As we get closer and closer to the 2022 NFL Draft, it is becoming more and more readily accepted that the Pittsburgh Steelers are open to attempting to trade up in the first round this year in order to draft Liberty quarterback Malik Willis. While they signed Mitchell Trubisky this offseason following the retirement of Ben Roethlisberger, it hasn’t been painted as a long-term solution.
Reportedly, the love affair has done so far that head coach Mike Tomlin told Willis’ head coach that they want to draft him, but that he did not know if they would be able to without trading up. And the fact of the matter is, when you don’t have a franchise quarterback, a trade looks much more tempting.
Pro Football Focus recently played around with its mock draft simulator. Two days ago, they looked at likely first-round targets for each team. Yesterday, they explored plausible trade scenarios. One of them was the Steelers trading up to pick number seven with the New York Giants to draft Willis. They have Pittsburgh giving up their fourth-round pick this year and a first-round pick next year.
“The Steelers’ love for Malik Willis has been one of the worst-kept secrets in the 2022 NFL Draft, much like their love for Najee Harris was a year ago”, Ben Linsey wrote, and, well, he’s not wrong. “The issue for Pittsburgh is that there’s little chance Willis slides all the way to the 20th overall pick. Willis is -200 to be the first quarterback selected and -400 to be selected in the first 10 picks”.
“Let’s say that neither the Detroit Lions nor Carolina Panthers opt to select a quarterback, choosing to address the pass rush and offensive line”, he went on. “That makes the seventh overall pick a natural spot for Pittsburgh to target ahead of the Atlanta Falcons and Seattle Seahawks. Here, it costs them slightly less than it did the Kansas City Chiefs when they moved up from No. 27 to No. 10 for Patrick Mahomes (two firsts and a third-round pick)”.
The Steelers trade up from 20 to 10 in 2019 in order to draft Devin Bush, trading their second-round pick that year and a third-round pick the following year in order to swap first-round selections. That was their first trade up in the first round since 2006, the year before Tomlin was hired, in order to select Santonio Holmes.
Alex Kozora has already looked at a hypothetical trade up in the first round with the Giants and what that might look like. His proposal to move up to number seven was a little more optimistic, projecting only the 2023 first-rounder in exchange for swapping 2022 firsts.
What it all ultimately comes down to, of course, whether or not the Steelers believe that Willis can develop—relatively soon—into a franchise quarterback who can help them win a Super Bowl. If the answer is yes, then it’s easily worth the cost of a first-round pick, even with another mid-round selection thrown in for good measure. But that’s a big question to answer.