Coming out of the 2022 NFL Draft, the haul by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the final draft cycle under longtime GM Kevin Colbert seemingly left much to be desired overall.
But that all went away once the rookies hit the field and immediately starting producing for the black and gold. Based on the production and the overall impact that Steelers’ draft class of 2022, featuring quarterback Kenny Pickett, wide receiver George Pickens, defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal, tight end Connor Heyward, linebacker Mark Robinson and running back Jaylen Warren had last season, the future is “going to be scary” — in a good way — for the draft class, Leal believes.
Speaking with Steelers.com’s Teresa Varley, Leal was rather excited for what’s ahead for the draft class, considering their impact last season and the number of roles they were thrown into for a team that rebounded from a 2-6 start to finish 9-8.
“At different portions of the season most of us have been thrown into the fire,” Leal said to Varley, according to Steelers.com. “For a rookie class to be thrown into the fire that brings confidence. Looking back at year one, looking at the film, we know what we can do. We know we can do better.
“Going into year two it feels like it’s going to be scary.”
Outside of the Detroit Lions and New York Jets, no other NFL franchise received more snaps from its rookie class than the Steelers.
While Pickett didn’t fully take over the starting job until Week 5 on the road against the Buffalo Bills after replacing Mitch Trubisky at halftime in Week 4 against the New York Jets, the former Pitt star really didn’t find his footing at the position until after the Week 9 bye week.
From there, Pickett helped the Steelers go 6-2 down the stretch with Trubisky securing the seventh win of the 7-2 stretch in Week 15 against Carolina, leading the Steelers to a 9-8 finish. The overall numbers weren’t flashy from Pickett — 2,404 passing yards, seven touchdowns, nine interceptions — but he showed real moxie and that “it” factor late in games, leading four game-winning/fourth-quarter comeback drives in the second half of the season.
Pickens looked like a legitimate future No. 1 receiver for the Steelers as a rookie. A contested- catch monster, Pickens thrived in the second half of the season on back-shoulder and sideline throws, consistently making the plays, giving the Steelers some much-needed splash offensively.
So, too, did Warren, who looked like a terrific change-of-pace back behind former first-round pick Najee Harris, giving the Steelers a viable 1-2 punch in the run game that could be difficult to stop moving forward. Heyward played a key role down the stretch as a blocker and receiver, making some key plays in the passing game late in the season, while Leal and Robinson settled into roles along the Steelers’ defensive front down the stretch.
Based on the experience gained in a season filled with adversity, along with the production that came with it from the rookie class, the future appears very bright in Pittsburgh thanks to that 2022 draft class.
Taking the next step and becoming consistent contributors and playmakers is the next step for the class overall. If they can do that in 2023, the Steelers could be a “scary” team like Leal believes.