We sure learned a lot about the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2019.
We learned about the talents of some rookies (Diontae Johnson, Devin Bush) and some veterans as well (Bud Dupree, Steven Nelson). We learned the front office would not be shy about making aggressive moves (hello Minkah Fitzpatrick). We also learned what the future of the quarterback position looked like in a post-Ben Roethlisberger era, with Devlin Hodges and Mason Rudolph getting the opportunity to broadcast their talents.
Everything that happens in the league needs to be taken with a grain of salt, and quarterback play in Pittsburgh is no different. Sure, Hodges and Rudolph were not Pro-Bowl caliber players for the entire season. Both quarterbacks were young/inexperienced while also dealing with circumstances (injuries, coaching) outside of their control. 2019 was a small sample size to grade either Rudolph or Hodges.
Yet fairly or unfairly, a small sample size is sometimes all you need to know exactly what you have. If last season was any indication of what is to come in terms of quarterback play, the Steelers need to address the future sooner rather than later. With an extremely talented defense, the organization simply cannot afford years of rebuilding on the offensive side of the football.
What better way to find an elixir for Pittsburgh's problem than the 2020 NFL Draft? With quarterbacks such as Tua Tagovailoa and Joe Burrow entering the pool of players to be selected this year, a handful of teams will have the opportunity to draft what could potentially be the next great quarterback in the National Football League.
However, without a first-round pick, the Steelers would have to pull off the trade of a lifetime to move up and select top-tier quarterback talent, a trade that just doesn't appear to be plausible without involving the likes of a time machine.
With Roethlisberger set to return in 2020, the Steelers would likely address other needs in the upcoming draft. The team may very well need to replace Javon Hargrave if he departs in free agency, while also potentially finding another running back to replace James Conner after this season.
One cannot predict the puzzle that is the NFL Draft, and as much as the Steelers are unlikely to address the quarterback position early, one exception could easily be made.
Enter: Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts.
Hurts, a 2019 Heisman Trophy finalist, provides a formidable mobile presence at the quarterback position. After departing Alabama for one last season with the Sooners, Hurts has progressed as a passer. He's not quite the athlete that Lamar Jackson that is, and he's nowhere near Peyton Manning in terms of accuracy, yet he possesses the building blocks of both worlds.
Some would consider Hurts a project, and there is some merit to that. Hurts is an athlete still trying to master the skills of a quarterback, and while he's turned himself into an acceptable thrower, there still is work to be done. Hurts has been known to miss his receivers at times, a problem that shined in Oklahoma's 63-28 loss to LSU in the College Football Playoffs.
Among a myriad of scouting reports, most in-touch with the NFL Draft seem to think Hurts won't find himself in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. ESPN's Mel Kiper and Todd McShay are of the belief that Hurts is a round two/three player. Bleacher Report's Matt Miller sees Hurts falling to the third round, while The Athletic's Dane Brugler is of the belief a strong off-season could ice Hurts' status as a day two selection.
Is Hurts a possibility for the Steelers? Absolutely. With Hurts recently accepting an invitation to play in the Senior Bowl and still possessing the opportunity to participate in the NFL Combine, he will have ample time to prove he has fixed a portion of his throwing issues.
A team drafting Hurts isn't expecting him to lead them to the Super Bowl from the start. As mentioned earlier, Hurts appears to be a strong prospect that can eventually mold into an NFL franchise quarterback. His arm strength, play-extension, mobility, and leadership were all qualities that made Hurts a phenomenal collegiate quarterback, traits that should translate to the next level.
If drafted to Pittsburgh, Hurts would have the opportunity to learn from the greatest quarterbacks of this generation before Roethlisberger rides off into the sunset. With his modern-NFL traits and ability to digest the game behind Big Ben, Hurts' transition into the role of starting quarterback could be one of great ease.
There's still nearly four months left until the 2020 NFL Draft, and as we've seen, a lot can happen between now and draft night. However, one belief cannot be over-simplified: If Jalen Hurts falls to day two of the draft, the Steelers shouldn't think twice about taking a potential franchise quarterback that fell in their lap.