It wasn’t very long ago that the Pittsburgh Steelers offense was one of the best and most explosive units in all of football. Led by future Hall of Fame quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers finished in the top 10 in most offensive rankings from 2014 to 2018. Roethlisberger offered an explosive arm with an uncanny ability to win off structure. His weapons were amongst the league’s best with receivers Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Martavis Bryant, and JuJu Smith-Schuster as well as a star running back in Le'Veon Bell. Then there was their offensive line which consisted of arguably two Hall of Famers and other rock-steady players.
Yes, those years of the Steelers offense were quite fantastic. Unfortunately for the current Steelers, much has changed.
Long gone are the days of the Steelers’ offense striking fear in opposing defenses’ hearts. The Steelers still have talent at the receiver position, but just about everywhere else on this offense is significantly worse. The offensive line has been a major question mark through four games of this young 2021 season. Having to replace the likes of Maurkice Pouncey (who retired) and David DeCastro (who was released) has proved to be very difficult and is one of the main reasons why this offense just can’t seem to get going. The biggest issue, however, is the play of perhaps the most beloved Steeler of all time, Ben Roethlisberger.
Roethlisberger was off to a great start to the 2020 season last year and appeared to be fully recovered from the season-ending elbow injury he suffered at the beginning of the 2019 season. He led the Steelers to an 11-0 record and the offense was clicking on all cylinders. Then it appeared that father time had eventually caught up with the then 38-year-old signal-caller as his play drastically tailed off toward the end of the 2020 season with the Steelers’ playoff loss being the final nail in the coffin. In that contest, Roethlisberger threw four costly interceptions and was a complete liability, resulting in many questioning if he had anything left. Fast forward to the offseason and the Steelers were forced to decide on Roethlisberger’s future and rather than attempting to move on, they opted to restructure his contract for one more season as they put all their chips on the table for a final Super Bowl run.
So far, not so good.
Roethlisberger is off to a horrendous start to the 2021 season. He has completed 64.1% of his passes with a touchdown to interception ratio of 4:4. His yards per attempt is down drastically at just 6.1 and he has an overall QBR of 78.9.
While the stats are bad, when you watch the film it's much worse.
Once an excellent athlete for the position, Roethlisberger is a sitting duck in the pocket with little to no movement ability at all. His once elite arm is now just average at best, and his accuracy has waned as well. He has made terrible decisions in crucial parts of the game and has been a turnover machine as of late. It is evident to anyone who has watched this offense that Roethlisberger is done and finished. The question that remains for the Steelers’ front office is what to do next.
It’s clear that Roethlisberger won’t be the Steelers’ signal-caller in 2022. Whether he retires and goes out on his own or the team releases him, there’s just no way the black and yellow will be running it back with No. 7 again. The issue that Pittsburgh’s leadership will have to face is how to properly replace Roethlisberger. Unlike in years past, this quarterback class isn’t as strong and there is not a surefire franchise saver. There are some potential options in free agency the Steelers could target, but they’ll have to outbid several other teams in need of a quarterback.
Let’s look at some of the options the Steelers will have in the draft or through free agency or a trade.
Obviously, the elephant in the room for every quarterback-needy team will be the Watson situation—it’s very rare that a star 26-year-old quarterback becomes available. Watson is easily a top-six or so quarterback in the NFL and one of the most exciting playmakers in all of football. He has rare instincts and athleticism for the position and is extremely accurate. If Watson were to somehow end up on the Steelers, this team would not only become a much better offense but would also become an instant playoff contender.
Now, the question that every Steeler fan is asking is it possible for the Steelers to acquire Watson? I highly doubt it at this point. The Steelers simply don’t have the draft capital to entice the Texans like other quarterback-needy teams do such as the Philadelphia Eagles and the Miami Dolphins. The Houston Texans are reportedly looking for multiple first and second-round picks as well as an established player in return for Watson. A potential trade for Watson would theoretically require the Steelers to part with their 2022 first, 2022 second, 2023 first, and 2024 first and say a player like Devin Bush. While I certainly could make the argument that doing that trade is worth it, I just don’t see it happening.
As with anything to do with Watson, the legal process must play out before football even enters the equation. Watson is facing 22 civil lawsuits accusing him of some form of sexual misconduct.
The most logical place for the Steelers to find their new quarterback of the future is through the 2022 NFL Draft. As I mentioned before, this class isn’t particularly special but there are a few intriguing names. Perhaps the most intriguing passer in this year’s class is none other than Willis.
Blessed with outstanding athleticism and a rocket for an arm, Willis is a big play waiting to happen both as a runner and a passer. He is shorter than what you would like but he is thick, sturdy, and built like a middle linebacker. He has excellent velocity on his throws and can make the tight window throws to all levels of the field.
Where I wanted to see improvement from Willis was his ball placement and touch on throws in the short to intermediate areas. So far in 2021, he certainly has made those improvements as he is completing 71% of his passes and has thrown 11 touchdowns to 0 picks. His rapid improvement tells me that he will only continue to improve and I’m willing to bet on this kid’s physical traits over some of the other quarterbacks in this year’s class. Willis also would be an excellent fit with what the Steelers have on offense with talented down-the-field receivers such as Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson.
Another small-school quarterback, Strong is one of my favorite passers in this year’s class. More of a traditional pocket passer, Strong has excellent size and arm talent while not being the most athletic quarterback we have seen. He possesses outstanding arm strength, has excellent accuracy and touch, and consistently makes good decisions with the football. Strong has a ton of old-school Roethlisberger in him as he consistently can deliver strikes from the pocket when things are muddy around him. I always felt like that was Roethlisberger’s greatest strength and I do think Strong has that skill set as well.
Strong’s range right now is probably in the middle of the first round, which is right where I expect the Steelers to be picking. I can easily see this team-player fit being a popular mock draft pairing—as a matter of fact, it’s exactly what I did in my latest 2022 mock draft.
- Aug 22, 2022
- Aug 22, 2022