Lamar Jackson. Joe Burrow. Baker Mayfield. Three quarterbacks with varying degrees of success but largely seen as “hits” for the organization, especially for Jackson and Burrow. And they all have one thing in common. Former first round picks. It doesn’t mean the Pittsburgh Steeler’s next long-term option under center has to be a first rounder. But that’s where the bar has been set. And Kevin Colbert recognizes that.
Colbert spoke with NFL.com’s aptly-named Around The NFL Tuesday evening and discussed matching the quarterbacks his team faces twice a year.
“We’re very well aware of the quarterbacks in the AFC North. Coach Tomlin always talks about, we have three Heisman winning quarterbacks to compete against in the AFC North.”
Three Heisman winners turned three first-round picks that changed the course of three franchises. Jackson served as Joe Flacco’s replacement and became one of the most dynamic players at his position. Burrow changed franchise history with his Super Bowl-leading run this season while Mayfield brought the Browns their first playoff win in a long time, though the team is in flux deciding if he’s still a long-term option. It’s the same issue those teams dealt with during Ben Roethlisberger’s prime when the Bengals had a mid-tier option with Andy Dalton and the Browns went through a rolodex of ugly options.
However, Colbert cautioned against drafting a quarterback just for the sake of drafting one and on paper, having an equal-looking playing field.
“But again, we can’t just say this has to be a franchise guy. We pick who they are and hope that they turn into that. But we won’t lock ourselves in.”
The Steelers certainly will take a long look at adding a quarterback early in this year’s draft even if they add an arm in free agency, which seems likely to occur. Options include Liberty’s Malik Willis, Pitt’s Kenny Pickett, Ole Miss’ Matt Corral, and North Carolina’s Sam Howell.
Despite Colbert’s pragmatic approach, he knows what the stakes are around the division.
“I mean, those guys are great quarterbacks and they’re young and that’s, that’s the unfortunate part. That’s great for those organizations, but now we have to continue to compete.”
It’s not just the North either. The AFC landscape is riddled with young, talented, first-round arms. Buffalo has Josh Allen, Los Angeles Justin Herbert, Kansas City Patrick Mahomes. The jury is out on other promising arms like Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence, New York’s Zach Wilson, Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa, and oh yeah, Deshaun Watson is likely to be starting for someone in 2022.
The reality is it’s likely to take a first-round pick to have a chance to compete. And of course, first-round quarterbacks are a 50/50 proposition to even work out in the first place.