There is no hiding the fact the Pittsburgh Steelers need a quarterback. After the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger, all eyes have been on how the team will handle the quarterback position in 2022 and beyond.
Will they draft a quarterback in the 2022 NFL Draft, will they make a trade for a proven commodity, will they pick up a free agent signal caller, or will they ride with Mason Rudolph this season?
No one knows, but there has already been some heavy consideration as to what the team might do in the upcoming draft. In fact, when looking at mock drafts, there are plenty who have suggested the Steelers pull the trigger on a quarterback in the draft, even though many are not very high on the quarterbacks available.
If you are honest, you realize some mock drafts carry more weight than others, and Todd McShay of ESPN is one of those mock drafts. The ESPN draft expert recently put out his second (2.0) mock draft, and he has the Steelers making a surprising move via trade. But first, let’s take a look at what the first round looks like before the Steelers make their move:
1. Jacksonville Jaguars - Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
2. Detroit Lions - Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Michigan
3. Houston Texans - Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
4. New York Jets - Ikem Ekwonu, OT, NC State
5. New York Giants - Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE, Oregon
6. Carolina Panthers - Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
7. New York Giants (via CHI) - Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
8. Atlanta Falcons - Drake London, WR, USC
9. Denver Broncos - Devin Lloyd, ILB, Utah
10. New York Jets (via SEA) - Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
11. Washington Commanders - Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
12. Minnesota Vikings - Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington
13. Cleveland Browns - Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
14. Baltimore Ravens - Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa
15. Philadelphia Eagles (via MIA) - Nakobe Dean, ILB, Georgia
16. Philadelphia Eagles (via IND) - Travon Walker, DE, Georgia
It is at this point where the Los Angeles Chargers are set to make their selection at No. 17, but the Steelers make the move up three spots to get their quarterback. Here is what McShay said about the move:
TRADE: Steelers jump ahead to get their QB
If we get to this point and all but one of the quarterbacks are still on the board, the Steelers have to be on the phone with Chargers GM Tom Telesco. The Saints are lurking there at No. 18, and Pittsburgh knows it has to make a move to get its guy before New Orleans is on the clock. Los Angeles, meanwhile, knows that a three-pick slide to No. 20 doesn’t impact its draft much. The Steelers would go QB, and the Saints could follow suit. That means the Chargers would in all likelihood get the same player at No. 20 that they would have gotten at No. 17. Plus, they’d get another pick or two.
In this case, I think a third-rounder and a late-rounder — in addition to the No. 20 selection — would get it done. Worst case for Pittsburgh, it’s a second-rounder, if L.A. really dug in. But this is a franchise QB we’re talking about, and the Steelers have to make this move if they’re confident they have their answer under center going forward. But which QB?
Now for the pick itself:
17. Pittsburgh Steelers (via mock trade with LAC) - Malik Willis, QB, Liberty
Kevin Colbert has been with the Steelers for 22 seasons — and has been their GM since 2010 — and saw them draft Ben Roethlisberger in 2004. Now that Roethlisberger is retired and Colbert is stepping down, I think he’ll want to leave the organization in a good place for the future. It already has the defense and a run game, and it was even a playoff team this past season. But the AFC North has some excellent quarterbacks, and the Steelers need an answer under center to keep contending.
My top QB, Willis has the strongest arm in the class and can create outside the pocket, making tough off-platform throws look easy. He’s still developing, and he threw 12 interceptions last season, but the Steelers can build the offense around this dynamic passer.
Before the analysis of the trade, it should be noted the following notable players who went after the Steelers’ pick:
- QB Matt Corral goes to the New Orleans Saints at pick No. 18
- Chargers select Georgia DT Jordan Davis with the Steelers’ original pick at No. 20.
- OT Trevor Penning goes to the Miami Dolphins at No. 29.
- QB Sam Howell goes to the Detroit Lions at pick No. 32.
When looking at the Steelers’ trade up to get Malik Willis, there will be some serious emotions involved from the fan base. Many will suggest there are too many other needs, especially along the offensive and defensive lines, to give up draft capital to take a quarterback. There will also be a large section of fans who will suggest Willis isn’t worth a first round grade, and is anything but the answer as the future quarterback of the Steelers.
There is a flip side to every argument, and it is worth at least acknowledging. What if Willis does turn out to be the Steelers’ future franchise quarterback? Believe it or not, there were those who doubted Ben Roethlisberger in 2004 as a future franchise quarterback. But if Willis does pan out, the trade up to get him would be viewed as a wise decision in hindsight, not a frivolous decision by the front office.
For those who don’t know much about Willis, here is a scouting report, courtesy of The Draft Network:
Liberty quarterback Malik Willis is one of the most challenging quarterback evaluations I can remember doing in recent years. Willis is the most physically gifted quarterback prospect in the 2022 NFL Draft, bar none. But his performance on the field in 2021 took a bit of a step back from a ball security standpoint and Willis played in an environment for the Flames that created some challenges.
Willis often failed to get help from his receivers on throws that challenged their catch radius. But Willis too often asked them to win outside their frame. Liberty failed to afford Willis with easy completions on too many instances—but then again, Willis at times forsook them in favor of extending plays with his legs. There is very much a blame salad to be had with Liberty and the challenges that Willis’ quarterback evaluation presents.
I do think in an NFL environment, Willis will have a great opportunity to develop into a franchise player given his dynamic physical gifts, but you’re going to need to both tailor your offense to his strengths and be willing to give him the necessary time to develop as a player and elevate his baseline of operations as a quarterback. Willis currently is more of a thrower than a quarterback and he relies on his athleticism to help facilitate and create explosive plays. I love the fact that he commandeered a tempo-oriented offense and any NFL franchise that brings Willis into the fray would be foolish to not look to amplify that part of his game, where defenses become more vanilla and his athleticism can strain the conditioning and discipline of the defense. The former Auburn Tiger is a two-year starter with the Flames and therefore will need plenty of patience; a team who drafts him to serve as a starter right away will likely be disappointed with the results.
In all, Willis has the highest ceiling of any quarterback in this year’s class and in the right environment, I could easily see him becoming a Pro Bowl-caliber player. But his variance of outcomes will very much be dependent on where he lands and the wrong environment may yield ugly results.
Ideal role: Developmental starting quarterback
Scheme tendencies: RPO and QB-run-heavy offense with featured passing in the shallow areas and vertically down the field.
This mock draft is difficult to assess. You have to assess the Steelers choosing to trade up to get Willis, and then you have to assess the selection of the Liberty quarterback. But what do you think? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to TSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the start of the new league year, and the 2022 NFL Draft.