by: Will Baptist
It is no secret in Pittsburgh that they will be on the market for a franchise QB sooner rather than later. Ben Roethlisberger has started to decline, and after an abysmal playoff performance he showed last year in their loss to the Cleveland Browns, the Steelers should be studying this draft class up and down for a quarterback.
Roethlisberger threw for 3,803 yards, 33 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and completed 65.6% of his passes last season. He played in 15 games and was much healthier than the prior season. Those statistics are not bad by any means, but after his four interception, playoff loss to their divisional rival, the end is nearing for Roethlisberger. His mobility and accuracy took another dip last year, and at 39 years old, he does not have much left in the tank.
His decline forced the Steelers to restructure his contract, and bring in Dwayne Haskins. Haskins struggled mightily in Washington, and a fresh start could be the motivating factor that forces him to improve. The Steelers will not bank on Haskins becoming the franchise QB, and they should focus on finding the next QB to lead this organization in the 2022 NFL Draft.
The Steelers will most likely have a pick in the latter portion of the draft, considering how good they have been under Mike Tomlin and the pieces they have in place. This should not deter them from trading up into the top five if they fall in love with one of the QB prospects.
These are three of the top prospects that the Steelers should target in next year’s NFL Draft.
1. Sam Howell, North Carolina
Drafting a QB from North Carolina is a terrifying proposition after seeing how the Mitchell Trubisky experiment ended in Chicago. Nevertheless, Sam Howell is a much different prospect, and should be evaluated as such. He walked on campus as a true freshman and earned the starting job at North Carolina, and threw for 3,641 yards, 38 touchdowns and seven interceptions. That is astounding for a true freshman, and he was still able to improve as a sophomore after a slow start to the season. He drastically improved his accuracy, while completing 68.1% of his passes as a sophomore compared to 61.4% as a freshman. His yards per attempt jumped to 10.3 compared to 8.6 as a freshman. Howell is one of the frontrunners for the Heisman and will be in the conversation for the number one pick in the draft. He has the arm talent and leadership abilities to be a franchise QB, and he would be a great fit for the Steelers system.
2. Spencer Rattler, Oklahoma
Spencer Rattler is more athletic and mobile than Howell. With the track record that Oklahoma head coach, Lincoln Riley, has with improving quarterbacks, Rattler could have a dominant season and easily be the number one pick in the draft. He is a very accurate QB, completing 67.5% of his passes in his first year starting. In 11 games, he threw for 3,031 yards, 28 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The Sooners should be much improved this season, and we may see how Rattler handles himself on the big stage during the college football playoffs. Now that Rattler is the face of the Oklahoma football team, he needs to continue to develop his leadership skills, and decision making. If he can improve in his second season, and learn under Riley, Rattler could be the face of an NFL franchise for the next 10-15 years, and the Steelers would be a perfect fit.
3. Kedon Slovis, USC
Last season was a disaster for the Pac-12, due to the covid issues that they dealt with, which makes this upcoming season huge for USC star QB, Kedon Slovis. He stepped in as a freshman and was forced to play due to their starting QB getting injured, and he never looked back. In his career thus far, he has completed 70% of his passes, for 5,423 yards, 47 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. All of that production is in just 18 games, and Slovis should improve dramatically with a full offseason in preparation for a full season. Slovis worked with QB coaches, Jordan Palmer and Tom House to improve his mechanics and arm talent during the offseason. He is already extremely accurate and must improve his ability to throw the ball down field and his decision making. Slovis could be a star in the making, and he would be a match made in heaven for the Steelers.
Considering all these QBs will most likely go in the top ten in next year’s draft, the Steelers will undoubtedly have to trade up to grab one of them. If the Steelers are willing to do that, and mortgage some future first round picks, they will have their new franchise QB in place for years to come.