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Steelers could fortify secondary, trenches in NFL draft

Mike Tomlin walks down a hallway.
Matt York
Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin leaves the AFC head coaches availability at the NFL meetings, Monday, March 27, 2023, in Phoenix.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, perhaps more than any other NFL franchise, embrace the idea that they're not a team so much as a family.

It's an ethos that extends from ownership through the front office down to the roster itself, which has had at least one set of brothers — if not more — in the building since 2019.

No wonder it seems as if Penn State cornerback Joey Porter Jr. could be too good to pass up when Pittsburgh is on the clock with the 17th overall pick in 2023 draft, which starts next Thursday night in Kansas City.

The son of former Steelers linebacker and assistant coach Joey Porter Sr. checks off two of the most important boxes the franchise holds dear. He's a talented defender with deep ties to the team and the community. He also would have the benefit of learning the ropes behind a three-time All-Pro in Patrick Peterson, who signed a two-year deal in March.

Though Pittsburgh has legitimate needs in other areas — particularly at left tackle, along the defensive line and at inside linebacker — Porter's pedigree, athleticism and ties seem like a solid fit for “The Steeler Way.”

Yet Porter isn't the only potential first-rounder Pittsburgh has gotten an up close look at through the years.

University of Pittsburgh defensive lineman Calijah Kancey has been right next door since 2019 and put together an impressive resume during his senior year, following a path set by former Panther turned NFL star Aaron Donald.

Kancey might not be Donald, but for a defensive line in the process of a youth movement, he could give the Steelers an potentially potent presence to put alongside 13-year veteran Cam Heyward and recently re-signed Larry Ogunjobi.

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New Braintrust

The draft is the first for Pittsburgh with Omar Khan serving as general manager. Khan, who has been with the team in some capacity since 2001, was promoted to replace Kevin Colbert last May and quickly brought over longtime friend Andy Weidl from Philadelphia after Weidl helped put together a roster that reached the Super Bowl in February.

Khan and Weidl will be busy in their first draft together. The Steelers have three picks inside the top 50.

“It gives us the opportunity to do a lot of different things,” Khan said. “We have a lot of scenarios that we’ve talked about. Everything’s on the table right now. It just gives us options. With this draft being as good as it is, we’re excited to have it.”

Pick 'Em

Pittsburgh appeared headed for a potential top-five pick at midseason before a strong finish led by rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett boosted the Steelers to a 9-8 finish and the middle of the pack. Trading wide receiver Chase Claypool to Chicago at the deadline last fall also netted them Chicago's second-round pick, which will be No. 32 in this draft after the Dolphins forfeited a pick as punishment for having impermissible communication with Tom Brady in 2019.


The Steelers traded up to take inside linebacker Devin Bush with the 10th pick in 2019. After Bush washed out in four unremarkable years, they find themselves in the market for help at the position once again after Bush and Robert Spillane left in free agency and Myles Jack was cut. Pittsburgh signed Cole Holcomb from Washington in March but the fight for the starting spot next to him could be wide open.

Don't Need

Pittsburgh took a small leap of faith last spring by selecting Pickett in the first round in an otherwise quarterback-light draft. Pickett grew up on the job during his first season as a pro, meaning no need for the Steelers to look for any competition even with a decidedly deeper crop of signal callers available this year.

Bait and Tackle

The offensive line remained healthy most of last season and the interior line received a boost when guards Isaac Seumalo and Nate Herbig arrived in free agency. Still, Pittsburgh could be tempted to take a tackle in the first round under the right circumstances. While Chuks Okorafor was OK at right tackle last season, left tackle Dan Moore struggled with consistency and penalties in his second season. The Steelers haven't taken a lineman in the first round since selecting six-time Pro Bowl guard David DeCastro 24th in 2012.