At 3-3, Pittsburgh finds itself in an unfamiliar position: tied for last in the AFC North with Cleveland.
But the Steelers have plenty of time to right the ship, as they have the seventh-easiest remaining schedule, according to Tankathon. (Cleveland has the third-easiest remaining schedule).
And the team is having to get the job done with rookies, as four start on offense in running back Najee Harris, tight end Pat Freiermuth, center Kendrick Green and left tackle Dan Moore Jr. Incidentally, those were the team’s first four picks of the 2021 draft.
But one question will linger, regardless of how the season plays out: Is this Ben Roethlisberger’s last season? Thus far, he’s taken every single snap, one of two players on his team to accomplish the feat (the other being free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick).
Problem is, this isn’t shaping out to be a great year to draft a franchise signal-caller, no matter how high Pittsburgh picks.
Still, there’s a handful of “late Round 1, early Round 2” QBs who could be on Pittsburgh’s radar. Here’s three to keep an eye on:
Levis has rocketed up draft boards since the season started. The 6-foot-3, 232-pound junior was a relative unknown while serving as a backup the past two seasons at Penn State. Thus far, he’s completed 119-of-177 passes for 1,326 yards and 13 touchdowns and 6 interceptions.
But despite the hot start, it’s been a bit of a mixed bag for the junior graduate transfer, culminating in last week’s loss to No. 1-ranked Georgia. Levis went 32-of-42 for 192 yards and 2 TDs in the team’s 30-13 loss. From Josh Edwards of CBS Sports: “Over the past two weeks, the quarterback has shown considerable growth in his willingness to throw the ball away and not force passes into tight windows. … Even in a loss, Levis did a lot of good things. In his first five games with Kentucky, Levis threw eight touchdowns and six interceptions. Over the past two games, he has thrown five touchdowns and zero interceptions. His statistics would have been much better had his targets not dropped multiple passes.”
Most publications still list Levis as a first-round prospect, and it’s very possible that he’ll still be available when Pittsburgh drafts.
Will Levis on off week: “I think the guys deserve it. We have played really hard for seven games. It gives us an extra week to prepare for Mississippi State. There will be no excuses with the bye week and we should come out very prepared.” pic.twitter.com/aFODs46wAp
— Vaughts' Views (@vaughtsviews) October 18, 2021
While Levis has enjoyed a fast rise, no one has risen faster or higher thus far than the 6-foot-3, 220-pound redshirt senior. Coming into the season, Pickett was considered a late-round player or priority free agent. Now? He’s starting to get first-round publicity from some media outlets. Pickett has completed 143-of-205 passes for 1,934 yards and has a whopping 21-to-1 TD-to-INT ratio. And he should cross the 10,000 career yards milestone this weekend when the team plays Clemson, as he has 9,918 career yards along with 60 TDs and 26 INTs. He’s also a big reason why Pittsburgh is ranked No. 23 overall with a 5-1 record.
The problem for Pittsburgh is that Pickett might not be available when it’s the Steelers’ turn to draft. Here’s what Yahoo Sports’ Eric Edholm said about Pickett: “Even with a hypothetically strong Senior Bowl and post-season performance a year ago, we didn’t see him as a first-, second- or third-round pick then. Now it’s becoming clear he’s likely landing in the top 50 selections in 2022 at the rate we’re going.”
In the take-it-or-leave-it category: Pickett’s hands are 8 1/4 inches. By comparison, former California QB Jared Goff’s hands – you may remember the debate about his “small” hands – measured at 9 inches.
I know that’s lofty. I don’t care.
Both are 6’3. Both have sneaky mobility. Both natural born leaders who can drop dimes like this: pic.twitter.com/c9Pdh4IZGX
— Mike Nicastro (@MikedUpSports1) October 16, 2021
The more the No. 2-ranked Bearcats win, the more you’re going to hear about the 6-foot-4, 215-pound senior. If Pickett is a big reason for Pittsburgh’s ascension in the rankings, then Ridder is an even bigger reason for Cincinnati’s dominance this season.
Ridder’s statistics aren’t eye-popping – he’s completed 108-of-168 passes for 1,444 yards, 13 TDs and 2 INTs this season, giving him 8,349 yards, 70 TDs and 22 INTs for his four-year career at Cincinnati. And he comes with some flaws, although he could still wind up going in the first round due to the lack of quality depth at the position.
But he’s more mobile and athletic than Levis or Pickett and has been compared to Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond, who went to Minnesota in the third round this past draft. CBS Sports’ Edwards says Ridder’s athletic ability “is evident,” adding Ridder’s arm strength and mobility as other pluses. “However, his decision-making is very frustrating. Ridder throws into tight coverage often and those windows close even more in the NFL. He has no problem leading his receivers into a big hit.”
Likewise, Yahoo Sports’ Edholm ranks Ridder as the draft’s fifth-best QB prospect: “Some evaluators favor Ridder over Howell and other QBs in this class. His experience will be a big benefit when it comes down to separating prospects. But there also are scouts who wonder just how high Ridder’s ceiling is. He’s a potential top-50 pick but also a taste-specific prospect.”
This TD throw by Desmond Ridder 🎯 pic.twitter.com/dFYWJmVd1U
— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) October 16, 2021