The Pittsburgh Steelers' 2022 offseason has been full of highs and lows. It started with Ben Roethlisberger's retirement announcement following an 18-year career that five years from now will be immortalized in Canton, Ohio. The post-Big Ben era began with a successful free agency period that included the signing of former Pro Bowl quarterback Mitchell Trubisky. Sadly, Pittsburgh also experienced tragedy this offseason with the passing of quarterback Dwayne Haskins.
Pittsburgh now turns its attention to the NFL Draft, the final one for longtime general manager Kevin Colbert. As always, Colbert and his staff will look to maximize their draft picks, which this year includes the 20th overall pick among seven total picks. The Steelers will use the draft to fill most of the remaining holes on the roster. They are also expected to add to a quarterback room that currently includes Trubisky and veteran Mason Rudolph.
Without being privy to the team's internal draft meetings, let's dive into what we believe is the perfect draft plan for the black and gold.
- 20th overall (1st round)
- 52nd overall (2nd round)
- 84th overall (3rd round)
- 138th overall (4th round)
- 208th overall (6th round)
- 225th overall (7th round)
- 241st overall (7th round)
Don't settle on QB
It's no secret that the Steelers like Malik Willis, who was projected to be their first pick in CBS Sports' consensus mock draft. In most mock drafts, Willis is expected to still be available that late in the first round. That would be more than fine with Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin, who haven't been shy about their affinity for mobile quarterbacks. While fans shouldn't sleep on his passing prowess, Willis is exceptional on the ground, as evidenced by his 1,822 rushing yards and 27 rushing touchdowns during his final two years at Liberty.
If Willis is selected before then, there's a good chance that Matt Corral or Desmond Ridder -- the two other top-ranked quarterback prospects along with Kenny Pickett -- are still available. Those wouldn't be bad picks, either, assuming the Steelers like what they've seen from both players during the draft process.
If the Steelers aren't sold on either player, they would be better served spending their first pick on another position, whether that's a receiver, defensive lineman, defensive back or offensive lineman. From there, the Steelers could draft a quarterback later in the draft who, worst case scenario, can serve as a capable third-stringer behind Trubisky and Rudolph for the 2022 season. Regardless, expect the Steelers to pull the trigger on a quarterback in either the first or second round. Hopefully for Steelers fans, it's the quarterback Pittsburgh envisions leading their team sometime in the near future.
Add to receiving corps
Colbert's legacy in Pittsburgh includes his success drafting receivers. The list includes Antonio Brown, Santonio Holmes, Emmanuel Sanders, Mike Wallace, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Plaxico Burress and current Steelers receivers Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool.
Burress and Holmes are the only two receivers Pittsburgh has drafted in the first round this century. The Steelers have been able to find most of their future star receivers in the second and third rounds (with one notable exception being Brown, who was a sixth-round pick). The 2022 draft class is loaded with promising wideouts, and while a good portion of them will be first-round picks, there will be plenty of good prospects available on Day 2 of the draft.
Pittsburgh holds two Day 2 picks: the 52nd and 84th overall. Given their needs at receiver, expect the Steelers to not wait until the third round to draft a receiver. As stated above, most of the top-rated receivers will be off the board when the Steelers are on the clock in the second round. The plan will be to select the best available receiver. Optimists can hope North Dakota State's Christian Watson and/or Western Michigan's Skyy Moore will still be available. It's not a total pipe dream, as Watson and Moore are the 48th and 52nd ranked players in CBS Sports' prospect rankings, respectively. But most draft experts are projecting that both players will be off the board by that point in the second round.
This leaves us to Boise State's Khalil Shakir, who is ranked just behind Watson and Moore in CBS Sports' rankings. Shakir, who caught 19 passes during his final three seasons at Boise State, would be a nice addition to Pittsburgh's offense. But if he is also off the board by then, expect the Steelers to go a different route with their second pick while waiting another round to take a receiver.
Pittsburgh may use multiple picks on the receiver position, but the team's recent acquisition of former Ravens wideout Miles Boykin makes this scenario less likely.
Fix the trenches
Pittsburgh addressed its needs at guard/center with the free agent signings of Mason Cole and James Daniels. It maintained stability at offensive tackle by re-signing Chukwuma Okorafor to new, three-year contract. Those moves allowed the Steelers to focus more on other roster needs at the start of the draft. That being said, Pittsburgh should still look into drafting an offensive tackle who can back up Okorafor and Dan Moore Jr. while also serving as a swing tackle.
There's more work to be done on the defensive line. Though they re-signed Montravius Adams, Pittsburgh hasn't done much else to fix a defensive line that contributed to finishing last in the NFL in run defense in 2021. Pittsburgh is surely hoping that Tyson Alualu and Stephon Tuitt will return to form after they missed a combined 32 games in 2021. But neither hope is guaranteed and, when adding in the fact that Cam Heyward -- while he is still playing at an All-Pro level -- will be 33 at the start of next season, the Steelers need to consider bringing in some new blood on the defensive line.
There are four defensive linemen, including three from Georgia alone, who could hear their names called in the first round. It's certainly possible that the Steelers could go that route in the first round, especially if Jordan Davis, Boye Mafe or Devonte Wyatt are still on the board when Pittsburgh is on the clock. A good Day 2 option could be Texas A&M lineman DeMarvin Leal, who racked up 8.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss during his final season with the Aggies.
Don't forget about the secondary
Colbert recently said that strong safety is the only position on Pittsburgh's roster is that currently devoid of a starter. With former first-round pick Terrell Edmunds and former Chiefs All-Pro safety Tyrann Mathieu still available, the thought is that the Steelers will probably fill this void in free agency. Pittsburgh could also choose to take advantage of a draft class that has several promising safeties, including Cincinnati's Bryan Cook, who would be a viable Day 2 option.
The Steelers are largely set at cornerback in 2022 with Cam Sutton returning, the offseason signing of Levi Wallace and the re-signing of Ahkello Witherspoon. But with Sutton entering the final year of his contract, drafting a cornerback on Day 2 or Day 3 should be on the table. Fortunately for Pittsburgh, there are more than a few good cornerback prospects in this year's draft. A good late Day 2, early Day 3 option could be Coby Bryant, who along with Cook was part of a dominant Bearcats secondary that helped Cincinnati capture a berth in the College Football Playoff last fall.