Steelers Select OT Evan Neal In 2022 NFL Redraft

As the NFL season winds down, we now have a full season of hindsight of how the 2022 draft selections have fared. As such, many are looking back at the draft order and attempting to make a more ideal redraft. Saturday, David Kenyon of Bleacher Report published a redraft of last year’s draft. In doing so, he had Pittsburgh Steelers rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett going at number six to the Carolina Panthers and the Steelers instead selecting star Alabama offensive tackle Evan Neal at #20.

“In the pre-draft process, the Panthers were often connected to Kenny Pickett,” Kenyon wrote about the hypothetic Panthers’ selection. “They picked left tackle Ikem Ekwonu, who looks like a long-term blindside protector. Carolina, though, meandered through a season full of subpar QB play and still finished 7-10. Pickett could’ve helped the Panthers win a bad NFC South.”

At the time of the 2022 NFL draft, many were surprised that Pickett was available to the Steelers, who were picking at 20th overall. Indeed, Pickett was the latest first quarterback off the board in an NFL draft since 1997. The Panthers were indeed connected to Pickett, but reportedly did not value him enough to take him in the first round with their sixth overall pick. The Panthers did eventually select a quarterback in Matt Corral of Ole Miss, who did not see a snap his rookie year due to injury. As Kenyon said, they instead selected offensive tackle Ikem Ekwonu to bolster their offensive line, but have not found a reliable answer at quarterback.

While Pickett’s box score of seven touchdowns and nine interceptions does not jump out, he had a solid rookie year, finishing with a winning record and steadily improving every week. While the Panthers finished with a losing record, they had a real chance to make the playoffs, and were held back by mediocre quarterback play. Had they taken Pickett, he may have just taken them over the hump.

“The value is too much to pass up,” Kenyon continued in justifying the Steelers’ redraft selection of Neal. “Evan Neal had a mediocre rookie year on the Giants, but he’s a potential longtime starter. Given that Pickett is off the board, a rebuilding Pittsburgh roster could take Neal and let him handle the growing pains he experienced anyway.”

Evan Neal was about as highly regarded an offensive lineman prospect as there has been in recent memory. At 6’7” and over 350 pounds, he is a freak athlete.”

That being said, having resigned Chukwuma Okorafor and started Dan Moore for a full season, the Steelers approached the 2022 offseason more than content with their tackle position. In the unlikely scenario that Neal fell to them at 20, however, they may have pulled the plug given how highly regarded he was.

Neal’s rookie season indeed left much to be desired. He finished with a 44.0 PFF grade, which is lower than any of the Steelers’ starting five. While it is not uncommon for rookie tackles to struggle initially, the Steelers will certainly take Pickett’s rookie season over Neal’s.

All in all, after one season of hindsight, it’s safe to say that the Steelers are not second-guessing themselves for selecting Pickett. The quarterback position is the most important in football, and long-time quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had just retired. Oftentimes, teams have to give up significant capital to select their desired quarterback in the draft, and the Steelers did not. While the jury is still out on Pickett, the Steelers’ draft pick is aging well so far.

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