In the 2022 NFL Draft, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ biggest need was at quarterback. In 2023, it’s still a need, albeit in a different way. While the Steelers were looking for a starter in the wake of Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement in 2022, the team is likely going to need to add depth at the position heading into next year. After taking Pickett in the first round last year, the Steelers, who almost always bring four quarterbacks into camp, decided to spend one of their two seventh-round selections on quarterback Chris Oladokun out of South Dakota State. In the midst of the Steelers’ quarterback competition, Oladokun didn’t get much of a chance and was cut. That left the Steelers with the three quarterbacks they spent the whole season with: Pickett, free agent signing Mitch Trubisky, and 2018 third-round pick Mason Rudolph. With Rudolph almost assuredly leaving in free agency and Trubisky a cut candidate, don’t be surprised if the Steelers once again target a late-round quarterback.
Given that the Steelers usually bring four quarterbacks into camp, the idea of them spending a draft pick on one isn’t all that far-fetched. For one, the team has met with a handful of quarterbacks, including UCLA’s Dorian Thompson-Robinson at the Shrine Bowl. They also met with East Carolina’s Holton Ahlers and Incarnate Word’s Lindsey Scott Jr. at the NFLPA Bowl, so it’s clear it’s a position they’re getting familiar with, especially with names that are projected to go late in the draft or undrafted.
But just looking at the Steelers’ potential roster heading into the draft, I can’t envision a scenario where they have more than three quarterbacks. If they keep Trubisky and his $8 million cap hit to backup Pickett in 2023, it doesn’t make sense for the Steelers to add another veteran backup in free agency. So for a team that usually keeps three quarterbacks, that third quarterback in the room is likely going to be a rookie. If they once again bring four quarterbacks into camp, they might even draft a guy in the seventh round and then bring in another as an undrafted free agent.
If they do cut Trubisky, which I think is becoming increasingly unlikely, then the Steelers are going to have to commit capital to a backup. While it won’t be as much as Trubisky’s $8 million salary so they theoretically could sign two quarterbacks, whoever is getting signed as the third quarterback is likely going to be cheap for a reason. While the odds of the team hitting on a late-round quarterback aren’t high, I think it’s probably a better idea to invest a seventh-round pick on someone who might be good other than someone who’s already proven that they aren’t good. It is a new regime with Omar Khan and Andy Weidl, so maybe the team won’t bring four quarterbacks into camp, although it would be a bit of a surprise if that wasn’t the case.
It certainly wouldn’t be a popular pick. The Steelers have their starter in Pickett and they’re going to have a backup, be it Trubisky or another veteran. So investing draft capital in a third-stringer isn’t going to be a popular decision. But the Steelers haven’t shied away from drafting backup quarterbacks. They took Landry Jones in the fourth round in 2013 with both Roethlisberger and Bruce Gradkowski on the roster, and they took Joshua Dobbs and Mason Rudolph in back-to-back years, although Rudolph was drafted with the idea that he could eventually start. Obviously, Oladokun last year wasn’t expected to beat out Pickett, so that was a pick that was made with depth in mind.
The benefit of selecting quarterbacks in the draft is that if you hit on one, even as a backup, there’s going to be trade demand across the league. They were able to flip Dobbs, who never started for the Steelers, for a draft pick, although given what happened in 2019, that’s likely a move they’d take back. And 2019 is another reason why I think the Steelers could target a quarterback. The team dealt with Roethlisberger going down and ended up having to start undrafted rookie Devlin Hodges. Kenny Pickett suffered two concussions in 2022, and if he goes down, all of a sudden that third-string quarterback becomes a lot more important. Having someone they’re comfortable with to draft in that position is probably a lot more favorable than a has-been potential free agent.
Whether or not it’s a good move, it just wouldn’t surprise me to see Pittsburgh take a flier on someone in the seventh round. They’re doing their due diligence at the position, and it’s a near-lock that if they don’t draft a quarterback, one will be brought in as an undrafted free agent if they only have three on their roster post-draft. While they aren’t in the same position they were last year where quarterback was their No. 1 need, bringing someone in at the position is still a need. It’s just a matter of how they choose to address it.