Local Steelers players are excited to see what the city has in store for the 2026 NFL Draft

Local Steelers players are excited to see what the city has in store for the 2026 NFL Draft

As one of 17 prospects attending the 2023 NFL Draft, Joey Porter Jr. received the red carpet treatment during his stay in Kansas City.

That Porter was not selected in the first round and returned home to Pittsburgh before the Steelers eventually took him to open the second day of the three-day event did little to diminish the young linebacker’s experience.

“It was something I always dreamed of as a kid,” Porter said Wednesday. “I was living in the moment, enjoying everything. What happened I obviously didn’t want to happen, but that’s life. I feel like it worked out for the best. I’m here with the Steelers.”

Porter was on the practice field for the team’s second organized team activity session when the NFL announced that the Steelers and Pittsburgh would host the 2026 draft. He didn’t learn the news until a few hours later.

“I might stop and see what happens,” he said, smiling.

Porter said he was treated like royalty in the 2023 draft and can only imagine what Pittsburgh will have in store for the class of 2026 that accepts the NFL’s invitation to participate in the tryout.

“They took great care of us,” he added. “It’s a very small group that was put in this situation, and they took really good care of us, taking us around town and setting up events for us.”

Details of what the city has in store for the 2026 project could be revealed Thursday during a press conference at Acressor Stadium. The event will be held on the North Shore with part of it extending into the downtown area, team president Art Rooney II said Wednesday. Point State Park is a logical gathering place in the Golden Triangle.

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“It’s going to bring a great atmosphere to Pittsburgh,” said Christian Kuntz, a Chartier Valley graduate who attended Duquesne University.

If the district had an attendance goal in mind, it could have surpassed the estimated 700,000 fans who flocked to Detroit for the draft held in late April.

“There will be a lot of linzers for sure,” Kuntz said. “It’s going to be a heavy draft in Pittsburgh. That’s going to be great.”

“We’ll have a crowd like we always do,” added Porter, a North Allegheny University alumnus. “I feel like Steeler Nation is going to make it lively and turn it on (one notch). I can’t wait for that, honestly.”

Veteran linebacker Elandon Roberts did not join the Steelers until 2023 when he was entering his eighth NFL season. It didn’t take long for him to appreciate Steeler Nation’s enthusiasm and the tracking that goes on before home games.

He expects the same type of atmosphere in the 2026 draft.

“There might be a couple of fights, too,” he said. “Never let anyone get mad at a Steelers fan. They might hit you in the mouth. That’s why I love them. They’re blue collar, but they don’t care sometimes.”

Tight end Pat Freiermuth, a second-round draft pick out of Penn State in 2021, did not attend the event that year in Cleveland. He stayed home in Massachusetts and participated virtually. The NFL sent Freiermuth a camera that captured his reaction when the Steelers selected him.

“This is good for Pittsburgh, and it will be great for the local restaurants and bars and the revenue they will get,” he said. “It will be nice to have fans from all over the world come to Pittsburgh and check out how great the city is.”

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Freiermuth was on the other end of Detroit’s draft process this year when he announced the Steelers’ second-round pick, which turned out to be West Virginia center Zach Frazier. He saw a sea of ​​faces welcoming him when he walked across the stage to announce the Steelers’ selection.

“I was very nervous, I’m not going to lie,” he said. “I was nervous going up on stage and seeing all the people there, but I was happy to introduce Zach. We have a great bond from that.”

Freiermuth had an idea of ​​what might be in store for him when he arrived in the Motor City earlier in the week.

“I was very impressed (by the size of the crowd),” he said. “I said I should go to my hotel room and calm down for a bit.”

Each year, approximately 250 players are drafted into the NFL. There are dozens of others who never heard their names called during the three-day event and are arriving in the NFL as free agents. Kuntz was one of those players, needing to transition from linebacker to long snapper before catching on with the Steelers in 2021.

“This will give high school kids and young kids in college the opportunity to see these guys walk across the stage and turn dreams into reality,” he said. “From that perspective, it’s great.”

Joe Rutter is a TribLive reporter who has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers since the 2016 season. A graduate of Greensburg-Salem High School and Point Park, he is in his fifth decade covering sports for the Tribe. He can be reached at [email protected].

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