Steelers didn’t look too far for their top pick, QB Kenny Pickett
by Mike Pelaia, For New Pittsburgh Courier
The 2022 NFL Draft is officially in the books and the Pittsburgh Steelers are receiving high draft grades from all the pundits. They went out and drafted their next franchise quarterback (at least they think they did) in the first round when they selected Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett. Many think Pickett was the best quarterback in the draft; clearly the Steelers thought so, too, making him the first quarterback off the board with the 20th selection.
I’ll agree that Pickett was the most pro-ready quarterback in this draft but I disagreed with selecting Pickett at No. 20 overall for a few reasons. First, I felt the Steelers had even bigger needs than quarterback, believe it or not. I think they should have gone after a center in the first round and my hope was they would have valued Tyler Linderbaum, the center out of Iowa, higher than they did. Linderbaum now sits with the Ravens and the Steelers will need to face him for years to come.
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Second, I felt the Steelers could have traded back into the late-first or early second round and probably still landed Pickett while picking up additional draft capital. This capital would have allowed them to fill other holes along the way; offensive line and cornerback come to mind.
Third, I don’t think the Steelers should have drafted any quarterback this year. I’m not suggesting that Mitch Trubisky is the answer, but the team just went out and signed the former number 2 overall pick to a two-year deal and I think it would have made sense to give the kid a shot at showing what he can do while picking up pieces around him to help build a championship-level team. If he didn’t pan out this year or next, then the Steelers could have gone and gotten their guy.
Last, there were other quarterbacks in this class they could have taken later if they chose to pass on Pickett. Malik Willis and Desmond Ridder could have been picked in the second and third rounds and I don’t think they are much behind Pickett in their talent levels.
Yet, the Steelers got their guy and I accept that fact. Time will tell if it was the right choice. The team went over 20 years between Terry Bradshaw and Ben Roethlisberger, they certainly better hope they aren’t about do to that again.
Despite my hesitancy around the Pickett selection, I love their next three selections. Taking wide receiver George Pickens, out of Georgia, in the second round was a steal, in my opinion. He’s big, tough and one of the best receivers in the draft. He’s going to help Kenny Pickett immediately and will make this offense a tough one to defend.
DeMarvin Leal was selected in the third round, the big defensive tackle out of Texas A&M. I think this helps fill a position of need as the Steelers are beginning to age on the defensive line and he can make an impact very early in his career, if not as a rookie.
Calvin Austin III, the speedy wide receiver out of Memphis, being taken in the fourth round was also a fantastic selection and again adds an offensive threat to a now-stacked arsenal that already includes Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, Pat Freiermuth and Najee Harris. Austin, along with Pickens, will replace the departures of JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington and they will cost significantly less as well.
Connor Heyward, the H-back out of Michigan State and brother of the beloved Cam Heyward, doesn’t make much sense to me unless they choose to release fullback Derek Watt. I don’t think Connor Heyward will see much more than special teams and I feel as though this was a charity pick for Cam. I just don’t fall in love with selecting brothers for the sake of saying you have brothers on your team, the way several other folks do. This just wasn’t a position that I felt they needed.
Finally, to wrap up the draft, the Steelers had two seventh-round picks where they selected linebacker Mark Robinson out of Mississippi and quarterback Chris Oladokun out of South Dakota State. It wouldn’t be a draft without the Steelers taking a linebacker and I’m OK with the pick there. The selection of Oladukun is a bit curious given they already had three quarterbacks but he’ll be a camp arm at a minimum, potentially a practice squad guy and possibly, a third-stringer that affords the team to rid themselves of Mason Rudolph.
Overall, I believe Pittsburgh had a solid draft and they filled some needs. While I may not wholeheartedly agree with all of their selections and when they selected some of these players, I think they did a solid job of selecting good players who can and will make an impact soon.
I’ll give the team a B for their 2022 selections and at the same time I’ll congratulate the retiring GM Kevin Colbert on an amazing career and wish him the best.