The Pittsburgh Steelers are in uncharted territory. They are losing and playing completely bad football. The Steelers haven’t had an undefeated season since 2003, when the team went 6-10, the last full year of Tommy Maddox’s tenure as Pittsburgh’s starting quarterback before Ben Roethlisberger took over in 2004.
But a losing season is less unknown than a side effect of poor performance. Currently, the team’s record has it in the mix to earn the number one pick in the 2023 NFL Draft based on placement. ESPN’s Football Power Index predicts the Steelers to have the worst record in football until the end of the season. Considering they’ll be huge underdogs heading into their next three matchups with Tampa Bay, Miami and Philadelphia, this likely won’t change anytime soon.
The last time the Steelers had the first overall pick in the NFL Draft was in 1970. They drafted former NFL MVP quarterback Terry Bradshaw.
If the Steelers ended the season with the first overall pick, it would be intriguing who they would select. The quarterback has been selected first overall in four of the last five drafts. This is not surprising given the prominence of this position. However, the Steelers used a first-round pick on Kenny Pickett in April’s draft and likely wouldn’t follow the standard practice of taking a quarterback first overall, despite the high level of talent in this year’s quarterback class.
However, if it’s not the quarterback, who will it be? Here, we analyze four candidates for Pittsburgh’s first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
The Pittsburgh Steelers form a top pass-rush duo by passing Will Anderson
The Alabama edge rusher is the most highly regarded defensive prospect in college football. Assuming the Steelers don’t pursue CJ Stroud or Bryce Young, Will Anderson is the most likely candidate for their top pick.
When healthy, the Steelers have a formidable pass rush led by TJ Watt and Cameron Heyward. However, Watt’s recent injury underscored just how integral Watt is to the front seven. Heyward is 33 years old, and Stephon Tuitt’s pass-rushing talents have been hard to replace after his retirement before 2022.
While Alex Highsmith has been a serviceable outside linebacker across from Watt, it would be hard to pass up the dynamic duo of Watt and Anderson that would ensure the Steelers’ rushing attack is among the best in the NFL for years. come.
Related: See where the Pittsburgh Steelers rank in our updated 2022 NFL defensive rankings.
The Steelers are turning to the defensive interior with Jalen Carter
While the Steelers have had no problem filling spots on the outside of the front seven, finding talent on the interior of the Steelers’ defensive front has been less fruitful.
Pittsburgh has had its share of issues at inside linebacker, stemming in part from Devin Bush’s developmental challenges. Furthermore, neither Tyson Alualu nor Montravius Adams satisfactorily filled the Steelers’ traditional nose tackle role.
Jalen Carter, from Georgia, is the most prized interior defensive lineman in the draft. He played most of his college career in the B gap and doesn’t fit well as a prototypical nose tackle. However, if the Steelers are looking for an interior lineman, Carter is the most likely candidate.
With potential coaching changes coming, it remains to be seen exactly what the Steelers will need to fill on the defensive end if the new hires lead to any scheme changes.
Related: Mike Tomlin takes charge as Pittsburgh Steelers try to avoid worst start in a quarter century
Siaki Ika would solve Pittsburgh’s need for the run
If the Steelers are looking for a more prototypical fit for the traditional nose tackle position, Siaki Ika is the best system. The 6’4, 358 pound linebacker has experience playing in the A-gap in college and would be a great candidate to anchor the Steelers in the middle of the defense to defend against opposing tackles.
Based on Ika’s current outlook, it’s unlikely the Steelers will reach for him with the first overall pick, but tracking his progress is important to monitor given how the system fits and Pittsburgh’s long-term challenge to fill the position since Casey Hampton retired after season of 2012.
Related: 2023 NFL Mock Draft: See who the Pittsburgh Steelers are selecting
The Steelers are landing their corner with Kelee Ringo
The Steelers have one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL this year. This is the average performance of every member of the secondary not named Minkah Fitzpatrick.
Corner is a position that is a constant challenge for the Steelers. The last time Pittsburgh used a pick in the first two rounds to address this position was in 2016, when they drafted cornerbacks Artie Burns and Sean Davis with their first two picks. None of them remained in the team.
If the Steelers decide to address the secondary early in this year’s draft, Kelee Ringo would be the running back to target. At 6-foot-2, Ringo is a long corner who not only possesses strong coverage skills, but also has the physicality to handle every top one-on-one. Imagine a secondary with Fitzpatrick and the freakishly athletic Ringo patrolling the court. Good luck to the QBs in the AFC North if these two pair up.
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