The Pittsburgh Steelers learned the hard way last year the perils of backing up their star quarterback with two players whose combined age would qualify for an AARP card.
When Ben Roethlisberger went down to injury in a Week 10 game against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Steelers first turned to Byron Leftwich to keep their playoff hopes alive. The then 32-year-old backup played gamely against the Ravens in Week 11, scoring on a surprising 31-yard touchdown scamper, but couldn’t bring the team back from a three-point deficit.
A broken rib in the Baltimore game sidelined Leftwich for the next few weeks and put Charlie Batch in the starter’s spot. Lost in the celebration of his comeback win over the Ravens just days before his 38th birthday was a dreadful three-interception performance that contributed to a loss to the lowly Cleveland Browns. The lowlight came in the 3rd quarter when Batch bounced a pass off the back of a defender’s helmet when trying to hit a streaking Mike Wallace on a deep route.
A 1-2 record without Roethlisberger had the Steelers barely above .500 and watching their postseason hopes dissipate. The big quarterback rushed back for the last four games of the season but later admitted that he had not fully recovered from his various maladies. Roethlisberger struggled to regain his usual form, tossing late picks that cost Pittsburgh winnable games against the Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Bengals. The Steelers limped to a 1-3 record down the stretch, finished 8-8 and watched the playoffs from home.
The team’s struggles without Big Ben highlighted an urgent need to acquire a backup quarterback during the 2013 offseason who can guide the team effectively when Roethlisberger is sidelined. Ideally, said newcomer also would have the potential to grow into a replacement for the incumbent when he is no longer playing at an elite level.
Though there are some quality quarterbacks available in free agency in 2013, it is unlikely that Pittsburgh will be able to afford them. The Steelers’ front office will struggle just to re-sign potentially critical free-agents-to-be like Mike Wallace and Keenan Lewis.
So, as with several other team needs, Pittsburgh will have to turn to the draft to fill this hole for 2013 and beyond.
Though there are no Robert Griffins or Andrew Lucks in this year’s draft, there are several college quarterbacks projected to be picked between the second and seventh rounds. None is perfect. Some are tantalizing, big-armed monsters who have struggled with accuracy and decision making. Others are solid leaders who may not have the athleticism to succeed at the next level.
The trick for the Steelers will be to figure out which of them have what it takes to be at worst a solid backup and at best a future star.
The following is a list of college quarterbacks Pittsburgh should consider drafting, arranged from the worst to the best choice. They were ranked based on an analysis of the likelihood that each would be productive at the professional level, with extra consideration given to the round in which they will probably be picked. Better players slated to go in later rounds clearly have more value than underachievers taken in the initial rounds.
Given that all the players being considered for the NFL Draft put up big numbers in college, the evaluation of the Steelers’ potential quarterback picks focuses on how well they performed in certain critical situations such as third downs, fourth quarters and when playing from behind.
Also included are two quarterbacks whom the Steelers should avoid.