2022 Steelers Season Recall: Pittsburgh lands their QB during Day 1 of the NFL Draft
Steel City Underground presents our 2022 Steelers Recall: a look back at Pittsburgh Steelers games and storylines from last season.
As the Steelers signed free agent veteran quarterback Mitchell Trubisky weeks earlier, there was speculation as to whether or not the team would also draft a quarterback as they sought their next leader under center following franchise QB Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement.
Those rumors swirled, as the team was apparently doing their due diligence, interviewing prospects and attending their pro days with the entire staff observing a potential heir to Big Ben.
Standing in their way, however, was the Steelers draft position. Having made the playoffs meant they were further down the board than most quarterback-needy teams would prefer to be. In previous years, that had meant a team drafting as low as Pittsburgh’s 20th overall selection may have given up serious capital – in the form of multiple and future draft picks – to climb up the ladder to get their guy.
However, the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft didn’t necessarily go the way analysts or fans thought it might. Despite rumors to the contrary in the days leading up to the big event, the Pittsburgh Steelers did as they always do, standing pat with pick 20 overall despite other teams engaging in a flurry of trades ahead of them. Surprising to many was the fact that no team had pulled a quarterback off the draft board… until Pittsburgh did by choosing Kenny Pickett.
— Steel City Underground (@steelcityundrgr) April 29, 2022
Pickett was widely considered to be the most NFL-ready quarterback in this 2022 draft class, but was not a consistent “must have” in most mock drafts. His selection may be a hot discussion topic all weekend amongst members of “Steelers Nation” as fans were heavily divided across social media platforms on whether they loved the pick or wished, instead, for Malik Willis or a player at another position altogether with pick 20.
In their post-selection presser, Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert spoke, in detail, about why they feel Pickett is their guy. They certainly spent quality time in taking hard looks at all of the available quarterbacks.
“It’s funny. We circled the globe, or the United States, and we ended up with the guy next door.” – Coach Tomlin
The hometown favorite who played for the University of Pittsburgh, was now staying “home”, as fans clamored for the Steelers organization to not make the same mistake as they had in 1984, when they passed on selecting another Pitt Panther, Dan Marino. Pickett’s quarterbacks coach Tony Racioppi felt that the Steelers made the right move:
“(Kenny) loves the city. He played his ass off there [with the Pitt Panthers] for five years. And he’s going to play his ass off there for another 12 to 15 or however long he wants.”
As it turns out, Pickett would be the only quarterback taken in the first round, as those quarterback depraved teams passed on the Pitt product in lieu of other needs – or were teams that already had addressed their signal callers in other ways.
The Jacksonville Jaguars and Detroit Lions weren’t thought of to be a major threat in the quarterback bidding war that never happened. However, the Houston Texans were on the clock with picks three and fifteen. The New York Giants, at five, didn’t exercise a fifth-year option on their current quarterback Daniel Jones.
The Carolina Panthers, selecting sixth, appeared to have the greatest need first of the top ten teams, with the Giants back on the clock at seven, the Atlanta Falcons (who just traded away long-time starter Matt Ryan) at eight, and the Seattle Seahawks, who also sent their long-time franchise quarterback Russell Wilson to the Denver Broncos, were selecting ninth.
All of those teams looked past Pickett and others in the draft class, as the next ten picks made Steelers fans nervous. The New Orleans Saints, who were a year removed from losing future Hall of Famer Drew Brees, maneuvered into two different spots ahead of Pittsburgh. They too would forego a quarterback, as the Lions joined the Philadelphia Eagles as yet another team with multiple picks in the round one.
As each selection was announced, the picks got closer and closer to 20. The Texans went with Kenyon Green, a guard, at pick 15. The Washington Commanders then jumped into the fray for the Eagle’s 16th pick, but chose WR Jahan Dotson.
The Chargers had no major need at the quarterback position, but questions about the Tennessee Titans future raised thoughts of Steelers Nation, as the former jumped into yet another shifted draft position of the Eagles at pick 18, also opting for a receiver with Treylon Burks.
The Saints were back on at 19, again by virtue of Philly’s shuffling of selections, but New Orleans would take another position the Steelers were thought to be eyeing, offensive tackle, as pick 20 rolled around, leaving every quarterback available to Pittsburgh’s delight.
As we now know, Pickett would eventually takeover as the Steelers starter in 2022 and appears to be whom the team is attaching their immediate future toward in 2023. However, it was a fun look back at what might have been, as Desmond Ridder would be the next QB taken with the 74th overall selection by the Falcons.
Liberty QB Malik Willis would eventually be taken with pick 86 by the Titans, with the third round rounding out with the Panthers, who selected Matt Corral with pick 94.
North Carolina’s Sam Howell, who many gossiped as being a favorite of outgoing GM Kevin Colbert, would be taken with the 144th pick by Washington.
Yet, the draft, nor the Steelers, were far from done with taking passers, as South Dakota State’s Chris Oladokun would eventually be drafted in the seventh round by Pittsburgh. However, there’s a lot more that happened between the Steelers’ first and last quarterback selections, which will be covered in our next 2022 Season Recall.