After months of speculation, we now know the Pittsburgh Steelers 2022 draft class.
Seven players heard their names called and will now wear the black and gold this season. Fans do not have to wait long to see them in action, as rookie minicamp starts May 13. Let us look at the Steelers’ seven picks, what they bring, and how they can help the team moving forward.
Steelers 1st pick: Kenny Pickett – QB, University of Pittsburgh (20th overall)
First up is the most talked-about pick amongst fans this year.
With long-time starting quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, retiring, the Steelers desperately needed a replacement going into this season. They signed Mitch Trubisky in the offseason and still had Mason Rudolph under contract. However, with Dwayne Haskins tragic death and Josh Dobbs signing with Cleveland, their QB room was cut in half in a matter of days.
Enter the potential heir apparent, Kenny Pickett, the hometown standout from the Pitt Panthers. After returning to the team for the 2021 season, Pickett evolved into one of the best players in college football. He helped propel Pitt to an 11-2 record, as well as their first ACC Championship in program history.
By the end of his collegiate career, he set numerous school records, including passing yards (12,303) and touchdowns (81). His 42 passing TDs during the 2021 season also set an ACC record formerly held by Deshaun Watson. Overall, his performance last year earned him First Team All American honors, as well as the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award and ACC Player of the Year.
Many saw Pickett as the most NFL-ready quarterback going into the 2022 draft. In Pittsburgh, it came down to him and Liberty’s Malik Willis. But when general manager, Kevin Colbert, saw that Pickett was still available, the choice was easy. Head coach, Mike Tomlin, also sees his potential, stating that he will have a chance to compete for the starting job this season.
Whether Pickett, Trubisky, or Rudolph gets the QB1 spot remains to be seen. All eyes will certainly be on Steelers training camp this summer for answers.
Steelers 2nd pick: George Pickens – WR, Georgia (52nd overall)
For their second pick, the Steelers stayed on the offensive side of the ball.
Pittsburgh needed to shore up their receiving core after a rough free agency. While they still have Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson, they lost Juju Smith-Schuster, Ray-Ray McCloud, and James Washington. Luckily, they wasted little time, drafting George Pickens in the second round.
While Pickens tore his ACL early last season, experts still tabbed him as one of the best receivers going into the draft. In just three seasons, he caught 90 receptions for 1,347 yards and 14 touchdowns. He came back at the end of the 2021 season and helped Georgia defeat Alabama in the National Championship game.
The fact that Pickens was still available when the Steelers were on the clock was a surprise. Pittsburgh, a team with a rich history of receivers, clearly liked what the former Bulldog brought to the table. Bleacher Report’s Alex Kay agreed, naming Pickens the Steelers’ biggest steal of the draft.
Pickens’ unique blend of size, speed, and physicality almost ensures he will adapt well to Pittsburgh’s offensive scheme. Not only does he also add more youth to the receiving room, but versatility too. He can play both the inside and outside, which gives the Steelers plenty of play calling options.
From what experts have seen so far, Pickens looks like a potential star in the making for Pittsburgh.
Steelers 3rd pick: DeMarvin Leal – DT, Texas A&M (84th overall)
Up next came a pick that helped the already stellar Pittsburgh defense.
Leal had a great final year at Texas A&M, leading the Aggies in both sacks (8.5) and tackles for loss (12.5). In his three-year collegiate career, he racked up 133 tackles, 25 tackles for loss, and 13 sacks. He earned First Team All American and All-SEC honors and was also a finalist for the Ted Hendricks Award.
Much like Pickens, Leal’s versatility gives the Steelers wiggle room on the defensive line. He can line up on the edge against the run as well as the inside on pass rushing plays.
The 21-year-old also adds a shot of youth, which is never a terrible thing. It also depends on the situation with Stephon Tuitt as well. The Steelers desperately miss him on the line and need all the help they can get moving forward. If he is still unavailable this season, having Leal around could be crucial.
Steelers 4th pick: Calvin Austin III – WR, Memphis (138th overall)
Looking to add more weapons on offense, the Steelers went with another receiver with their fourth-round pick.
Austin finished his Tigers career ranked fifth in receptions (156), fourth in receiving yards (2,541), and second in receiving touchdowns (22). He had six 100 receiving yard games in 2021 and led the AAC with 95.8 receiving yards per game. Those stats helped him earn All-AAC honors in both 2020 and 2021.
Not only can Austin make plays on offense, but also on special teams. Last season, he returned 29 punts for 323 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 11.1 yards per return.
That versatility is especially helpful after losing McCloud to the San Francisco 49ers. There is no doubt that Austin will see time as both a receiver and punt returner this season for Pittsburgh.
Steelers 5th pick: Connor Heyward – TE/FB, Michigan State (208th overall)
With their sixth-round pick, Pittsburgh looked to a familiar face.
Heyward is the younger brother of Steelers’ defensive tackle, Cam. This gives Pittsburgh four sets of brothers on their roster: the Heywards, Edmunds, Davis, and Watts. However, that is not why they selected Connor.
Prior to last season, Heyward switched from running back to tight end. He went on to lead all Spartan tight ends and was tied for third on the team with 35 receptions, 326 yards, and two touchdowns.
Steelers’ tight ends coach, Alfredo Roberts, stated that they plan to start Heyward at tight end this season. It looked like he would not see much playing time with Pat Freiermuth’s emergence last year. However, Pittsburgh normally employs multiple tight ends on running plays and spreads the ball around amongst them on passing plays.
Additionally, Heyward can play both fullback and special teams. This gives him plenty of opportunities to see playing time this season.
Steelers 6th pick: Mark Robinson – LB, Ole Miss (225th overall)
Perhaps the most unique pick for the Steelers came in the seventh round.
Robinson was drafted as a linebacker, but he only played at that position for a year at Ole Miss. He was a running back for the first three years of his college career. However, he showed no signs of losing a step. He posted 91 total tackles last season, 5.5 for a loss, and three sacks.
Pittsburgh seemed impressed with Robinson’s mix of physicality, athleticism, and speed. Add his upside and they saw no issue adding him to their defense. He will also learn from some amazing talent in the linebackers’ room, including AFC Defensive Player of the Year, TJ Watt.
At the very least, Robinson looks like a potential project for Flores and the defensive coaching staff. Whether their faith in him is warranted or not remains to be seen.
Steelers 7th pick: Chris Oladokun – QB, South Dakota State (241st overall)
Finally, Pittsburgh’s final pick saw them take yet another quarterback.
Oladokun had a particularly good 2021 season at South Dakota State. He threw for 3,164 yards and 25 touchdowns on 238 completions, while only throwing seven interceptions. He also rushed for 166 yards and scored two rushing touchdowns.
This pick may have confused some fans, but it makes sense in the bigger picture. The Steelers usually like to have four quarterbacks going into the season. Taking both Pickett and Oladokun in the draft helped fill those last two spots up.
Now we must wait and see who the Steelers’ starting QB will be going into week one. That and the rest of the roster will take shape once training camp begins in a few months.