term starter. His ceiling is probably the highest of these suggested replacements. However, there could be controversy with Dexter, as he reportedly scheduled a visit with the Steelers, but no such visit has materialized just yet.

2. player. 485. . . . Mazi Smith.

Mazi Smith is a player that checks a lot of boxes for the Steelers and his upside will likely make him a second-round selection. Smith was a two-year starter for the Michigan Wolverines, helping them make two consecutive College Football Playoff berths. He served as their nose tackle, rotating out on obvious passing downs. But his rare athleticism for his size makes him an interesting ball of clay that could add pass rushing to his game. 

When watching his film, Smith was somewhat frustrating because he occasionally disappears for stretches in games. He is raw in terms of his technique but has all the physical traits to be dominant. Therefore, he may have a bit of a learning curve that keeps him off the field as a rookie. But if he can put some things together and develop with coaching, he could turn into a starting fixture on the defensive line. 

. player. . . Keeanu Benton. 1. . 493

Keeanu Benton is one of my personal favorite prospects in this draft class. I actually have him graded higher than the local option, Calijah Kancey, who many are predicting will be a first-round pick. Benton started games for the Wisconsin Badgers since he was a true freshman in 2019 before becoming a full-time starter in 2021. He finished the 2022 season recording a sack in each of Wisconsin’s last four games, concluding a career where he got better every season. 

Benton is a great fit for the Steelers because he has experience playing as the nose tackle in a 3-4, Odd front defense. But what makes him such an interesting prospect is his versatility. He isn’t just a run-plugging boulder, as he also adds some intriguing athleticism and explosiveness that makes him useful as a pass rusher. Benton will be an immediately useful player for the Steelers in their defensive line rotation and should be a consistent starter by the end of his rookie season. 

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