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Saunders: Steelers Fans Should Expect Team to Draft Quarterback

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Steelers Pre-Draft Press Conference Mike Tomlin Kevin Colbert

The Pittsburgh Steelers are not hiding their interest in taking a quarterback in the 2022 NFL Draft class.

It started during the season, when general manager Kevin Colbert made a special trip to North Carolina to scout quarterback Sam Howell, attended the game between Howell and Pitt’s Kenny Pickett at Heinz Field and saw Liberty’s bowl game to get a close look at Malik Willis.

That close interest has continued in the pre-draft process, where Colbert has been joined by head coach Mike Tomlin and at times, president Art Rooney II.

That trio was at the Senior Bowl, where they interviewed Howell, Pickett, Cincinnati’s Desmond Ridder, Nevada’s Carson Strong and Western Kentucky’s Bailey Zappe and went as far as to track down the family of Willis,

Colbert and Tomlin met with many of the top quarterbacks at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis earlier this month, then went back to most of their pro days.

Colbert, Tomlin and Rooney were at Pitt for Pickett, Colbert and Tomlin traveled to Cincinnati, Liberty and Ole Miss to see Matt Corral, and only league meetings are keeping Tomlin from joining Colbert at North Carolina’s pro day on Monday.

The Steelers have certainly looked at other players in that time, at the Senior Bowl, the combine and at pro days. But it’s clear what they’re focused on.

They’re even telling us that’s what they’re focused on.

“We have been doing our due diligence and getting around last week,” Tomlin said to reporters at the owner’s meetings Monday, via The Athletic’s Mark Kaboly. “We dubbed it quarterback week. It was fun to be able to visit those guys back to back in their spaces and around their universities with their teammates. We spend formal and informal time with them to get to know them. It was a good week and a good process for us in terms of gaining and understanding the talent pool at that position.”

It’s easy to write off something said a month before the draft as gamesmanship, but the Steelers’ action speak just as loudly as their words.

Furthermore, this is a team that under Tomlin and Colbert has almost always stayed true to its draft course. One of that duo has been to the pro day of all but one of their first-round draft picks.

There are other players that fit that mold. They were at Georgia to see defensive tackle Jordan Davis, and have visited top corners Terrell Booth (Clemson) and Sauce Gardner (Cincinnati). Colbert saw No. 1 safety Kyle Hamilton at Notre Dame.

But the vast majority of their efforts have been around the quarterback position. That makes sense, as the team is without recently retired star Ben Roethlisberger for the first time and looking to secure its future at the most important position in football.

It also doesn’t make sense in that this is widely considered to be a bad quarterback class. Pickett and Willis are both largely projected to be long gone by the time the Steelers pick at No. 20.

NFL Mock Draft Database has the most likely projection of Pickett going at No. 6 to the Carolina Panthers and Willis at No. 9 to the Seattle Seahawks.

Corral is currently linked to the Steelers there as the third quarterback off the board. It would seem that Howell and Ridder will also likely be options.

But in a normal quarterback class, players like those are likely day two options. The Steelers either don’t agree or don’t seem to care, as they’re turning aside opportunities to more completely scout other positions by focusing on the quarterbacks, even after signing Mitch Trubisky.

Whether it turns out to be a good idea or a bad one, Steelers fans should get ready to hear a quarterback’s named called when the team makes its first draft pick later this month.

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