Don't cross off edge defender as realistic possibility for Steelers at pick 17

Steelers, Nolan Smith
Steelers, Nolan Smith / Paul Abell/GettyImages

Since the end of the 2022 season, we've all heard the same arguments when it comes to positions of need and have been fixated just a few popsitions for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first round. After the 2023 free agency period, these needs became even clearer.

Pittsburgh might have had the worst group of off-ball linebackers in the NFL last season, so they wiped the slate clean with Myles Jack, Robert Spillane, and Devin Bush, and are attempting to start over with newcomers in Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts. This is still a position of need, but the talent may not line up great for the Steelers in the first round of the draft.

Apart from that, cornerback and offensive tackle are two positions that have been on the Steelers draft radar from day one. Pittsburgh lost their best cornerback this offseason in Cameron Sutton, while a lackluster combination of Dan Moore Jr. and Chukwuma Okorafor at tackle leaves a lot to be desired.

Because of their need at these positions, the Steelers have spent a lot of time visiting many of the top offensive tackle and cornerback prospects this year. Somehow, there's one position that we should probably be talking about much more.

EDGE is still on the radar for Steelers at pick 17

Perhaps the best-kept secret this offseason is that the Pittsburgh Steelers have quietly expressed interest in a very talented edge defender class. The 2023 draft is loaded with talented players at the top, and it's possible that an EDGE might be the best overall prospect on the baord when the Steelers are making their selection at pick 17.

While seldom talked about, Mike Tomlin and Omar Khan have had dinner meetings or Pro Day visits with players like Clemson's Myles Murphy, Iowa State's Will McDonald IV, Georgia's Nolan Smith, and Iowa's Lukas Van Ness. That's four edge defenders who are projected to go in the middle of the first round this year.

At the time being, edge does not seem like a major need for the Steelers. Though they could obviously use an upgrade in terms of depth, taking one in the first round may seem like overkill with T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith on the roster.

However, Pittsburgh might be thinking about planning ahead -- something they were notoriously bad at under the reign of Kevin Colbert. Instead of making short-sighted moves, they could be thinking about drafting one of most talented players this year who can help them in a heavy rotation and start by 2024.

With how productive Highsmith was this past season, there's little question that he's going to rake in a massive contract when he hits free agency next year. Because they already have one of the NFL's most expensive defenses, the Steelers simply may not be able to afford him (or believe he will be overpaid).

According to the consensus board at NFL Mock Draft Database, players like Murphy and Van Ness are right on value with where the Steelers will be picking in round one. Meanwhile, some draft analysts would argue that prospects like Smith and McDonald are certainly deserving of the 17th overall selection.

Next. Re-grading the Pittsburgh Steelers draft one year later. dark

Obviously, I do feel that the Steelers have more pressing needs that they are likely to address in the first round, but based on their visits and the clear interest they have in some of the top edge defenders this year, we can't rule out the possibility of Pittsburgh going this route as early as round one.