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Steelers 2021 NFL Draft Fits: Looking at the Quarterbacks

Kevin Smith and Geoffrey Benedict discuss draft prospects and how they would fit with the Steelers

Butler v North Dakota State Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images

In part one, we looked at a handful of tight ends, how we thought they would fit with the Steelers and if they would be worth the investment.

In this article, we will look at the quarterbacks in this class and give our thoughts on them.

TIER ONE: QBs the Steelers (probably) have no shot at

Trevor Lawrence (Clemson)

Kevin: One of the beautiful things about being a Steelers’ fan is we generally have no idea what it’s like to have the #1 overall pick in the draft. That speaks to the success of the organization in the Super Bowl era. The last time we did have the top pick I was in diapers. We aced that one, taking Terry Bradshaw. Having the #1 pick doesn’t need to produce four Lombardi trophies, the way Bradshaw’s selection did. But it does need to yield a player who can drastically improve your franchise.

Trevor Lawrence is that player. People can nitpick all they want about the talent around him at Clemson or about how he doesn’t go through his progressions fast enough. But anyone who watched his performances on the biggest college football stages the last few years knows that this kid is the real deal. He’s got all the skills and intangibles. He’s an athlete, a leader and the face of a franchise. He’s a guy you take with the top overall pick in the draft.

Jacksonville is bad and Lawrence will struggle for a bit. But I will be shocked if, within a few years, the Jags are not significantly better than they are today because Lawrence is their quarterback.

Geoff: Lawrence is absolutely the #1 pick. He’s going to have a great career. I don’t think he’s an all-time great quarterback like a lot of people seem to think he is, but he’s the clear choice at #1, and that makes him irrelevant to the Steelers.

Zach Wilson (BYU)

Kevin: It’s hard to get past the fact Zach Wilson looks more like he belongs in the Cobra Kai posse than he does leading an NFL offense. But Wilson has all the tools to be a legit franchise quarterback. He has a big arm, is incredibly accurate (he completed nearly 75% of his passes in 2020), is mobile enough to play outside the pocket and has a Baker Mayfield-like cockiness that endears him to his teammates. The knocks on Wilson are that he’s not huge (6’2-210) and he had two serious injuries in college, leading to questions about his durability. He also was a bit of a one-year wonder, although the injuries surely hampered his overall production.

My question about Wilson is this: is he better than Justin Fields? The Jets seem to think so. They are poised to take him with the second overall pick. Wilson is talented, no doubt about it. But personally, I’d take Fields. More on that in a minute.

Geoff: Wilson has the chance to be the best QB in this class. He makes those Josh Allen/Ben Roethlisberger throws that other quarterbacks just can’t make. He also makes throws that no quarterback should make. I like his movement in the pocket better than Lawrence, and that will help his transition to the NFL. He’s got a big ceiling and a low floor, could be the bust of the class or viewed as better than Lawrence in a few years, I like the comparison to Baker Mayfield, but I think Wilson has the ability to make throws Mayfield can’t.

Justin Fields (Ohio State)

Kevin: Geoffrey, I’ve heard through the grapevine you’re a Michigan guy. Are you capable of objectively evaluating Justin Fields or does your hatred of all things OSU disqualify you from this conversation?

Geoff: Ohio State quarterbacks suck, and Urban Meyer quarterbacks suck. But Justin Fields was a transfer from Georgia who played for Ryan Day, and succeeded without Ohio State’s usual top WR talent to make him look good. Fields is the perfect player to break the streak. What do you see him bringing to the field Kevin?

Kevin: That was far less bitter than I anticipated. As for Fields, there’s so much I like about him. His performance against Clemson in the national semi-final was one of the most complete games by a college quarterback I’ve ever seen. And he did it while not fully recovered from the knee injury he suffered in the Michigan game. He’s a tremendous competitor.

Specifically, three things about his game stand out. First, he throws a great deep-ball. Second, he’s incredibly accurate. He had the highest percentage of accurate passes (72.4%), meaning balls-on-target, in the nation last year. And third, he moves really well. Fields would be great for Matt Canada because Canada could open the entire playbook, including designed QB runs, RPOs, read options, play-action, sprint outs. His combination of arm strength, accuracy and mobility make him a perfect match for Canada.

Fields has also done these things on the biggest college stage, unlike Wilson and Trey Lance. I struggle to understand how those QBs are constantly rated above Fields by evaluators. Must be the “Ohio State QBs suck” thing Geoffrey referenced.

Geoff: That’s honestly the most common argument I hear against him, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t good, people just need to consider that there are systems that make quarterbacks look better than they are. That happens in the NFL too, I mean, look at Andy Reid’s results over the years. Doesn’t mean Patrick Mahomes isn’t a great quarterback just because he also excels in Andy Reid’s offense.


TIER TWO: Guys the Steelers could shock us with in round one

Trey Lance (North Dakota State; would likely take a trade-up to get him)

Geoff: Man, it would make all our jobs at BTSC easy if the Steelers drafted Trey Lance. Jeff Hartman would write 20 articles a week about Lance and most of it would just be hysterical giggling. All joking aside, Trey Lance has some serious play-maker in him. I also don’t think he shows consistency in his game with decision making and accuracy. Does he look worth a trade up to you Kevin?

Kevin: He does not. I think Lance is an intriguing prospect. He has lots of potential. But if I’m the Steelers I’m not trading up for potential. There are just too many holes to fill elsewhere to forfeit that kind of capital on a kid who last played meaningful games in 2019 as a sophomore at an FCS school. Lance is too big of an unknown for me. If I’m trading up for a QB in round one, it’s for a known quantity. That means Fields if he somehow slides. And even then I’m thinking long and hard about doing it.

Mac Jones (Alabama)

Kevin: Jones and Kyle Trask have both been mocked to the Steelers at 1:24, even though many believe either would be a reach in round one.

Jones was fantastic in his lone year as a starter at Alabama, leading the Tide to a national title. He was accurate, poised and came up big in Bama’s biggest games. Of course, Jones played behind the best offensive line and had the best skill players at his disposal in all of college football. The question that looms over him, then, is whether he was a catalyst for that success or a mere cog in Nick Saban’s machine?

Geoff: Jones shows a lot of college quarterback skills, but I don’t see a lot of NFL quarterback skills. He doesn’t have the mobility to buy himself time, and he doesn’t show the anticipation on throws that I want to see. To me Jones is a mid-round QB that is getting first round hype because of the team he was on. He was a very good cog for Nick Saban, the kind of college quarterback that can lead a great team to a championship, but I don’t see him succeeding in the NFL. Is there anything that stands out about Mac Jones to you Kevin? Because I don’t see it.

Kevin: If we take Mac Jones with our first round pick my eight year-old son will learn a slew of profanities.

Geoff: Ha, I see we are on the same page on Mac Jones as well. . .

Kyle Trask (Florida)

Kevin: Trask is a big, strong QB who reminds me a lot of Mason Rudolph. Quite honestly, I don’t see why the Steelers would want him with Rudolph already on the roster. Geoffrey, what do you think?

Geoff: I like Trask. I like his work in the pocket, I like a lot of his throws. There’s also some plays that leave you scratching your head. Trask suffers draft-wise because we are used to the top quarterbacks being on teams that dominated opponents. I honestly can’t see Mac Jones being considered better than Kyle Trask, and I don’t think Kyle Trask is a sure bet. I wouldn’t lose my mind if the Steelers drafted him like I would Jones though.


TIER THREE: Possible mid-round developmental picks

Kellen Mond (Texas A&M)

Kevin: Mond is an interesting name because there are those who’ve speculated the Steelers could select him as a mid-round developmental pick. Before we evaluate him, let me ask something. Whether it’s Mond or anyone else, what are your thoughts on the Steelers spending a 3rd or 4th round pick on a QB this year?

Geoff: I can see it, the Steelers have been walking the line between maximizing Ben’s last seasons with preparing for the future, and nothing says doing things half-way like drafting a mid round quarterback. I think it would be a waste, with Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins on the roster right now, I’d rather the Steelers see what they have there without investing a valuable pick on competition for backup QB. Last year the Steelers drafted Alex Highsmith and Kevin Dotson in the third and fourth rounds. I’ll take more of that please. On the other hand, Kellen Mond is a really intriguing prospect, I think he’d be a great fit for Matt Canada’s offense, what do you see Kevin?

Kevin: The middle rounds are right for someone to take Mond. He is talented but maddeningly inconsistent. He can look like Zach Wilson one series and Zach Galifianakis the next. Mond has had a ton of reps so his inconsistency isn’t about inexperience. It’s likely the product of failing to process information quickly. He screams developmental pick - a guy who can sit and learn for 2-3 years before he has to play.

If this were two years ago, I’d be excited for the Steelers to take a shot at Mond. Not this year, though. Why draft another mid-round developmental QB? It’s a waste of a valuable pick. They took Josh Dobbs and then Rudolph and they signed Haskins. They can’t keep stock-piling guys who might make good backups. The next QB they bring in needs to be someone who can replace Roethlisberger. If that’s a trade up for Fields if he falls, so be it. I would understand that thinking. Drafting another mid-round backup? No thanks.

Jamie Newman (Wake Forest)

Geoff: Newman mentioned he’s talked to the Steelers a good bit, and as a projected day 3 pick, could be a good value pick. Newman had an impressive 2019 campaign, transferred to Georgia but opted out without ever playing for the Bulldogs. Newman has a strong arm and moves well in the pocket, but he is a year removed from the only season he did anything, and at the Senior Bowl overthrew a lot of passes. With the quarterback room the Steelers currently have, would it be worth spending a 5th or 6th round pick on a quarterback you would want to try and stash on the practice squad?

Kevin: My thoughts on Newman are similar to those on Mond. Nice developmental pick, he could become a backup or a situational QB for someone. Mond will be gone earlier though, and I don’t want the Steelers drafting a QB with a meaningful pick. If Newman is still there in the 6th, I’d be ok if they grabbed him. The draft is a craps shoot at that point, anyway. Just not sooner, please.


Conclusion

Here’s how we’d rank these QBs as candidates for the Steelers:

Kevin:

Lawrence and Wilson are probably going 1-2, so forget those two. And I’m not interested in Jones or Trask. As for the rest:

  1. Fields. If he drops into the teens, the Steelers should consider trading up to get him. It would be expensive but such is the price for a perceived elite QB. They could start by inserting him into small packages to get his feet wet as he learned the offense. Over time he would allow Canada to unlock the entirety of his playbook.
  2. Lance. If he were somehow still there at 24, it would be tough to pass him up. I wouldn’t trade up to get him, though. Just too much unknown with all of that potential.
  3. Mond/Newman. Late, like if they’re somehow still there in the 6th round.

Geoff:

  1. No QB drafted. I don’t want a quarterback this year, go with the three you have in the room, let things sort themselves out. You can always lose for one year if you don’t have a QB and get a higher pick to make your QB move. You can’t just take the 4th or 5th best QB and demand that they be great.
  2. Jamie Newman, fifth or sixth round. At that point in the draft if you want to take a project QB, go for it.
  3. Kyle Trask, 2nd round. He’d have to fall to the second to be worth it, but I think he would be a good quarterback for Matt Canada to develop.
  4. Wilson, Lance or Fields, trade up into middle of round if one fell really far. they shouldn’t come anywhere near the Steelers, but Ben Roethlisberger shouldn’t have fallen out of the top 5, let alone to 11. If one fell toward the middle of the round and the Steelers pounced on them, I wouldn’t complain too much, because if they did work out the pick would be a steal, but really, there are bigger needs.
  5. Kellen Mond, third round. This is the one that makes the most sense to me, and it would be at a high enough level of investment to kick Haskins off the roster. Still. . . meh.
  6. Mac Jones, any place before the 4th round. I’m sorry if you are a Mac Jones fan, he’s a nice story and a great college QB, but he’s not going to be anything special in the NFL, he might be a Mason Rudolph, but honestly I think he’s worse.