The Pittsburgh Steelers shocked everyone when they drafted Pitt Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett with the 20th pick over Liberty Flames quarterback Malik Willis, who most draft experts had ranked No.1 on their QB board.
For weeks, the growing belief was that Tomlin, and the Steelers brass were really in on Willis and if he was available at 20, which he was, they’d pounce on the opportunity and make him the next “Steel City” signal caller.
That didn’t happen though, and now many are wondering what Pickett does better than Willis, who reportedly has the most upside of any quarterback in the draft.
Stephen A had this to say on First Take Friday.
“Here’s my trepidation.. All I’ve been hearing about was this kid Willis. That’s all I was hearing about was if you go get anybody, it’s that brother you need to go get. The arm strength, the mobility, etc, etc. That’s what people were saying about him. I sincerely hope, Key, and Dan, that this wasn’t one of those picks with ‘Oh my God.’ You know, Dan Marino once played locally and we let him get out of Pittsburgh. So we had to make sure we don’t let this kid who stars at Pitt get out of Pittsburgh. He’s homegrown. He’s one of ours. Don’t let him leave. … I’m hoping that it wasn’t an emotional decision.”
Damnit! I don’t know how to feel about the @steelers selecting Pickett. I mean, I know he can play. But I kept hearing about this kid, Willis. So did they take Pickett because he’s better or because he’s home-grown? Damnit, I’m concerned. I’m concerned!!!
— Stephen A Smith (@stephenasmith) April 29, 2022
SAS specifically attacked the weak competition that Pickett played against, naming the teams on his schedule. The fact that Pickett’s hands measure smaller than the average first round NFL pick also caused some doubt.
Smith’s co-host for the segment, former No.1 overall pick Keyshawn Johnson, intervened to say Pickett was “a turnover machine” in college.
“While that may not have been the issue this year, throughout the course of his career it was. But you have Mike Tomlin there, just run the ball and let him dink and dump.”
Another In The Lineage Of Average Caucasian QBs Being Selected Over Dynamic Black QBs
The Steelers choosing Pickett over Willis shouldn’t be all that surprising, it’s long been the norm in the NFL. GMs and coaches often tend to go old school when drafting a QB high, seemingly searching for that traditional pocket passer who can beat you with his arm.
There are exceptions of course, but it’s obvious that to this day, NFL executives are hesitant to believe that the Black signal caller can fulfill all of the necessary requirements to lead an NFL steam.
Before you go on a rant about the recent proliferation of Black NFL quarterbacks, just look at the 2017 draft when the Bears moved up to draft one-year wonder Mitchell Trubisky instead of staying where they were and taking either Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson. If Mahomes was too much of a project for the Chicago Bears, then Watson was a slam dunk. The former Clemson star had just gone toe-to-toe with mighty Alabama in back-to-back title games, winning one and losing one in dramatic fashion.
Or how about 2018, when Baker Mayfield, Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold were all taken ahead of Lamar Jackson. Not one of those quarterbacks is even considered a definite starter at this point. All Jackson has done is become the second unanimous MVP in league history.
In 2019, Daniel Jones was taken over the recently deceased Dwayne Haskins, who threw 50 touchdowns in his lone season as starter for the Buckeyes, finishing third in the Heisman race.
There are plenty more examples if we want to go back through the history of the NFL, but no need.
While Pickett had a great year, what does he really do better than Willis? His arm isn’t stronger, his legs aren’t better. Maybe he’s a bit more accurate right now, but that isn’t something you can hang your hat on to project he’ll be the better pro.
Malik Willis is finally off the board!
— Action Network (@ActionNetworkHQ) April 30, 2022
Steelers OC Matt Canada Played A Role In The Pick
When the Steelers debated between Pickett and Willis, they believed KP was the most “pro ready.” And while that may be true, his upside isn’t that of Willis’, but Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada recruited Pickett to play in the system he currently runs with the Steelers. The Steelers are adamant that game tape doesn’t lie, from an accuracy, mobility and character/culture perspective, Pickett fits.
— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) April 29, 2022
Tomlin talked about the Pickett selection in his post-selection presser.
“We talked about his floor,” Tomlin said. “His high floor was because of his intangibles. But also the anticipation and the pro, accuracy were very obvious and consistent when studying his tape.”
The Steelers, while enamored with Willis, felt Pickett was the “sure thing.” Willis has the more tantalizing skill set and could probably end up like Lamar Jackson, but right now Tomlin and Steelers brass felt they needed a guy who could play right away if necessary.
It remains to be seen if Pickett is that guy, but for now the Steelers believed in his abilities enough to make him the only QB taken in the first 73 picks, an NFL draft record. Nobody saw that coming. Either well played by the Steelers or the same old song.