Kenny Pickett was the first – and only – quarterback in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft when the Pittsburgh Steelers caught him at No. 20 last year.
Had Pickett been part of this year’s deeper crop of quarterbacks, he would still have been in line as a mid-first-round pick. He just wouldn’t be among the first few quarterbacks to get off the board.
That’s the view of ESPN draft analyst Mel Kepper Jr., who was asked on a conference call with members of the media on Tuesday about Pickett’s passer rating this year.
“If he was in that recruiting, he’d probably be in fifth place, solidly behind that first group,” Kepper said.
In his latest mock draft released Monday, Kiper projected that four quarterbacks would be taken from among the top five draft picks. They were CJ Stroud of Ohio State going first to Carolina, Bryce Young of Alabama going second to Houston, Will Levis of Kentucky going third to Indianapolis (the result of a fake trade to Arizona) and Anthony Richardson of Florida going fifth to Seattle.
“Some would say he (Pickett) will be there with the Levi’s,” Kepper said of the former Penn State quarterback, who spent his last two seasons at Kentucky. Some people would argue he would be ahead of Levis. I would say he would still be in that first round, definitely the fifth quarterback taken with four potentially top-five players.
“Beckett will be right in place (in 2022).”
Kiper hasn’t had a quarterback outside of the first-round quartet of Stroud, Young, Levis and Richardson this year.
Not only was Pickett the only player selected in the opening round a year earlier, he was the only player taken until the middle of the third round, with a career-high 73 selections. Pickett’s 12 starts were the most of any rookie in passing, and he helped engineer three fourth-quarter comebacks and four game wins as the Steelers won seven of their last nine games to finish 9-8.
With the quarterback in the fold, the Steelers could use the 17th overall pick this year to tackle other areas. Analysts expect the Steelers to select a cornerman, tackle, or defensive lineman as their first choice.
In his latest, Kiper catches the Steelers’ Maryland cornerback Deonte Banks 17th overall. He will be the fifth cornerback taken, after Oregon State’s Christian Gonzalez, Illinois’ Devon Witherspoon, Penn State’s Joey Porter Jr. and Mississippi State’s Emmanuel Forbes.
“Pittsburgh’s greatest need has not changed,” Kepper wrote. “You have to get younger – and faster – at the corner back.”
The 6-foot-1, 197-pound Banks ran the 40-yard in 4.35 seconds at the NFL Combine. It matches that time recorded by Forbes, and is 31 pounds lighter.
Kiper had asked Forbes to go to Washington once earlier at No. 16.
“I love everything about him, the way he plays, the toughness he’s shown at 166 pounds,” Kepper said. “The sportsmanship he displayed in the combine. The speed he displayed in the combine.”
Forbes set an FBS record with six interception returns for touchdowns during his time at Mississippi State. They were among 14 interceptions during Angle’s 6-1 career. Banks had only one interception his redshirt freshman year at Maryland, but showed his health and range after missing most of the previous season due to a shoulder injury.
“One of those kids would be a great choice at that point,” Kipper said of Banks and Forbes.
With the cornerback being the deepest position in this year’s draft class, Kiper could see the Steelers waiting to take one with the 32nd overall pick, the first of the second round.
The Steelers have signed a pair of offensive inside linemen in free agency in Nate Herbig and Isaac Seumalo, and they could bolster the line by dealing with their top pick.
Kiper has three tackles selected before the Steelers’ turn for selection with Ohio State’s Paris Johnson and Northwestern’s Peter Skowronski rounding out the top 10.
“He has really long arms but he needs training,” Kepper said. “It’s an offensive line coach’s dream. It depends on how much he drops it.”
Kiper Darnell Wright was listed at Tennessee as an option for the Steelers. If they waited to take action until the 32nd pick, Kiper listed Anton Harrison of Oklahoma and Matthew Bergeron of Syracuse as prospects.
Joe Rutter is a writer for the Tribune-Review. You can contact Joe via email at [email protected] or via Twitter .
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