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The Pittsburgh Steelers 2022 Draft class grading extravaganza

You want grades on the Steelers 2022 draft class? I got ‘em.

NCAA Football: Senior Bowl Practice Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

I’m usually not one to jump in on the Internet traffic bonanza known as grading things, but if I don’t do it now, right after the Steelers just selected their entire 2022 NFL Draft class, I’m doing a disservice to the click-bait gods in the sky.

I had so much fun last year and the year before that, I figured, why not go for those clicks again?

I only have two grades for this process: Jump for Joy and Smashed Remote.

Obviously, a Jump for joy, as in “When they called his name, I was jumping for joy!” is a positive grade (or plus). I can’t really picture grown adults jumping for joy over the thought of a football player getting drafted by their favorite team, but many often describe this as their reaction to it. Therefore, it must happen a lot.

And if a Jump for Joy is a positive grade, that can only mean a Smashed Remote, as in “If they take that guy, I’m going to smash my remote!” is a negative (or minus). It seems counterproductive to smash something like a remote over a draft choice, but I’ve seen enough people break their flat-screen TVs over a missed tackle to know that it probably happens quite a bit.

OK, let’s dive right into the grades, shall we?

First Round (20th, overall), Kenny Pickett, quarterback, University of Pittsburgh

After months and months and months and maybe even years of speculation, the 2022 NFL Draft finally kicked off last Thursday night in Las Vegas, Nevada. Once it did, it immediately began to unfold in such a way that it could only be considered a dream come true for Steelers fans that were pro-quarterback, which just so happened to include the team’s brain trust when you consider the many visits, interactions and dinners that took place with just about any draft prospect who could throw a football in the months leading up to the event.

As the 20th pick drew closer, it became quite apparent that the Steelers would have a shot at at least one of the top two quarterback prospects—Kenny Pickett and Liberty’s Malik Willis. And right after the Saints pick came and went at 19, it was on like Donkey Kong, as every single quarterback prospect was still on the board for Pittsburgh to choose from.

What a menu, right? Not if you were anti-quarterback, which included many fans and some in the media. But the pick was a quarterback and the pick was Pickett. Despite the entire pool of passers being available to them, it didn't seem like there was a ton of discussion involving general manager Kevin Colbert, head coach Mike Tomlin and the man, himself, owner Art Rooney II, when the Steelers were on the clock. Nope, the Steelers turned their selection in so fast for the legendary Franco Harris to announce, it really left no doubt: Kenny Pickett was who the Steelers wanted all along.

I like it. Some don't, which I get, especially considering no other quarterback went until the third round, an outcome that my cousin described as “terrifying” in a text sent to me on Friday.

That development could be viewed as an indictment of the quarterback class as a whole--including Pickett.

There is also the opinion that the Steelers could have waited to get their man a little later since no other team seemed to be interested in taking a quarterback at that point.

Are you sure about that? Just because Pickett was the first quarterback taken at 20, that doesn’t mean he could have been selected much later. Nobody knows what other teams may have thought about Pickett. Maybe others had a first-round grade on him. Maybe they didn’t. Maybe they were thrown off by the apparent reality that Tomlin was smitten with Willis, the guy who was considered to have the most upside, and that the Steelers were likely going to take him if he was there. After that, someone else may have come in and quickly scooped up Pickett later in the first round. Or if another team thought Pittsburgh was seriously interested in Pickett, it may have been more aggressive and drafted him before 20.

Just because Pickett was the only quarterback taken in the first round does not mean he shouldn't have been picked in the first round.

I think the biggest knock on Pickett, other than his freakishly small hands, is that he doesn’t have a howitzer of an arm. However, according to just about every scout and expert who has been weighing in on him since the draft process first began, Pickett does have an arm good enough to make every throw at the pro level.

There’s also the concern that Pickett didn’t actually come into his own as a college quarterback until his fifth and final season at Pitt when he completed 334 of 497 passes for 4,319 yards while throwing 42 touchdowns to only seven interceptions.

I don’t see why it’s that big of a deal that it took Pickett a while to get things going. Isn’t it better for him to have flipped the switch while still in college and not five years into his professional career?

Speaking of which, Pickett will turn 24-years old before he plays in his first game for the Steelers and is considered to be a little on the old side for a quarterback. Is 24 too old for a rookie quarterback, though, especially when so many are now playing at a high level into their late-30s and even early-40s?

There’s also the matter of Pickett’s ceiling which is believed to be much lower than Willis’s. That’s the bad news. The good news is Pickett’s floor is believed to be fairly high, meaning, he has the best chance to jump right in and do pretty well from the start.

But is that enough, especially when Pickett is often compared to the likes of Derek Carr, Andy Dalton and Matt Hasselbeck? That’s right, poor Pickett. He hasn’t even taken his first pro rep, and he’s already having limits put on him. Instead of that exciting upside that often includes tattoos, rock-hard abs, huge biceps and a ton of aggression, Pickett is apparently the dependable husband and father of quarterback prospects, complete with a dad bod. He might not fill you with passion, but he pays the bills and keeps a roof over your head.

Wouldn’t you rather have that, though, especially if you’re jumping into bed with your first quarterback so soon after Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement? You know how it is with those aggressive alpha types, right? Sure, there’s a thirty-percent chance that he’ll wind up as some sort of fitness guru with a highly successful and lucrative YouTube channel. But there’s probably a seventy-percent chance you’ll have to take out a restraining order on him.

“Yeah, but Pickett’s comps have never won a Super Bowl!” you might be typing. True, but that only has to happen once for that comparison to take on a whole new meaning with Pickett being the comp for future young quarterbacks.

The Steelers went into the 2022 NFL Draft needing a quarterback—and I don’t care that they signed Mitch Trubisky; they’re going to continue to need a quarterback until someone proves that they don’t—and they selected what looks to be the best of the bunch.

There’s also the added bonus of Pickett hailing from Pitt and forcing Steelers fans who love Penn State to root for him.

Final tally on the Jump for Joy/Smashed Remote grading scale: Plus-eight (as in the number of Super Bowls the Steelers organization will have when Pickett retires).

Round two (52nd, overall), George Pickens, wide receiver, Georgia

As is normally the case in round two, there was a player still on the board that seemed to be the favorite of many Steelers fans—in this case, Western Michigan receiver, Skyy Moore—and they didn't take him. (I shall forever refer to this phenomenon as the Creed Humphrey Award, named after Creed Humphrey, the Oklahoma center the Steelers passed on in the 2021 NFL Draft in favor of Penn State tight end, Pat Freiermuth—something Steelers fans will apparently never forget about, even if Freiermuth eventually wins the NFL MVP Award.)

Instead, Pickens, and his raw athleticism and blinding speed, was the man. At 6’3” and 195 pounds, Pickens is the kind of big-bodied receiver Ben Roethlisberger always wanted but mostly never got during his 18-year career. One Jump for Joy. And after posting a 4.47 40 time at the Combine, Pickens certainly has more than enough speed to be a deep threat. Another Jump for Joy. Pickens is also considered to be a great combat receiver, perhaps on the level of a JuJu Smith-Schuster or Chase Claypool (pre-2020 draft, of course). Two more Jumps for Joy.

However, after catching a combined 85 passes for 1,240 yards and 14 touchdowns over his first two seasons in Athens, Pickens suffered a torn ACL last spring and missed the majority of the 2021 season. Three Smashed Remotes. Pickens did show great desire and work ethic by doing all that he could just to make it back and be a part of the Bulldogs National Championship team last season, even if he only caught five passes for 107 yards on the year. Two Jumps for Joy.

Speaking of work ethic, Pickens might not have it, after all, at least according to an anonymous scout and two anonymous wide-receiver coaches, who were quoted in a Tweet by 93.7 The Fan’s Josh Rowntree on Friday night:

“Which WR is the most boom-or-bust guy?

Scout 2: George Pickens. There’s a lot of upside, but he can’t get out of his own way. He’s been enabled his whole life.

WR Coach 3: Pickens. You love his game, but there’s some issues. Do you want to work with him? He’s a top-6 talent-wise, but it’s impossible not to add those other good things. He has the size, has the really good range. He positions his body on deep throws. He consistently beats press coverage. Has good start-stops with some AI (Allen Iverson) crossover in his game. A lot of stuff in (Todd Monken’s) system translates to the NFL. But I wouldn’t touch him.

WR Coach 5 on Pickens: On tape, he is probably a top-5 wide receiver but there’s just so many red flags, and they’re big red flags. He’s got a lot of growing up to do. If he goes to the right place with a room full of veterans that help him go the right way, I think he’ll have a chance.”

Yikes. I want to give this news a ton of Smashed Remotes, but I can’t figure out why one scout and two position coaches, who were being quoted anonymously, couldn’t elaborate on Pickens’s red flags. They gave us many reasons why Pickens could be a stud on the field—which I think are worth at least Four Jumps for Joy—but nothing about those red flags and/or why he’s been enabled his whole life? Is he always late to meetings? Does he turn into The Incredible Karen when the service is bad at Red Lobster? I’ll give these supposed red flags Two Smashed Remotes simply because I’ve experienced the career of Antonio Brown, who evidently lasted until the sixth round of the 2010 NFL Draft because of anonymous red flags which eventually were exposed and became really bright by the spring of 2019.

Maybe Pickens’s red flags are simply due to the multiple suspensions he had at Georgia—one for violating team rules and one for fighting a Georgia Tech defensive back during a game.

If that’s the case, is that much to worry about? Would these be considered off-the-field issues, even if one of the issues took place on the field?

Sure, when Hines Ward fought Ed Reed multiple times during his career, we celebrated and bought Hines a beer or two (most likely). But a college receiver does it in the social media age and suddenly it’s a red flag? What if Pickens becomes the next Hines Ward, a receiver who was just a third-round pick from tiny Georgia University and actually played his entire career without one of his ACLs? I’d say that would be worth at least Five Jumps for Joy.

Yeah, but if I had to bet on which of the Steelers' newest draft picks was most likely to go on Twitter after a big drop and mock innocent Steelers fans for not making as much money as him, it would probably be Pickens. Three Smashed Remotes.

Also, Pickens may already be so much of a diva that the mere selection of him provoked someone on Twitter to criticize Chase Claypool, a noted diva receiver, for not being professional enough while announcing the Steelers' second-round pick on Friday. One Smashed Remote.

I don’t care what none a y’all say, I still love the potential of Pickens and what he could bring to the Steelers receiving corps. Three Jumps for Joy. Pittsburgh needed a lot of receiver help heading into the draft and selected someone who could be a real weapon. Two more Jumps for Joy.

There’s also the possibility of some clever t-shirts being produced thanks to the potentially awesome Pickett to Pickens connection. One Jump for Joy.

Of course, that could get very annoying by August. One Smashed Remote.

Final tally on the Jump for Joy/Smashed Remote grading scale: Plus-eleven

Round three (84th, overall), DeMarvin Leal, defensive lineman, Texas A&M

The Steelers certainly needed to address the future of their defensive line heading into the draft, and simply based on where he played and what he accomplished—he was voted First-Team All-American and First-Team SEC in 2021—Leal looks like he could be a great choice to eventually take the baton from Cam Heyward and lead the unit into the future. Two Jumps for Joy. Heck, he might even be able to do that in 2022 as part of the defensive line rotation. Another Jump for Joy.

Yeah, but why did Leal last so long? One Smashed Remote. Is this because he came into the draft without a clear position? At 283 pounds, Leal is considered to be too small to play on the interior. One Smashed Remote. And after posting a 5.0 40 time at the Combine, maybe he’s too slow the be a super-effective defensive end. Another Smashed Remote.

Also, according to his NFL.com Draft Profile, Leal struggled while going up against Evan Neal and Charles Cross—two of the top tackles in the SEC last year and two of the top tackles in the 2022 NFL Draft. Three Smashed Remotes.

I’ve heard contradicting opinions about Leal and his work ethic and character. For example, I’ve read that he has a great motor, but I've also read that he may not be motivated enough. Huh? Which is it, baby? Maybe Leal just has an efficient motor—kind of like a four-cylinder. No, you won’t win the Daytona 500, but you’ll likely get to work on time most days. Three Jumps for Joy.

However, having a four-cylinder likely won’t get you to the quarterback fast enough on most plays. This may explain Leal’s apparent lack of “suddenness.” May I suggest surrounding yourself with wasps? They always make me move with a burst. Anyway, Two Smashed Remotes.

Right after Leal was drafted, someone told me he was arrested for a DUI in December, something that would be worth a zillion Smashed Remotes in my eyes. But after doing some research, I found out that Leal was arrested for marijuana possession. Is that really a big deal anymore? It’s not going to get me to Jump for Joy, but it’s not going to make me Smash any Remotes, either.

Because of his plummeting draft stock, Leal already seems to have the proverbial chip on his shoulder and wants to prove the doubters and haters wrong in 2022. Case-in-point, below is a Tweet from Leal late Thursday night after he slipped out of the first round:

“Lol I actually like this… y’all gonna pay”

That kind of social media trash talk would automatically make every Steelers fan smash their remotes upon reading it—if Leal was a receiver. However, since he’s a defender, it’s actually pretty cool. Three Jumps for Joy.

Speaking of former Aggies and current Steelers, linebacker Buddy Johnson, Leal’s former teammate at A&M and future teammate in Pittsburgh, Tweeted this after Leal was selected on Friday night:

“What a steal! Let’s go!!! Congrats brother! Welcome to the fam!”

That’s right, what a steal! Let’s Go! Three Jumps for Joy. But that's what I said about Quincy Roche last year. Three Smashed Remotes.

Thankfully, Leal has a much higher pedigree than did Roche a year ago, and if he is a steal for a third-round pick, look out! Two Jumps for Joy.

I suppose I should finish up by quoting an anonymous NFC scout from Leal’s NFL.com Draft Profile page:

“The tape didn’t match the hype he had going into the season. You never really feel him (on tape) like you should for a top player.” Ouch. Four Smashed Remotes.

Final tally on the Jumps for Joy/Smashed Remote grading scale: Minus-one.

Round four (138th, overall), Calvin Austin III, wide receiver, Memphis

I think this might be my favorite pick besides Pickett, of course. Austin’s speed is intriguing. Just how fast is he? He posted a 4.32 40 time at the NFL Combine. Two Jumps for Joy.

After a slow start to his college career, Austin caught a combined 137 passes for 2,202 yards and 19 touchdowns over his final two seasons at Memphis. Austin was also a weapon as a punt returner in college, averaging 11.1 yards per return over his final two seasons—including a whopping 27 per return in 2021. Two Jumps for Joy.

There is the matter of Austin’s size which is rather diminutive. In fact, at 5’8” and 170 pounds (with rocks in his socks, I’m sure), Austin’s size is understandably listed as one of his weaknesses in his NFL.com Draft Profile. As per NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein, Austin was often “Badly beaten when competing for 50-50 throws in college.” Two Smashed Remotes.

I guess that means that the Steelers will have to utilize Austin out in space...lots and lots of space. Chances are, if you can get your mitts on Austin, it’s game over for him, but if he gets out in space with that 4.3 speed, it’s game over for you. One Jump for Joy. Austin has already been described as an intriguing new toy for offensive coordinator Matt Canada to utilize—like a Ray-Ray McCloud but with more speed and upside. One Jump for Joy.

As a matter of personal pride, Austin was someone I had the Steelers taking in the third round of my one and only genuine mock draft, which means he represents great draft value as a fourth-round pick in the real thing. Two Jumps for Joy. However, as someone who believes in his own draft opinions to the point that he considers them to be draft FACTS, I can’t believe so many teams passed on Austin over the first 137 picks. What were they thinking? Two Smashed Remotes.

If the Steelers can hit on Austin, along with Pickens, what a receiving corps they could have once again. Two Jumps for Joy.

I’ll leave you with this quote from Austin’s NFL.com Draft Profile:

“Productive playmaker with below-average size but above-average heart.”

Damn! When does training camp start? Five Jumps for Joy.

Final tally on the Jumps for Joy/Smashed Remote grading scale: Plus-eight.

Round six (208th, overall), Connor Heyward, fullback/h-back/tight end, Michigan State

That’s right, Cam Heyward’s little brother is on the team, and he joins Terrell Edmunds’s older brother, Trey, and T.J. Watt’s older brother, Derek, and will come to camp equipped with a similar skill-set to them—only with youth and a lesser wage.

Awkward. One Smashed Remote for those pesky distractions.

You know what Heyward’s skill-set screams? Special teams. However, you can never have enough good, young and hungry special teams players. Two Jumps for Joy.

As I alluded to earlier, I don’t like to put limits on these draft picks; when you read that Heyward rushed 118 times for 529 yards, caught 32 passes for 249 yards and returned 13 kicks for 287 yards in 2019 while being named a finalist for the Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player, it gets you excited about the possibility of him becoming a valuable role player on offense. Two Jumps for Joy.

At 5’11” and 233 pounds, I don’t expect Heyward to do much in the tight end spot, but he does apparently have great hands, so who knows?

Heck, maybe Heyward can become the Derek Watt that Derek Watt has yet to become since arriving in town. One Jump for Joy.

Speaking of Watt, maybe Heyward can become such a fan favorite, it will cause the people to finally turn on a Watt brother. Wouldn’t that be fascinating? One Jump for Joy.

Also, since Heyward spells his first name with two o’s, Steelers fans can finally spell “Connor” that way without it being wrong. One Jump for Joy.

Unfortunately, with two Heywards now on the roster, that doubles the chances of fans spelling that surname wrong. Two Smashed Remotes.

Final tally on the Jump for Joy/Smashed Remote grading scale: Plus-four.

Round seven (225th, overall), Mark Robinson, outside linebacker, Ole Miss

Robinson might be the biggest unknown of all the Steelers' draft picks. He played running back for three years in college before converting over to linebacker for his final season. He jumped from Presbyterian College to Southeast Missouri before transferring to Ole Miss and making the football team as a walk-on in 2021. Robinson tallied 92 tackles and 8.5 sacks in 2021, which is fairly impressive for his first season on defense and in a major conference like the SEC.

Speaking of screaming special teams, ditto for Robinson. Two Jumps for Joy. But, who knows? Maybe Robinson has just scratched the surface of what he can do as a linebacker. If Robinson can make strides at the pro level under senior defensive assistant/linebackers coach/scheme guru Brian Flores, perhaps he can fill a vital role as a reserve player and add depth to the linebacker spot.

Final tally on the Jump for Joy/Smashed Remote grading scale: Plus-two.

Round seven (241st, overall), Chris Oladokun, quarterback, South Dakota State

Wow, another quarterback, and this time, in the seventh round.

Oladokun started his college career at South Florida, where he didn’t see much playing time. After transferring to Samford, Oladokun completed 169 of 272 passes for 2,058 yards, 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 2019, while adding another 491 rushing yards on 127 carries. Oladokun again transferred in the fall of 2021—this time to South Dakota State—and completed 238 of 384 passes for 3,164 yards, 25 touchdowns and seven interceptions in his final season.

Oladokun certainly has intriguing physical gifts. He appears to be more than mobile enough, and his arm seems to be good enough. Perhaps, he can be that young quarterback who comes in and learns the system for a year or two before winning the backup spot behind Kenny Pickett (who will be the presumed starter by that point). The Steelers have made it clear that they want their quarterbacks to be mobile in a post-Big Ben world, so it makes sense that they’d book-end their first draft without Roethlisberger by selecting quarterbacks who possess such a trait.

The Steelers now have a veteran quarterback, a high-pedigreed young quarterback and a low-pedigreed young quarterback on their roster (and Mason Rudolph for now), a dynamic that’s pretty common on most NFL teams.

There isn’t much to hate about this pick. And, hey, if Pickett to Pickens makes an unfortunate left turn toward Kenny Pickoff, Oladokun may find it common for folks to start calling for him to start.

Final tally on the Jump for Joy/Smashed Remote grading scale: Plus-one.