Entering the offseason ahead of the 2022 NFL season, the Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves in an unfamiliar position for the first time in nearly two decades: searching for the next franchise quarterback.
Following the expected retirement of Ben Roethlisberger on January 27, the Steelers are in uncharted waters. Fortunately for the franchise, Roethlisberger’s retirement comes ahead of an offseason that may see the most movement at the quarterback position in NFL history with the likes of Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers, Seattle’s Russell Wilson, San Francisco’s Jimmy Garappolo and Las Vegas’ Derek Carr potentially on the trade market, and names like Teddy Bridgewater and Jameis Winston on the free agent market.
That doesn’t even begin to touch on names at quarterback available in the 2022 NFL Draft such as Liberty’s Malik Willis, Pitt’s Kenny Pickett, Nevada’s Carson Strong, Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder and more.
Though many Steelers fans continue to clamor for a veteran star like a Rodgers or Wilson — which matches reports that head coach Mike Tomlin wants a veteran — it’s highly unlikely the Steelers trade the necessary draft capital to acquire one of the two All-Pros, let alone a Garoppolo or Carr. Instead, the Steelers will have to turn towards the draft once again.
According to the latest landing spot predictions for the Top QBs via trade, free agency and the NFL Draft, Pro Football Focus has the Steelers landing one of the most intriguing QB prospects in recent years to come out of the collegiate ranks in Willis. They’ll have to trade up to do so as well, according to PFF’s predictions.
“It’s no secret that Pittsburgh really likes the prospects of Malik Willis being their future starting quarterback. From ownership to head coach Mike Tomlin, several individuals within the Steelers organization have harped on the importance of mobility at the quarterback position, and Willis checks that box,” PFF’s Anthony Treash writes. “After all, he led all FBS quarterbacks in rushing grade (94.5), 10-plus yard runs (46) and broken tackles (90) in 2021. Willis also has a lively arm that helped him to an FBS-leading 11% big-time throw rate last season.
“And after Willis produced the highest grade among quarterbacks at the 2022 Reese’s Senior Bowl practices, his stock is firmly on the rise. Tomlin and company watched him extensively in Mobile, Alabama, and their heavy interest in the Liberty product was widely reported. Pittsburgh could be willing to trade into the top 10 in order to secure the heir to Ben Roethlisberger.”
— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) February 3, 2022
Malik Willis spotted on the field after practice talking to Tomlin, Canada, and Colbert on the sideline. Then saw Tomlin, Colbert, and Canada talking to his family as we left the stadium. Safe to say, they're doing their due diligence pic.twitter.com/qaNQALM32n
— Jonathan Heitritter (@J_Heits) February 2, 2022
Willis certainly checks the mobility box that Tomlin and the Steelers have been referencing ad nauseam for the better part of a year at this point. That said, he’s one of the rawest quarterbacks in the 2022 NFL Draft class, but he has some of the best traits, ones that you bet big on early and could see a sizable payoff in the end.
Though he would need to sit, learn and develop his game for the better part of his rookie season, Willis would easily become the most talented QB on the roster ahead of Mason Rudolph and Dwayne Haskins entering training camp in 2022, assuming Kevin Colbert, Tomlin and the rest of the Steelers’ braintrust doesn’t add a veteran in free agency like a Marcus Mariota.
What the package to move up for Willis — and how high the Steelers would need to get — remains unknown for the time being, but considering what the Steelers gave up in 2019 to move up for Devin Bush, going from No. 20 (where they pick in 2022) to No. 10 overall that cost the Steelers their 2019 first- and second-round picks (Nos. 20 and 52) and a 2020 third-round pick, so that’s the base one should operate around when considering building a package to move up to the end of the top 10 for Willis, at minimum.
It’s a good bet at this point that the Steelers will be ultra aggressive chasing a franchise-caliber quarterback this offseason, considering how important the position is in today’s game.