Who will be the Steelers QB of the future?
By: Noah Nichols
The Steelers are entering an interesting point in time. In the very near future Ben Roethlisberger is going to retire. The Steelers know that. What the Steelers don’t know, as of right now, is who their franchise quarterback is going to be. After almost two decades of play from the future first-ballot hall of famer, Roethlisberger will be hanging it up for good, mostly likely at the end of this year.
What happens next? Do the Steelers turn to Mason Rudolph? If that is the case, they would probably only do so for a year. They would give Rudolph a chance to prove himself, and while I like Rudolph as much as the next guy, he just does not have the physical tools necessary to bring the team forward. The Steelers will almost certainly turn to the 2022 draft to find their next franchise quarterback. What quarterback best fits the Steelers in 2022? It depends on what the Steelers are looking for.
And while the Steelers are not going to have their pick of the litter, so to speak, in 2022, there are a few quarterbacks that the Steelers could be eyeing in 2022, and one in particular is a great fit for them. As a disclaimer, I will not discuss Spencer Rattler or Sam Howell. Both are projected to be top five picks, and unless they fall off a literal cliff, that is where they are going to go. Instead I will be looking at some quarterbacks that the Steelers have a reasonable chance of nabbing. The probability of these quarterbacks being available when the Steelers pick will factor in when determining which quarterback best fits the Steelers.
Probably the most talented quarterback in the draft aside from Rattler, Willis brings a lot to the table. At 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, Willis is not a small quarterback that will be easily injured. Averaging 8.7 yards a carry for his career, his biggest problem is not turning the ball over. According to PFF he had one more big-time throw than turnover-worthy play last year, 20 and 19 respectively. That could be concerning, trying to do too much could result in some bad plays that kill the team, and he cannot run for his entire career.
However, he has a year to improve. And the Steelers are (mostly) fine with a quarterback who turns the ball over, as long as he makes big time plays too. That was Ben Roethlisberger for most of his career. Willis provides something that the Steelers have not had at quarterback since Kordell “Slash” Stewart, a quarterback in the mold of Michael Vick. Stewart rushed for over 2,100 yards in his career as a Steeler, so the concept would not be new to the organization. Big arm, big play legs are Malik Willis in a nutshell, and the Steelers would love to have that. The turnovers won’t really concern the Steelers too much, considering Ben has thrown 201 in his career.
Almost the opposite of Willis, Slovis is an accuracy-first type player. With an adjusted completion percentage of 80.6% for his career, Willis is not going to put the ball in harms way very often. His biggest problem, and why the Steelers will not draft him, is his arm strength. He has never completed a pass over 50 yards in his career, and has the weakest arm in the 2022 quarterback class. The NFL is not trending in that direction, but the biggest problem is how Slovis does not fit Pittsburgh. Windy, rainy games are regular trend in Pittsburgh, especially later into the season. The Steelers will not take a quarterback who cannot regularly complete passes in bad weather. The AFC North is too brutal for that. If they played in a dome, the answer might be different. But they don’t, and Slovis wont play for the Steelers.
Ridder resembles Lamar Jackson more than anyone else in this class. At 6-foot-4, 215-pounds, Ridder is two inches taller and three pounds heavier than Jackson. Ridder is very similar on the ground with insane speed and a start-stop ability that throws defenders in the opposite direction. It was reported that Mike Tomlin had wanted to draft Lamar Jackson when he came out. The validity of that report is up in the air, but if its true, Tomlin has a second chance right here. Ridder looks like a carbon copy, excelling on the ground, and even struggling in the air with accuracy. Ridder does not lack for a strong arm, his accuracy is his biggest weakness.
And while he grew in that area in 2020, only 53.5% of his passes targeted past the line of scrimmage last year were deemed accurate, according to PFF. However, Ridder has all of 2021 to grow in that area, and should improve in that area. If Ridder becomes more accurate, and it does not have to be a Drew Brees level of accuracy, than he could certainly be the Steelers first round pick in 2022. His athleticism paired with Najee Harris would be a nightmare for defenses to prepare for, and that is not taking into account Chase Claypool or Dionte Johnson. The Steelers offense could be beyond electric with Ridder at quarterback. It really depends on how well Ridder improves his accuracy.
If any quarterback looks like Ben Roethlisberger in this draft class, its Carson Strong. At 6″4 214-pounds, Strong has all the arm strength in the world. His mechanics are great too, and his deep ball matches his arm strength and mechanics. According to PFF “No quarterback in the country targeted more passes 50-plus yards past the line of scrimmage last season than Strong. His 10 such attempts were double that of anyone in the 2021 quarterback class, and his four such completions were double that of anyone else in the country.”
There is no worry here that Strong might struggle in cold weather. There is not much to dislike here with Strong. Questions arise about benefiting from Romeo Doubbs, his star wide receiver, but otherwise, he shows little room for error. His pocket awareness needs to improve, but he does not play like he is blind to defenders. 2021 will certainly be the year for Strong to improve his draft stock and he has the potential to be a top-15 pick.
The Steelers don’t have a chance at Rattler or Slovis. And they certainly wont take Slovis due to the probability that he struggles in games with strong weather. Ridder brings a lot to the table, especially on the ground. He has the arm to make big plays downfield too. If his accuracy improves, he could certainly be the Steelers pick. Malik Willis has the most talent out of this group, but that’s the downside too. He probably wont be available when the Steelers pick, unless they trade up. Carson Strong is the most Roethlisberger like, and could certainly be available when they pick, but offers less as a runner.
So, who fits the best? It really depends on the scenario. However, I do believe that if Willis is available when the Steelers pick, they will take him over the other three quarterbacks. He offers everything Ridder has on the ground, and has the arm talent of Strong. If he’s there, he’s the pick. Will the Steelers trade up for him? That all depends on positioning in the draft, and while it could happen, its impossible to predict right now.
If Willis is not available, and Strong and Ridder are available, the Steelers probably will take Strong. Strong just offers more through the air, and the Steelers don’t NEED a running quarterback. However, if Ridder takes a leap and becomes a average-to above-average passer, then Ridder is the pick. Ultimately, I would put my money on Strong. He has the tools, his play style is similar to Big Ben in that he’s a big, strong armed quarterback, and he has the best chance to be available when the Steelers make their pick in 2022.