The Pittsburgh Steelers addressed the most glaring gaps in the 2020 roster through free agency, allowing them to target the best playmaker available with their first pick in the NFL draft.
That would put the Steelers firmly in the mix for the second wave of available quarterbacks after top talent like Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa likely come off the board in the first round.
Because the team sent its first-round pick to the Miami Dolphins in exchange for safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, the Steelers won’t make their first selection until the No. 49 overall pick in the second round. It’s the first time since 1967 that the Steelers have entered the draft without a first-round pick.
The Steelers have primarily addressed defensive needs with their first picks in the past couple of years, trading up to select LB Devin Bush No. 10 overall last year and drafting safety Terrell Edmunds at No. 28 the year before. The Steelers have also used their top pick to draft OLB T.J. Watt (2017), DB Artie Burns (2016), OLB Bud Dupree (2015), OLB Ryan Shazier (2014) and LB Jarvis Jones (2013). The Steelers haven’t taken an offensive skill player with their first pick since selecting running back Rashard Mendenhall at No. 23 overall in the 2008 draft.
That could change this year, though, as Todd McShay tabbed Washington quarterback Jacob Eason as the Steelers’ top draft pick — which would make him the fourth quarterback drafted by the Steelers since 2013. That would also make him the Steelers’ highest pick used on a quarterback since Ben Roethlisberger was picked No. 11 overall in 2004. Kordell Stewart was the last quarterback picked by the Steelers in the second round, selected with the No. 60th pick in 1995.
Eason would further fill out a quarterback room that struggled after Roethlisberger was injured last season. Mason Rudolph and Devlin Hodges traded starting duties throughout the season, but the Steelers expressed confidence in Rudolph after the season, firmly stating that he was the No. 2 to Roethlisberger. He was also expected to get the bulk of the starting reps during the offseason program while Roethlisberger continued to rehab. That, of course, is on hold with the COVID-19 outbreak. Adding Eason gives the Steelers more stability in a position that also has former Ohio State quarterback J.T. Barrett and former first-round pick Paxton Lynch vying for a roster spot.
Before his transfer to Washington, Eason was the first true freshman quarterback to start at Georgia since Matthew Stafford. He went 7-5 as Georgia’s starter in 2016 and won the starting job a year later over Jake Fromm, but he sustained a knee injury in the season-opener. That opened the door for Fromm to take over the starting job, and it eventually led to Eason’s transfer to Washington.
Eason declared for the NFL draft after a junior season in which he recorded 3,132 passing yards along with 23 touchdowns and eight interceptions. At 6-foot-6, 227 pounds, Eason has a similar build to Roethlisberger and would enter camp as a more solid third-string option behind Rudolph, with the possibility of even surpassing Rudolph for the top backup job. His arm strength and deep ball abilities should be especially appealing to the Steelers after a season in which the passing game settled for short and intermediate throws.