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5 for Friday: Khan played his cards well

Some are looking at the Steelers' 2023 NFL Draft and saying general manager Omar Khan was aggressive.

But when you really look at what the Steelers accomplished in the draft a week ago, another description of what the team did comes to mind – patient.

Sure, the Steelers traded up in the first round of the draft, moving from the 17th pick to the 14th in a trade with the New England Patriots to select offensive tackle Broderick Jones.

Outside of that, the only move the Steelers made during the draft was to slide back from the 80th pick to 93 in the third round.

Here's the thing. The cost for both of those moves was essentially the same.

To move up four spots in the first round, the Steelers traded a fourth-round pick, the 120th overall selection. To move back 14 spots in the third round, the Steelers acquired a fourth-round pick from Carolina Panthers, the 132nd overall selection.

A trade up in the first round might seem aggressive on the surface, but when you give up far less than the usual asking price, it's really not.

In the grand scheme of things, the Steelers moved back 13 spots in the fourth round and 14 spots in the third round to go up four spots in the first.

No matter what trade value chart you reference – and there are now a few different ones out there – the value for those moves highly favor the Steelers.

No wonder Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said following the draft that he had a new nickname for Khan.

"Yeah, what did they call him, the Khan artist? I saw that," Tomlin said. "That's pretty good. That's a cool nickname."

That might not exactly be the case. Khan didn't pull one over on anyone. He simply stuck to his guns when it came time to make a deal, just as he did when the Steelers fielded calls for the 32nd pick in the draft, which happened to be the first selection of the second round this year.

The Steelers had a player in mind they wanted to select. And that player, cornerback Joey Porter Jr., was worth a certain amount of draft capital. If no team was willing to meet what the Steelers were asking for the pick, they were more than comfortable to stay at 32 and take Porter, which is what they eventually did.

Khan wasn't making deals just to make deals. The draft capital wasn't burning a hole in his pocket.

He had a plan. He was patient. And he executed it.

• Depending on what pundit you're looking at, the Steelers knocked this draft out of the park. Actually, most pundits felt that way.

But, let's remember, the teams that have additional draft picks early often are graded well by those who study this stuff year-round.

After all, the more bites at the apple you have, the better your draft is going to look.

This is not to throw a wet blanket on anything the Steelers did last weekend. As mentioned, by all accounts, they did well.

But, as Tomlin was quick to note Saturday night, we won't know if this draft class was a hit or not for a few years.

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

There should, however, be some immediate help, even though in a draft that had a lot of over-aged prospects thanks to COVID-19. While some players in this draft were already 23 or 24 years old – and in some cases, 25 – the Steelers' first five draft picks are all 21.

The Steelers didn't take a player who was older than 21 until selecting cornerback Cory Trice Jr., in the seventh round. And at that point, Trice was just too good to pass up.

Fellow seventh-round pick Spencer Anderson, an offensive lineman out of Maryland, also is already 22.

The rest of the team's draft class is young, which in a draft such as this one, couldn't have been an accident.

The Steelers obviously wanted young guys who still have plenty of upside.

• It's interesting to note that of the 32 first-round draft picks from the 2020 NFL Draft, only 12 had their fifth-year option picked up.

That used to signal that the teams were somehow unhappy with the production of the player.

But under the new CBA signed a couple of years ago, that is no longer the case. The way the fifth-year option now works, the option year is balanced to take into account how much those players have played and how successful they have been.

It used to be tied into where they were selected in the first round, making the salaries much more palatable, especially for players taken later in the first round.

Now, however, if the player isn't at the very least a really good player, teams aren't picking up that option, which if the player has been to a Pro Bowl is equal to the transition tag number for his position, or the franchise tag value if he's been to multiple Pro Bowls.

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

Or, as the Packers did with quarterback Jordan Love, or the Falcons did after trading for cornerback Jeff Okudah, you simply add an extension onto the rookie contract to get around the expensive option year.

That the CBA would tie anything into making a Pro Bowl is a mistake. As we've seen, there are often players who have no business being named to Pro Bowls who get that honor when others decline an invitation to the events.

• The Steelers didn't acquire anyone in the draft who could compete at nickel cornerback. But they took care of that after the draft by signing cornerback Chandon Sullivan, who played in the slot for the Packers and Vikings extensively the past three seasons.

Some fans didn't like the move, noting that one service that grades players based on their perceived performances had Sullivan rated lowly last season.

It's worth noting, however, that when the Steelers signed cornerback Brice McCain in 2014, that same service had him rated as its lowest-graded cornerback in the NFL in 2013.

We know this because more than one fan noted that after the signing that the Steelers had signed the "worst cornerback in the NFL."

Yet when McCain left as a free agent after that 2014 season to join the Dolphins, many reacted as if Rod Woodson had left the Steelers.

One thing you never know about is how a player was utilized with another team. It might not exactly match up with his skill set.

Fans also shouldn't trust the "grades" that some sites give out to players. Those grading the players don't know the assignments, the scheme, etc. In many cases, they're just guessing.

• With the additions of second-round selection Keeanu Benton, a nose tackle, and fourth-round pick Nick Herbig, an outside linebacker, the Steelers currently have four defensive players from Wisconsin on their roster.

Of course, that includes 2021 NFL Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt. But they also have defensive lineman Isaiahh Loudermilk, as well.

It's not an accident.

"A place like Wisconsin is a stylistic match," Tomlin said. "Always had a lot of respect for Jim Leonhard, their former coordinator, and they do a lot of similar things that we do. So, it makes it an easy eval. There's less speculation in terms of what they might be able to do in our system of football."

For an inexact science such as evaluating college players, every little edge helps.