Pittsburgh Steelers Should Consider Drafting John Skelton

Todd FlemingAnalyst IApril 8, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 28: Quarterback John Skelton of Fordham passes the football during the NFL Scouting Combine presented by Under Armour at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 28, 2010 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Scott Boehm/Getty Images)
Scott Boehm/Getty Images

The uncertainty surrounding the Ben Roethlisberger situation is a clear and present challenge for the Steelers.

While the Steelers are likely in no rush to move on without the superstar quarterback, they face the possibility of losing Roethlisberger to a suspension in the short-term. There is little they can do to mitigate this possibility.

If Roethlisberger is indicted, which seems like a real possibility, I’d be amazed if he isn’t suspended. And the threshold for bringing an indictment is very low.

If this happens, Dennis Dixon will likely be the guy in the short-term unless they opt to sign an older cast-off veteran to fill in temporarily.

The bigger concern is that Roethlisberger is likely down to his last strike with the Steelers. Even those inclined to offer him their full support in the current situation should realize he is likely one poor decision away from being an ex-Steeler great.

While the fan base and team should hope that poor decision doesn’t come, the team would be foolish to not start planning for it. Hope is never a winning strategy.

Even aside from the legal issues, the beating Roethlisberger has taken over the last few years should be some cause for concern.  At some point, one of those sacks is going to result in a serious injury.  The Steelers would be well served to have a very good backup in development.

So, what should the Steelers do? The Steelers do not have a lot of great options at this point.

They cannot trade Roethlisberger for anywhere close to the value he would normally command until the current legal issues are completely resolved, and even then, he has likely been permanently devalued in terms of the trade market.

I don’t think a team would trade a top ten pick for him right now. At best, the Steelers would likely be able to get a mid to late first round pick and a conditional pick based on the outcome of the legal issues.

Honestly, I’m not even sure they could get that at this point.  First round picks are simply too valuable to trade away if there is even a possibility the other player won't be able to play.

The Steelers are also not likely to make that trade considering Roethlisberger is a Hall of Fame talent.

That means that the Steelers need to start looking for a legitimate young quarterback who can develop into a quality starter in time to serve as insurance, not unlike the development of Kevin Kolb behind Donovan McNabb.

I used to think Dennis Dixon could be that guy. But, after watching him play for a couple seasons in a reserve role, I think the best he will aspire to is a decent backup.

I think the Steelers should look for a raw prospect who has all the physical tools to develop into a quality starter, but due to their rawness, is likely to slip out of the first three rounds.

A guy like that would probably not help them next year, but could be invaluable a couple years down the road.

Because of their other needs, I don’t really think the Steelers can afford to draft a quarterback much before the fourth round unless they are able to trade back at some point and pick up an extra third round pick.

If they are interested in one of the top interior lineman, this is a scenario that would work. But, if they are looking to draft a top corner which seems more and more likely, they will likely not move back.

This eliminates Tim Tebow and Tony Pike from consideration.

That brings us back to their fourth round pick. The player who makes the most sense based upon their situation is John Skelton from Fordham.

From all I’ve read, he has all the physical tools needed to be an excellent NFL quarterback in time. He is big (6’6”, 245 pounds), has a strong arm, a quick release and decent escapability.

While the level of competition he faced in college at Fordham wasn’t exactly the SEC, he has shown that he can make all the throws with a nice touch on the deep ball. He has the size and the arm to succeed in time, and a high ceiling.  I was fairly impressed watching clips of him. 

Skelton is frequently compared to Joe Flacco, although he is much more raw and will take longer to transition. Frankly, that comparison is mostly grounded in the fact that both come from small schools, meaning it is somewhat meaningless.

So, what are his negatives? Why isn’t he a top prospect?

For one, he played against inferior talent, which makes it very hard to evaluate a player.  This raises the bust factor. 

But, he also played in a spread offense out of the shotgun, a common phenomenon among quarterbacks this year and likely a trend that will continue.  Spread quarterbacks can have a harder time making the initial transition to the NFL.  Some will never be able to make the transition.

He also has shaky mechanics, as one would expect at this point.  But, none of these issues creates a low ceiling. This makes him a high risk, high reward prospect. There is a very good chance he’ll never play an NFL down but there is also a good chance he’ll develop into a very good NFL starting quarterback.

Will he fall to the fourth round? That is a tough question. He seems to be generating buzz, which could lead to him being selected by the end of the third round.  But, draft buzz is a hard thing to measure.  It frequently is nothing more than hot air.

I don't expect him to go any earlier than late in the third round, and more likely in the fourth round.  Why?  Because teams who need a quarterback now are unlikely to look in his direction since he likely will take at least a couple years to transition. 

A couple bad years and the coach and general manager are looking for new jobs in this "win now" league.

And teams who need a backup will likely not draft a quarterback in the first three rounds unless they are lacking in other needs, which is rare.

I think Skelton goes off the board no earlier than late in the third round, and more likely in the fourth round, meaning he may very well be there when the Steelers are on the clock for the fourth time.

If it plays out this way, I think they should take him at that point. At the very least, it would give them a potential quarterback who could develop into a long-term quality starter a few years down the road should that be necessary.

The time is now to start planning for that possibility.


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