Mark Madden: No matter what the tea leaves say, the Steelers should skip QBs on draft day

The build-up to the Pittsburgh Steelers draft has been analyzed in an exaggerated and unnecessarily complicated way.

The Steelers have a board like every other NFL team. It ranks draft-qualified athletes in descending order of preference after due diligence is performed.

Once someone is selected, his name is crossed off.

When the Steelers pick as No. 20 overall, they will take the highest-rated player back on their board, with the potential for a slight variation based on coach Mike Tomlin’s whims.

“Clues” left via reference to sweet tea, who ate wings with whom, with a beautiful expression on the sidelines on someone’s professional day or hiring an extra position as a coach … all that teasing is pointless carny idiocy. The Steelers have a process and they follow it.

Does the Steelers seem interested in picking a quarterback?

It makes sense since their Hall-of-Fame quarterback has just retired after 18 seasons.

But that does not make sense given that they signed the free agent Mitch Trubisky. If you were drafting your long-term starter now, Mason Rudolph would have been an appropriate bridge QB.

Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett’s stock looks set to fall, perhaps because of his baby hands. It might not mean anything, but it does seem quite significant.

Missing Pickett would not be the same as passing on Dan Marino in 1983. Pickett and Marino both went to Pitt. Marino played quarterback, so does Pickett. The similarities end there.

Malik Willis of Liberty Biberty could not cut it in Auburn. So he moved to a school so far away from Power Five that it is not in a conference and playing an independent schedule.

Rate Willis’ measurable items. Saliva over his potential. But his adaptation to the NFL will be harder than most quarterbacks and probably take longer. (To be fair, Ben Roethlisberger did not go to a Power Five school either, but he played in the Mid-American Conference. It’s better football.)

If it sounds like I’m not impressed with Pickett and Willis, then I am not. It is not certain that any of them would be a choice in the first round of next year’s draft, which will be in line with better quarterbacks.

AFC North is loaded on the position. Baltimore has Lamar Jackson. Cleveland has Deshaun Watson. Cincinnati has Joe Burrow.

Watson is 26. Jackson and Burrow are 25. The Steelers will be buried under an avalanche of great quarterbacks for years to come. (Pickett turns 24 in June.)

So maybe the Steelers should go another way.

The Steelers spent last year’s first round on a running back, Alabama’s Najee Harris. He is good. They used free agency to upgrade their offensive line. They now have six offensive linemen with a decent degree of ability. All are 26 or younger.

The running game should be improved.

The Steelers should spend their first-round pick on a defensive lineman, preferably Georgia’s Jordan Davis, if he has not been selected. The defense is already good. Make it better.

If quarterback is all that matters, the Steelers are in big trouble thanks to Burrow, Jackson and Watson. Neither Pickett nor Willis closes the gap.

At least Trubisky seems a better bid than Pickett or Willis. Trubisky is 27. He was the second pick overall in 2017. (That’s 18 picks higher than No. 20 if you keep scores at home.) He has more talent. He reached the playoffs twice in four years with Chicago.

But the Steelers will not out-quarterback anyone in the AFC North anytime soon. Find an alternative route.

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