Building inside out: Steelers use draft picks to reinforce their offensive line

CORRECTS TO FAUTANU NOT FANTANU - Pittsburgh Steelers first round draft pick Troy Fautanu, left, and owner Art Rooney II, right, pose at an NFL football news conference in Pittsburgh, Friday, April 26, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers spent February overhauling their offensive coaching staff, March doing the same to the quarterback room and the last week of April giving the offensive line a massive injection of youth.

The huddle and the sideline will look significantly different this fall when the Steelers take the field in Week 1.

How longtime coach Mike Tomlin wants his team to move the ball, however, will not. The proof came over three sometimes-tense days of the NFL draft, when general manager Omar Khan’s took his emphasis on building the team from the inside out to the extreme.

The Steelers selected offensive linemen with three of their first five picks, grabbing Washington tackle Troy Fautanu in the first round, West Virginia center Zach Frazier in the second and South Dakota State guard Mason McCormick in the fourth.

The previous time Pittsburgh used such heavy draft capital on linemen came in 1976 at the height of the “Steel Curtain” dynasty. Doing it again nearly 50 years later highlights that while the game is ever-changing, some aspects remain timeless, particularly in Pittsburgh.

“It was a strong offensive line group,” Khan said. “We’ve talked plenty of times about how we feel about the importance of the offensive line … it just kind of worked that way for us.”

Frazier and Fautanu figure to be given every chance to earn a starting job in training camp. Fautanu started 27 of 28 games at left tackle during his junior and senior seasons with the Huskies while Frazier was a four-year starter for the Mountaineers. McCormick, who figures to learn behind veterans Isaac Seumalo and James Daniels, suited up a staggering 70 times for the Jackrabbits.

“We’re looking for guys with talent,” Tomlin said. “Oftentimes that talent is coupled with experience. It’s good to have a group that’s mature as players and as people. All that means is we should expect those guys to have a high floor and a good presentation of what they’re capable of early on.”

First-year offensive coordinator Arthur Smith now has the tools to potentially re-create the dominant ground game he put together while calling plays with Tennessee in 2019 and 2020.

Instead of Derrick Henry, Smith has Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren one of the best running back tandems in the league. Fautanu, Frazier and tackle Broderick Jones — last year’s first-round pick — give the line a core that shares a pedigree with the group the Steelers had in the mid-2010s with center Maurkice Pouncey, guard David DeCastro and tackle Alejandro Villanueva.

“There’s a certain style of play and intent we want that fits this team and the history here and the Steelers and the brand of football, a shared vision,” Smith said.

A vision Smith will try to see to fruition. While much of the attention during training camp will be on recently acquired quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Justin Fields, all around them it could be the same as it ever was in Pittsburgh.


The Steelers didn’t neglect the other positions entirely. Pittsburgh drafted Michigan wide receiver Roman Wilson in the third round, won over by both his speed (Wilson ran a 4.39 40-yard dash) and his competitiveness.

The 5-foot-11 Wilson isn’t afraid to go over the middle and is a willing blocker, a trait not always shared by his new teammates.

Perhaps just as importantly to Tomlin, Wilson comes from a program coming off a national title.

“You can’t say enough about the winning component in terms of the way it shapes (players like Wilson’s) relationship with the game and what they’re willing to do and their mettle,” Tomlin said. “He checks a lot of those boxes.”


Payton Wilson’s college resume screamed high-end talent. That’s what made the inside linebacker’s availability late in the third round all the more startling to Khan and Tomlin.

Wilson won the Butkus Award as the nation’s top linebacker after his final season at North Carolina State. Still, teams appeared to be scared off by his injury history, including multiple knee surgeries.

Not the Steelers, who could pair Wilson with newly signed Patrick Queen at some point down the road.

“We’re really excited about the collection of talent we’ve been able to assemble,” Tomlin said.


The Steelers entered the draft with needs at wide receiver and the secondary. They ended the draft by tabbing Roman Wilson and taking a flyer on Texas defensive back Ryan Watts in the sixth round.

While both have potential, Pittsburgh — which is built to win now, as always — could still use a serious talent influx at both positions before they report to training camp at Saint Vincent College in late July.

Outside linebacker Alex Highsmith restructured his contract to free up a little salary cap space, and there’s a very real chance Khan could go shopping in the coming weeks.


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