The 2020 NFL Draft is currently a little more than 100 days away from getting underway. And while the bulk of free agency will have already taken place for the Pittsburgh Steelers by the end of April, the team will still have several holes that will need to be filled come the annual college player selection event. Way ahead of us getting deep into our annual draft player profiles on this site, I’ll be guiding readers through a position group-by-position group breakdown of the Steelers roster that includes how high of a priority each position is likely to become the start of the 2020 NFL Draft.
Today a look at the Steelers quarterback position group as it relates to possible need in the 2020 NFL Draft.
2019 Quarterback Position Group Overview:
The Steelers unfortunately were forced to use three quarterbacks during the 2019 season due to injuries and poor play. Starter Ben Roethlisberger was lost for the season just six quarters into it due an elbow injury that required surgery. With Roethlisberger’s 2019 season over not long after it had got underway, the Steelers turned to second-year quarterback Mason Rudolph. Rudolph’s initial showing in relief of an injured Roethlisberger in Week 2 was encouraging. However, as Rudolph’s starts progressed, the big passing plays regressed as did scoring drives. He also suffered a concussion in Week 5 that forced him to miss one full game and a half of another. Rudolph was eventually benched right after halftime of the team’s Week 12 game for extremely poor play that included five interceptions in just over six quarters of play. Rookie Devlin Hodges, who was previously jettisoned by the Steelers at the start of the regular season after a nice training camp and preseason showing, gave the Steelers offense an initial spark upon taking over for Rudolph. However, the more that the Steelers attempted to not have Hodges kill the team following his back-to-back wins as a starter in Weeks 13 and 14, the wheels came completely off not only him, but the entire offense. Hodges found himself quickly benched by halftime in favor of Rudolph in Week 15. That Hodges benching lasted a brief time as a shoulder injury suffered by Rudolph put the rookie undrafted quarterback back in charge of the offense. Hodges closed out the regular season as the starter and once again the Steelers offense failed to score many points just as they had failed to do so most of the season. While he never played a snap, Paxton Lynch was forced to dress for a few games during the season due to injuries. In summation, from Roethlisberger to Hodges, the Steelers quarterback play during the regular season was right near the worst in the league. 61.6% of all passes were completed during the 2019 season by Steelers quarterbacks and just 18 touchdown passes were thrown along with 18 interceptions. While it wasn’t pretty, the Steelers did get to learn a lot about their two younger quarterbacks during the 2019 season.
Current Steelers 2020 Quarterback Depth Chart As Of January 8, 2020
Ben Roethlisberger – Assuming all goes well with the rehab of surgically repaired elbow, Roethlisberger will be back in force in 2020. The next key checkup for Roethlisberger is reportedly sometime in early February. It’s still unknown, however, when Roethlisberger will resume throwing and how much, if any, he’ll be able to participate in the team’s annual OTA and mandatory minicamp practices. At the very worst, hopefully Roethlisberger will be a full go by the time training camp gets underway in July. Roethlisberger needs no other summary than that. The Steelers offense will hopefully pick up where it left off in Week 16 of the 2018 regular season with a healthy Roethlisberger back on the field in 2020. They certainly missed him during the 2019 season and likely would still be playing had he stayed healthy.
Mason Rudolph – While Rudolph’s 2019 season can probably be best described as a train wreck with a huge knot on the head followed by a few shining moments, at least he had nice showing in limited action after relieving Devlin Hodges in the team’s Week 16 road loss. It would have been interesting to see Rudolph close out not only that game against the New York Jets, but play against the Baltimore Ravens in the finale as well. While he did ultimately suffer a season-ending shoulder injury against the Jets in his limited playing time in that contest in relief of Hodges, he made a few nice throws in that game. Rudolph’s shoulder has already been fixed and it won’t be long before he’s back to full health. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin labeled Rudolph the team’s No. 2 quarterback heading into the offseason so that’s his spot on the depth chart until further notice. Rudolph never showed one defining key trait during his abundant playing time in 2019 and that’s obviously concerning for a player the Steelers deemed as having a first-round grade on. At least he got some much-needed playing time in 2019 and hopefully he can make a huge jump in 2020 as a result of it.
Devlin Hodges – While Hodges did have his moments during the 2019 season, like Rudolph, he become more unraveled and his weaknesses exposed the more he played. Much like Rudolph looked over his head after three starts, Hodges looked the same from Week 15 and on. Hodges’ flame burned out almost as quickly as it took to get to full size. His overall arm strength and pocket presence showed flaws in 2020. Too many times Hodges would drift from the pocket instead of stepping up into it. While he did make several more key throws than Rudolph did during the 2019 season, only once did he really show the ability to extend a play with his feet and then arm for a huge gain in a big situation. Hodges headed off into the offseason with three wins as a starter. He also likely headed off into the offseason knowing that his spot on the team’s 2020 53-man roster is far from guaranteed. In all likelihood, Hodges will begin the offseason program as the Steelers No. 3 quarterback behind Roethlisberger and Rudolph. He’ll also likely have to battle Paxton Lynch in training camp to retain that No. 3 spot. We’ll see if he can pull it off.
Paxton Lynch – Lynch, a former first-round draft pick of the Denver Broncos, spent a good chunk of the 2019 season on the Steelers game-day inactive lists once he arrived in Pittsburgh following Roethlisberger’s season-ending elbow injury. While Lynch did dress for a few games during the 2019 season, he never played a snap. Tomlin had some positive words about Lynch as the team headed into the offseason and barring something unforeseen, the former first-round draft pick out of Memphis will be allowed to battle for the No. 3 quarterback spot during the team’s 2020 training camp.
J.T. Barrett – Barrett ended the 2019 regular season on the Steelers practice squad due to Rudolph suffering a shoulder injury in Week 16. The Steelers promptly signed the former undrafted free agent quarterback out of Ohio State to a Reserve/Future contract immediately after the season ended. Unless the Steelers find an upgrade between now and the start of the team’s annual rookie minicamp in May, Barrett should at least survive on the 90-man roster through the first part of the offseason. Odds that Barrett will still be on the Steelers 90-man roster come the start of training camp seem slim, however, and especially if the rest of Roethlisberger’s rehab goes well and no other quarterbacks under contract suffer injuries between now and the end of July.
Draft Need Level: Very Low
Assuming all goes well with Roethlisberger’s early February checkup on his surgically repaired elbow, the Steelers appear to be set at the quarterback position in 2020 with Rudolph, Hodges, Lynch and Barrett behind him. While the Steelers might investigate adding a veteran quarterback during the offseason to push Rudolph and potentially be the team’s No. 3 in 2020, such an addition would likely have to be at a minimum price and not be sexy just like Lynch isn’t. As for as the 2020 draft goes, it’s hard to imagine the Steelers addressing the quarterback position at any point during it. If by some strange miracle the Steelers do wind up drafting a quarterback this offseason, odds seem good that such a selection would come with their first currently scheduled pick in the second-round, the 49th overall. This same time next year might be a different story when it comes to Steelers possibly drafting a quarterback, however.