On episode 24 of his Footbahlin podcast, former Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said he believes that the Steelers have a focus in mind when it comes to the draft. Talking to his co-host Spencer Te’o about whether the team will look to go offense early in the draft, Roethlisberger had an interesting comment.
“The Steelers never do anything on offense,” Roethlisberger said, eliciting a laugh from Te’o. “My last year, which was (Matt) Canada’s first year, which I always joke with Canada, ‘Hey, what do you have on Mike Tomlin, seven of our eight picks were offense, how did you get that,’ up until that point I want to say, and I could be wrong, it’s something like 10 of the last 12 years the first-rounders were all defense.”
He speculated that the team could draft a defensive lineman with its first pick this year.
“They have, I believe, they did last year, the highest-paid defense in the NFL. So you’ve got players there. Do you try to go D-Line again, get a D-lineman in there with Cam and those guys,” Roethlisberger said via the Channel Seven YouTube channel.
Ultimately though, his guess is as good as anyone’s.
“They always surprise people when it comes to drafting,” he said about the Steelers.
Later in the podcast though, he said he believes the team will go defense with their first two picks “out of habit.”
Roethlisberger’s right that defense was a focus early on in the draft later in his tenure with the Steelers. From 2013-2019, every first-round pick was on the defensive side of the football. While the Steelers didn’t have a first-round pick in 2020, they spent their top pick on wide receiver Chase Claypool at No. 49 overall in the second round. In 2021 the team selected running back Najee Harris in the first round and the team’s first four picks were on the offensive side of the football. That was the draft Roethlisberger referred to when he said seven of the team’s eight picks were on offense, but only four of the team’s nine picks were devoted to the offensive side of the football.
While the team’s focus changed later in his career, it’s a little ridiculous for Roethlisberger to say that the Steelers never do anything on offense, even if it was tongue-in-cheek. The team drafted him two weapons back-to-back after his first seasons in the league, selecting tight end Heath Miller in the first round in 2005 and wide receiver Santonio Holmes in the first round a year later. He also got plenty of offensive line help in the first round, with top picks invested in center Maurkice Pouncey (2010) and guard David DeCastro (2012). In addition, the team’s hit rate of middle-late round wide receivers has always been high, with valuable contributors like Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant in the middle and late rounds of the draft.
Roethlisberger’s right that the offense probably could’ve been a whole lot better during his final years when he was throwing the ball to likes of Ryan Switzer and Ray-Ray McCloud. But the team invested in offense in the draft and gave him plenty of help along the line and weapons throughout his career.
Now, the team seems to be doing the same with quarterback Kenny Pickett. Pittsburgh got him an immediate starting receiver by taking George Pickens in the second round — after taking Pickett in the first — and upgrading the offensive line last offseason with the additions of Mason Cole and James Daniels. The Steelers have further added to their line with additions of guards Isaac Seumalo and Nate Herbig, and more reinforcements are likely coming in the draft.
Pittsburgh’s team-building strategy with Roethlisberger under center led to two Super Bowl wins. Hopefully the Pickett era leads to similar or better results.