Steelers tip draft strategy with player acquisitions and Mike Tomlin's admission

Are the Steelers giving away too much information about their pre-draft process?

Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens
Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens / Rob Carr/GettyImages

The Steelers signed two more free agents yesterday. First, they signed Josh Allen's backup from Buffalo quarterback Kyle Allen. Obviously, the Steelers decided to leave all the quarterback theatrics of the draft to those who genuinely need a quarterback. Then, they signed former Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Quez Watkins, and just today, they also signed Cordarrelle Patterson, a running back from Atlanta.

These moves were relatively small compared to the Steelers signing Russell Wilson or Patrick Queen. Allen's signing gives the Steelers a 3rd quarterback in case of injuries, and Watkins's signing merely adds extra competition to determine the 4,5 and 6 wide receivers. He will compete against Dez Fitzpatrick, Keilahn Haris, Ven Jefferson, Denzel Mims, and Duece Watts for inclusion in the final 53-man roster. 

Given their lack of other bold moves, such as a trade for Brandon Aiyuk, if that rumor ever had any realism, signing Tyler Boyd, and that they did not acquire a center, leaving them with few center options going forward.

Add that to Mike Tomlin's admission in his recent interview that they would explore drafting a wide receiver, and we must assume they will draft a center and wide receiver with their first two draft choices.

Steelers likely to draft a wide receiver first

Keep in mind that, as with any draft, the selections made ahead of you can alter the path of your draft. We will see how this plays out for the Steelers insofar as they get their top player on their draft board or settle with someone further down. Their first pick will be a wideout, barring any surprises, such as the Steelers leading with a center with their first selection.

If so, here is where it could get ugly. Except for 1974, the Steelers have never had fruitful long-term receivers come from the number one pick. In 1971, they had Frank Lewis. In 1984, they selected Louis Lipps, probably the most successful number-one wide receiver draft choice since 1974. In 1994, they selected Charles Johnson. In 1999, they selected Troy Edwards. Then, in 2000, they took Plaxico Burress, and finally, Santonio Holmes in 2006. If the Steelers take a receiver, it will be the first selected with Mike Tomlin as head coach.

All of the previous selections were never bad and were talented; however, most never stayed beyond their 1st contract. Meanwhile, the Steelers have found most of their wide receiver gems in later draft rounds, such as Hines Ward and Antonio Brown. However, necessity may dictate a wide receiver. The Steelers will want at least one additional weapon beyond George Pickens and Calvin Austin, who could be deadly targets for Wilson or Fields.  

Based on players they have visited with, if they are looking at taking a wide receiver, they could possibly be taking close looks at Xavier Legette from South Carolina, Malachi Corley from Western Kentucky, or perhaps Ricky Pearsall from Florida. However, another receiver could sneak into the conversation at any time.

What about a Center?

Sure, the Steelers could take a center with their first selection; it’s understandable why some would advocate for it. The Steelers have a remarkable legacy regarding drafting centers, such as Mike Webster, Dermontti Dawson, and Marurkice Pouncy, to name a few. Nevertheless, the 2024 draft does not have a prospect at that position screaming, "Draft me; I am the next Hall of Famer." You might argue that the rest of the NFL missed that in 1974 in the case of Mike Webster, but it seems unlikely here.

The larger question is which center will still be on the board after the first round. Only about four centers could be considered day-one or day-two picks. Many mock drafts have two centers going in round one. Those would be Jackon Powers-Johnson, Oregon, Graham Barton, Duke, Zach Frazier, WVU, and Sedrick Van Pran from Georgia. Hence, the gamble is that three of them will still be available when the Steelers select in round two.

Draft history says yes, but again, is it always safe to defer to such a strategy when you need a center and are left with very few options to secure one that makes the Steelers a better overall team? Keep in mind that you also need to upgrade the protection for Wilson and fields.

In any case, while we have an indication of what the Steelers may do, there are no certainties. Even though highly improbable, the Bears could throw in a wrinkle if they chose not to select Caleb Williams. Stranger things have happened in the draft. The interesting point is that the 2024 draft lacks some predictability from the last three drafts.

At the same time, we still have an idea of what the Steelers may do, there may be some suspense, and it's always possible that perhaps they even trade up if there is someone they think they need to take. It should be an exciting night.