Although I am not sure if many community members noticed the adjustment, but I changed my Rookie Review articles from a weekly to a quarterly release. The main reason for the schedule change was the projected usage for this year's rookie class.
In 2021, it quickly became apparent that the Steelers would have to rely heavily on their rookie class, due to the reduced salary cap and some surprising retirements and absences.
This offseason the Steelers utilized an abundance of available cap space to fill most of their glaring needs through free agency. The 2022 Steelers rookie class appears loaded with potential at first glance, with 6 of their 7 total selections making the final roster. However, few, if any, were projected into starting roles to begin the season.
The main difference in the two draft classes was expected usage, as mentioned earlier. The top five selections from the 2022 class seemed destined to contribute during their rookie seasons, but it was anybody's guess when and where that would be.
A quarter of the way through this season, and some questions have already been answered.
Kenny Pickett (1st Round)
I am surprised that it only took three and a half games for the Kenny Pickett era to begin, and it didn't take an injury to Mitchell Trubisky to make it happen. All it took was more of the same listless and lifeless offensive attack that the Steelers faithful have been subjected to over the majority of the past few seasons. The frustration was starting to take a toll on the players themselves, and the whispers became deafening. Tomlin did what had to be done. Now it's time for the whole organization to rally around the young man.
Pickett stepped on the field to begin the second half against the New York Jets, and suddenly a long dormant sensation from deep within every vested Steelers fan came to life. That sensation is called hope. Hope for the Steelers franchise moving forward after the loss of their franchise quarterback. Hope that the offense can improve enough to start converting third downs needed to extend drives, and maybe even put some points on the scoreboard every once in awhile. Maybe even be a legitimate contender again one day soon. If we are going to dream, why not dream big?
Nobody really knows what Kenny Pickett can and will become, because his journey is just getting started, but his potential is impossible to miss. The athleticism, arm talent, intelligence, and anticipation are evident, but so is the charisma, swagger, and natural leadership qualities. Steelers Nation needs to brace for the roller coaster ride of emotions that comes with a rookie quarterback.
George Pickens (2nd Round)
Pickens looked like a big play waiting to happen during the preseason, but has been missing in action to start the regular season, outside of his one-handed circus catch against the Browns. The biggest difference wasn't the talent level of the defenders, but the talent level of the quarterback throwing him the football. Pickett and Pickens appear to already possess a special connection, which should only improve over time. Pickens is a raw route runner, likely a byproduct of his limited experience, but his athleticism and intensity are off the charts. He can be as good as he is committed to be.
DeMarvin Leal (3rd Round)
As much as I hate to say I told you so, the truth is I really did. After watching Leal's college film, I was intrigued to learn what the Steelers plans were for the talented youngster moving forward. Leal has the frame capable of carrying the mass needed to play along the defensive line, but he has the athleticism and mobility to man the edge if the Steelers wanted or needed to go that direction. He reminded me of former Steelers massive edge rusher LaMarr Woodley, and I suggested as much in numerous articles and podcasts. I was actually a little surprised when I was mocked by some for even making the suggestion that Leal could see snaps on the edge. Don't look now, but with T.J. Watt injured and Malik Reed proving undersized to man the edge effectively for the Steelers, Leal is doing a solid job filling valuable minutes setting the edge. He improves by the week it seems.
Calvin Austin lll (4th Round)
Austin has yet to see action in a Steelers uniform after suffering a foot injury prior to the first preseason game, then forced to start the year on IR. That's the bad news. The good news is that Austin has recently returned to practice after sitting out the first four games of the season. Hopefully that means Austin and his elite speed will be making a positive impact on the field for the Steelers in the near future. Pickett has to be excited about the possibilities.
Connor Heyward (6th Round)
Cameron's little brother hasn't really had an opportunity to make any semblance of an offensive impact with the Steelers offense searching for an adequate signal caller and an identity as a unit. Connor Heyward is ready, willing, and able to contribute just as soon as Matt Canada and the Steelers figure out the best way to utilize his versatile abilities.
Mark Robinson (7th Round)
The 2022 Isaac Redman Award winner has been inactive for all four games this season, which comes as little surprise. But that doesn't mean I haven't been disappointed with the Steelers decision. Robinson is a talented raw prospect, who needs experience to grow and improve. This Steelers team is rebuilding, obviously acquiring plenty of young talent needed for a triumphant return to relevancy in the near future. The current Steelers squad isn't a contending team this season, and they desperately need an upgrade at inside linebacker. A talented prospect like Robinson should at least be cutting his teeth on kick coverage, with the occasional defensive snap thrown in. The opportunity might just reveal a diamond in the rough. Maybe he misses a coverage assignment or two over the middle. Like that's not already happening. Give the kid a chance, or continue with the status quo, and remain stagnant.
Jaylen Warren (UDFA)
I usually don't include undrafted free agent rookies on the Review, but Warren is no ordinary rookie free agent. He is the epitome of an unearthed gem by the Steelers scouting department. I am still shocked that he wasn't drafted, even if he is on the short side. Warren is a bowling ball of frenetic energy, with tree trunk legs, whenever he touches the football. I have flashbacks of Barry Foster rambling across the Three Rivers Stadium turf every time Warren builds up a head of steam. His intensity is infectious, as is his non-stop motor. Blitzing defenders have learned to keep their heads on a swivel, or risk getting knocked out by the lowrider they never saw coming. I could honestly watch clips of Warren and Pickens blocking all day. Warren is the perfect tag team partner for Harris, and the Steelers need to strive for a 60/40 split with the tandem moving forward.