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Mel Kiper Mock Draft 2.0: Steelers stay put, pull the trigger on a QB at 20

The Pittsburgh Steelers take a quarterback in Round 1 of the 2022 Draft, but they don’t have to sell the farm to do so.

NCAA Football: Cure Bowl-Liberty vs Coastal Carolina Douglas DeFelice-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers enter the new league year with several positions being major question marks. While it may not be atop some fans’ lists, the quarterback position is certainly in flux.

After the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers currently only have one quarterback under contract, and that would be Mason Rudolph. Dwayne Haskins, who is a Restricted Free Agent (RFA) is expected to be tendered by the organization, but that has yet to be done. Joshua Dobbs is an Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) and that is exactly how you end up with Rudolph as the lone signal caller on the depth chart.

It is expected the Steelers will target a veteran free agent quarterback this offseason, whoever that may be, but whether the team targets a quarterback in the 2022 NFL Draft is a hot button topic among the Steelers’ vast fan base.

At ESPN, both Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay are considered the leaders of the pack in terms of NFL Draft coverage. Whether you agree or disagree with them, their mock drafts and rankings are considered the standard of almost every outlet who does the same. Tuesday morning Kiper released his second mock draft of the offseason, and he included trades into his first round projections.

Before talking about who the Steelers take at pick No. 20, considering he doesn’t have the Steelers moving out of that spot in his prediction, let’s see how he has the first round shaking out before Pittsburgh is on the clock.

Round 1

1. Jacksonville Jaguars - Ikem Ekwonu, OT, NC State
2. Detroit Lions - Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Michigan
3. Houston Texans - Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
4. New York Jets - Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
5. New York Giants - Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE, Oregon
6. Carolina Panthers - Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
7. New York Giants (via CHI) - Devin Lloyd, ILB, Utah
8. Atlanta Falcons - Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
9. Cleveland Browns (via mock trade with DEN) - Drake London, WR, USC
10. New York Jets (via SEA) - Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa
11. Washington Commanders - Kenny Pickett, QB, Pitt
12. Minnesota Vikings - Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
13. Denver Broncos (via mock trade with CLE) - Jermaine Johnson II, DE, Florida State
14. New Orleans Saints (via mock trade with BAL) - Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
15. Philadelphia Eagles (via MIA) - Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington
16. Philadelphia Eagles (via IND) - David Ojabo, OLB, Michigan
17. Los Angeles Chargers - Travon Walker, DE, Georgia
18. Baltimore Ravens (via mock trade with NO) - Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
19. Philadelphia Eagles - Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas

As you can see, there are options for the Steelers at several positions at this point. There was clearly a run on specific skill positions, and along the offensive line, but the quarterbacks have been ignored outside of Kenny Pickett going to Washington. Seeing this, the Steelers see the perfect opportunity to select who they feel could be their next franchise quarterback, without having to make a trade to do so.

20. Pittsburgh Steelers - Malik Willis, QB, Liberty

Here’s a nice landing spot for Willis, whom I’ve mentioned will need some time to adjust to the speed of the NFL. He didn’t have a ton of talent around him at Liberty and he was sacked an FBS-high 51 times last season. He shouldn’t be asked to play in Week 1 in September. If he goes to Pittsburgh, he’ll compete with Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins (and potentially another short-term veteran) and won’t be pressured to play immediately, though the Steelers aren’t going to rebuild in the post-Ben Roethlisberger era.

Willis is the most talented quarterback in this class, in my opinion, but he can be erratic with his accuracy. He has all of the tools to be successful, but he’ll need to be coached hard. If the Steelers don’t go with a signal-caller here, keep an eye out for offensive line.

There will be plenty of fans who will be up in arms over this decisions, citing the need for the Steelers to draft other positional/team needs prior to thinking about a quarterback. On top of that, Willis is still a work-in-progress, meaning the Steelers likely won’t get much out of their top pick in the draft.

In case you didn’t know anything about Willis, here is a brief breakdown of Willis, via 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.

So, seeing all this, what would you think if the Steelers made this move at pick No. 20? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the Steelers as they prepare for the new league year and the 2022 NFL Draft.