Pittsburgh Steelers 2023 Draft Target Assessment - Joey Porter Jr.

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It's officially that time of the year again!  I know mock drafts have been circulating the internet for weeks already but now that the Combine has come and gone, it feels right to start discussing potential draft targets for the Pittsburgh Steelers in this year's draft.  

Last year, they ended up selecting Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett in the first round after creating the smokescreen leading up to it that Liberty quarterback Malik Willis was their guy.  Let's see if it's a little easier to pin down what direction they are headed this time around!

After a subpar start to the 2022-23 season, the Steelers started to find their groove a bit towards the end.  Ultimately, it wasn't enough to get into the playoffs, but Pickett showed flashes down the stretch giving promise to what this offense can be moving forward.  The offensive line still needs revamped, and is clearly the weak link on the offensive side of the ball, but I'm not certain the Steelers will look that way in the first round.

For a team that had trouble putting points on the board for most of the season, they need to solidify their defense some more to keep themselves in games.  It's still early, obviously, but that seems like the most likely route the Steelers go in the first round.  The draft has some good cornerbacks at the top of the board and that is a position that the Steelers could really use an upgrade.  After losing Joe Haden prior to last season, it was a position group that didn't bolster the defense as much as fans would've hoped in the 2022 season.  

Not to mention, top cornerback Cam Sutton is currently a free agent and he could garner too big of a contract for the Steelers to bring him back.  Therefore, I could definitely see the Steelers selecting a cornerback on Day 1.

With all that being said, there's no better name to start this series off with than cornerback Joey Porter, Jr.  Given the ties to the team, and being a product of Penn State, it was the most natural starting point.  It also helps that his name has been linked to the Steelers in many of the mock drafts created by the people who are in the know about these types of things.

Porter played four seasons at Penn State, finishing his final season as a first-team all-Big Ten member.  He checks in at 6'2.5", 193 pounds, an intriguing combination for a cornerback.  His length is a big factor that has him this high up in the projections.  Combine that with his speed (he ran a 4.46 40-yard dash at the Combine) and those are the types of intangibles you don't find every day in the cornerback market.  You can always improve your skills but size and speed are things that can't be taught.

It also helps that his father, Joey Porter, was a very successful, and well-liked, Steeler during his playing career.  The Steelers have always been known as an organization that likes to keep it in the family, so it by no means would be uncharacteristic of them to draft Porter Jr., given the ties his father has to Pittsburgh.  They have been known to draft character guys and try to avoid any problems that could arise in the future.  Having such close ties to the family helps eliminate that and fits their drafting style perfectly.

Now there are always cons with prospects, regardless of the position. A knock on Porter Jr. is that he was often penalized in his collegiate career, which could be worrisome given the talent he'll be going up against in the NFL.  Top receivers will undoubtedly be baiting him into pass interference opportunities so he will have to work on cutting down on those.  Also, some are skeptical of his abilities in the run game, namely his tackling capabilities in that part of the game.  However, that can be seen as nitpicking a bit too much when grading cornerbacks.  

Also, Porter only had one interception in his entire college career.  That is a skill set that is imperative of a cornerback.  Now, sometimes it can be that a cornerback is so good that teams won't even throw their way, but only having one single interception in 34 games played is at least noteworthy.  

Another con, this time attributed to the position group as a whole, is how little success the Steelers have had in recent years when drafting cornerbacks.  For as good as they are at selecting wide receivers, the opposite is just about true when it comes to corners.  Arties Burns and Justin Layne are just a few of the names that come to mind but it's quite the list if you really dig into it.  Sutton is one of the few success stories they've had in recent memory.

One thing that can't go without mentioning in all of this is that we are seeing a different group heading the draft decision-making this season.  Former Steelers GM Kevin Colbert ended his tenure after last year's draft, so this will be the first season that new GM Omar Khan is calling the shots.  He, alongside new assistant GM Andy Weidl, has the ability to shake things up for the Steelers now that Colbert is out after two-plus decades of drafting.  They may also feel more confident in position groups the Steelers have struggled drafting in the past, and less confident in positions they've had success in.

Therefore, Steelers fans could see something different than they're accustomed to on draft day, given the change.  However, I really think that drafting a cornerback is their best option.  Plus, the new brass has the opportunity to reverse this stretch of poor cornerback drafting, if they do in fact choose to take one.  

There are a few guys on the leaderboard that are supposed to fall around when they are drafting (which I will be touching on in future blogs in this series), with Porter Jr. the most associated with the team right now.  With the Cincinnati Bengals becoming the powerhouse of the division, and one of the top teams in the AFC, a cornerback would certainly help slow down quarterback Joe Burrow and the great receiving options at his disposal.  We're still weeks away from draft day but as of now, I could definitely see the Steelers making Penn State's Joey Porter, Jr. their first round selection.