Drafting a quarterback this season would be a surprise for the Steelers
For years, offseason speculation had run rampant about the eventual suitor to replace Ben Roethlisberger. With Big Ben’s retirement coming off of the heels of the 2021 season, last year’s offseason finally answered the question of who would be the next in line to become his heir, as Kenny Pickett was selected in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft.
In fact, the Steelers didn’t just draft one quarterback last season – they took two, throwing a flyer in the seventh round on FCS standout Chris Oladokun. At the time, the move appeared to be overkill, with two rookies, and two veterans, Mitchell Trubisky and Mason Rudolph, heading to camp.
Oladokun would serve to be no more than a camp arm, if that, as a three-way battle ensued that finally settled with Pickett becoming the Steelers starter following his first regular season action in Week 4 against the Jets.
Yet, with a starter entrenched for 2023, the quarterback conversation continues. Rudolph appears headed towards leaving Pittsburgh in free agency, while the team could trade or release Trubisky as well: leaving empty spaces on the depth chart behind Pickett.
Some of the videos and articles around the web suggest that Pickett could be backed up by a draft pick. That seems all fine and well if it’s another Oladokun type pick, however, that player shouldn’t be depended on to be the number two, rather, QB3 at best in the pecking order.
Those unsatisfied with Pickett’s 2022 performance are quick to suggest the Steelers go after one of the top dogs in the first round of this year’s NFL Draft, but that would be the surprise of the century for a variety of reasons. Essentially, the Steelers are all-in on Pickett already, and to move in another direction doesn’t fit their modus operandi.
They also have far greater needs than to think another rookie would outperform Pickett immediately, as to waste a pick on a QB.
That’s why it would be a surprise if the Steelers go with anyone other than a veteran to put behind their second-year starter. Consider the path of Ben Roethlisberger over the years, who had veterans such as Charlie Batch, Byron Leftwich, Bruce Gradkowski, and Michael Vick backing him up. Those are the style of players – with some NFL starting experience – that fit the mold of how Art Rooney II and new GM Omar Khan have been groomed to operate the franchise.
The Steelers have placed flyers on middle round prospects, such as Landry Jones, Joshua Dobbs, and Mason Rudolph, only to see those efforts payout with less than optimal results. (Note: Dobbs and Rudolph are now experienced and probably fit the mold better now than they did then, when drafted.)
Also consider, those picks were taken knowing Roethlisberger was a veteran and not going anywhere. Even if Ben did, as he landed on IR in 2019, he was there to provided guidance for Rudolph, and even undrafted and unlikely starter Devlin Hodges. We all know how all of these situations played out when Jones, Dobbs, Rudolph, or Hodges were thrust into action too, giving another reason why it’s naive to believe the Steelers should have a rookie backup in their sights.
Thus, I can’t see Pittsburgh contemplating a rookie passer in the mid rounds, with many other needs. It would serve them wisely to stick with Trubisky or similar player as a number two, who could help aide in Pickett’s learning the position. Among those names include those mentioned above (Trubisky, Rudolph, Dobbs) as well as journey like Jacoby Brissett, Case Keenum, or Teddy Bridgewater.
Ideally, the Steelers would like someone who could emulate the same offense should Pickett be sidelined, which happened more than once due to concussion concerns his rookie season. Those concerns are league-wide, and extra precautions are now taken, keeping starters as observers longer and creating more opportunities where backups see on-field action.
A similar scenario played out in San Francisco, where Jimmy Garoppolo managed to return to his starting role after a preseason injury to Trey Lance, before ceding way to the final pick of the 2022 NFL Draft, Brock Purdy.
In more tumultuous situations, the Panthers churned through Sam Darnold, Baker Mayfield, and P.J. Walker, while the Jets started with Joe Flacco before Zach Wilson returned, then was benched for Mike White. Mayfield would also suit up for the Rams, who lost Matthew Stafford to injury and had to lean on John Wolford and Bryce Perkins.
The Steelers won’t do that. There won’t be a path to Purdy scenario, unless its that specific QB3-turned-starter situation.
It would be preposterous to believe Purdy isn’t an extreme exception to the rule too. Therefore, I’d be shocked if they draft a quarterback to be Pickett’s backup. There’s literally zero need to develop a second quarterback alongside their starter, and in the worst case scenario (that word again) the new guy is going to struggle – and badly – even compared with run-of-the-mill journeyman vets.
It’s best to pass on putting themselves in that situation to begin with by forgoing the quarterback position in this year’s draft.