As we’re about two months away from the NFL Draft, everyone is interested in who the Steelers will draft in the first round. According to the latest mock draft from ESPN’s Mel Kiper Jr., the Steelers are slated to draft Boise State linebacker, Leighton Vander Esch 28th overall in the first round. The Steelers have a notable pedigree in drafting linebackers, but throughout their franchise history, only six linebackers have been selected in the first round.
Kiper strongly believes they need a linebacker to stop the run and play coverage. NFL Network’s, Mike Mayock also chimed in on Pittsburgh’s possible selection of Vander Esch. “If you put his tape on against Oregon, which I believe was his bowl game, it was as good as off-the-ball linebacker tape as I’ve seen in years. He goes sideline to sideline. He’s great in the pass game. He’s one of those guys that naturally slips under or over blocks to make the play.”
These are all great points and, yes, the Steelers need to fill the void left by Ryan Shazier, but the team also needs to consider drafting a quarterback early in the draft process. I’m not suggesting the team should press the panic button, but the Steelers can’t walk into their current quarterback situation with a blind eye.
The team enters the 2018-2019 season with Ben Roethlisberger, Landry Jones and Joshua Dobbs as their quarterback depth chart, but should they just assume this will work for the foreseeable future? Is Dobbs the plan when Roethlsiberger calls it quits? If they don’t believe it, and Roethlsiberger retires, what are they going to do, grab someone in free agency to fill the void?
Yes, Roethlisberger declared he was coming back next season, but his ‘year-to-year’ approach could mean he is just an injury away from realizing the time has come, and the Steelers need to be prepared.
As far as quarterbacks go, the Steelers have selected six in the first round. You know who the two most famous selections are, the “Blonde Bomber” Terry Bradshaw back in 1970 and, “Big Ben” Roethlisberger back in 2004. These two quarterbacks have paid huge dividends for the franchise’s championship success, accounting for six Super Bowl titles. Roethlisberger has been such a game-changer for the Black-and-gold. He’s the all-time franchise leader in wins with 135, and is only one win away from matching Bradshaw for the most playoff wins.
Here’s what everybody needs to keep in mind. Le’Veon Bell’s long-term status with the team is still all sorts of vague, and the front office is looking at the likely final year with Martavis Bryant. So, if you look real close, the only legitimate star on board for the long haul is Antonio Brown, who is locked up through 2021. Last thing Art Rooney II and Kevin Colbert want to do is go back to the drawing board for such a long period of time finding the future at quarterback. The Steelers have suffered plenty of quarterback droughts since Bradshaw hoisted four Lombardis over his head, and the team needs to do their best to avoid another drought post-Roethlisberger.
One name which pops up, is 2016 Heisman Trophy winner, Lamar Jackson. Kiper is expecting him to be a late, first-round pick. He has a few similarities to Roethlisberger: A big arm, big-play ability, and mobility. The only concern is his accuracy. Louisville ran a pro-style offense, so it wouldn’t be too unfamiliar for Jackson to learn behind Ben for two to three seasons. If everyone looks at the big picture, the Steelers can always find a way to get a good Inside Linebacker in years to come, so let’s not grab the oxygen tank just yet.
If the team really wants to make a statement, it’s now or never. They need to play their cards right and not overreact. I believe now that Art Rooney II is in his second season as the main owner after the loss of his father, Dan Rooney, he will be able to put his own fingerprint on the organization. Pressure and expectations are high, and as the old saying goes, “Let’s take our time and make sure we do this right!”