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How to build your Steelers 2024 NFL Draft board at home

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By: Brandon Andrews

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

A look at how the Steelers have approached previous drafts to help you build your own 2024 NFL Draft wish list.

The NFL Combine kicks off today February 26, 2024. We encourage you to watch the Combine in full if at all possible as you can see some of the prospects who likely will be holding up a Pittsburgh Steelers jersey during the 2024 NFL Draft, or who get the call from the team during the draft. You can begin building your draft board to follow along with the draft at home. You likely will not get every selection correct, but you may be surprised at how close you can get.

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Using the Steelers past to predict the future

Like most things in life, people form habits that can serve to predict how they behave. NFL front offices are no different to be perfectly candid. If you go back to the beginning of the Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin’s tenure with the team and put all of the players’ names, schools, and whether the school is from a Power Five conference (updated 2024), it starts to paint a picture.

For the last 17 years, the Steelers have never once drafted a player in the first round outside of the previous version of the Power Five conference. Even though the Power Five has changed a bit over time, don’t be surprised if the Steelers stick to what they have done in previous seasons. Their 2024 NFL Draft first-round pick will probably be from a large college program. So, there’s the beginning to setting your draft board which should give you an idea where to begin.

What can the current team needs and players under contract tell you?

Next, let’s work off of the Steelers’ current team needs. Unfortunately, there are a lot of them. In no particular order:

Center: Unless the Steelers decide to invest heavily in a free-agent center when the new league year begins, as their roster stands, they don’t have a true center candidate on the team. It wouldn’t be surprising if Omar Khan elects to sign a stop-gap option at the position before the 2024 NFL Draft — someone like Aaron Brewer of the Tennessee Titans — to give them an appearance of flexibility. Don’t be fooled though, he would not be considered as a Week 1 starter for the Steelers.

  • Cornerback: The Steelers are extremely thin at the corner position behind Joey Porter Jr., It’s not a given they don’t waive veteran Patrick Peterson with the potential to save just under $7 million against the cap in 2024. They could take a large swing in free agency here, which would push the positional need down the board.
  • Defensive line: Pittsburgh Steelers defensive tackle Cam Heyward will be 35 years old before the season, which means it’s past time for the team to start looking at his future heir at the position. DE Larry Ogunjobi hasn’t done much of anything either. Their 2023 NFL Draft second-round selection Keeanu Benton looks like a find at nosetackle, but there’s not much depth behind their starters.
  • Inside Linebacker: Age and injury concerns certainly are a problem for the team, and they don’t have much depth behind presumed starters Cole Holcomb and Elandon Roberts. But, if Holcomb gets the green light to return to football activity sooner rather than later, don’t be shocked if they push this need down the board a bit.
  • Strong safety: The Steelers don’t have an NFL-quality starting strong safety; they just don’t. Approaching free agency, their top options are 28-year-old Keanu Neal, who missed time with injury last season, and 2022 UDFA Trenton Thompson.
  • Offensive tackle: The Steelers will look to get 2023 rookie Broderick Jones back to left tackle this season, which means they’ll need to find his complement on the right side of the line.
  • Quarterback: The Steelers are certainly going to look at competition for Kenny Pickett. It’s doubtful they make a big trade at the position or sign a veteran to a lucrative deal.
  • Punter: There aren’t any attractive free agents at this position, and there are three candidates the team could look too on day three of the 2024 draft.

That looks like a lot but you should expect to see a few starting-level free agents that come in and serve to fill some of those needs which will push them down, or off the draft board altogether.

Steelers in free agency

When preparing your draft board, it’s important to consider the strengths and weaknesses of the incoming draft class. With strength at the top of the 2024 center class, the Steelers could decide to shy away from spending large dollars on a veteran center and opt to pursue their next center in the draft.

The team isn’t likely to bring in another starting option at the inside linebacker position, either, after the Steelers invested a lot in Holcomb and Roberts last offseason. So, you shouldn’t expect to see them sign another starting-caliber inside linebacker. They very well could sign a role-player-type backup-level player, with several available options that make sense. Barring them doing that, they should address the position in the draft, though how early remains to be seen given other needs.

Being that this is expected to be a relatively poor class at strong safety and a good pool of experienced veteran options in free agency who fit what the Steelers often like, this is a position you could very well see the Steelers sign a free agent to a top-of-the-market contract.

The rookie draft class at offensive tackle on paper looks promising, and that’s probably the path the team chooses to travel versus signing a free-agent tackle. Whether it’s on the right or left side, tackles tend to get paid well — even the bad ones. If they can find the complement to Broderick Jones to play on a rookie contract, all the better.

As for the quarterback position… The top two quarterbacks in the draft are USC quarterback Caleb Williams and UNC’s Drake Maye will be long gone before the Steelers’ selection at pick No. 20. Even if the Steelers do somehow trade up during the draft, they certainly won’t be able to get in range of those two top-tiered options. It’s also a fool’s errand to draft a quarterback in the first round of the draft simply to draft a quarterback, especially when they may have even already done that with current starting quarterback Kenny Pickett. So, it wouldn’t be smart to draft a quarterback in this draft unless they are certain they found not only an improvement on Pickett but a franchise quarterback. Unless that is the feeling, you can very well completely cross off quarterback before round six of the draft.

It’s far more likely to see the team bring in a veteran option via the free-agent market. They don’t have a fifth-round selection, so chances are low they make a trade for a quarterback unless it’s for someone who’s not going to cost more than a stale bag of chips. Lastly, the punter position, you can write in dark pencil the Steelers using their sixth-round selection on Iowa punter Tory Taylor, Texas Tech punter Austin McNamara, Vanderbilt punter Matthew Hayball, BYU punter Ryan Rehkow, Duke punter Porter Wilson. One of them will be getting a phone call from a 412 number on day three of the draft.

So here’s how you can start to put together your draft board. The Combine is important but the players who are seen as the top players likely won’t change much. What the Steelers do in free agency or don’t do will play a large role in composing your draft board. And don’t forget, remove those small school players from your first-round grouping for the Steelers.

Expect the Steelers to hit these positions in the draft after they plug some holes in free agency:

  1. Center
  2. Defensive End
  3. Cornerback
  4. Inside Linebacker
  5. Punter
  6. Offensive Tackle

The next steps are to start familiarizing yourself with names aligned with those positions, if you like to do mock drafts then start focusing on those areas.

Originally posted on Behind the Steel Curtain – All Posts