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Perspective Of An Average Steelers Fan: How Good Is The 2022 Draft Class?

TRACKING 2022 STEELERS DRAFT CLASS

The 2022 Steelers draft class completed their rookie season. Time to see how Kenny Pickett, George Pickens, and DeMarvin Leal stacked up against their draft class contemporaries. I’ll also comment on the rest of the class.

Here is the link to the midseason rookie review if you want to compare the statistical change from the season’s midpoint.

All statistics extracted from the Pro Football Reference (PFR). Here is how the Steelers top three 2022 draft picks stack up statistically against their contemporaries after one regular season of play:

QUARTERBACK

Name G/GS Snaps Comp ATT CMP % YDs TDs INTs Sack Y/C Y/G
Kenny Pickett 13/12 804 245 389 63.0 2404 7 9 27 9.8 184.9
Desmond Ridder 4/4 271 73 115 63.5 708 2 0 9 9.7 177.0
Malik Willis 8/3 211 31 61 50.8 276 0 3 10 8.9 34.5
Matt Corral Injured Reserve
Bailey Zappe 4/2 207 65 92 70.7 781 5 3 6 12.0 195.3
Sam Howell 1/1 66 11 19 57.9 169 1 1 3 15.4 169.0
Brock Purdy 9/5 380 114 170 67.1 1374 13 4 11 12.1 152.7

Synopsis of each player:

Kenny Pickett (First/20th overall) Kenny Pickett led the Steelers to a 6-2 record following the bye week. He engineered four game-winning drives including three fourth-quarter comeback victories. Extremely poised, he cut down on interceptions after the bye week while keeping long drives alive showing good accuracy when flushed from the pocket. Now, if he can improve on scoring touchdowns when in the red zone in 2023. Following the Steelers’ win over Baltimore, Mike Tomlin summed up his thoughts on his young quarterback in three words, “Kenny ‘F’ing’ Pickett.” So far, so good after one year of play.

Desmond Ridder (Third/74th overall) The Atlanta Falcons started Desmond Ridder for the final four games following a late bye week. Ridder gave Falcon fans some hope going 2-2 including a fourth-quarter 20-19 come-from-behind victory against Arizona. He did not throw an interception but did fumble twice. Atlanta got a  first look but are not done evaluating their young quarterback. When asked if Ridder secured the starting position for 2023, Coach Arthur Smith said, “We’re still early into the offseason but we are certainly encouraged by the progress that he’s made.” Smith added, “There is a lot of work ahead of us before we are ready to declare anything like that right now.”

Malik Willis (Third/86th overall) Malik Willis finished the season with three starts. Mike Vrabel opted to go with Josh Dobbs for the final two games as the Titans tried an unsuccessful bid to make the playoffs. He showed his running skills gaining 43 yards in a loss to Houston. But threw no touchdown passes with three interceptions. He completed barely over half his passes. Malik Willis needs more time to adapt to the NFL. The question is what Tennessee will do with their quarterback situation in 2023.

Matt Corral (Third/94th overall) The Panthers placed Matt Corral on injured reserve due to a left foot injury suffered in a preseason game. That move ended his season before it started.

Bailey Zappe (Fourth/137th overall) The Patriots won the two games Zappe started while Mac Jones was out with injury. And he threw five TD passes along with three interceptions in four games played. He leads this rookie group with a 70.7% completion rate and 195.3 passing yards per game. But he did not play in the second half of the season. Mac Jones is the starter with Zappe his likely backup in 2023.

Sam Howell (Fifth/144th overall) Washington head coach Ron Rivera waited until the final game to start their eighth quarterback in three seasons. Sam Howell stepped up and delivered a 26-6 win over the Dallas Cowboys who had already secured a playoff spot. Howell completed 11 of 19 passes for 169 yards, completing one touchdown and throwing one interception. He tacked on 35 rushing yards on seven carries. Washington needs more time to evaluate but maybe the eighth time is a charm.

Brock Purdy (Seventh/262nd overall) Mr. Irrelevant. Brock Purdy was the very last player selected in the NFL 2022 draft. He saw his first action in week 13 going in for injured Jimmy Garoppolo. He completed 25 of 37 passes for 210 yards with two TD passes. And never looked back. The 49ers won the next five games Purdy started to stay in front of their division. He leads this group with 13 touchdown passes. Almost doubling Kenny Pickett with half the playing time. He’s the only quarterback in this group playing in the postseason and is the fifth rookie quarterback to reach a Conference final since 1970. Will he be the first to reach the Super Bowl?

Quarterback Summary

Kenny Pickett and Brock Purdy are the only two quarterbacks with more than 150 passing attempts. Purdy with 107.3 quarterback rating compared to 76.7 for Pickett. I have Purdy over Pickett despite just half the playing time. You win in the playoffs and it is hard to dispute. Desmond Ridder and Bailey Zappe in the next tier. Sam Howell showed potential in his only start. Malik Willis remains a project. Let’s see what year two brings. Can Pickett help Pittsburgh get in and even win a preseason game next year? Here we go.

WIDE RECEIVER

Name G Snaps D/ST TGTs RECs Yds Y/R Y/G Catch % Drop% Points
Christian Watson 14 507/14 66 41 611 14.9 43.6 62.1 6.1 54
Wan’Dale Robinson 6 229/0 31 23 227 9.9 37.8 74.2 3.2 6
John Metchie Non-Football Injury
Tyquan Thornton 13 527/0 45 22 247 11.2 19.0 48.9 11.1 18
George Pickens 17 882/3 84 52 801 15.4 47.1 61.9 3.6 32
Alec Pierce 16 725/1 78 41 593 14.5 37.1 52.6 3.8 12
Skyy Moore 16 313/31 33 22 250 11.4 15.6 66.7 3.0 0

Synopsis of each player:

Christian Watson (Second/34th overall) Christian Watson led this group with 54 points scored. He placed second with 611 receiving yards and 14.9 yards per reception. In fact, he was tied for tenth in the entire NFL in yards per reception. But he did have the second-highest drop percentage in the group of second-round receivers. He missed a few games due to injuries. But Aaron Rogers and other Packer quarterbacks got a 121.5 rating when targeting Watson. His prospects look great as a deep threat for the Green Bay Packers.

Wan’Dale Robinson (Second/43rd overall) Wan’Dale Robinson played in just six games before going on injured reserve with a torn ACL to his right knee. He played solidly catching 74.2% of his targets to lead this receiver group. Giants quarterbacks enjoyed a 109.2 rating when targeting him.  He hopes to be able to return by week one of the 2023 season.

John Metchie (Second/44th overall) John Metchie announced that he would miss the 2022 season after doctors diagnosed him with leukemia. Praying he is able to defeat the cancer and return to ball at some point.

Tyquan Thornton (Second/50th overall) Tyquan Thornton started the season on injured reserve. But played 13 games once activated in week five. His 11.1% drop rate contributed to Tyquan catching less than half his targets. Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe achieved a 62.0 QBR. Very low but not bad when you consider both quarterbacks had QBR’s in the thirties. If he works out his drop problem, Thornton will undoubtedly receive more targets in 2023.

George Pickens (Second/52nd overall) George Pickens leads the groups in receptions, receiving yards, yards per reception, and per game. In fact, he gained more receiving yards than three of the six receivers selected in the first round. He easily leads the group in offensive snaps, playing 76% of the Steelers’ offensive snaps. His 15.4 yards per reception eighth in the NFL this season. Pickens makes the difficult catches look easy but did drop a couple easy targets. Mitch Trubisky and Kenny Pickett combined for a 109.3 QBR when targeting Pickens. He capped his season by catching the game-winning touchdown against Cleveland.

Alec Pierce (Second/53rd overall) Alec Pierce started 12 of 16 games played. His 41 receptions tied for second in the group. Indy quarterbacks had a pedestrian 75.4 QBR when targeting Pierce. His receiving yards per game tailed off from 53.3 per game in the first half of the season to 37.1  by the season’s end. He missed the second game due to a concussion. But finished the year playing 67% of the Colts offensive snaps. He’ll have a new coaching staff in 2023 unless the Colts retain Jeff Saturday.

Skyy Moore (Second/54th overall) The Chiefs increased Skyy Moore’s snaps a little as the season progressed. He ended up playing 29% of Kansas City snaps in the 16 games he played. Moore returned 12 punts in his first eight games. But after muffing two, Andy Reid shifted his focus away from special team play. He led this group with the lowest drop percentage. Pat Mahomes had a low 52.3 QBR when targeting Skyy. Mainly due to three interceptions on those passes. But, Andy Reid likes what he is seeing: “He’s gotten better every week — a better understanding of the offense. We’ve seen some zone teams and how to fit into the different holes as an inside receiver. He’s getting better at that, and I like that.” In his first playoff appearance, Moore caught his only target for a yard and added three more on a jet sweep.

Wide Receiver Summary

George Pickens tops this group. Christian Watson second and did score 54 points to 32 for Pickens. Earlier this season Pickens and Alec Pierce were neck and neck. Both the Steelers’ and Colts’ offenses are in disarray. But Pickens outshone his competition. Looking forward to seeing a Pickett-to-Pickens connection take a second-year leap in 2023.

DEFENSIVE LINE

Name G Snaps D/ST PDs FF FR Sacks Tackles TFL/QBH
Travis Jones 15 324/116 1 0 0 1.0 24 1/2
Alex Wright 17 542/53 5 0 1 0.0 28 2/0
DeAngelo Malone 15 216/216 0 0 0 1.0 29 4/2
DeMarvin Leal 11 175/39 3 0 0 0.0 14 1/0
Cameron Thomas 17 236/57 1 0 0 3.0 18 3/6
Zachary Carter 16 396/71 1 0 0 0.5 23 1/1
Myjai Sanders 13 259/15 3 1 1 3.0 23 3/5

Synopsis of each player:

Travis Jones (Third/76th overall) Travis Jones deflected one pass and had one sack. His 24 tackles third among this group. And Pro Football Reference showed no missed tackles. He played 15 games including three starts while playing nose tackle. Jones is likely to see more playing time with Baltimore’s tough run defense in 2023.

Alex Wright (Third/78th overall) Alex Wright led this group of defensive linemen with five deflected passes, a fumble recovery and almost 150 more defensive snaps than the next most. He covered the fumble by Najee Harris at the goal line at season’s end. His 28 combined tackles second among the group. He did miss three tackles for a 9.7% missed tackle percentage. With Jadeveon Clowney likely gone, Wright stands to play a bigger role in Cleveland’s defense in 2023.

DeAngelo Malone (Third/82nd overall) DeAngelo Malone played an equal number of defensive and special team snaps. He’s mostly in a reserve role but generally plays 12-18 defensive snaps a game. His season high was 25 snaps against Pittsburgh.  His 29 combined tackles and four for a loss led the group. He had a low 6.5% missed tackle rate and four quarterback pressures. Malone will have a new defensive coordinator in 2023.

DeMarvin Leal (Third/8th4 overall) DeMarvin Leal missed six games due to a knee injury. He has the least playing time among this group. But he did deflect three passes in the 11 games he played. He had one tackle for a loss but a very high 17.6% missed tackle rate that topped this group. The challenge for Pittsburgh is identifying the role he will play. An edge rusher playing from his feet or a down lineman. Looking for a full season of play in 2023 so he can find his niche.

Cameron Thomas (Third/87th overall) Cameron Thomas playing at outside linebacker got his first sack in the Cardinals matchup versus the Seahawks. He collected three sacks this season. A bull rusher he is making his mark with six quarterback hits to lead the group. He’s missed no tackles and credited with seven quarterback pressures. He along with athletic draftmate Myjai Sanders give the Cardinals a nice duo on the front line.

Zachary Carter (Third/95th overall) The Bengals worked Zach Carter into the lineup making him a starter in week four with both D.J. Reader and Josh Tupou out with injuries.  He was second in the group with 396 defensive snaps. He started nine of 16 games played. He played at various positions along the line. He got half a sack near the end of the season against New England. In the playoffs he made four tackles against Baltimore. He added an assist against Buffalo.

Myjai Sanders (Third/100th overall) The Cardinals sat Myjai Sanders as a healthy scratch the first four games. In his second game he recorded his first sack with just eight defensive snaps. Arizona increased his defensive snaps as the season wore on. He forced a fumble and recovered another. His three tackles for loss and five quarterback hits are second in the group. He had a respectable 8.0% missed tackle rate with nine quarterback pressures. He’s athletic enough to drop back in coverage when needed. He along with draft classmate Cam Thomas a bright spot for a dismal Arizona Cardinals season.

Defensive Lineman Summary

DeMarvin Leal’s injury pushes him to the bottom of this group. He’s shown flashes including the ability to tip passes at the line of scrimmage. But he needs to be available to play. Travis Jones, Alex Wright, and DeAngelo Moore lead the group in tackles. Arizona found a nice set of linemen with complementary skills in Cameron Thomas and Myjai Sanders. Bengals Zach Carter proving versatile.

Day Three Selections

The Steelers had to place wide receiver Calvin Austin back on injured reserve after he aggravated a foot injury during the 21-day window. That ended the fourth round pick’s rookie season before it even started.

Tight End Connor Heyward drafted in sixth round, played in all 17 games. He had nine tackles on special teams. Young Heyward played on offense every game and caught 12 of 17 passes thrown to him for 151 yards and a touchdown. A versatile player, he played 15% of the offensive snaps and 65% of the special team snaps.

Seventh-round linebacker Mark Robinson played just five special team snaps in his first game against Tampa in week six. Then seven more against Carolina in week 15. He was a healthy scratch for the rest until the final two games. Then he started at inside linebacker for an ailing Myles Jack and an underperforming Devin Bush against Baltimore and Cleveland. He responded with nine tackles and demonstrated a desire to shed blocks to get the ball carrier.

Another seventh-rounder. Quarterback Chris Oladokun did not make the roster. Kansas City signed him to their practice squad one week after Pittsburgh released him in the preseason. He may even get a trip to the Super Bowl if Kansas City beats Cincinnati in the Conference final.

Jaylen Warren was signed by Pittsburgh as an undrafted free agent. The hard-running Warren carried the ball 77 times for 379 yards. Plus, another 28 receptions for 214 yards. In 16 games, Warren emerged as part of a one-two punch with Najee Harris and effective in pass protection. A workhorse, he played 31% of offensive and special team snaps in the games he played chipping in five tackles on special teams.

STEELERS DEPOT ROOKIE ARTICLES

Here are links to recent Steelers Depot Articles on the Steelers 2022 Draft Class and Undrafted Free Agent Jaylen Warren:

Kenny Pickett: Levi Wallace Shares Story of Pickett’s Impressive Work Ethic by Alex Kozora

George Pickens: Pickett was ‘Surprised’ if George Pickens Didn’t Catch a 50/50 Ball by Jonathan Heitritter

DeMarvin Leal: The DeMarvin Leal Dilemma by Alex Kozora

Calvin Austin: Calvin Austin Says Rehab is Going Well by Matthew Marczi

Connor Heyward: Connor Heyward Shows Off Swiss Army Knife Potential by Josh Carney

Mark Robinson:  ‘Traits That You Can’t Coach’; Mike Tomlin on Mark Robinson by Brandon Morneault

Chris Oladokun:  Report: Chiefs Signing QB Chris Oladokun to Practice Squad by Alex Kozora

Jaylen Warren: One of the Most Productive UDFA Seasons in Steelers History by Alex Kozora

Conclusion

The Steelers drafted seven players in the 2022 draft. Two offensive starters with the first two picks. Third-rounder Leal a rotational player when not injured. But Jaylen Warren, an undrafted free agent showed up the day three selections. Heyward is the only day-three selection that regularly played in 2022. In 2023, we will see if Calvin Austin adds to the receiving corps and Heyward continues his versatile play. Mark Robinson gives added depth as inside linebacker. While Warren spells Najee to make a dangerous running duo.

A promising start, I’ll check back on their progress at the end of 2023 season. Here we go.

Your Music Selection

I always like to include a bit of music. The 2022 draft class shows promise. We’re caught in the moment. So, don’t let us down.  Here is Promises by Wiz Khalifa

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