AFC North Preview: Off-season Recap and Predictions

AFC North Preview

The Big Ben and Joe Flacco days are over in the AFC North now, but it is still one of the closest divisions in the NFL. Four teams with elite superstars believe they can win it this year. Let’s take a look at what each team did this offseason, and what to expect from each AFC North team in our final preview before Sunday’s kickoff.

AFC North Preview

4. Cleveland Browns

Key losses – WR Rashard Higgins, CB M.J. Stewart, FB Andy Janovich, WR Jarvis Landry, TE Austin Hooper, C J.C. Tretter, QB Baker Mayfield, QB Case Keenum, LB Mack Wilson

Key additions – WR Jakeem Grant, QB Jacoby Brissett, QB Deshaun Watson, DT Taven Bryan, P Corey Bojorquez, C Ethan Pocic, WR Amari Cooper, DE Chase Winovich, CB Martin Emerson, LB Alex Wright, WR David Bell, K Cade York

Re-signed – DE Jadeveon Clowney (1-year), S Ronnie Harrison (1-year). RB D’Ernest Johnson (1-year), LB Anthony Walker Jr. (1-year)

Extensions – TE David Njoku (4-years, $56 million), CB Denzel Ward (5-years, $100 million), QB Deshaun Watson (5-years, $230 million)

Needless to say, it was a rough 2021 for the Browns as they finished 8-9. Even so, this off-season could’ve been even worse. They brought in some talent, but also criticism, by trading for quarterback Deshaun Watson. Watson will be suspended for the first 11 games of the season after receiving a huge contract and that could prove to be detrimental.

After a season ranked 18th in the NFL, the Browns offense could get off to a rough start. Due to Watson’s suspension, they will have Jacoby Brissett starting under center. They have a top-tier offensive line, but Brissett’s inability to be a quality starter will hold the offense back. They brought in receiver Amari Cooper to help, but with Donovan Peoples-Jones as your #2, they will be a bottom-tier group.

The line will help in the run game though. With the duo of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, they should be a top rushing team again. Harrison Bryant is back to try and prove he can be the long-term starter at tight end. This offense will struggle with Brissett, but should be top-ten with Watson.

The defense ranked third last season in total defense and will look to continue to repeat that success. The line has elite defensive end Myles Garrett, but I’m not sold on the other pieces there. Garrett can bolster them to a top-15 group, maximum. They have a nice linebacker room with Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah next to Anthony Walker, who should have a good season this year.

Their secondary is very good, with Denzel Ward being a star at cornerback. Greedy Williams and Greg Newsome II played great in coverage last season and could improve. The safety tandem is solid, even after a rough season last year from John Johnson III. This defense could fall from its ranking last season but should still be top-15.

Prediction

This team would’ve been a playoff contender if it wasn’t for the Watson suspension. Since it happened, I have them finishing 6-11, and 3-3 against the AFC North. A bad start will hinder their chances.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers

Key losses – WR James Washington, ILB Joe Schobert, WR Juju Smith-Schuster, QB Ben Roethlisberger, WR Ray-Ray McCloud, OG Trai Turner

Key additions – OG James Daniels, ILB Myles Jack, C Mason Cole, QB Mitchell Trubisky, CB Levi Wallace, WR/ST Gunner Olszewski, S Damontae Kazee, DT Larry Ogunjobi, OL Jesse Davis, LB Malik Reed, QB Kenny Pickett, WR George Pickens, DL Demarvin Leal

Re-signed – CB Ahkello Witherspoon (2-years), S Terrell Edmunds (1-year)

Extensions – WR Diontae Johnson (2-years, $36 million)

Ben Roethlisberger’s last season ended after going 9-7-1, squeaking into the playoffs. They move now to quarterbacks Mitchell Trubisky and Kenny Pickett to compete for the job. Head coach Mike Tomlin is back looking to keep his streak alive of not having a losing season. However, it will be tough to do that in a loaded AFC.

Big Ben’s last year was anything but pretty. They finished 23rd in total offense, and they may have gotten worse. Wideout Juju Smith-Schuster left for Kansas City, and we don’t know how good — or not good — Trubisky or Pickett will be. Trubisky is starting week one, but with a bottom-three offensive line, he’ll have a tough time keeping the job.

Najee Harris is looking to improve on his 3.9 yards per carry last season. He showed signs of being a superstar in this league and will need to improve to keep that “future superstar” narrative.

The receiving corps is solid with Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool. They’re getting help from rookie receiver George Pickens, who has looked good so far. They’ll also have Pat Freiermuth at tight end, and he is looking to prove he can be the long-term option there.

The defense took a step back last season, and I expect them to remain in a similar spot. They ranked 24th in the league, but have one of the best pass rushes in the league. T.J. Watt and Cameron Heyward lead the way as some of the NFL’s best at their positions. A top-five line is followed by an improved linebacker room. Bringing in Myles Jack to play alongside Devin Bush could be a real force this season.

The secondary is what hurts the Steelers, and in a pass heavy league, that is not good. Levi Wallace is with Cameron Sutton and Ahkello Witherspoon, which creates a lackluster cornerback group. Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds is a great duo at safety, but I’m just not sure they can make up for the cornerbacks.

Prediction

A new quarterback behind a bad offensive line will lead to a bad offense in 2022, and I believe Mike Tomlin’s streak will end. I have the Steelers going 7-10 after finishing 2-4 against the AFC North. The only chance at the playoffs is their defense carrying them.

2. Cincinnati Bengals

Key losses – OT Riley Reiff, TE C.J. Uzomah, OG Quinton Spain

Key additions – OT La’el Collins, C Ted Karras, TE Hayden Hurst, OG Alex Cappa, S Daxton Hill, CB Cam Taylor-Britt, DL Zachary Carter, C Ted Karras

Re-signed – CB Eli Apple (1-year), DT Josh Tupou (1-year), WR Stanley Morgan (2-years), QB Brandon Allen (1-year), Jessie Bates (Franchise Tag), DT B.J. Hill (3-years)

Extensions – HC Zac Taylor (5-years)

The Bengals reached the Super Bowl last season, and head coach Zac Taylor was rewarded with a 5-year extension. Even after last year’s run, they added more talent to their roster. Yet, they are still not looked at as real contenders. They finished 10-7 last season, so we’ll have to see if they can improve on that.

The offense is almost identical to last season with quarterback Joe Burrow leading the way. They finished 13th in the NFL last season in total offense after a monster season by Ja’Marr Chase. He is the center of one of the top receiving corps in the league. Burrow and Chase have the highest expectations for a QB-WR duo this season.

The offensive line has improved over the years, and is finally top-ten. They spent big there in free agency, and it should pay off. Three big moves in La’el Collins, Ted Karras, and Alex Cappa will help open up holes for running back Joe Mixon. This offense is going to keep getting better as their guys get more experience.

The Bengals finished 18th in total defense after ranking 26th in passing defense. They should still be solid against the run with great linebackers and defensive line. Germaine Pratt and Logan Wilson are looking to build off a strong 2021 as the starting linebackers. The strong season helped lead them to a fifth-ranked finish against the run.

The secondary is much improved with rookie safety Daxton Hill coming in. He will work with and next to an amazing duo of Jessie Bates III and Von Bell. Mike Hilton led the corners, and Chidobe Awuzie showed he can be the #2 in Cincy. Eli Apple has been inconsistent, but provides some help behind Hilton and Awuzie.

Prediction

The national media isn’t sold on the Bengals, and neither am I. However, they will make the playoffs at 11-6, while going 4-2 against the AFC North. It was a surprise to see a Super Bowl run last year, and I would be surprised again this season.

1. Baltimore Ravens

Key losses – WR Marquise Brown, C Bradley Bozeman, CB Tavon Young, LB Chris Board, S Deshon Elliott, WR Sammy Watkins, CB Anthony Averett, P Sam Koch, OLB Jaylon Ferguson, DC Don Martindale

Key additions – S Marcus Williams, OT Morgan Moses, DT Michael Pierce, RB Mike Davis, CB Kyle Fuller, RB Kenyan Drake, S Kyle Hamilton, C Tyler Linderbaum, OLB David Ojabo, DT Travis Jones, P Jordan Stout

Re-signed – FB Patrick Richard (3-years), ILB Josh Bynes (1-year), DE Calais Campbell (2-years), DE Justin Houston (1-year)

Extensions – K Justin Tucker (4-years, $24 million), HC John Harbaugh (3-years)

It was a tough season for the Ravens last year, as they finished 8-9 and last in the AFC North. It felt like injury after injury for them, but now they are back and healthy. They traded away wideout Marquise Brown, as he wasn’t loving his time in Baltimore. With Lamar healthy and ready to go, they are looking to make it back to the playoffs.

Baltimore ranked sixth in total offense last season behind another great rushing attack. Lamar Jackson is looking to return to MVP form after a battle-filled 2021. Their offensive line has the potential to be great with Ronnie Stanley and Morgan Moses as the starting tackles. This will help the run-heavy Ravens wear down defenses with running backs J.K. Dobbins and Mike Davis.

The receiver room got weaker with the trade of Brown, but they still have some guys to watch. Rashod Bateman showed flashes of being able to be a #1 WR, but Devin Duvernay and Demarcus Robinson behind him could hold the group back. Tight end Mark Andrews is looking to continue being elite, as he’ll open up the field for Lamar.

The defense struggled last year, ranking 24th in total defense. The secondary should be back to being elite with Marcus Peters coming back from missing all of last season. With one of the best corners in Marlon Humphrey next to him, the cornerbacks are looking like the best group in the league. Marcus Williams joins the safety group alongside rookie Kyle Hamilton to create a scary tandem.

The defensive line is still solid with Calais Campbell and Michael Pierce. I’m waiting for Patrick Queen’s monster season, and it could be this year. The linebacker room is above average with Josh Bynes next to him. This defense is healthy again and should be top-five in the league.

Prediction

I believe people are forgetting how good Lamar Jackson is. They are contenders, when healthy, and we’re going to be reminded about that this season. I have the Ravens finishing 12-5 after going 2-4 against the AFC North.

Steelers get Diontae Johnson contract done with two-year extension

Steelers agree to a new 2-year extension with top receiver Diontae Johnson.

Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson agreed to a two-year contract extension
Photo by Nic Antaya/Getty Images

The Steelers and wide receiver Diontae Johnson have agreed to a two-year contract extension worth $36.71 million, per Mike Garafolo. The deal comes after Johnson took the T.J Watt-style “hold in” approach so far this camp, working by himself while avoiding team practices.

The deal keeps Johnson under team control until 2024, where he can possibly try his hand at free agency. Although I wouldn’t be surprised if he were to return on a new deal after that.

What this contract means for Diontae Johnson, Steelers

Getting Johnson to agree to a below-market deal even after other 2019 draft picks (D.K Metcalf, A.J Brown, Deebo Samuel just to name a few) all received $20+ million per season on their new deals is huge for new GM Omar Khan.

Johnson is far from a perfect player, but his impact for a QB room who is young and unproven cannot be understated. He has been the #1 target for the offense the past two seasons for a reason.

Johnson wins often and early against man coverage with elite quickness and route running savvy. That will be a must against teams trying to load the box to stop Najee Harris. He will also help the other receivers by pulling coverage away from them.

Johnson isn’t as complete a receiver or as dominant as some of his fellow 2019 draft picks, which is likely why he falls shy of their contract price tags. He has also had a few games in his career where he struggles to do anything right out of nowhere.

Overall, this deal makes a ton of sense for both sides. Johnson gets a hefty raise for the next few seasons while still being under 30 when the deal is up.

The Steelers meanwhile retain their top target from the past two seasons to help develop their new quarterbacks. He will especially help first-round pick Kenny Pickett adjust to the speed of the NFL by giving him somewhere to go with the ball early in plays. Hard not to be happy with this deal as a Steelers fan.

Steelers make Minkah Fitzpatrick highest-paid safety in NFL history

Minkah Fitzpatrick
Credit: Getty Images

Minkah Fitzpatrick was never going anywhere, but Steelers fans can breathe a sigh of relief now that their star safety has a new deal. It is a four-year, $73.6 million deal tying him to Pittsburgh for the next five seasons, making him the highest-paid safety in NFL history.

Fitzpatrick has been a force for the Steelers since being acquired from the Dolphins in 2019. He has forced 14 combined turnovers and bringing range not seen in the secondary since HOFer Troy Polamalu.

He was forced into a different role last season and his playmaking ability wasn’t featured as often. Despite that, he helped hold an injured defense together enough to earn the Steelers a wildcard spot.

Now with a healthier (and deeper) defense heading into 2022, Fitzpatrick will be able to return to being a true ball-hawking free safety. If the defense can return to 2019 form, Pittsburgh could have a legit shot at another playoff season.

What the Minkah Fitzpatrick deal could mean moving forward

Looking past the on-field ramifications, the timing of this deal was a bit surprising. The Steelers have always been known to play hard ball with even their best players. Even 2021 DPOY TJ Watt was barely signed prior to the season last year. As good as Minkah Fitzpatrick is, you would think it would have been the other way around.

This deal coming before training camp tells me that new GM Omar Khan may want to do things a bit differently. He may have been with the Steelers for 20 years, but he doesn’t want to just keep the status quo. Being more player-friendly with how contract talks go would be a welcome change in the modern NFL.

The Steelers are entering a new era, and Khan knows it. Adjusting how they do business, even just a little, is something that needs to happen. This deal for Minkah Fitzpatrick could be the first move that signals that shift. If so, it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving player.

The biggest story lines from the Raiders schedule in 2022

Photo Credit: Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times

The 2022 NFL schedule was released this week. With that comes record predictions, ticket-purchasing, and more storylines than anyone can keep track of.  The Raiders schedule is no different. It showcases a matchup against the reigning Super Bowl champions, a revenge game 50 years in the making, and more AFC West matchups than your heart can handle. So, let’s look at three of the biggest storylines to keep track of in 2022.

Week 1: Las Vegas Raiders @ Los Angeles Chargers

It’s the game you’ve been waiting all offseason for. The Raiders will head to SoFi Stadium for their first game of the season to try and take down Justin Herbert and a revamped Charger’s defense.

As you may remember, the Raiders beat the Chargers in the last regular season game of the 2021 season, sending the Silver and Black to the playoffs, and ending the Bolts season without a second thought. Los Angeles has spent the duration of the offseason trying to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Since the two teams last met, they have added numerous Pro-Bowlers to their defense including J.C. Jackson, Kyle Van Noy, and former Raider, Khalil Mack.

Mack, who spent the first four seasons of his career with the Raiders, was traded to Los Angeles this offseason. He is infamously known for being a player Raider Nation saw leading the team to their next Super Bowl win. That is, until the former regime sent him off to Chicago. Since leaving Oakland, Mack’s statistics have declined. However, his game-changing talent and sure-fire want for revenge is still cause for concern in Las Vegas.

On top of being a revenge game for many reasons, the Raiders second home is in Los Angeles. It’s not uncommon for Raider Nation to take over SoFi stadium and make it their own, adding fuel to the fire.

Week 15: New England Patriots @ Las Vegas Raiders

While there are numerous storylines in between Week 1 and Week 15, the Patriots vs. Raiders game is what everyone will be looking forward to. Head coach Josh McDaniels will lead his new team out proudly (we hope), as he takes on the man that taught him everything he knows.

Before being hired as the Raiders head coach in January, McDaniels spent 13 seasons with the Patriots. He served as everything from their offensive assistant to their offensive coordinator, learning the ins and outs of coaching from one of the best in the business, Bill Belichick.

McDaniels was joined in Las Vegas by new general manager, Dave Ziegler, who also spent the previous seasons in New England. McDaniels and Ziegler wasted no time in bringing their favorite former Patriots to Sin City, making Week 15 even more meaningful.

Las Vegas has added six players this offseason who played for the New England Patriots including running back Brandon Bolden, tight end Jacob Hollister, fullback Jakob Johnson, and quarterback Jarett Stidham, among others. Along with players, McDaniels also hired several former New England coaches to his staff.

The sheer volume of Raiders that have played or coached for the Patriots is something that doesn’t go unnoticed, making Week 15 a must win game for the Silver and Black.

Week 16: Las Vegas Raiders @ Pittsburgh Steelers

Fifty years in the making, the Raiders will return to the scene of the “Immaculate Reception” one day after its half-century anniversary. If you’ve been a Raiders fan for a while, or have ever known a Raiders fan, its likely you know exactly what play we’re talking about. If not, you can read up on the controversial play, here.

No matter how much time passes, it will never be clear what happened that day. You’ll get a different story from every player, and every referee working that game. The Raiders are three Lombardi trophies better off than they were that day in Pittsburgh, but they’ll never forget. And they’ll be sure to remind the Steelers of that in December.

The Raiders schedule is tough, with a lot valuable storylines in 2022. If they want to return to the playoffs for a second consecutive year, they’ll have to prove each and every week why they deserve to be there.

Pittsburgh Steelers 2022 Draft Grades

Pittsburgh Steelers 2022 NFL Draft
Photo Credit: David Becker/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers begin a new chapter in 2022. Not only are they moving on from franchise quarterback and future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger, but the 2022 NFL Draft was also the final one for general manager Kevin Colbert. As one of the best general managers in the NFL for the last two decades, it seems only fitting that Colbert received the honor of shepherding Pittsburgh into a new era. Therefore, let’s dive into the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2022 draft grades.

Round 1, #20: Kenny Pickett, QB, Pittsburgh

Many expected the Pittsburgh Steelers to use their first selection on a quarterback. The question was which ones would be available at #20 overall. However, an unpredicted situation occurred when the Steelers came on the clock. No quarterbacks had been taken, and Pittsburgh could take whichever one they pleased. Keeping with the theme of surprises, they selected Kenny Pickett. 

At face value, Pickett seems like a natural fit for the Steelers. He is obviously very familiar with the city and the team. Many regarded Pickett as one of the more pro-ready quarterbacks in this year’s draft class. However, his biggest drawback was his perceived lack of upside. In an ideal world, Pickett ends up somewhere in the Kirk Cousins/Ryan Tannehill range.

This begs the following question: is that player worth a first-round pick? Furthermore, when the next quarterback was not selected for more than 50 picks, could the Steelers have gotten their quarterback, or a quarterback, in the second or third rounds?

Nevertheless, I will be rooting for Pickett. Regardless of what you think of the value of the pick or his standing in the quarterback class, it is exceptionally cool that Pickett will be staying in Pittsburgh. As Mike Tomlin said, the Steelers scoured the country looking at quarterback prospects; but at the end of the day, they went with the guy from next door. They made significant efforts to surround him with an improved offensive line and a diverse arsenal of weapons.

If Pickett beats out Mitch Trubisky for the starting gig, he should be able to pilot this offense more effectively than the reanimated corpse of Ben Roethlisberger that was under center the last two years. 

Grade: B

Round 2, #52: George Pickens, WR, Georgia

From an on-field talent and team fit perspective, this might be the best pick in the entire 2022 NFL Draft. George Pickens was on a trajectory toward being an early first-round pick after a stellar true freshman season in 2019. But injuries and poor quarterback play robbed him of his 2020 and 2021 seasons.

When he was healthy and on the field for the Dawgs, Pickens was an absolute monster. His best ability was getting vertical and making spectacular catches downfield and in the air. He only had two drops on 139 career targets and improved as a contested-catch receiver. 

The Steelers have spent multiple second-round picks on wide receivers they wanted to use as vertical threats. But James Washington struggled to develop chemistry with Ben Roethlisberger and find a role in the offense. Chase Claypool started off hot but cooled off significantly in 2021; the offense sputtered around him, but Claypool also struggled to win in contested-catch situations. Pittsburgh has not had a true vertical receiving threat since Martavis Bryant, someone who Pickens compares relatively favorably to in terms of skill set and play style. 

Obviously, the Steelers are famous for their ability to identify talented wide receivers on the second and third days of the NFL Draft. Claypool, Washington, and Bryant are among their more recent finds. But Diontae Johnson, Juju Smith-Schuster, Sammie Coates, and Markus Wheaton are also among their more recent finds.

While not all of these players became superstars — some of them even failing to complete their second contracts — they were at least competent NFL receivers, something the Steelers desperately needed. Furthermore, a receiver that makes contested catches outside his frame is something that can help a young quarterback who lacks great arm strength. 

Grade: A+

Round 3, #84: DeMarvin Leal, DE, Texas A&M

When healthy, the Steelers have one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. Of course, the issue during the 2021 season was staying healthy. Stephon Tuitt missed the entire season after rehabbing his knee injury was delayed by his brother’s untimely demise. Tyson Alualu missed almost the entire season with a broken ankle. This forced the Steelers to turn to free agents off the street and practice squad players on the defensive line.

Even with Alualu and Tuitt returning to the lineup this season, some predicted that the Steelers would use an early pick on a new nose tackle. Therefore, selecting a hybrid defensive end / outside linebacker in the third round came as a surprise. 

DeMarvin Leal came into the 2021 season with a massive amount of hype, considered a first-round lock, and arguably the best interior defensive lineman in the class. But his play took a significant drop relative to his 2020 performance. He struggled to consistently defend the run and couldn’t settle into a positional role. Leal also tested quite poorly at Texas A&M’s pro day, although so did every other player at the pro day, so there may have been a confounding factor at play. 

Nevertheless, getting Leal in the mid-late third round is excellent value. Leal still needs to develop as a player and round out his skill set. On the Steelers’ defensive line, he can be brought along slowly as an apprentice to Cam Heyward.

If everyone on the roster is healthy and available, Leal would be the fourth or fifth option, which indicates excellent depth. He can be used as a dynamic matchup nightmare in specific situations. By the end of his rookie deal, Leal should be able to receive the torch from Cam Heyward as a leader along the defensive line. 

Grade: A

READ MORE: 2022 NFL Draft Live Tracker, Analysis, Grades
Round 4, #138: Calvin Austin III, WR, Memphis

Typically, the Steelers like to double-dip at one position in any given draft. Last year, they selected offensive linemen in consecutive rounds. In 2019, they picked an inside linebacker in the first and sixth rounds.

Going into the 2022 draft, many expected the Steelers to take a wide receiver, but not many predicted they would double-dip at the position. But the board fell tremendously for the Steelers at their compensatory selection in the fourth round, landing them Memphis wide receiver and return specialist, Calvin Austin III. 

Calvin Austin III exploded onto the scene with his performance at the Senior Bowl, consistently getting open during practices and making spectacular catches downfield. He then followed it up with an outstanding Scouting Combine performance, with elite testing numbers across the board.

But Austin is more than just a practice phenom or workout warrior. He put up over 1000 receiving yards each of the last two seasons for Memphis, helping him finish in the top-five across most career receiving categories for the Tigers. 

Furthermore, the stories emerging post-draft concerning Austin have validated the Steelers’ selection. Firstly, according to Peter King, Pittsburgh stole Austin from their division rival, the Baltimore Ravens, who would have taken Austin had the Steelers not. Secondly, the fourth overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, Sauce Gardner, name-dropped Austin as one of his most difficult match-ups in an interview with Chris Simms of Pro Football Talk.

These two stories indicate how valuable this selection was. While Austin will most likely not be an immediate starter, he can make an immediate impact on special teams and carve out a niche role on offense. 

Grade: A+

Round 6, #208: Connor Heyward, FB/TE, Michigan State

This pick was more of a meme than anything. I’m sure thousands of Steelers fans thought they were geniuses for mocking Connor Heyward to the team with one of these final three picks. Call Kevin Colbert Dom Toretto because for the Steelers, family is everything.

This gives Pittsburgh four sets of brothers on their roster. Interestingly, only one of those pairs are on the same side of the ball (Carlos and Khalil Davis are both defensive tackles). Connor Heyward is a fun pick, as he a former running back that switched to fullback and eventually tight end. He was also an All-Big Ten kick returner earlier in his career before bulking up. 

Even though most picks after 200 don’t matter very much, I don’t love this selection. Even though Heyward will be listed as a tight end, at 5’11” and 233 pounds, he is essentially a fullback. The Steelers already have a fullback who is the brother of a star defensive player in Derek Watt. Watt is entering a contract year and will turn 30 by next season. But I have to imagine the Steelers will be one of the few, if not the only, teams to keep two fullbacks on the active roster.

Even though Heyward is very versatile, I just don’t see the point of drafting and rostering a second fullback. I’m sure he will make the team and will have some fun plays; I just don’t love the process behind it. 

Grade: C

Round 7, #225: Mark Robinson, ILB, Mississippi

The Pittsburgh Steelers love drafting linebackers. They have drafted at least one linebacker every year since 2009. Granted, this covers off-ball linebackers and edge defenders, but they still value spending draft capital on inside linebackers.

Mark Robinson was a late visit for Pittsburgh, and these kinds of visits should set off alarm bells for fans. Robinson is essentially Vince Williams’ brain/spirit in Devin Bush’s body. He’s a converted running back who walked on at Ole Miss and earned a starting role quickly, despite switching positions. 

With all that being said, this pick comes off as redundant and unnecessary. The Steelers currently have seven inside linebackers on their roster, several of whom have very similar skill-sets to Johnson. At least three of those players are already significant contributors on special teams, along with safety-linebacker hybrid Miles Killebrew.

It seems unlikely that Robinson will even make the roster, leading to the question: why use a draft pick on a practice squad player? They could have used more depth at cornerback, running back, tight end, or outside linebacker. Again, seventh-round picks are almost equivalent to throwaways, so it’s not an awful pick, but it could have been better. 

Grade: C

Round 7, #241: Chris Oladokun, QB, South Dakota State

Like Robinson, Chris Oladokun visited the Steelers in the pre-draft process and stuck out like a relatively sore thumb. As with most of their late-round picks, Pittsburgh reached on a guy they had a personal connection with. This was also telegraphed by Kevin Colbert’s and Mike Tomlin’s comments in the pre-draft process, indicating that they carry four quarterbacks into training camp.

As for the player, Chris Oladokun is a productive, yet undersized, FCS quarterback with a strong arm and good athleticism. He will be their practice squad or scout team version of divisional rivals Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson. 

Regardless, I can’t look positively on this pick because it wastes scarce resources. Granted, seventh-round picks, especially late ones, generally do not matter. But using one on a fourth quarterback whose entire role will be a scout team replica on a practice squad is ridiculous in my opinion.

This is only made worse by the fact that the quarterback finished his career at his second FCS school and third overall. There were still plenty of valuable players on the board who would be able to help this team in a much more meaningful way than a fourth quarterback who will only get a helmet on game day if two of the other quarterbacks are injured.

Even if the Steelers felt that Oladokun would not be available or acquirable as an undrafted free agent, his skill set is not special enough to warrant using a draft pick on him, no matter how late. 

Grade: D

Pittsburgh Steelers 2022 Draft Grades: Overall

The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the 2022 NFL Draft seeking a franchise quarterback, offensive weapons to surround him with, and depth pieces on defense. From a bird’s eye view, they accomplished these goals. They added two dynamic receivers to the offense, found some developmental players on defense, and added a quarterback with their first-round pick.

However, they left a significant amount of value on the board. One could write an entirely separate article on whether Kenny Pickett was the right quarterback to take in the first round; another perhaps on whether they should have taken one in the first round at all. Finally, they squandered their late-round picks on redundant or unnecessary positions.

However, at the end of the day, they solved their primary needs. Even though Pickett may be relatively uninspiring, he has a high floor and should make the offense competent. Furthermore, the picks where they reached were not especially valuable. Therefore, Kevin Colbert’s final draft grades out as good, but not great.

Overall Grade: B