I Want to Love the Steelers Drafting Pickett, But I Just Don't

Photo credit: Matt Freed/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


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I'm sure this won't be taken kindly by Pittsburgh fans so I need to start this out with a disclaimer.  Nothing I'm going to say below is at all a slight to Kenny Pickett.  I love everything that he did for Pitt football and how he helped put the team back on the national landscape with his stellar play and Heisman Trophy nomination.  As a lifelong Pitt fan, I will forever be grateful for that.  However, the Pittsburgh Steelers made the wrong choice by selecting him with the 20th pick in the 2022 NFL Draft last night for a number of reasons.

Kenny Pickett was arguably the top quarterback in this draft class but I believe the Steelers were better suited going in a different direction.  Now, clearly the team made it known leading up to the draft that they were pretty set on selecting a quarterback with their first round pick.  And while head coach Mike Tomlin alluded to the team being in love with Malik Willis, it turns out that was more of a smokescreen for other teams than anything else.  Ultimately, the Steelers opted to make Pickett the first, and only, quarterback selected in the first round, deciding he was a better fit for their outlook than Willis.

In my opinion, if the team wanted to select a quarterback, Willis seems to better suit the direction the team is going in than Pickett does.  Pickett was the most NFL-ready quarterback in the draft by a decent margin.  That is pretty well highlighted by the fact that there were several teams drafting in the first round with a pressing need at quarterback, and all of them passed over Willis, leaving him undrafted heading into the second round of the draft tonight.  While it is certainly a luxury to have a quarterback that is deemed to be NFL-ready, I believe the rawness in Malik Willis is what should've made him so attractive to the Steelers.

By signing quarterback Mitchell Trubisky this offseason, the Steelers don't have the immediate need for a rookie quarterback to start right away.  It's a great position to be in.  Too often, rookie quarterbacks are thrown right into the fire on subpar teams and it just doesn't work out.  They need time to adapt and learn the styles and speeds that the NFL has to offer.  If the Steelers had drafted Willis, he would have had at least two years to learn behind Trubisky before being called upon to start.

Instead, by choosing Pickett, they've put themselves in a bit of a sticky spot.  Pickett will be 24 years old by the time the season starts, which is by no means young in today's NFL.  Tomlin said after the draft that he will have a chance to compete with Trubisky and backup Mason Rudolph for the starting spot heading into the season.  So if, hypothetically, he doesn't win the competition, he's now potentially not starting until he's 25 or older, which isn't ideal for a guy you're deeming to be the next franchise quarterback.

Also, while Pickett is the most NFL-ready, it is because we have mostly seen what Pickett is capable of as a quarterback over his college career.  While there is still room for improvement, Pickett's ceiling isn't that much further above his current output.  In a division that currently features quarterbacks Joe Burrow, Deshaun Watson and Lamar Jackson, I'm not sure a slightly enhanced Kenny Pickett stacks up with them and gives the Steelers the best chance to compete in the AFC North.

Now, obviously Malik Willis is by no means a sure thing.  Who is to say that him learning under an NFL quarterback for a few years would've allowed him to grow his game exponentially?  However, I think it was worth the risk to take the quarterback with the higher upside, considering the lack of an immediate need for a quarterback with Trubisky already in place.  

Willis had the best arm strength in the draft and showed throughout his college career that he was extremely capable of creating plays with his legs.  While playing at Liberty didn't present Willis with the most elite college competition, our savior Ben Roethlisberger hailed from Miami, Ohio, a school in the MAC.  Playing in the top college football conferences doesn't guarantee a prospect will turn out to be a great pro, and vice versa.

While I do think Willis was the better option if picking a quarterback, I still don't think the Steelers needed to go with a quarterback with their first pick at all.  As I mentioned, Trubisky was signed this offseason and I think he's very serviceable.  He had a year to learn under quarterback Josh Allen last year in Buffalo and he didn't have the best supporting cast around him in Chicago, both from a team and coaching perspective.  Trubisky is capable of leading this team in 2022 and instead, the Steelers could have taken their future quarterback in next year's draft.  The quarterback class next year is far superior to this year's, one that features Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young from Alabama and C.J. Stroud from Ohio State, just to name a few.

I was hoping defensive tackle Jordan Davis from Georgia fell to the Steelers, but when the Philadelphia Eagles traded up to select him, my attention turned to center Tyler Linderbaum from Iowa.  He ultimately was selected by division foe Baltimore Ravens (who had themselves an exceptional first round).  

I also wasn't opposed to the Steelers trading out of the first round.  With so many teams willing to trade up last night and all top four quarterbacks still on the board at the 20th pick, it felt like a prime opportunity to add some draft picks.  These could have helped establish depth at the positions that need it, while also allowing them to most likely get one of the top quarterbacks in the second round.

Overall, there was an abundance of scenarios that could've happened last night that I would've been happy with, and unfortunately, Kenny Pickett in the 1st round wasn't one of them.  I just feel with the needs that the Steelers currently have, they would've been better off with any of the other options I've mentioned.  Now don't get me wrong, I am happy that Kenny Pickett is staying in Pittsburgh.  I'm going to root for him just as hard as I did when he played at Pitt and I really hope he is our next Ben Roethlisberger.  I just think the Steelers were better served going in a different direction with their first round pick.

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