The NFL Draft of 2022 is now officially in the books. In this social media era of 24/7, nonstop coverage, the draft itself has evolved from a small event to a highly-publicized spectacle, so much that it’s now covered by three different networks. Looking back over the past several days and selections, it’s clear that the front office of the Steelers had a roadmap laid out, identifying and making their picks based on several need areas.
All in all, a successful haul that is garnering high praise from many sports media outlets. NFL.com draft analyst Chad Reuter was among them, handing out an A- draft grade.
In the first round, they solved arguably their most pressing need in finding a future franchise quarterback in local Pitt product Kenny Pickett. After free agency ravaged their wide receiving corps, they double-dipped at the position, landing Georgia’s George Pickens in the second and game-breaker Calvin Austin III of Memphis in the fourth round. Had Pickens not have injured his ACL and missed nearly the entire 2021 season for the Bulldogs, he likely would’ve been selected much higher. And Austin, although undersized at only 5-foot-8 and 170 pounds, possesses 4.32 speed, and it’s not hard to envision him on jet sweeps in Matt Canada’s offense.
The defensive line was the area I personally thought needed the most addressing, when we consider not only the overall age of the starters but also the fact that defensive end Stephon Tuitt missed the entire ’21 season due to a mysterious injury as well as suffering the devastating loss of his brother. A return of Tuitt would be a tremendous boost to the defense, but in the third round, the team wasn’t willing to play the “what-if” game, as they selected Texas A&M defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal. At 6-foot-4 and 283 pounds, he has the tweener size the team gravitates to when looking for their five-technique ends, and who better to cut his teeth and learn from then All-Pro Cameron Heyward, and if he returns, Tuitt, a high-end starter in his own right.
Speaking of Heyward, the team added yet another sibling pairing to their locker room, when in the sixth round they nabbed Cam’s little brother, Connor, a jack-of-all-trades H-back/tight end out of Michigan State.
Here’s how Reuter summed up the Steelers’ seven selections:
“Kevin Colbert had an excellent final draft as the Steelers’ GM, getting value without trading away picks,” Reuter said, according to NFL.com. “He grabbed a future starting quarterback in the experienced, mobile Pickett, found a falling receiver in Pickens, who will be a playmaker, and took a shot on the potential upside of the long, athletic five-technique Leal in the third round. Austin’s a nice complement to Pickens in the early fourth round, and I projected Pittsburgh selecting Pro Bowler Cam Heyward‘s brother, Connor, in the sixth round of my seven-round mock draft as a fullback/H-back. Oladokun has the mobility and arm to work his way into a roster spot this year or next, if he ends up on the practice squad for 2022. The team needed depth on defense, as well, but since no selections were made on that side of the ball, you can bet they will try to land some undrafted rookie free agents.”
The team did indeed add several defenders via the UDFA route after the draft, but also noteworthy in that they again dipped into the free agency pool last night, signing safety Damontae Kazee, the former Falcon and Cowboy who had a banner season in 2018, intercepting seven passes. While many clamored for a Tyrann Mathieu signing, the team opted for a younger and arguably, just as effective version in Kazee, who I have previously written about as a potential target of the team. Sort of a cherry on top of what looks to be a great draft haul in the final one of exiting GM Kevin Colbert.