Steelers' Top 2022 NFL Draft Targets

Jake RillFeatured Columnist IIApril 25, 2022

Steelers' Top 2022 NFL Draft Targets

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    Kendall Warner/Associated Press

    Ben Roethlisberger has retired, and the Pittsburgh Steelers have brought in Mitchell Trubisky on a two-year, $14 million contract this offseason.

    However, the 27-year-old likely isn't the franchise's long-term answer at quarterback. And it's possible he may not even be its starter in 2022.

    That could depend on what Pittsburgh decides to do in the NFL draft, which begins on Thursday. The Steelers own the No. 20 overall selection, the first of seven picks across the three-day event. But it's not entirely clear what they will do when they're first on the clock.

    It wouldn't be a complete surprise if they opt to draft one of the best quarterbacks in this year's class, though. Maybe they'll even trade up to ensure they get one of their top choices.

    Of course, it's possible Pittsburgh goes a non-QB route. But it will need a new franchise signal-caller to build around at some point.

    Here's a look at the quarterbacks who are likely to be top targets for the Steelers on Thursday.

Malik Willis, Liberty

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    Kendall Warner/Associated Press

    There's no clear-cut No. 1 quarterback in this year's draft class, but Liberty's Malik Willis could be the one with the highest ceiling.

    The 22-year-old may not have faced the toughest competition during his later college playing days with the Flames, but he has an impressive skill set that has the potential to translate well to the next level.

    After rarely getting on the field for Auburn from 2017-18, Willis transferred to Liberty, where he put up solid numbers over the past two seasons. Not only can he pass, but he's also effective with his legs, as he rushed for 1,822 yards and 27 touchdowns in 23 games from 2020-21.

    Several teams that own top-10 picks could be considering a quarterback, such as the Carolina Panthers (No. 6) and Atlanta Falcons (No. 8). There's a chance they pass over Willis and the rest of the QB class, or they could both address that position of need.

    If the Steelers want to land Willis, they may need to trade up to do so. That could be a smart decision, depending on how much they'd have to give up. So, Pittsburgh may have to wait to see how things develop early in the opening round before deciding whether to target the Liberty QB.

Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh

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    Keith Srakocic/Associated Press

    Kenny Pickett spent the past five seasons playing at Pittsburgh, becoming a Heisman Trophy finalist in 2021 and one of the top quarterback prospects in this year's class.

    Is it possible the 23-year-old could be staying in the city to play for the Steelers to begin his NFL career?

    ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. thinks Pickett may get drafted before Pittsburgh is on the clock at No. 20. Maybe the Steelers would trade up to get him, or perhaps a scenario unfolds in which he is still on the board. Surprises always happen on draft night, and top prospects have slid down plenty of times before.

    If the Oakhurst, New Jersey native ends up with Pittsburgh, Kiper added he "wouldn't be surprised" if the former Panthers QB beats out Trubisky for the starting job. He is coming off a 2021 season in which he threw for 4,319 yards and 42 touchdowns in a breakout year as a redshirt senior.

    There's been no general consensus regarding where Pickett may go in the first round, so it will be intriguing to see where he is eventually selected.

Desmond Ridder, Cincinnati

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    Aaron Doster/Associated Press

    Even if the Steelers miss out on both Willis and Pickett, that doesn't mean they won't take a quarterback in the first round.

    Among the other options will be Cincinnati's Desmond Ridder, Ole Miss' Matt Corral and North Carolina's Sam Howell. Any of them could be fits with Pittsburgh.

    However, Ridder may be the name among that group who is most likely to end up with the Steelers. In fact, there's a chance he could even be the top signal-caller on their draft board, according to The Athletic's Dane Brugler.

    "The Steelers have spent a lot of time and resources evaluating this year's crop of quarterbacks, and they won't be shy trading up to get 'their guy' if they need to," he wrote. "But 'their guy' might be Ridder, who impressed the Steelers' key decision-makers, including ownership, during pre-draft meetings."

    The 22-year-old was a four-year starter at Cincinnati, and he took a big step forward as a senior in 2021. He passed for 3,334 yards and 30 touchdowns while leading the Bearcats to their first College Football Playoff appearance.

    Although Ridder doesn't have the best arm strength, he has plenty of other skills that could make him successful in the NFL, such as his footwork, leadership ability and throwing mechanics. So he may end up being the right quarterback for the Steelers to build around.

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