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NFL Draft: Pittsburgh Steelers Draft Recap

Pittsburgh Steelers NFL Draft Review

While other quarterback-needy teams addressed other positions in the first round, the Pittsburgh Steelers were more than happy to take Pitt’s Kenny Pickett with the 20th overall selection. Following the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger, the move to take a quarterback was one that those who made NFL picks were projecting to happen.

This was the third draft in a row that the Steelers used their top pick on an offensive player, which is something that hadn’t happened in 16 years. At some point that should start paying dividends for an offense that was 21st in scoring offense a season ago.

NFL Draft: Pittsburgh Steelers Draft Recap
Grant Halverson/Getty Images/AFP

Although no offensive linemen were selected by Pittsburgh in the draft, the Steelers did sign three players at position as undrafted rookie free agents.

The draft picks didn’t change things in the AFC North pecking order as the NFL lines, list the Steelers (+750) with the worst NFL odds to win the division title.

Here’s a look at the draft selections by the Steelers in last month’s draft.

  • Pick 20 Kenny Pickett | QB, Pittsburgh Panthers

There were plenty of questions surrounding the team that would be the first to take a quarterback in this year’s draft.

Pittsburgh was more than happy to grab the quarterback who played for five seasons in the city where he will embark on his professional career.

Pickett’s decision to return for a fifth season was certainly the right one. Pickett went from throwing an interception every 47 passes from 2017-2020 to doing it every 71 attempts in 2021 to lead the Panthers to the ACC title.

Mitch Trubisky was brought in following the retirement of longtime starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger so there won’t be a need to push Pickett onto the field. However, when he is ready, head coach Mike Tomlin won’t hesitate in turning to the rookie.

The sportsbook lists Pickett (+550) as the top choice to win the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

With the departures of JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Washington, getting a receiver to go with Chase Claypool and Dionte Johnson was a priority.

The 6-foot-3 Pickens missed much of the 2021 season after suffering a knee injury during spring practice. Pickens played in four games and had five receptions including a 52-yarder in the national championship game.

Any questions about Pickens’ health ended when he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.47 seconds. Pickens averaged 17.7 yards per catch in bowl games or playoff games so he knows how to rise to the challenge.

Pickens is behind 10 other receivers in the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Vegas NFL odds so those making NFL predictions and  will have to factor in the uncertain quarterback situation as well as proven receivers, tight ends and running backs.

The 6-foot-4, 290-pound Leal saved his best for last with 8.5 sacks, 12.5 tackles for loss and 58 tackles for Texas A&M during the 2021 season. Leal had seven tackles in the Aggies’ upset of Alabama. He ended the season with sacks in each of his last three games.

DeMarvin Leal has the frame to play multiple positions on the defensive line.

Leal’s numbers at the NFL Scouting Combine were solid but hardly spectacular. The Steelers scouts were more interested in what they saw on tape than anything he did in the pre-draft process.

After going with Pickens in the second round, the Steelers picked a much different receiver with this selection.

The 5-foot-8, 170-pound Austin can fly as shown by his time of 4.32 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the combine.

Austin had three touchdown runs and returned two punts for scores during his four years at Memphis. However, it was as a pass-catcher where he really stood out. He had five straight 100-yard receiving games in 2021 including contests with 239 and 200 yards. He had 19 touchdown catches over his last two seasons.

Even if it takes Austin some time to work his way into the rotation at receiver, he could make an impact on special teams.

It was a great story when Heyward joined his brother Cameron on the Steelers. What his role will be, that is a different story? He is listed as a tight end but at 5-foot-11 and 230 pounds, fullback seems the position he will be asked to play.

Connor Heyward had some work as a running back earlier in his time at Michigan State but most of his touches on offense in the last couple of seasons came on pass routes.

Connor Heyward | Nic Antaya/Getty Images/AFP

The former walk-on running back opened more than a few eyes thanks to his five tackles for loss in a win over Tennessee in October. He finished second on the Ole Miss defense with 92 tackles with 26 of them coming in back-to-back games against Tennessee and LSU.

Another undersized draft pick but the 5-foot-11 Mark Robinson does carry 235 pounds.

The Steelers doubled up on quarterbacks taking a productive player from FCS South Dakota State.

Oladokun threw for 3,164 yards and 25 touchdowns as a senior after stints at South Florida and Samford.

The Steelers have plenty of options at quarterback so Oladokun will have his work cut out for him to make the roster. He could be a perfect guy to land on the practice squad.

Chris Oladokun | Michael Hickey/Getty Images/AFP

Grading the draft

It’s pretty hard to find fault with the first three picks made by the Steelers. Quarterback Kenny Pickett, receiver George Pickens and defensive lineman Demarvin Leal fit the bill of being the best player available while also filling specific needs.

Not drafting any offensive linemen is a bit of a head-scratching move considering how poorly the line played a season ago. Taking a second quarterback and a fullback late in the draft was interesting selections but when the nitpicking starts with a pick in the sixth round, that is a sign that the early portion of the draft went pretty well.

Grade: B+

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