I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but the Pittsburgh Steelers, your Pittsburgh Steelers, are in the market for a quarterback.
Will they go with the current status quo that consists of everyone’s favorites, Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins, and allow the two unproven passers to battle it out in the trenches for the top spot this summer? Will the Steelers make a trade for a veteran or sign one who is available on the free-agent market? Will they pick one in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, which, believe it or not, is still 818,000 wild speculations and educated guesses away?
Since the Steelers spent the entire past week down in Mobile, Alabama, to evaluate the participants in the annual Senior Bowl, let’s talk about that third option—drafting a quarterback in the first round.
That’s actually my favorite option and one I’ve been waiting to see happen since the last time the Steelers exercised this option and took Ben Roethlisberger 11th overall in the 2004 NFL Draft. That was 18 years ago and, in my opinion, the last time Pittsburgh should have drafted a signal-caller in the first round. Why? Because grooming a quarterback is overrated, especially if that grooming starts a little too early and the big guy is being all passive-aggressive about his future and/or the team’s decision to bring someone new in to threaten him. I mean, you’ve seen how Aaron Rodgers has either grown insane or allowed his inner-insane to come out in the months and years since the Packers selected Jordan Love back in 2020, right?
I can cite many other examples of grooming gone wrong that will counter the one or two times that it worked, but that’s neither here nor there. I’m ranting and getting off point (or off-schedule, as the cool draft kids are now saying about young Ben Roethlisberger-types). The point of my article is this: Now that Roethlisberger has officially retired, it’s time for the Steelers to seriously consider selecting a quarterback in the first round of the upcoming NFL Draft.
But they already know that.
And that brings me to Malik Willis, the Liberty passer with the rocket arm and gifted feet that Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin apparently fell in love with as he watched the young lad do his quarterback thing in the days leading up to the Senior Bowl.
Tomlin was reportedly smitten and asked to speak to everyone in Willis’s immediate and extended family. General manager Kevin Colbert was also in Mobile last week, as was the team owner and president, Art Rooney II. I can see why. Again, this is the kind of need the Steelers haven’t had in nearly two decades.
It’s a whole new world and whichever route the Steelers take, it could determine the immediate and long-term future of the organization. That’s the kind of thing that encourages the entire front office to join the coaching staff in a place like Mobile to witness a full week of practices followed by a college exhibition game made up of prospective NFL professionals.
Unfortunately, now that the Steelers have helped to raise Willis’s draft stock, they likely won’t have much of a shot at taking him with the 20th pick, even if Willis is part of a crop of quarterbacks that isn’t considered to be the sexiest. I’ve seen this all before. A quarterback class is deemed to be kind of meh in the months leading up to the draft, but after all the pre-draft poking and prodding is finished, the quarterback needs of specific teams are determined, and the free-agent frenzy comes and goes, powerful people become enamored and stocks begin to rise.
There are a few quarterback-needy teams drafting ahead of Pittsburgh, and it’s hard to imagine Willis making it past every single one of them.
And we haven’t even gotten to the annual NFL Combine where players like Kenny Pickett, someone who was considered to be the cream of the crop before Willis became sexier, can satisfy those worried about his hand size and cement his stock as a pre-20 selection. Throw in pro days, rumors and trades, and I can almost guarantee you that by the time the Steelers draft, they’ll be looking at no better than the third or fourth option at quarterback.
But I’m fine with that, too, provided that the third or fourth option is someone the team feels strongly about.
Obviously, it would be foolish for the Steelers to draft a quarterback just for the sake of addressing a major need that they haven’t had in a number of years. But it would not be silly to take a guy as quickly as possible if their gut is telling them it’s the right move to make. After all, the Steelers are going to have to find their next quarterback in the draft eventually, so why not now?
Yes, the Steelers have lots of holes to fill on their roster, but a good quarterback can mask holes and accelerate a team’s timeline for success much better than any other position.
This is why you don’t wait to draft someone in 2023 or 2024. If you’re the Steelers, you can’t listen to all of that “absolute” talk from professional and amateur draft experts who keep insisting that the 2022 quarterback class is meh. You just never know how things are going to shake out.
Baker Mayfield, the top pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, is everyone’s punchline. Lamar Jackson, the 32nd selection of that same draft, is a former NFL MVP.
No, the Steelers likely won’t have a shot at Malik Willis or Kenny Pickett, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t draft a quarterback if they think they’ve found their man.
The NFL Draft might be a crapshoot, but that goes for the good stuff, too.