The Pittsburgh Steelers have a history of hitting on receivers in the draft. Be it Santonio Holmes in the first round or Antonio Brown in the sixth round, Pittsburgh just has that special stuff when it comes to evaluating talent at the receiver position and finding in impact contributor at nearly any point in the draft.
The Steelers are in position to draft another receiver in 2023 after losing Steven Sims in free agency to the Texans and with Miles Boykin remaining unsigned. The team has incumbents Diontae Johnson and George Pickens in tow who are established starters and have Calvin Austin III who is coming back from missing the entire 2022 campaign with a foot injury. However, Austin has never played a down of NFL football and expecting him to man the starting slot job from Day One without any real insurance behind him wouldn’t be wise. Sure, the team has Anthony Miller and Gunner Olszewski as depth, but neither possesses much upside relative to their production the last several years.
While WR is a position that can be improved yet this offseason with another lost-cost investment with a draft pick in the middle rounds, would that be the right move for this team. Given the state of the draft and the direction of this football team this offseason, perhaps it would be better to invest a draft pick into a quality TE instead of going back to the well at WR.
When looking at the draft class as a whole, the TE position is one of the deepest. In fact, many have labeled this TE class as the deepest in recent memory with NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah stating that he has 11 TEs with third round grades. Guys like Michael Mayer and Dalton Kincaid will likely hear their names called in the first round, but names like Zack Kuntz, Payne Durham, Sam LaPorta, and Luke Schoonmaker all could become capable starting TEs that could fall in the draft due to the sheer depth at the position.
Looking through draft rankings and I’m still really surprised when I see Luke Schoonmaker not among top TEs
Plus blocker, natural hands catcher, plus athlete, and can win in-line and in space as a receiver.
Seems forgotten about in strong TE class, but shouldn’t be. #ShrineBowl pic.twitter.com/cpgGMA97Ix
— Eric Galko (@EricGalko) February 22, 2023
In comparison, the WR position isn’t has loaded in this draft class with the top of the position having options like Quinton Johnston who has his own concerns regarding if he can develop into a well-rounded WR1 as well as Jordan Addison who didn’t perform well at the Combine and doesn’t have the prototypical size of an alpha WR. There are plenty of other receivers to be had later in the draft, but there is an apparent lack of depth and quality in 2023 compared to previous classes.
Not only does the draft skew more to the TE position, but the direction of the Steelers’ offensive philosophy may skew to more 2 & 3 TE sets in 2023 as well. The Steelers committed to the running game after their bye week, finding success with their offensive identity as they went 7-2 down the stretch and nearly made the playoffs. The rate they utilized 2 TE sets went up nearly 25% after the bye while the number of snaps they deployed 3 TEs rose as well. The front office has committed to this identity, signing big, mean people movers in OG Nate Herbig and OG Isaac Seumalo so far this offseason while showing interest in some of the top OL in the class.
HC Mike Tomlin mentioned that the team wasn’t bashful in their intentions to establish the running game last season and sees that trend continuing in 2023 to help compliment QB Kenny Pickett and his development. While the team did bring back Zach Gentry, he is a serviceable, yet unspectacular option as the team’s TE2. Instead of Gentry serving as the team’s blocking TE, imagine if Pittsburgh embraced this smash mouth football identity and selected Georgia’s Darnell Washington or South Dakota State’s Tucker Craft who are two of the best blocking TEs in the class that also give Pickett big-bodied targets in the red zone as well as over the field to move the chains.
Do some people understand calling Darnell Washington a “Tackle” isn’t a knock on him?
If I can have tight end whos an elite blocker, with an insane catch radius and runs a 4.6 possibly?
Hell yeah sign me up. pic.twitter.com/etz76YyMJG
— CFBLIVE247 (@CFBLive247_) February 27, 2023
In summary, Pittsburgh needs to continue to add more talent and help around Pickett to take this offense to the next level. While drafting a slot WR may help accomplish that, Pittsburgh could potentially kill two birds with one stone and draft a talented TE in a deep class to give Pickett another reliable passing game target while also improving in the run blocking department to help take this running game to another level in 2023.