With the conclusion of the NFL Draft on Saturday, Pro Football Focus put out their draft grades for every team. Despite criticism for the selection of Pitt QB Kenny Pickett in Round 1, the Steelers earned a B+ from PFF. While PFF was harsh on Pickett, the selections of WR George Pickens, DL DeMarvin Leal, and WR Calvin Austin earned some praise.
“Landing a quarterback without having to trade up is a big win for Pittsburgh, but taking Kenny Pickett is not. He was the No. 4-ranked quarterback on PFF’s 2022 big board. There’s some serious concern with how his game translates to the NFL. The Pittsburgh product averaged 3.19 seconds per throw in 2021, tying for the third-lowest mark in the FBS. In fact, it would have been the slowest among NFL quarterbacks this past season,” they wrote.
Given that Ben Roethlisberger had the quickest time to throw in the NFL the past two seasons at 2.30 and 2.37 seconds, it could be a major adjustment if Pickett becomes the starter in 2022. PFF had Malik Willis, Sam Howell, and Desmond Ridder ahead of Pickett on their draft board. However, Pittsburgh’s comfort level with Pickett evidently overrode any concerns they may have had over his processing.
“While Pickett is a quality athlete, he’s nowhere near dynamic enough to make hay on the ground in the professional ranks. Holding onto the ball often welcomes pressure, and Pickett was charged with 34 pressures this past season, tying for the second-most in the FBS. He has to be quicker and more decisive with his decision-making. And speeding up a quarterback’s processing is easier said than done — it’s a significant issue.”
While Pickett isn’t nearly as dynamic on the ground as Willis, he’s still an improvement in that area over Roethlisberger. If needed, he’ll be able to make some plays with his feet. However, given Pickett’s seconds per throw and high pressure rate, he’ll need to adjust the way he plays to suit the NFL. The Steelers’ offensive line should be improved this season, but Pickett has to improve his pocket awareness and go through his reads quicker to become a factor in the NFL.
Regarding Pickens and Leal, PFF praised the value for Leal and talked about Pickens’ untapped potential.
“George Pickens carries some risk given his medical history and unknowns off the field, but there’s no denying he possesses true “X” receiver potential. He’s physical with a massive catch radius, elite ball skills and good acceleration. Pickens earned an incredible 88.0 receiving grade as a true freshman before injuries derailed the last couple of years. Before his final season, DeMarvin Leal was seen as a high first-round prospect. He regressed in his final season and is a little bit stuck between positions, but there is real talent there — and at this point in the draft the risk is well worth taking. Leal had an 88.3 PFF grade in 2020 and goes to a team with the right environment to find his best play.”
Pickens’ downfield blocking is an extremely underrated trait, and his potential is clear if he can stay on the field. He looked the part of an elite wide receiver during his freshman year when he tallied 49 receptions for 727 yards and 8 touchdowns before injuries derailed his college career. Pickens will likely slot in as WR3 on the Steelers’ depth chart behind Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool for now. Leal gives the Steelers depth and flexibility along the offensive line. He can play inside or outside, although he might try to focus on just one position as a pro. He did struggle in 2021, but he was mocked as a potential top 10 pick before the season. Pittsburgh got great value being able to get Leal with the 84th pick.
Finally, PFF wrapped up their analysis talking about Calvin Austin Jr., the second receiver Pittsburgh selected.
“Calvin Austin’s size is going to be a limiting factor in the NFL — there’s no way around that. Nonetheless, this still looks like good value for a dynamic playmaker like Austin. He’s an explosive athlete who can be used in a movable gadget role in Matt Canada’s offense. Kenny Pickett, George Pickens and Austin all add some much-needed talent on offense for the Steelers in this draft.”
Austin’s 4.32 40-yard dash time was impressive, and as PFF says, his speed and playmaking will make him useful in Matt Canada’s offense. Austin has the potential to be a speedy slot receiver who can play a multitude of roles for Pittsburgh. Austin had over 1,000 yards each of his last two seasons at Memphis and will look to make an impact immediately with the Steelers.
While draft grades are somewhat arbitrary at this point in the process, it’s clear that pundits are fans with what the Steelers did in the draft.