Steelers Rookies Who Will Make Instant Impact in 2022 Season
They'll face an adjustment period this year, though we can still expect the team to be relevant in the AFC playoff race.
You've probably heard it a ton this offseason, but the Steelers haven't experienced a losing season during the Mike Tomlin era.
There's a high standard in Pittsburgh, but if the Steelers are going to reach it, they'll have to get early contributions from their 2022 rookie class. Last year's roster was good enough to reach the postseason, but it had its fair share of issues. Pittsburgh finished the year ranked 21st in scoring and 20th in points allowed.
Which of Pittsburgh's seven draft picks are poised to make an instant impact? That's what we're here to examine.
We'll look at three picks with the proven production, upside and positional value needed to contribute early. We'll also dive into any relevant recent buzz from rookie camp.
Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
Let's start with Pittsburgh's first pick of the draft and its quarterback of the future, Kenny Pickett.
While the Pittsburgh product might not start in Week 1—he'll have to compete with Mason Rudolph and Mitchell Trubisky—he'll undoubtedly have an impact on how the Steelers approach this season.
Grooming the 23-year-old and setting him up for success should be the Steelers' No. 1 goal in 2022.
If Pickett can progress quickly over the next couple of months, he has a chance to claim the starting gig before the season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. His leadership skills were on full display at rookie camp.
"You can tell, he takes the huddle by the horns and gets everybody going," undrafted rookie Jake Dixon said, per Brian Batko of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "He's been nothing but a great guy. I think he's been everything you look for in a leader."
The leadership skills are there, and so is the physical talent: Pickett threw for 4,319 yards and 42 touchdowns last season. The question is how quickly he can adapt to the speed and the nuances of the pro game.
Week 1 starter or not, he will be a focal point of the Steelers this season.
George Pickens, WR, Georgia
The Steelers might have reached for Pickett, who was the only quarterback drafted in the first two rounds. However, they may have gotten a steal by taking George Pickens in the second (52nd overall).
The former Georgia receiver suffered a torn ACL last spring and only appeared in four games last season. However, his upside is high, and he might have gone much earlier if he had participated in a full 2021 campaign.
"He has the size, ball skills and enough athleticism to be an X receiver who primarily runs a vertical route tree, which will also allow him to use his body strength and catching range," Nate Tice of the B/R Scouting Department wrote.
Pickens is confident he can make a quick transition from college to the pro game.
"It's not really a huge transition depending on the SEC or what conference you came from," the 21-year-old said, per Chris Adamski of TribLive.
He'll certainly have the opportunity to make an early jump. The Steelers parted with both James Washington and JuJu Smith-Schuster this offseason and could use another weapon to partner with Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson.
Expect Pickens to see the field early and often as a rotational receiver in 2022.
DeMarvin Leal, Edge, Texas A&M
While the Steelers have a need to fill at receiver, pass-rusher is less of a concern. They logged 55 sacks in 2021, with 22.5 coming from Defensive Player of the Year T.J. Watt.
Still, a team cannot have too many good sack artists, and third-round pick DeMarvin Leal (84th overall) can contribute early. He's played multiple positions along the defensive line and will likely be a versatile chess piece early.
The 21-year-old also has all the tools to work into the edge-rushing rotation, and he could develop into one of Watt's top complements.
"As a 6-tech defensive end, some of Leal's favorite pass-rushing moves—his jump swipe and inside spin—are more viable. And he has the quick feet to operate in space," Derrik Klassen of the B/R Scouting Department wrote.
The Texas A&M product had 8.5 sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss last season.
Expect Leal to fill multiple roles in the defensive front early while steadily improving his skills off the edge.
Fans might not see huge sack numbers right away, but he has the goods to bring pressure from multiple angles. If that allows Pittsburgh's other rushers to hit home, it will provide a very valuable Year 1 impact.