Another year has come and gone, with another draft on the horizon. It’s the perfect time to take a step back and reflect on the year that was, especially with respect to the most recent draft class. The Pittsburgh Steelers made seven selections in the 2022 NFL Draft, one in each round except for the fifth (zero) and the seventh (two).
The top of the draft marked one of the most momentous decisions in decades, as the Steelers used their first-round pick on the quarterback they hope will be the long-term successor to the retired Ben Roethlisberger. And they used much of the rest of the draft to find him weapons, marking the second year in a row they used each of their top two picks on offense.
Only two defenders were drafted, including a defensive lineman in the third round, the first time they have taken a lineman on that side of the ball earlier than the fifth round since Javon Hargrave in 2016. The Steelers also added an inside linebacker in the seventh round, who is the only holdover at the position from last season.
Over the next week, we will be looking at each of these players one by one and examining how their rookie season went and what we can expect from the moving forward, both during the 2023 season and potentially for the long term. But we’ll discuss each briefly below.
Kenny Pickett was first quarterback off the board at 20. The Steelers signed veteran Mitch Trubisky in free agency and he entered the year as the starter, but head coach Mike Tomlin pulled him in favor of the rookie by halftime of week four. While his numbers as a rookie were unremarkable, Pickett passed the “eye test” for many, going 7-5 with four game-winning drives.
Round two brought in wide receiver George Pickens, one of the wide receivers in the NFL last season who had the hardest time getting open but the easiest time catching contested passes. He led the team with four receiving touchdowns but had better hope that he’ll find more ways to get open moving forward. He is a remarkable talent but still has work to do to harness it all.
Round three brought defensive lineman DeMarvin Leal, a “tweener” who got playing time early, actually filling in partly for T.J. Watt while the outside linebacker was injured. While possessing talent, it is unclear what the end game is for him, either in terms of position or how successful he can be.
Fourth-round wide receiver Calvin Austin III is the wild card. He spent his rookie year on the Reserve/Injured List with a foot injury that required surgery, from which he is still recovering. But he could slide into that third receiver role this season.
In round six, Pittsburgh got back to the business of nepotism with the selection of Connor Heyward, the H-back who is a football player first more than anything. He was active on special teams with nine tackles, and he also caught 12 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown with two rushes for 27 yards and two first downs.
Mark Robinson is the aforementioned linebacker, new to the position, possessing a great love of hitting. He is still very raw and his upside in coverage is likely very limited, but he has potential as a two-down player and core special teamer.
Last and unquestionably least is quarterback Chris Oladokun, a foolish selection given that the Steelers appear never to have had any plan to give him much work or any chance of making the roster. He ended up signing with the Kansas City Chiefs’ practice squad and earned himself a Super Bowl ring instead.