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Tomlin, Khan excited about haul Steelers acquired in draft

The 2023 NFL Draft is in the books for the Steelers.

And while the history books will show it was the first one under new general manager Omar Khan, the story won't be told in full for a few more years.

But the Steelers are happy with their haul of seven selections from the three-day process.

"I feel really good about the weekend, but just as important, I feel really good about the process," said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. "That just tees up the weekend. We rolled our sleeves up and did all the things we needed to do, utilized all the opportunities to engage with these young people and get a sense of what they're capable of and how they might fit. When you do a good job of that, it creates weekends like we experienced. 

"We feel good. But the quality of this weekend will be played out over the next three to five years of the careers of these people. We have some responsibility in terms of that, as well. It's our job to help them grow and develop. We're excited about getting started with that."

The Steelers traded up on Thursday night to adding Georgia offensive tackle Broderick Jones in the first round, then bringing in three more players on Friday, the second day of the event, in Penn State cornerback Joey Porter Jr. with pick 32, Wisconsin defensive tackle Keeanu Benton at pick 49 and then trading back with the Carolina Panthers to pick No. 93 in the third round to re-acquire a fourth-round selection the team lost in the move up to get Jones. They used that selection to then take Georgia tight end Darnell Washington.

The Steelers finished up the final three rounds of the draft on Saturday by acquiring Wisconsin outside linebacker Nick Herbig in the fourth round, then used their two seventh-round picks on Purdue cornerback Cory Trice Jr. and Maryland offensive lineman Spencer Anderson.

"It was a productive weekend," Khan said of his first draft with the Steelers after taking over for former general manager Kevin Colbert last May. "I really feel like we're a better football team today than we were at 7:59 on Thursday. I can't wait until we get to the rookie mini-camp in a couple of weeks and really see our new Steelers in action. It's going to be fun. I think we're in a good place."

That's the expectation for the other 31 teams across the league, as well, but the Steelers feel like they got some good value from their picks.

They did not, for example, expect Porter, the son of former Steelers star linebacker and assistant coach Joey Porter Sr., to be available to them with the 32nd pick in the draft, a selection they acquired last year in the trade of wide receiver Chase Claypool to the Bears.

So even though they received a number of calls to trade out of that spot with the first pick of the second round, they were more than comfortable taking a player they liked well enough to consider taking with their original first-round pick at 17.

"You looked at different scenarios and mocks," Khan said. "We had him graded higher than that, and we expected him to go higher than that. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to pick him at 32."

The same could be said of the value of taking Washington with the 93rd selection. The Steelers initially held the 80th pick in the third round, but wanted to gain a pick back in the fourth round after sending the 120th selection to the New England Patriots to move up to acquire Jones.

They were able to do that Friday night and also get the player they had atop their list.

"When we were sitting there in the third round, when the call came about trading back, we just evaluated it. We had a good feel for how many players were left we would be interested in and we got the top guy on that list," Khan said. "He was still sitting there. We had an opportunity to pick up a fourth. It was going to be a long wait today if we didn't have an extra pick. Fortunately, we got it, because we got a really good football player in Nick Herbig."

Herbig, the brother of offensive lineman Nate Herbig, who was signed in free agency this offseason, marked the second Wisconsin player the Steelers had selected in this draft. He also joins fellow Wisconsin players T.J. Watt and Isaiahh Loudermilk on the roster.

And there's a reason for that, much the same way there's a reason the Steelers selected two Georgia players in this draft and one last year in wide receiver George Pickens.

• Dale Lolley is co-host of "SNR Drive" on Steelers Nation Radio. Subscribe to the podcast here: Apple Podcast | iHeart Podcast