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A Letter From the Editor: Keep stacking draft classes

The National Football League has changed quite a bit since its inception when the AFL and NFL officially merged. Those dynasties which existed before the start of free agency and the salary cap seem to be a thing of the past, although the Kansas City Chiefs are doing their best to test that theory. Nonetheless, the fundamentals of building a team remain the same since those days of the 1970s Steelers.

What am I talking about? Well, let’s back up a bit first.

Every year when the new league year begins, which signifies the start of free agency, fans are clamoring for new players, and teams are paying top dollar for the biggest names in the free agent pool. Is there a problem with this approach? Outside of the fact the biggest spenders in free agency rarely win, there are those who stand by the fact they can buy themselves a winner.

But the fundamental truth which always resides within the NFL is you build a team through the NFL Draft. Sure, free agency absolutely helps to round out the roster, but the foundation of your team should be homegrown talent through the draft. If we’re using the analogy of building a house, the walls/foundation would be the players drafted, and the interior decor would be the free agent acquisitions.

Why does this all matter? Because since Omar Khan has taken over as the team’s General Manager (GM) starting with the 2023 NFL Draft he has had two tremendous drafts under his tutelage. Just think about the players who were drafted by Khan and company, who are likely to be household names with the black-and-gold for years to come:

  • Broderick Jones
  • Joey Porter Jr.
  • Keeanu Benton
  • Nick Herbig
  • Troy Fautanu
  • Zach Frazier
  • Roman Wilson
  • Payton Wilson

There are those who talk about Khan’s ability to make moves and get the best out of transactions with other teams. That absolutely holds true, but you build a dynasty not through free agency or trades, but through the draft. And if you don’t look now, Khan has started stacking quality draft classes.

I’m not about to bash Kevin Colbert and the work he did as the GM of the team prior to Khan taking over, but I think even the most level-headed Steelers fan can say the tail end of Colbert’s career left the Steelers with more bare cupboards than ones filled with talent. What Khan and Andy Weidl have done in such a short amount of time is nothing shy of awesome. Now, if I’m being fair, these players still have to pan out. There are busts lurking around every turn when it comes to the draft, but on paper the players who have been brought in the past two draft classes can be transformative for the foreseeable future.

We’ve seen Khan operate in multiple ways in his two drafts. In 2023 he showed the willingness to move up and get the player he deemed worthy of a top pick, Broderick Jones. In 2024 his patience paid off as he let the board fall to him, and he had plenty of quality players waiting at every turn. In both drafts, and I’m sure this is more customary than we might think, there was plenty of luck involved.

In 2023, who would have thought trading back with the Carolina Panthers would still net them Darnell Washington and then Nick Herbig in the 4th Round? Likewise in 2024, what are the odds Payton Wilson was still on the board with the Steelers selected near the tail end of the 3rd Round, a pick they acquired in the Kenny Pickett Philadelphia Eagles trade.

No matter how it happened, Khan has done his job in the NFL Draft he past two seasons, but the question is can he keep stacking these types of draft classes? If he can, the Steelers are going to be building a dynasty with homegrown talent. Now if they can only figure out what is going on at the quarterback position….that’s an article for another day.


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