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5 for Friday: Khan building with an eye on AFC North

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – This week here at the NFL Scouting Combine is obviously a big one in terms of the team-building process.

NFL scouts and coaching staffs get an opportunity to sit down with the more than 300 prospects here at the Combine. Team doctors get their first look at medical reports.

And given that free agency will start in the NFL in just a couple of weeks, it's not a stretch to say March is one of the most, if not the most overall, important months in the team building process.

As Steelers general manager Omar Khan goes through this entire process for the first time in his new position, he has to do so with an eye on what's happening with the other teams in the AFC North.

But, given that Khan has been with the Steelers since 2001, he has a good feel for what's going on with the Bengals, Ravens and Browns and the challenges they provide.

"I think our division is pretty unique in that we've got to prepare for three different styles of football," said Khan, who was hired to replace Kevin Colbert last May following Colbert's retirement. "So, it puts a little bit of pressure on us, but we understand it and we feel like we know what we've got to do.

"Obviously, you guys know you have (Baltimore quarterback) Lamar Jackson, you have his style of football. You guys know (Cincinnati's) Joe Burrow's got his style of football and (Cleveland's) Deshaun Watson's got his style of football. We have three great quarterbacks in our division and they're all a little different. You have to strategize for each one of them differently. It's a good division. It's a great division."

Khan has to keep that in mind as he and head coach Mike Tomlin sit down to decide which players the Steelers keep in free agency, who the team tries to acquire in free agency and who the team adds in the draft.

In Jackson, the Ravens have perhaps the most dynamic running quarterback in NFL history. In Burrow, the Bengals have an extremely accurate pocket passer. And in Watson, the Browns have perhaps a combination of both of those players – albeit to a lesser level – in a quarterback who can both run and throw with the best of the league.

Finding players who can help a team compete against those different styles of quarterbacks is one of the biggest parts of Khan's job. After all, the easiest path to the playoffs is to win your division. And to win your division, it most certainly helps to beat the other teams in that division.

It's a daunting task. But it's one of which Khan has long dreamed.

"I would say it's been a dream come true for me since I was a kid to have the opportunity to build a Super Bowl roster and win a few Super Bowls," Khan said. "Every day I go to work, I'm very appreciative and I love it. I'm surrounded by great people, a great head coach, great owner, great locker room, great support staff, great football staff. It's fun. Every day is fun. 

"I'm looking forward to the first draft and I'm looking forward to getting back to football in September.

Khan feels the Steelers are set up to add the pieces necessary to do that this offseason.

The Steelers are in a good place in relation to the NFL's salary cap, while they have three picks in the top 49 selections of this year's draft with which to add high-quality prospects, holding the 17th, 32nd and 49th picks in this draft. The Steelers also own picks 80, 120, 237 and 243.

Some of that will shift slightly when the NFL announces its compensatory picks for the 2023 draft. But Khan goes into this process knowing that even when the comp picks are announced, he'll still have picks 17, 32, 49 and 80 since the comp picks are added starting at the end of the third round.

Four picks in the top 80 selections of this draft – which has good depth across the board – should allow the Steelers to make a splash in this draft.

"It gives us the opportunity to do a lot of different things," Khan said of having an additional second-round draft pick thanks to the midseason trade of wide receiver Chase Claypool to the Chicago Bears, which netted what wound up being the 32nd selection. "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."

Draft weekend should be a lot of fun in Pittsburgh.

• One of the other things that will make this draft so interesting is that the Steelers can really focus on improving the team around quarterback Kenny Pickett.

At this time last year, it was no secret the Steelers were in the market for a quarterback to replace Ben Roethlisberger following his retirement.

Now, with Pickett in place, the Steelers can be open to adding other pieces, whether they be offensive or defensive, to make themselves a better team.

And the beauty of the whole thing is that because the quarterbacks last year didn't go as highly as they normally do, the Steelers got their quarterback without having to give up additional draft picks or flat-out being awful and earning a top-10 pick.

"We're excited about Kenny," Khan said. "We have our quarterback."

Now, they can reap the benefits of that.

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

• Talking to several NFL talent evaluators here, there aren't any that would trade Pickett for any of the top quarterbacks in this year's draft.

That doesn't mean that perhaps one or two of the quarterbacks in this draft won't become stars and surpass Pickett, but they all have questions regarding their skillset that could give pause to a team selecting them.

The biggest question mark surrounding Pickett was his hand size. And that wasn't an issue for him in his rookie season.

• Some of the early mock drafts that came out that automatically had cornerback Joey Porter Jr. going to the Steelers with the 17th selection were questioned because they simply matched the Steelers and Porter because his dad had both played and coached with the team.

I scoffed at them for a different reason. I just don't know that the younger Porter will last until the 17th pick in the draft.

We'll see. There's still a lot of time between now and the draft at the end of April.

• As soon as the Steelers coaches and front office people get back from Indianapolis, the focus shifts to free agency, which begins March 15.

That's the thing about the NFL offseason. It starts coming at you pretty quickly once the Super Bowl ends.