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2024 NFL Draft: Top five candidates for Steelers’ first-round pick, including ball-hawking cornerback

Like kids on Christmas Eve, NFL fans are eagerly awaiting the start of the 2024 NFL Draft. Specifically, Pittsburgh Steelers fans are anxious to see who their team will select with the 20th overall pick. 

You can almost bank on some of the picks in the first round, like Caleb Williams going to the Bears with the first overall pick. Other teams, like the Steelers, are about as predicable as spring weather in the Midwest. In short, no one outside of the Steelers organization has a definitive idea as to who the team will select in the first round. 

That may be true, but it’s relatively easy to figure out who the Steelers probably have their sights set on. Let’s start by looking at the team’s neediest positions: receiver, offensive line and cornerback. It’s a safe bet to assume that the Steelers will select a player who plays one of those three positions. 

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the Steelers’ top-five draft candidates, relative to where Pittsburgh is drafting in the first round. 

No position on the Steelers’ roster needs an upgrade more than receiver. In Thomas, the Steelers would get a 6-foot-5 playmaker who can stretch the field for new quarterback Russell Wilson. Thomas — who caught 17 touchdowns and averaged 17.3 yards per catch during his final season at LSU — would also help open up more of the field for No. 1 wideout George Pickens

CBS Sports’ fourth-best prospect at receiver, Thomas should be available when Pittsburgh is on the clock, unless the Indianapolis Colts decide to snatch him with the 15th overall pick. 

Center is another position that Pittsburgh needs to address. After trying to get by with veterans and lower-round picks in recent years, it’s time that the Steelers invest in a center who could develop into a quality, long-term starter. 

Powers-Johnson is the clear-cut, top-ranked center prospect in the draft. Last fall, he became the first Pac-12 player to win the Rimington Trophy as the nation’s best center. Along with pacing all FBS centers in run-blocking (according to Pro Football Focus), Powers-Johnson allowed just one pressure and no sacks in 471 pass-blocking opportunities. 

Offensive tackles in the first round are kind of a crapshoot at this point. While Joe Alt is the consensus top prospect, no one is sure who will be selected immediately after him. 

Fuaga, an extremely physical player who excels in the running game, is largely projected to be off the board by the time the Steelers draft. But given the current uncertainty of the position relative to the draft, there’s certainly a chance that the former Oregon State standout is still on the board. If he is, don’t be surprised if the Steelers pull the trigger. 

Of the offensive tackles that are expected to be available when Pittsburgh is on the clock, Barton appears to be the safest pick. 

The 6’5 Barton played in a ton of games at Duke. In four years, Barton made 39 starts in 40 games that included time at both offensive tackle and at center. Given his versatility, Barton could line up at either tackle or center for the Steelers. He’d probably start his career in Pittsburgh at center given the Steelers’ current need at that position. 

DeJean is an interesting prospect. He came to Iowa as a safety but quickly moved to cornerback after injuries piled up at the position. DeJean developed into a ballhawk cornerback who had a pair of pick-sixes during the 2022 season. 

Despite his success, some are questioning whether or not DeJean would be better suited to play safety in the NFL. To his credit, DeJean — a highly-successful multi-sport athlete who was a starting quarterback on two state championship teams in high school — is open to playing either position. 

“Really, wherever the team needs me, wherever they see me at, wherever they think I can impact the game the most,” DeJean recently said in an interview with CBS Sports. “Whatever position that is, I’m willing to do that. Obviously, I played corner most of my college career, but I feel like there’s multiple positions in a defense that I can play. I just want to trust the coaches that have been doing it for a long time and try to make an impact wherever they put me.” 

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