From the moment the Pittsburgh Steelers made their final selection in the 2023 NFL Draft, experts were gushing over their impressive draft haul. Omar Khan had acquired an additional second-round pick in a trade with the Bears (which turned out to be the 32nd overall selection) and the Steelers were able to land multiple high-profile prospects.
There were high expectations from this class during their rookie season in 2023. Unfortunately, most of their talented rookies didn't get a chance to earn significant playing time until later in the season. When they did, however, there was no looking back.
The Steelers' 2023 draft class still has a long way to go in terms of development, but the upside is through the roof. Here are my early grades for each selection and my overall grade for Pittsburgh's 2023 draft with one NFL season under their belts.
OT Broderick Jones: B-
At times, Broderick Jones looked like he was ready to elevate his game to Pro Bowl status. Other times, it looked like he needed time to sit and learn until he cleaned up his technique. His inconsistencies as a rookie made him an average starter at best at the OT position in the NFL last year, but the traits are undeniable.
One thing we can't ignore is how much better the running game became once Jones was inserted into the starting lineup. He clearly has the power to bully at the line of scrimmage and the quickness to get to the next level. Jones is certainly a work in progress, but even with his lows, I think his rookie performance was overall encouraging.
CB Joey Porter Jr.: A
Steelers fans were thrilled to see that Joey Porter Jr. was still on the board when Pittsburgh held the opening pick on Day 2 of the 2023 NFL Draft. It was frustrating that it took Mike Tomlin and Teryl Austin so long to make Porter a starter, but he quickly became the best cornerback on the team.
Porter showcased sticky coverage ability and used his unmatched length to his advantage. However, he must clean up his grabbiness. if he can do that, Porter could cement himself as one of the best lockdown cornerbacks in football. Even with a dozen penalties, Porter had an excellent rookie season.
DL Keenau Benton: A
I don't think the Pittsburgh Steelers could have possibly expected Keeanu Benton to be as impressive as he was when he saw the field as a rookie. What's head-scratching is that he still earned 300 fewer snaps than Larry Ogunjobi. Benton showed off impressive movement skills for a player his size with an innate ability to generate pressure on the quarterback.
Where Benton struggled at times was in run defense (though he did have some impressive run stops). He tends to over-pursue and lose contain. This will get better in time, and he certainly is looking like he could be a building block piece to this interior defensive line thanks to his talent and versatility.
TE Darnell Washington: C
To recoup some of the draft capital lost when trading up for Broderick Jones in Round 1, the Steelers moved back in the third round, but they were still able to land Darnell Washington. Throughout the pre-draft process, Washington certainly looked the part thanks to his massive frame and brute strength.
However, the mammoth tight end showed just how raw he was as a rookie. He missed assignments and struggled to get in the right position when blocking on the move. Washington also offered almost nothing as a receiver during his first NFL season. By no means am I giving up on Washington. He's still a rare breed of tight end, but I wish his rookie season would have been a bit more promising.
EDGE Nick Herbig: A+
It's a small sample size, but, needless to say, I am thrilled with what Nick Herbig was able to do when he was on the field. Expectedly, Teryl Austin didn't allow T.J. Watt and Alex Highsmith to take many breaks, but Herbig always seemed to flash when it was his time to shine.
Herbig was an uber-productive player at Wisconsin, and on just 104 passing snaps in 2023, he earned 3.0 sacks, 5 tackles for a loss, and 3 QB hits, per Pro Football Reference. Herbig would have gone much higher in the 2023 NFL Draft if not for his lack of size and length. He is well on his way to defying the odds and becoming a rock-solid NFL pass rusher. Herbig was arguably the best choice the Steelers could have made late in the fourth round.
CB Cory Trice Jr.: D
I loved Cory Trice coming out of Purdue, and I thought at the time that this was one of the best value picks in the draft. Unfortunately, an ACL tear claimed his entire rookie season from early at Steelers training camp. It was his extensive injury history that caused him to fall to the seventh round of the draft, to begin with, and if he can't stay healthy, the value of this pick won't matter.
OL Spencer Anderson: D
With just one offensive snap under his belt, we properly evaluate Spencer Anderson at this point. All we truly know is that he was apparently impressive enough to stick on the roster as a late seventh-round pick. We will need to reevaluate both Trice and Anderson again after the 2024 season.
Overall grade for Steelers 2023 draft class: A
From top to bottom, I am just as pleased with the Pittsburgh Steelers' 2023 draft class as I was with how it looked on paper right after they were selected by the team. Mike Tomlin got quality production out of three of his rookies, while their top five draft choices each flashed impressive upside.
This class should only look more impressive a year or two from now. The Steelers valued quality prospects at important positions, and it looks like a few of them could prove to be the building blocks of the next generation in Pittsburgh.