Why Steelers actually did the right thing getting their QB in round 1

Kenny Pickett #8 of the Pittsburgh Panthers. (Photo by Logan Whitton/Getty Images)
Kenny Pickett #8 of the Pittsburgh Panthers. (Photo by Logan Whitton/Getty Images) /

The quarterbacks lasted much longer in the NFL Draft than anyone expected, but here’s why the Pittsburgh Steelers actually did the right thing by taking their guy early.

I know the thought process behind this seems a little counterintuitive, but you might not be thinking that by the end of this article — and no I’m not just trying to stretch for a positive spin on this.

When the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Kenny Pickett with the 20th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, it was met with mixed results. The fanbase was split on who they wanted the team to draft, and with all five quarterbacks still on the board, it seems like they could have waited to take their future signal-caller.

For the remainder of the first round, we watched as no other team made an effort to move back up for a quarterback. This continued into day two. Not a single other QB went off the board until the 74 overall pick in the third round when the Falcons selected Desmond Ridder. This was later followed by Malik Willis landing with the Titans (86th overall) and Matt Corral being selected by the Panthers (94th overall) late in the third round.

Yet despite the value these teams may have found with quarterbacks late on day two of the NFL Draft, I still think the Steelers may have made the right decision taking their guy in round one.

Why Steelers did the right thing

To affirm their decision, we must look at the alternative scenario. Let’s say that the Steelers did wait until the second round to draft their quarterback. Who would they have taken in round one?

Almost all of the players I would have desired with the 20th selection (Jordan Davis, Kyle Hamilton, Trevor Penning, Zion Johnson, Kendrick Green, and Jameson Williams) were already off the board prior to this pick. Pittsburgh likely would have been left with choosing between a defensive back like Daxton Hill, Andrew Booth Jr., or Lewis Cine.

Let’s assume that this was the decision they made. Pittsburgh took a defensive back in round one (the only other position it seemed they were considering in the first round) and they got their QB in round two. Is that better?

Now, instead of having Kenny Pickett and George Pickens, they have a defensive back and Malik Willis. I had second-round grades on most of the defensive backs who would have been available for the Steelers — the same as I had on Pickens.

It’s also important to consider that the Steelers liked Kenny Pickett significantly more than Willis — so much so, in fact, that the Houston Texans reportedly rejected a trade with Pittsburgh to move up for him.

Now let’s go back to our hypothetical. The Steelers now have (let’s call the pick) Daxton Hill and Malik Willis. What are they doing at wide receiver? We saw how fast this position went in the NFL Draft. Six receivers were selected in the first round, and immediately after the Steelers took Pickens, there was another big run on the position.

If Pittsburgh had waited until the third round to draft a WR, their top options would have been Jalen Tolbert, David Bell, and Danny Gray — a significant downgrade from George Pickens, in my opinion.

Here’s the real kicker. I love the Steelers third-round pick, DeMarvin Leal. Leal was once considered a first-round prospect, and for how young and productive he is with impressive tape, there’s no way he should have fallen that far in the draft.

If the Steelers took a defensive back in round one and a quarterback in round two, I can assure you that they would have been forced into taking a wide receiver in the third round. This was not where the value would have been.

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On top of all of this, it’s important to remember that the Steelers get the fifth-year option on Kenny Pickett by selecting him in the first round. So however you map it out, I really don’t think the draft would have played out any better if they chose not to take a quarterback with their first pick.