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A Letter From the Editor: The Steelers 2023 draft class will be called upon in a big way

I believe it is natural for sports fans to immediately fall for the newest members of their favorite team. It could be free agent signings, or a new crop of rookies to study. Either way, the newer the better for most football fans, and the Pittsburgh Steelers fan base is no different.

Since the 2024 NFL Draft wrapped up, the Steelers fan base has been head-over-heels for the seven players who were draft by Omar Khan and company. I get it, but the fact remains the focus should be on the 2023 draft class blossoming in their second year more than the current rookie crop showing out.

You do remember the 2023 draft class, right? You know, the draft class many said was the best since 1974?!

Hyperbole aside, if the Steelers want to take the next step as a team, they’ll need those second year players to take a huge step in their individual play.

Let’s go over how each player entering his “sophomore” year can not just improve as players, but help elevate the Steelers…

Broderick Jones

Whether Jones is playing on the right or left side, we all saw how there was plenty of room for improvement in Jones’ game after 2023. The former Georgia Bulldog is more than capable as a run blocker, but as a pass blocker he left a lot to be desired. We all see Jones eventually being the left tackle for the Steelers, but his dominance is hopefully seen on either side this season.

Joey Porter Jr.

Porter has arrived to Steelers OTAs with 5lbs of muscle added to his frame, and with the confidence of a seasoned veteran. Porter is already talking about shadowing the opponent’s best receiver, and the team will need him to be that lock down style cornerback considering the current shape of the defensive backfield heading into Mandatory Minicamp.

Keeanu Benton

Some are suggesting Benton is the guy who could surprise people the most in Year 2, and if he were able to live up to that type of hype would be a godsend for the organization. The Steelers would love to have Benton show out to take the pressure off Cam Heyward, but even a dominant Benton will need help along the defensive line this year. But I can’t stop wondering what Benton will look like if in 2024 he just builds off a stellar rookie season. The word dominant comes to mind.

Darnell Washington

Some viewed Washington as the steal of the Steelers draft. Some thought Washington would be a late 1st Round pick, and getting him in the 3rd Round certainly seemed as if the team stole a dual threat player. Nonetheless, in 2023 Washington was more extra tackle than he was dual threat. In Arthur Smith’s offense having a tight end who can not just block, but also be a weapon in the passing game, is vital. Time to let Mount Washington do some damage in the passing game.

Nick Herbig

You want to talk about flashes of brilliance, look no further than Herbig’s rookie season. He didn’t play much on defense, but when he did he was making plays. I don’t think Herbig is threatening to take over for Alex Highsmith, or have the Steelers thinking about moving on from T.J. Watt, but I do believe Herbig is more than capable of filling Markus Golden’s role last year as the 3rd pass rusher. And that would be a great jump for the 4th Round pick.

Cory Trice

Trice is coming off his redshirt season after tearing his ACL last year, and the hope is he can be a contributor on defense. But first, let’s see him get cleared for contact before training camp. Other than that, this is the classic case of Trice feeling like an “extra” draft pick in 2024, like Calvin Austin III was in 2023.

Spencer Anderson

Anderson is a do-it-all offensive lineman, and seeing where they value him the most will be something to keep an eye on this summer. Nonetheless, Anderson is a player who got a helmet on most game days as a rookie, and that mean something. The next time you wonder about the depth at a position along the line, remember Anderson…he might be the answer for said depth.

The Steelers’ second year crop of players could be significant playmakers in 2024, and the Steelers need them to be if they want to get over the proverbial hump and win a playoff game. Will they get it done? I’d bet money more take a step up than a step back this season.


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