Kevin Colbert’s recent comments regarding Mason Rudolph weren’t the only things Pittsburgh’s longtime general manager said during his recent sit down with local media members. While Colbert discussed Rudolph’s current standing within the organization, he also offered several other nuggets as it relates to the the Steelers‘ current quarterback situation.
There’s a lot we don’t know about the Steelers’ plans. And honestly, the Steelers probably aren’t certain what will happen, either. That’s part of what makes this time of year so interesting, with the NFL Scouting Combine, free agency and the NFL Draft on the horizon. Much of how the Steelers’ quarterback situation will shake out depends on what happens over the next two-plus months.
While there are things no one knows, there are several things we do know about the Steelers’ quarterback situation for the 2022 season. Below is a rundown of Pittsburgh’s quarterback situation following Colbert’s comments.
1. Mason Rudolph current frontrunner to be starting QB
This is largely common sense. Rudolph is entering his sixth season in Pittsburgh and second under offensive coordinator Matt Canada. He served as Ben Roethlisberger’s primary backup each of the last four years and is 5-4-1 as Pittsburgh’s starting quarterback. Rudolph’s starts have largely been roller coaster rides. His best start was arguably his 315-yard, two-touchdown, one-interception performance in Pittsburgh’s 2020 regular season finale in Cleveland. One of his shakier starts took place in this past year’s tie against the then-winless Detroit Lions.
He may be the frontrunner, but Rudolph will have to earn the starting job coming out of training camp. And if he does, it won’t be the worst thing for the Steelers. Rudolph’s previous starts have left something to be desired, but at times he has displayed the ability to make key plays in critical moments to help the Steelers win games. The Steelers can win with Rudolph if they build a strong enough team around him, which they can do this offseason. Pittsburgh didn’t win any Super Bowls in the 21 years between Terry Bradshaw and Roethlisberger, but it did advance to five AFC Championship games over that span with quarterbacks who won’t be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
2. Dwayne Haskins will be in mix
Colbert all but said that the Steelers will tender Haskins, thus bringing the former first-round pick back for a second season in Pittsburgh. Haskins performed well as the scout team quarterback during the season, according to Colbert, and the Steelers are excited to see what he can do this upcoming training camp.
Haskins showed flashes of his potential during last year’s training camp, but he was unable to beat out Rudolph to become Roethlisberger’s primary backup. The former Ohio State standout will likely get another chance to do so this summer.
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3. Three quarterbacks will compete for starting job
The Steelers will have four quarterbacks at training camp: Rudolph, Haskins, a camp arm and another quarterback — either a rookie or a veteran — who will likely be given a chance to compete for the starting job.
The next several months will determine who that fourth quarterback will be. Yes, there’s a chance the Steelers could kick the tires on a trade to bring in a big-name quarterback — say a Russell Wilson or an Aaron Rodgers. But the actuality of that happening is highly unlikely, given that both Wilson and Rodgers are still under contract with their respective clubs and that Pittsburgh would have to give up significant capital to acquire either player.
A more likely scenario is the Steelers bringing in a less heralded veteran — Marcus Mariota and Mitchell Trubisky are two examples — to compete with Rudolph and Haskins. While neither player would be considered a favorite to beat out Rudolph, their presence should create a more competitive position battle.
4. Steelers like Kenny Pickett, aren’t ruling out drafting a QB
Colbert specifically mentioned former Pitt standout Kenny Pickett when asked to name a quarterback that he liked that will be part of this year’s draft class. Colbert called Pickett a “great quarterback,” a pretty significant compliment from the general manager who selected a future Hall of Fame quarterback 18 years ago.
“I don’t like to talk about individual players, but I think it’s such a unique situation that the season that he had for Pitt and you have to acknowledge that and congratulations to Kenny, congratulations to Pitt,” Colbert said of Pickett, via Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider. “But this group, there are good players in it, and there are good players that all have a different skill set. And that’s what was really unique about watching them compete at the Senior Bowl because the majority of them were there. So, they’re all different. And I know that some of them will be starting quarterbacks, winning quarterbacks, and that’s exciting.”
Speaking of the other quarterbacks in this year’s draft, the Steelers spent a considerable amount of time speaking with former Liberty quarterback Malik Willis at the Senior Bowl. Pickett and Willis headline a quarterback class that also includes former Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral, North Carolina’s Sam Howell and Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder, among others.
Each of our four CBS Sports NFL Draft experts currently have Pickett getting selected before the Steelers are on the clock with the 20th pick. Kyle Stackpole has Pittsburgh selecting Corral with the 20th pick. Ryan Wilson is the only expert that has Willis lasting beyond the 20th pick.
The Steelers could certainly trade up to select a quarterback if they are convinced that he is worth it. Pickett was the only quarterback Colbert mentioned by name Monday, and while it probably wouldn’t be wise to read too much into that, it certainly offers insight into the Steelers’ thinking when it comes to the rookie quarterbacks. The Steelers like Pickett, that much is for sure, but probably not enough to trade into the top 10. But if Pickett is still on the board after the first 8-10 picks, there’s certainly a chance that the Steelers make a move assuming they find the right situation.
One thing Colbert made clear is that the Steelers won’t reach for any specific player of position in the first round. Pittsburgh will draft the best player available that it feels can make the biggest impact on its team in 2022 and beyond. That could be a quarterback, but the odds are that it will be someone who can help the team fill one of its other positional needs.
Sure, there’s also the chance that the Steelers draft a quarterback after the first round. But given their other needs — offensive line, defensive line and cornerback among them — this seems about as unlikely as Wilson or Rodgers coming to Pittsburgh.
5. Steelers’ next QB will be set up for success
The cupboard will not be empty for whoever is under center for Pittsburgh in 2022. You could go as far as to say that they will be better set up for success than Roethlisberger was heading into his final season.
Roethlisberger played behind two rookie offensive linemen, which will almost certainly not be the case for the Steelers’ next starting quarterback. Both players — tackle Dan Moore Jr. and center/guard Kendrick Green — should make considerable jumps entering their sophomore seasons. Pittsburgh will surely add to its offensive line in both free agency as well as during the draft. Colbert said that, if he has any regrets from last offseason, it was that the Steelers did not add another affordable veteran to the line. Expect them to atone for that this spring.
Pittsburgh’s next starting quarterback will play behind an improved offensive line and will have Pro Bowl receiver Diontae Johnson as his primary target. He will also have third-year wideout Chase Claypool, second-year tight end Pat Freiermuth (who caught seven touchdowns as a rookie) and running back Najee Harris (who rushed for 1,200 yards as a rookie). The new starting quarterback will likely have several new teammates to throw to given the expected offseason departures of JuJu Smith-Schuster, James Washington and Eric Ebron.
The Steelers defense should also be better in 2022. Colbert didn’t rule out Stephon Tuitt coming back after the veteran defensive lineman missed the entire 2021 season. Colbert is also expecting improved play from Devin Bush, who had a shaky 2021 season after coming back from a serious knee injury. The Steelers defense still has three of the league’s top players in defensive tackle Cameron Heyward, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick and reigning Defensive Player T.J. Watt. Pittsburgh may elect to re-sign cornerback Joe Haden, who has enjoyed a career resurgence since joining the Steelers in 2017.
Pittsburgh also possesses one of the league’s top kickers in Chris Boswell, who made 36 of his 40 field goal attempts last season. Add it all up, and the Steelers appear to be a team that at the very least should be able to match last season’s win total of nine games. Whether or not they can exceed last year’s win total will likely hinge on the play of the starting quarterback.