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Mel Kiper Mock Draft: Post-free agency prediction has Steelers still going with a QB

The latest prediction from the ESPN NFL Draft expert has the Steelers sticking to the plan with drafting a quarterback.

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are a team who still has several needs as the 2022 NFL Draft approaches. Sure, they’ve made some waves in free agency, but the ability to draft players and grow your team from the draft is still the way the Steelers prefer to do business.

Even after the free agent moves already made, there are still holes on the roster. Strong safety, wide receiver and cornerback still remain strong candidates not just for the second wave of free agency, but especially in the draft.

With the draft just over a month away, mock drafts are firing up even more than they were in early March. When it comes to these predictions, none are more sought after, and scrutinized, than the draft experts at ESPN. Those would be Mel Kiper Jr. and Todd McShay. Kiper just released his latest mock draft, a one round prediction, and despite the Steelers acquiring Mitchell Trubisky via free agency, he has the Steelers taking a quarterback at pick No. 20.

Take a look at the entire first round prediction below:

1. Jacksonville Jaguars - Aidan Hutchinson, DE, Michigan
2. Detroit Lions - Kyle Hamilton, S, Notre Dame
3. Houston Texans - Ikem Ekwonu, OT, NC State
4. New York Jets - Drake London, WR, USC
5. New York Giants - Evan Neal, OT, Alabama
6. Carolina Panthers - Travon Walker, DE, Georgia
7. New York Giants (via CHI) - Kayvon Thibodeaux, DE, Oregon
8. Atlanta Falcons - Garrett Wilson, WR, Ohio State
9. Seattle Seahawks (via DEN) - Charles Cross, OT, Mississippi State
10. New York Jets (via SEA) - Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner, CB, Cincinnati
11. Washington Commanders - Derek Stingley Jr., CB, LSU
12. Minnesota Vikings - Trent McDuffie, CB, Washington
13. Houston Texans (via CLE) - Jordan Davis, DT, Georgia
14. Baltimore Ravens - Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa
15. Philadelphia Eagles (via MIA) - Jermaine Johnson II, DE, Florida State
16. Philadelphia Eagles (via IND) - Chris Olave, WR, Ohio State
17. Los Angeles Chargers - Trevor Penning, OT, Northern Iowa
18. New Orleans Saints - Kenny Pickett, QB, Pitt
19. Philadelphia Eagles - Devin Lloyd, ILB, Utah

20. Pittsburgh Steelers - Malik Willis, QB, Liberty

The structure of Mitch Trubisky’s new contract with Pittsburgh — just $5.25 million guaranteed over two years — means this organization absolutely could draft a quarterback here. Trubisky could be a bridge to Willis, who is raw but supremely talented. As I said when I projected him to the Steelers in my previous mock, he is the most talented quarterback in this class. Willis could compete with Trubisky, Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins in training camp, but he wouldn’t be under immediate pressure to start in Week 1. That would be crucial for him.

If the Steelers go a different direction, they still have holes to plug along the offensive line and in the secondary.

21. New England Patriots - Jameson Williams, WR, Alabama
22. Green Bay Packers (via LV) - Kenyon Green, G, Texas A&M
23. Arizona Cardinals - Devonte Wyatt, DT, Georgia
24. Dallas Cowboys - Tyler Smith, OT/G, Tulsa
25. Buffalo Bills - Jahan Dotson, WR, Penn State
26. Tennessee Titans - Zion Johnson, G/C, Boston College
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Breece Hall, RB, Iowa State
28. Green Bay Packers - Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
29. Miami Dolphins (via SF) - Nakobe Dean, ILB, Georgia
30. Kansas City Chiefs - George Karlaftis, DE, Purdue
31. Cincinnati Bengals - Travis Jones, DT, Connecticut
32. Detroit Lions (via LAR) - Matt Corral, QB, Ole Miss

When looking at the way Kiper predicts the first round to play out, not just the Steelers’ pick, it is odd to see no quarterbacks taken until pick No. 18 when Kenny Pickett goes to the Saints. No, this draft class isn’t known for their quarterbacks, but to think quarterback needy teams like the Panthers, Falcons, Seahawks and even Commanders all pass on taking the best of the class still seems far fetched to me.

On top of that, if the Steelers choose to go with Willis with pick No. 20, it would be a clear sign they believe he is their future franchise quarterback. Many fans will disagree with this sentiment, but if the options are there at No. 20, and they take that option after bringing in Trubisky, it will speak voluems.

We’ve all seen the rundowns of Willis as a prospect, but what would you think if the draft played out like this? 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 rest of free agency and the 2022 NFL Draft.