The Pittsburgh Steelers could finally be ready to move on from Ben Roethlisberger.
As the Steelers face the realistic possibility of missing the postseason for the fourth time in the past five seasons, Pittsburgh is likely to target a quarterback in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, according to Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports.
“The Pittsburgh Steelers will be among the most aggressive teams exploring the 2022 draft class in pursuit of their next potential franchise quarterback, league sources said, with the team conducting extensive work on the top arms available,” said La Canfora. “For the first time since selecting Ben Roethlisberger 11th overall in 2004, the storied organization could be grabbing a passer in the first round.”
Steelers Have Been in Stark Decline Since Undefeated Start
Since starting the 2020 season at a record of 11-0, the Steelers have gone 6-11-1 (including a postseason loss to the Cleveland Browns). At the front of their struggles has been the play of Roethlisberger, who ranks 26th in the NFL in passer rating since the start of last December, as La Canfora notes.
Furthermore, the 39-year-old quarterback’s lack of mobility and arm strength has been on full display this season, making the Steelers’ offense a predictable unit full of quick, short passes.
With Roethlisberger due to become a free agent in the offseason, it doesn’t necessarily mean the Steelers will move on fully from Big Ben — but they will likely draft his successor in 2022. La Canfora also notes that Roethlisberger is unlikely to receive a chance at a starting gig with another team next season.
“The Steelers and Roethlisberger reworked his contract last year to afford some salary cap space after a poor finish to the 2021 season, with the future Hall of Famer lowering his pay from $19M to $14M in the process,” said La Canfora. “Roethlisberger will be 40 next season and has not announced any intentions about his future; he remains an iconic figure in that organization and, with no clear-cut heir apparent on the roster, it’s not out of the question he could be back in some capacity. (It’s hard to envision a scenario where he is starting elsewhere.) But the Steelers realize from ownership on down that securing their next great QB is paramount, sources said. And while the specter of a possible Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers exists, no team could bank on that, putting a major emphasis on exhausting the evaluation of the youngsters who will be taken at the top of this draft.”
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Steelers Could Target Pitt Product Kenny Pickett
As far as who the Steelers would exactly target in the first round of a weak quarterback draft, it could come from within the state. In fact, La Canfora notes that University of Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett is a target of the Steelers. Pickett already works out at the Steelers facility as it is.
“The Steelers already have a very strong sense about one of the more highly-touted quarterbacks in the class — Kenny Pickett of Pitt, who trains at the same facility the Steelers use. Scouts are also high on Matt Corral of Ole Miss, Carson Strong of Nevada, Malik Willis of Liberty and Sam Howell of UNC, among a few others.”
The 23-year-old Pickett had a sensational senior season in 2021, throwing for 42 touchdown passes against seven interceptions. He was named the 2021 ACC Player of the Year and is considered the be the second-top prospect in the quarterback draft behind Matt Corral, according to CBS Sports.
With the Steelers likely holding a mid-first round draft pick in this year’s upcoming NFL draft, Pickett becomes a realistic possibility as the team’s pick — and future franchise quarterback — in 2022.
But one thing is for certain and that’s the Steelers are moving ahead with their franchise next year — with or without Roethlisberger.