When the Pittsburgh Steelers were truly elite at team-building, they could afford to spend high draft choices on front-seven defensive players who didn’t necessarily have to come in and start right away but could contribute and evolve into long-term defensive stalwarts.

Particularly along the defensive line.

Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Brett Keisel and Alex Highsmith all come to mind.

That’s to say nothing of guys who were drafted high and started early, like Casey Hampton and Javon Hargrave.

With all the holes the Steelers have had to fill in recent seasons, they haven’t had the luxury of being able to throw a lot of high-quality collateral at building the next generation of their defensive line.

Spending a second-round pick on Wisconsin’s Keeanu Benton last year was a bit of a return to that model. That move looks like it’ll prove to be worthwhile.

Meanwhile, the 34-year-old Heyward is trying to come back from an injury-riddled 2023 in the final year of his contract. The team is trying to squeeze every snap it can out of eight-year vet Larry Ogunjobi at $10.5 million against the salary cap. The franchise is continuing to roll out overachieving Montravius Adams as a de facto starting nose tackle after being plucked off of New Orleans’ practice squad in 2021.

More sports

Mike Sullivan, Alex Nedeljkovic paint Tristan Jarry, Penguins goalie situation in positive light
Pitt's Antonio Camon plans to transfer, further thinning defensive end position
Penguins' Sidney Crosby expects contract extension discussions this summer

Then it’s a bunch of free agents from other teams and former picks that have yet to develop into what they hoped they’d be — such as DeMarvin Leal and Isaiahh Loudermilk.

So even though there isn’t an obvious starting spot to be filled, the Steelers would be justified in using a Day 2 pick on a defensive lineman.

Maybe even a first-rounder if they get a haul for trading back and know that they can address the likes of wide receiver, offensive line and cornerback before Saturday.

In Friday’s NFL Draft preview podcast with Steelers Radio Network host Matt Williamson, we looked at some of the defensive line prospects that might be tempting to the Steelers over the first few rounds of the draft.

One player that raised eyebrows when he was brought in for a pre-draft interview was Florida State’s Braden Fiske. He’s the third-ranked defensive tackle on the ESPN.com board.

Williamson loves Fiske as a player but doesn’t see the fit in Pittsburgh.

“That’s one that doesn’t add up to me. He’s an odd one,” Williamson said. “Fiske is a really fun player. He is a phenomenal tester. You see that on the field. He’s one of the most energetic defensive linemen I’ve ever seen. His playing demeanor is phenomenal. But he’s one of these sixth-year guys. He’s already going to be (almost) 25 when camp breaks. He has very short arms. He gets enveloped at times by double teams. And he’s much more of an up-field penetrator, win-off-the-snap guy than they’ve traditionally gone for. So of all their visits, that was the one that made me scratch my head the most.”

Here are a few players along the defensive line that Williamson thinks will be better suited for the Steelers’ scheme.

• Kris Jenkins Jr. (Michigan, 6-foot-3/299 pounds): He is ESPN.com’s fourth-rated defensive tackle (No. 46 overall) and the son of former Carolina Panther All-Pro Kris Jenkins.

“This guy is a great athlete. He reminds me a lot of Benton, to be honest with you. That’s the role he would play here. I’m talking about second round,” Williamson said.

• Ruke Orhorhoro (Clemson, 6-foot-4/290 pounds): “If you draft him in the second round, it’d be like (Nick) Herbig with (T.J.) Watt. ‘Ruke, go do everything Cam Heyward does. When he ties his shoes, tie your shoes. If he eats a salad, eat a salad. Just be his shadow and learn from Cam Heyward.’ There’s a lot to work with there,” Williamson said.

Maason Smith (LSU, 6-foot-6/315 pounds): “This guy was a massive recruit,” Williamson said. “He came to LSU and was awesome as a true freshman. He had two separate injuries since then (a leg injury at the end of his freshman year, an ACL tear his sophomore year). So he’s been on the national radar forever. But he hasn’t been the same since then. However, his last two or three games of his final year at LSU, it started to look like he was coming back, and his combine was good. So maybe you get him for 80 cents on the dollar in the third round where people thought of him as a top-10 pick as a freshman.”

To me, all those ideas sound fine. But I’d prefer to see the Steelers address wide receiver, defensive back and center or tackle before they get to the defensive line.

Unless, of course, they trade for a starting-caliber center or wide receiver before the draft.

Also, in our defensive front-seven podcast, Williamson talks about why he is unimpressed by this year’s inside linebacker class, gives a few late-round suggestions for edge rushers in case Markus Golden doesn’t return, and dives into the evolution of the Steelers’ defensive line makeup.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at tbenz@triblive.com or via X. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.