The 2022 NFL Draft is nearly upon us, and the Pittsburgh Steelers will have a difficult decision to make with the 20th overall pick. In fact, “difficult” might be an understatement depending on which quarterbacks, if any, are selected before the Black and Yellow are officially on the clock.
Or, of course, the Steelers could trade up in hopes of ensuring they draft either Liberty’s Malik Willis or Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett. That would certainly complicate things.
Assuming the six-time Super Bowl champions don’t trade up, who should the Steelers draft at No. 20? As with our mock drafts, we picked players based on need and team fit. Also, all prospects are ranked alphabetically as opposed to preference or potential.
Based on consideration of the aforementioned prerequisites, we believe the Steelers should target the following players with the 20th overall pick:
Honorable mention: Sam Howell, QB, North Carolina
For transparency, I’ve been doing these draft stories under the assumption that the Detroit Lions will select Willis second overall. I personally am in favor of such a move, and I only bring it up here because, for the sake of this story, the Steelers wouldn’t have an opportunity to land the explosive dual-threat quarterback.
With respect to Howell, the external rumors have football fans and pundits alike believing the Steelers will select Pickett 20th overall if the reigning Heisman Trophy finalist drops that far. Some also believe (or choose to believe) that the Black and Yellow will trade up to keep Pickett in the Steel City after failing to do so with Dan Marino in 1983.
For the sake of this story, let’s say the Steelers don’t trade up but still want to take a quarterback at No. 20. If Howell is available, he’d be a fine fit in Pittsburgh. The UNC football great threw for 92 touchdowns in three seasons, added another 17 scores on the ground, and brought impressive confidence and leadership to the locker room. Although he had his share of inconsistent moments throughout the 2021 season, don’t be surprised if a team buys high and takes him in the first round.
Andrew Booth Jr., CB, Clemson:
Most mock drafts have the Steelers focusing on their offense in the first round, usually through the form of a quarterback or a wide receiver. However, defensive players need love too, and Booth Jr. should check every box the Steelers are looking for in a young cornerback.
Booth Jr., who will play his entire rookie season at 22 years old, was a 5-star prospect coming out of high school and displayed stellar ball-hawk skills at Clemson; the Tigers’ staff credited him with 75 tackles (5.5 for loss), 10 pass breakups, five interceptions, a sack and a fumble recovery over 35 games and 15 starts from 2019-21. Although the 6-foot, 194-pound cornerback only served as a starter for one season, he has the potential to thrive under Steelers coach Mike Tomlin.
Tyler Linderbaum, C, Iowa:
Although the Steelers signed former Minnesota Vikings center Mason Cole to a three-year deal in free agency, that shouldn’t keep the six-time champions from drafting Linderbaum on April 28. The 2021 unanimous All-American has earned rave reviews for his excellent physical skill set — one that comes in part from a wrestling background — and his accurate snaps.
NFL Media’s Lance Zierlein compared Linderbaum to Philadelphia Eagles star Jason Kelce, and that’s a likeness the Steelers should be thrilled to envision if they add the reigning Rimington Award (best center) winner.
Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh
Pickett is widely considered the quarterback who has the best chance of starting on Day 1 and succeeding, in large part because he shredded defenses for 4,319 yards, 42 touchdowns, and seven interceptions in his final year at Pitt. However, is that the quarterback he’ll be in the NFL, or is he closer to the player who totaled a 60.2 completion percentage, 38 touchdowns, and 24 interceptions from 2018-20?
If Pickett is still on the board at No. 20, it almost feels safe to suggest he’s a lock to wind up in Pittsburgh. However, very rarely is there a true “lock” pick at that point in the NFL draft, even if we’re talking about the Steelers’ need for a young quarterback.
Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas
Burks deserves credit for consistently improving in his three years at Arkansas. After hauling in 29 yards for 475 catches and no touchdowns in 2019, the 4-star recruit improved to 51/820/7 as a sophomore. Then came last year’s breakout season, one where Burks earned first-team All-SEC honors after hauling in 66 catches, 1,104 yards, and 11 touchdowns in 12 starts.
Burks clocked in at 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds at the NFL Combine and could be the reliable outside receiver that Ben Roethlisberger desperately missed in his final seasons. Don’t be surprised to see Pittsburgh find ways to use him as an all-purpose weapon, especially after he recorded 222 yards and a touchdown on 38 career college carries.