Mock drafts from the moment the 2021 Draft ended until the moment Day 1 begins next April will be ever-present online. And a likely ever-present selection within those ever-present mocks will be the Pittsburgh Steelers searching the early rounds for an heir to Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, as Big Ben plays a likely final season with the team. Just search for “mock draft” on our website, and you’ll see a variety of names sent to Pittsburgh at the position already.
In this roundup, two more 2022 mocks have different players tabbed to replace Roethlisberger, both at pick 14 overall. First, in an early-month mock from Bleacher Report and writer Brent Sobleski, the Steelers take a gamble on Liberty’s Malik Willis as their next QB. Sobleski writes:
“Liberty’s Malik Willis isn’t a household name. But he’ll likely become one as the 2021 season progresses. As a first-time starter last year, the Auburn transfer completed 64.2 percent of his passes with a 20-to-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio. The quarterback also ran for 944 yards and 14 more scores in 10 games. As a thrower, Willis possesses arguably the strongest arm in the next quarterback class.”
Among the many names being floated as potential first-round QBs in the 2022 Draft, Willis stands out because of his superior athletic ability. He reportedly ran a 40 of just over 4.6 seconds as a high-schooler, and brings a dual-threat ceiling the Steelers have not had since the days of Kordell Stewart. His arm packs plenty of power, which would fit the Steelers’ wanting to keep the deep ball part of the offense, with its deep stable of receivers.
The pick of Willis would both fit and break from the mold of a Steelers’ first-round selection, though. A QB from Liberty is not the Power 5 player the team covets on Day 1. But the last time Pittsburgh needed a franchise QB, they went to Miami (Ohio) outside of the Power 5 to snag Roethlisberger.
Another mock comes from Mark Schofield over at Touchdown Wire, and he also sends the Steelers a franchise QB. Willis goes off the board with the second pick, though, leaving Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder as the heir to Ben at 14th overall. Here is some of what Schofield said:
“Still, given how Roethlisberger’s season ended in 2020, you might think that finding the true quarterback of the future will be atop the list of to-dos for the Steelers in 2022. Could Desmond Ridder be the answer? Before announcing his decision to return to Cincinnati for his senior season, Ridder was getting some buzz as perhaps a quarterback to crash the top tier in the 2021 NFL draft. He has been a mainstay in the Bearcats’ offense the past few seasons and posted career-high marks in completion percentage (66.2%) and NCAA Passing Efficiency (152.9) last season.”
Schofield is right. Much earlier in the draft process as players were declaring or returning to school, Ridder was getting some legit traction as a QB to sneak into the back end of the first round. Either for a team trading back in to Day 1, or a team like Pittsburgh who needed a QB, but was picking late.
Ridder is another who is capable of working as a dual-threat, like Willis. Willis wins with speed but is lacking in size (6’1″). Ridder gives up a couple tenths of a second on his 40 compared to Willis, but brings the coveted QB size of 6’4″ (both weigh 215 pounds). His decision to return to school for 2021 was a good one, and it gives him a season to be a known name, and put together a standout season to prove to teams he is worth a top 32 pick.
Neither man was close to being the first QB off the board. In both mocks, three passers went before the Steelers were on the clock. This far out, there are plenty of names populating the discussion of first-round QBs, and several teams in position to need one of them.
Pittsburgh will always be mentioned as one of those teams, whether Roethlisberger returns to form and adds an extra season to his Pittsburgh career after this one, or whether things go as anticipated, and this is his final year leading the Steelers.