Halfway through the 2022 season, it is far too early to make judgements one way or the other in regards to members of the 2022 NFL Draft rookie class.
Young players have appeared in just eight or nine games to this point — some much less, so it’s hard to have a stance one way or another right now. That said, a first-round re-draft exercise based on the performances to date is a rather fun exercise to do at this point in the season to see how the first round would look now compared to how it did after its conclusion in April.
Pro Football Focus’ Trevor Sikkema certainly agrees and laid out a first-round re-draft exercise Wednesday morning. Unsurprisingly, the first round looks a bit different for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In April, the Steelers selected rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett at No. 20 overall getting what they believe — still — is a franchise quarterback, one they had rated as the top quarterback on the board. It hasn’t gone well in his first five career games, but it’s still relatively early for Pickett, who is behind an offensive line that is struggling in pass protection while playing in an offense that appears very basic and limited overall under second-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada.
Knowing the issues the Steelers have on the offensive line as far as pass protection and from a run game perspective, Sikkema has the Steelers landing Tulsa offensive tackle Chris Smith in the first round of the re-draft exercise at No. 20 overall. Smith originally went No. 24 overall to the Dallas Cowboys.
“The plan wasn’t for Smith to have to come in and play left tackle right away in his rookie season, but that’s what injuries to players around him have forced him to do, and he’s held his own,” Sikkema writes regarding the selection of Smith for the Steelers in the exercise. “He has a 69.1 overall grade while giving up only 16 pressures on 474 snaps. The Steelers could really use an offensive line upgrade, even though Pickett is starting for them now.”
There’s no denying that the Steelers need some help in the trenches, whether that would be Smith stepping in a left tackle for Dan Moore Jr. moving forward, or slotting in nicely at left guard where many projected him to play in the NFL coming out of college. Stepping in for All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith this season, Smith has held his own and is playing relatively well for a Dallas team that looks like a serious contender this season.
For what it’s worth, Pickett doesn’t go in the first round of Sikkema’s re-draft exercise, which is unsurprising considering the performance the rookie quarterback has had to date. While Pickett would hypothetically still be on the board in the second round, the Steelers did lose out on a Day 2 pick in the re-draft exercise, that being wide receiver George Pickens.
Prior to the draft Sikkema made the case for Pickens to be the first receiver off the board. In the re-draft exercise he ends up going to the Tennessee Titans at No. 18 overall, replacing wide receiver Treylon Burks in the exercise.
“Pickens was a first-round talent who went off the board in the second round, and the rest of the league sees it now,” Sikkema writes. “He has played the most receiving snaps of any rookie receiver (296) and has 338 receiving yards on the season. His contested-catch percentage is one of the highest among rookies, at 50%.”
Pickens has felt a bit underutilized in Pittsburgh so far this season, but the trade of Chase Claypool to the Chicago Bears could change that moving forward for the young standout in the Steel City.
Getting him at No. 52 overall in the draft was an absolute steal for the Steelers, but if the league were to redo the first round, there’s no chance Pickens makes it out of the top 25.