In the first of our annual series of pre-NFL Draft podcasts, Steelers Nation Radio host and TribLIVE Steelers film analyst Matt Williamson joined me to break down the quarterbacks in this year’s draft.
Since Ben Roethlisberger retired, you may have seen – or heard – their names mentioned a few (thousand) times in connection to the Steelers and their 20th pick in Thursday’s first round.
Right off the bat, I asked Williamson, as a former pro and college scout, how he thinks the NFL views this year’s class.
“I think you asked me the toughest question you could’ve asked me to start the podcast,” Williamson said. “Of all the things we will talk about, I bet I’ll be more sure of my answers (to all of them) than this one. I don’t have a good feel for what the league thinks of this quarterback class. And, more specifically, I don’t know what the Steelers think of them. I have mixed feelings. ”
That said, Williamson thinks there are starting-caliber signal-callers in the class and thinks that these QBs have been a bit unfairly scrutinized. Given that this draft isn’t deemed to be particularly strong on top of the board, the notion of swinging big for a quarterback is appealing to him.
“This draft is so weak at the top, why not take a shot at a QB. A franchise quarterback, economically, makes so much sense (on a five-year first-round deal), ”Williamson continued.
Relating specifically to the Steelers, Williamson was willing to offer this prediction regarding Liberty’s Malik Willis.
“I don’t think he gets past the Steelers. I think if he is there at 20, they absolutely take him, ”Williamson declared. “I don’t think they are going to trade up. But if they go from 20 to 17, I think that’s a possibility as well. ”
There has been some recent chatter, though,
Williamson isn’t buying that. In fact, he could see the opposite scenario develop.
“I used to think that was a strong possibility,” Williamson said. “But I think the Lions are more likely to take one of the two pass rushers – Travon Walker (Georgia) or Aidan Hutchinson (Michigan) – whichever one falls to them. And then maybe take Desmond Ridder (Cincinnati) or Matt Corral (Mississippi) at 32. I’m not saying that the Lions won’t get their quarterback. They just might get him late rather than early. ”
One team that could be a wild card when it comes to selecting Willis, or Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett, is the Carolina Panthers at No. 6. Williamson sees them as a distinct possibility to select a quarterback whether or not Detroit takes one earlier.
Other possibilities are the New Orleans Saints (Nos. 16 and 19), Atlanta Falcons (8) and Seattle Seahawks (9). But Williamson is less sold on them going in that direction.
In my opinion, if the Steelers are honestly, truly, salivating at the prospect of making one of those QBs their franchise player at the position, then they should draft him. Trade up to get him if necessary. If they are 100% sold that Willis, Pickett, Corral, Ridder or Sam Howell (North Carolina) are the worthy successor to Roethlisberger, then forget what everybody else thinks and go get him.
I don’t see it in any of those guys, myself. But if they do, they shouldn’t wait until next year because the quarterback position is that unique. That was the thinking when they drafted Roethlisberger in 2004. It should be their thinking about the position again right now.
So I posed this unlikely — but very juicy scenario – to Williamson: What if Willis and Pickett are both still available at No. 20? Would you select either of them before you took one of the receivers, defensive backs or defensive linemen that have been thrown around as options for the Steelers in the first round?
“Willis, yes. Pickett, no, ”Williamson said. “There are a couple of guys I might take ahead of him. Jameson Williams (WR / Alabama) is one of them. But if I could trade the 20th pick for Willis right now, I would do it. I think they would do it. I wouldn’t do it for any other QB. ”
No. Not even Pickett. Williamson explained why.
“I just want home runs at quarterback,” Williamson said. “If the Steelers draft Willis at 20, and he is just god-awful, It doesn’t hurt you that bad. Get back in the well a year or two from now. Or get the next (Mitch) Trubisky. But if (Willis) hits? Wow! But I don’t want to be in Kirk Cousins land. And I think Pickett is in Kirk Cousins land. ”
In other words, good enough to have a long NFL shelf life as a starter and put up some decent stats and a few winning seasons. Not good enough to win Super Bowls.
Also in the podcast, Williamson and I talk about if the Steelers may have an interest in Ridder, Corral or Sam Howell in the second round. We talk about a few surprise teams that may take a QB late in Round 1. And Matt cited one QB he likes more than Pickett, but not as much as Willis.
Listen: Tim Benz and Matt Williamson talk NFL Draft and the Steelers
Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.