The Pittsburgh Penguins are on the cusp of returning to the Stanley Cup Finals following their 4-2 beat down of the Tampa Bay Lightning in game three. If the team can secure two more victories, they’ll punch their ticket to the final for the first time in seven years.
Meanwhile, the Steelers are an early odds on favorite to return to the Super Bowl. Should the Steelers actually win it, it would mark the team’s…seventh Super Bowl championship.
See where we’re going with this?
When discussing the Steelers chances of making it to Super Bowl LI, there’s another “seven” that factors in: Ben Roethlisberger.
Roethlisberger turned 34 this past March, and is heading into the back nine of his career (actually, he’s probably approaching the 14th hole at this point). He’s signed for the next four seasons, making it very possible that the 2019 season will be his last. He’ll be 38.
Just to put things into perspective, Terry Bradshaw was 34 years old when his arm literally and figuratively gave out. Ben’s got a reputation as, perhaps, the toughest quarterback in the NFL given his ability to play with pain and injury. Still, the key to the Steelers making the Super Bowl this year is dependent, among other things, Ben remaining healthy.
Steelers fans need to enjoy these final remaining years with their two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback at the helm.
Hopefully, the Steelers’ organization won’t take these years for granted either and will reference their history. They famously passed on drafting Dan Marino in 1983 because they believed Bradshaw would play another four years.
Whether it’s Super Bowl or bust this year, the organization should seriously consider seeking out their next potential franchise quarterback in next year’s draft. There are a handful of college prospects who are already being touted as potential top draft picks in 2017, according to cbssports.com: Chad Kelly (Ole Miss), C.J. Beathard (Iowa), Joshua Dobbs (Tennessee), Gunner Kiel (Cincinnati), Mason Rudolph (Oklahoma State), and Mitch Leidner (Minnesota).
So, playing out this completely hypothetical situation, should the Steelers go deep into the playoffs next year, they’ll be picking towards the bottom of each round, which means that the current top projected quarterbacks, Kelly, Beathard, and Dobbs, would likely be off the board.
After that, an intriguing player would potentially (and I stress potentially) be Leidner, the 6’4”, 237 pounder from the University of Minnesota. He’s similar in build to Roethlisberger. He’s also got a good arm and has the ability to run the ball, as evidenced by his 1129 yards rushing in three seasons.
On some lists, Leidner is being hyped as a potential top 25 draft pick next year. He’s also being listed in early mocks and scouting reports as a second or even a third day pick, with criticisms that he still has to improve his mechanics and delivery.
So, depending on how he does this coming season, he could be the second coming of Big Ben, or the second coming of Neil O’Donnell.
But, hey, O’Donnell did get the Steelers to a Super Bowl.
What’s intriguing about Leidner is his maturity, his continued growth, and his apparent ability to engineer a comeback. Leidner led the gophers to a come from behind 21-14 win over Central Michigan in December’s Quick Lane Bowl.
After that game, Coach Tracy Clayes stated, “That’s leadership…You get in ballgames like that, it gets tight at the end, you’ve got to play to win, and your leaders do that. Mitch has stepped up and done that several times this year.”
Several times? Shown leadership in tight circumstances? It sounds like the kid is no stranger to pressure, or to stepping up to the plate to lead his team.
Sounds like someone else we know.
Just for kicks, here’s another interesting fact about Leidner: he wears number 7.
Only time will tell.