Finding the Future: Final Thoughts

It still feels strange needing to discuss who the Steelers next QB will be after nearly two decades of Ben Roethlisberger. Nothing lasts forever though, and doing this project has helped me both as a fan and an analyst get excited for the future. Whether Ben hangs it up after this season or next, it is time to look forward and get ready for a new era of Steelers football. I hope you all enjoyed this project, and whether you agree with my breakdowns or not that you learned more about some possible options for the next Steelers QB. Here are the final rankings: the 1st is my personal ranking of them as prospects and the 2nd rankings are based on how likely I think it is that the Steelers could target them. Let me know what you think!

Prospect Rankings:

  1. Malik Willis
  2. Carson Strong
  3. Kedon Slovis
  4. Desmond Ridder
  5. JT Daniels

Most Likely to be targeted by Steelers:

  1. Carson Strong
  2. Malik Willis
  3. Desmond Ridder
  4. Kedon Slovis
  5. JT Daniels

Finding the Future Part 5: JT Daniels

Nov 21, 2020; Athens, Georgia, USA; Georgia Bulldogs quarterback JT Daniels (18) throws a touchdown pass against the Mississippi State Bulldogs during the first half at Sanford Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome everyone to the final part of my search for the next Steelers franchise QB. For our final prospect, we are taking a look at one of the harder players to evaluate due to injury and lack of recent film: Georgia QB JT Daniels. I have seen him mocked as high as 1st overall and as low as barely being a top 10 player at his position. I can’t say I am surprised after watching him in his limited snaps so far at Georgia, but let’s break it down.

JT Daniels, QB Georgia: 1,231 yards, 10 touchdowns in 4 starts

The Arm

If Daniels does become a first round pick next spring, his arm talent and aggressiveness will be the biggest reasons why. He has shown the ability to throw with good velocity to all levels of the field, off platform and under pressure. That alone gives him a lot of up-side as a passer, and he was not afraid to challenge the defense downfield in his limited snaps at Georgia. Unfortunately, his aggressiveness is also one of the things that is likely causing some analysts to rank him low. He makes ill-advised decisions on deeper throws too often and will hold the ball too long in the pocket trying to make a play, leading to a lot of unnecessary sacks and negative plays. If he can learn to be more selective with his deep shots and be more poised in the pocket, his gifts as a thrower should make him a clear 1st round candidate.

The Athlete

The biggest knock on Daniels during the next draft cycle is likely going to be his lack of athleticism. He is about as traditional of a pocket passer as you will find in next year’s crop of QB prospects, and his tape shows he is clearly not comfortable when escaping the pocket. One of the ways he overcomes that is his ability to throw while under pressure. He routinely stands firm in the pocket and delivers the ball even with guys in his face. The area he needs to improve on to help eliminate some of the concerns around his mobility is ability to navigate the pocket. If he isn’t going to escape rushers by leaving the pocket like so many other QB’s do, he needs to be better at evading them while staying in the pocket. If he can do that, then his athleticism won’t be talked about as negatively as it would be otherwise.

The Man

Daniels college career hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing despite the hype he received coming out of high school. He attended Mater Dei High in Santa Ana, California, where he made a name for himself as the #2 pro-style QB in his class. He had a rough first season as a starter for USC, finishing with just 14 touchdowns to 10 interceptions. In 2019, he suffered a major knee injury that ended his season in week 1. That is when Kedon Slovis who I just covered here took over and played so well that Daniels was clearly going to be the back up if he stayed at USC. Like many others, he chose to transfer out and landed at Georgia for the 2020 season. Not expected to start immediately due to recovering from his knee injury, Daniels finally was given a shot vs Mississippi State and never looked back. He went 4-0 as a starter including a bowl game victory against Cincinnati in the Peach Bowl. He has proved his resilience, now we just need to see him perform at a high level over the course of a full season.

Final Thoughts

Daniels evaluation feels incomplete considering his limited tape over the past 2 years. Despite this though, his ability as a thrower combined with the opportunity to see him play a (hopefully) full season against SEC competition should be enough to keep a close eye on him this season. If he can show the same promise he did in his short showing last season and improve his flaws, he could end up being one of the first 5 QB’s taken in 2022. His lack of mobility may limit his potential a bit, but I think he can be a very good NFL QB. As far as his fit for the Steelers, it isn’t exactly ideal considering the state of our offensive line and his inconsistency navigating the pocket. I like to think the Steelers are planning on targeting a more athletic passer going forward, so unless Daniels shows improved pocket awareness and decision making, he may not be on their radar.

Verdict: Very unlikely

Finding the Future Part 4: Kedon Slovis

USC Trojans quarterback Kedon Slovis #9 throws the ball in the first quarter at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019. (Photo by Scott Varley, Daily Breeze/SCNG)

It’s been a while, but we are back with part 4 of finding the Steelers next franchise QB. Part 5 will also be dropping today, and tomorrow will be a final thoughts style piece on which (if any) any of these players could be the next Steelers QB. For now though, lets take a look at QB #4: USC QB Kedon Slovis.

Kedon Slovis, QB USC: 1,921 yards, 17 touchdowns in 6 games

The Arm

Slovis has excellent velocity on throws between 0-20 yards consistently, and he has great ball placement in that area of the field as well. Where he gets in trouble is on deeper out-breaking routes, deep seem throws and general deep passes. The ball seems to sail on him on those types of throws occasionally, and it shows that his arm talent is good enough but not elite. Where he shines though despite having just slightly above average arm strength is his footwork and overall accuracy. When he can set his feet in the pocket and throw downfield, it may float a bit but normally is on time and accurate. He does a good job throwing his receivers open as well, especially on quick throws to help create yards after catch. His arm overall is nothing special, but I don’t think it really limits him much either.

The Athlete

Slovis was more athletic than I expected, showing more than enough speed and acceleration to run away from at least defensive lineman, and that ability is one of the reasons I think he can be even more of a playmaker in the NFL than in college. He showed a great feel for throwing on the move, and his accuracy didn’t drop off much at all aside from deeper passes. He put his mobility to good use in the pocket as well, displaying the ability to navigate the pocket while keeping his eyes downfield. A good comparison for him athletically would be Browns QB Baker Mayfield. Neither of them are likely to be used in the run game but are able to extend plays.

The Man

Slovis had quite the introduction to college football. After not even being considered a top 25 pro-style passer in the 2019 class, he enrolled at USC and was expected to redshirt after 4 games. He was 2nd on the depth chart behind JT Daniels by the start of the season, but a season-ending injury to Daniels opened the door for Slovis and he never looked back. His 2019 Freshman was one of the best in NCAA history, and Slovis established himself as the unquestioned starter for 2020. Offensive coordinator Graham Harrell likely wasn’t surprised, as he praised Slovis that spring and summer for his ability to learn the playbook. His 2020 season didn’t turn out quite as good as 2019, but he was apparently dealing with some injury despite himself saying otherwise during the season. I’m sure NFL coaches will be asking about it and will appreciate the toughness it displays. From everything I can find about him, Slovis appears to have the right intangibles to succeed in the NFL.

Final Thoughts

I am torn on how to feel about Slovis. On one hand, I like his processing ability, accuracy and ability to throw on the move. On the other, his deep ball and possible injury concerns make me question his long-term upside. I am really looking forward to seeing how he looks in 2021 to see how much his injury affected him last year. If he looks more like he did in 2019 but with more polish, he could end up being much higher on my list. For now though, I think he would be my 3rd choice, just ahead of Desmond Riddler.

Verdict: Unlikely (for now)

Finding the Future Part III: Carson Strong

Nevada quarterback Carson Strong throws against UNLV during the second half Saturday in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

Welcome back to the search for the Pittsburgh Steelers next franchise QB. Last time we discussed the inconsistent but talented dual-threat QB Desmond Ridder. This time we dive in to a player who burst on to the scene in 2020 and has a chance to play his way into 1st round consideration: Nevada QB Carson Strong. He is the first prospect I have discussed that is more of a traditional pocket passer, so let’s see how he stacks up to the competition.

Carson Strong, QB Nevada: 2,858 passing yards, 27 touchdowns

The Arm

Strong has a (pun very intended) strong arm capable of making every throw you need to make in the NFL. His velocity on short to intermediate throws is excellent, and his deep ball has great touch. Sometimes his deep passes do have a little too much air under them, but it seems to be more of an inconsistency issue than an arm talent issue. When his deep ball is working it is by far his most dangerous weapon. He completed several 40+ yard passes for touchdowns in the games I watched, and he was never afraid to attack downfield even coming off an interception.

His ball placement was also the best I have seen on tape for the 3 players I have evaluated so far, and his general accuracy was impressive as well. He played pretty much exclusively from the pistol and shotgun due to offensive coordinator Matt Mumme running the air-raid system. He also was working with mostly 4-5 wide receiver sets, so he rarely had traditional dropbacks since he was usually working with 5-man protections. This could lead to him having a bit of a learning curve once he enters the league, which may impact his value slightly. His biggest issue on tape for me was that he occasionally is late with his decision making, which caused some turnovers and missed big play opportunities. Overall, his arm talent and already solid accuracy give him a really good base to build upon.

The Athlete

Strong is not nearly the athlete that the previous prospects I have written about are. However, he is a better athlete than most pocket passers are expected to be, showing the ability to extend plays enough that he can survive when playing out of structure. He has the ability to navigate the pocket and avoid pressure while keeping his eyes down field. He showed great toughness as well, often taking two or more defenders to bring him down when he was sacked. Although it wasn’t very common, he also showed the ability to escape the pocket and get a few yards if given enough space. Watching him does give me young Big Ben vibes, although not quite as talented at escaping pressure and making plays. Overall, his mobility is more than adequate for any offense that doesn’t require the QB be part of the run game.

The Man

Strong has done a great job of elevating himself since he first arrived at Nevada, and he had plenty of hurdles along the way. He missed his senior season of high school due to injury, which meant by the time he started his first game for Nevada in 2019 it had been 3 years since he threw a pass in a game setting. Not only that, he was the first Freshman to start a season opener in program history, defeating Purdue 34-31 in that game. He also put his work ethic on display with a massive leap between his first year starting (11-7 TD-INT ratio) and this past season (27-4 TD-INT ratio). The air-raid system may have a simple goal in mind, but it isn’t as simple as throwing the ball all over the yard. Strong showed command of the offense by making adjustments and setting protections, not something college QB’s are often allowed or expected to do. This should serve him well at the next level and should help foster confidence from his coaches and fellow players. Overall, there is nothing I can find about Strong that would make me hesitate to pick him to be my QB, at least from a personal perspective.

Final Thoughts

Strong is definitely the most consistent thrower I have evaluated thus far. Although I would prefer the Steelers move away from a traditional pocket passer, I can’t deny that he reminds me a lot of Ben in certain aspects. It’s really easy to imagine him throwing bombs to Chase Claypool and hitting Juju and others in stride in the short game, and I think the offensive staff would welcome somebody who can be more of a facilitator than a true playmaker. Normally I would disagree, but as I have mentioned before Matt Canada puts a premium on accuracy and allowing your skill players to make the plays. Of the QB’s I have studied so far, Strong is the best fit for that based on his film from last year. If he can clean up some of his decision making and speed up his processor just a bit, I think he can work his way into 1st round consideration. If that happens, look for the Steelers to strongly consider him as their next franchise QB.

Verdict: Very Possible

Finding the Future Part II: Desmond Ridder

Nov 21, 2020; Orlando, Florida, USA; Cincinnati Bearcats quarterback Desmond Ridder (9) throws a pass against the UCF Knights during the second half at the Bounce House. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to the search for the Pittsburgh Steelers future franchise QB! Last time we broke down an inexperienced but uber-talented player in Malik Willis, so this week I decided to check out the prospect with by far the most college starts of anyone on my list: Cincinnati QB Desmond Ridder. Does he have what it takes to be in the mix to be the Steelers next QB? Let’s take a look.

For the details and explanation of how I am judging these players, check out part I.

Desmond Ridder, QB Cincinnati: 2,296 passing yards, 592 rushing yards and 31 total touchdowns

The Arm

Ridder has above average arm strength that allows him to attack every part of the field. He has very good footwork on his drop backs and has an efficient, quick release. The biggest concern I have after watching several games is his ball-placement and general accuracy. He has a habit of failing to lead his receivers or throw them open, which lead to a lot of missed chances for yards after catch. This seems to be from a combination of timing and lack of anticipation: he was often a tick late with his decision making. He also didn’t show much ability to throw with anticipation because of it, leading to a lot of incompletions that could have been big plays.

In the games I watched he struggled to give his receivers a chance on deep passes, outside of a few wide-open looks. This was disappointing considering his arm should allow him to attack the deep parts of the field, and it lowers the ceiling of the offense when you can’t hit deep shots with at least some consistency. He was at his best in the short and intermediate game where he could get the ball out quick. He looked very comfortable throwing to the boundary both from the pocket and when on the run, leading to some impressive sideline tosses. He also does a really good job finding open receivers in the middle of the field, and his ball-placement looked best when he was targeting that part of the field. He definitely needs refinement as a passer if he wants to elevate past being considered a project at the next level, and I think that is why he returned for his senior season.

The Athlete

Ridder is a well-above average athlete for the QB position, but I don’t think he quite stacks up to guys like Lance or Fields from this year’s class or Malik Willis from his own. I think he is similar to Ryan Tannehill as far as his physical profile is concerned, which is not at all a slight towards Ridder. I like the physicality that he displays as runner, but I don’t think it would be wise to continue to do it as a pro. 6’4 and 215lbs is a little too lanky for me to believe that he can continue to run the way he does in college, but he will still be very effective in the RPO and read option game as long as he learns to protect himself. He has enough wiggle to make less agile players miss but probably won’t be shaking many defensive backs. His pocket movement needs work as well. He took a lot of sacks in the Georgia game especially that were avoidable in my opinion, and he generally doesn’t feel pressure quick enough at times to use his athleticism to escape. Overall, Ridder has more than enough physical ability to make all they plays you need a mobile QB to be able to make.

The Man

Ridder was lightly recruited out of Louisville, KY. In fact, he was never rated above a 3-star prospect by any major recruiting site. He received his scholarship to Cincinnati after a tryout, only to see coach Tommy Tuberville fired during his senior high school season. When new coach Luke Fickell was brought in, Desmond learned his scholarship was still on the table. I don’t know if Fickell really new what he had in Ridder, but I am sure he is glad that he made that decision. Ridder has quite a personal back story as well. For starters, his mother was just 15 when he was born. When the father left the picture, it led to him and his mother living with his grandmother for much of his childhood. He had to work very hard to get to where he is, and it has been his dream to make to the NFL. The fact that he has made it his far makes me confident in saying his work ethic won’t be a problem at the next level.

Final Thoughts

Ridder has all the talent needed to succeed as a starter in the NFL. I think he made the right decision to go back to school to try and iron out some of the issues that are still present on tape, and if he can improve his accuracy in particular it could elevate him past several other prospects. My biggest concern with him as a possible option for the Steelers is his inconsistency with his ball placement. New Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada puts a premium on yards after catch, and Ridder struggled at times helping his receivers in that regard. If he can show improvement in that area and overall consistency as a passer, he could be a great fit with all of the playmakers the Steelers have at their disposal. If not, the Steelers should avoid taking a chance on him after he had 4 years as a starter to improve in those areas.

Verdict: Unlikely