Despite being only five weeks into the 2021 NFL season, arguably the most talked about topic regarding the Pittsburgh Steelers revolves around next year’s starter at quarterback.
Tomlin Tuesday press conferences are often entertaining, whether it comes from in his detailed scouting report of the other team or his way with words when describing the game of football. This week, Mike Tomlin was asked about the uptick in teams going for it on fourth down and how much does analytics play a factor in those decisions.
While he did acknowledge that “analytics are a tool but not the tool because all circumstances are different,” it’s the second part of the answer that intrigues me the most.
“There’s an uptick in fourth down attempts in the National Football League because there’s probably more quarterback mobility in the league than ever before.” Tomlin said. “What analytics might tell us as it pertains to that quarterback mobility but that’s not a component of play for us. … We acknowledge that more people are going for it than ever before. Quarterback mobility has a lot to do with it but obviously, that’s not how we’re built.”
The statement doesn’t mean anything for this year, the Steelers don’t even have a quarterback on the roster with plus mobility. It could possibly mean something for next year, though.
Rumors have been swirling around the Steelers and Aaron Rodgers. Some seem to believe that the Steelers would be more inclined to pursue a veteran quarterback instead of drafting a rookie.
Tomlin’s statements made me think that the decision is still very much undecided. The head coach seems open to the idea of a mobile or potentially even a running quarterback.
There have been reports in the past that the Steelers brass, especially Tomlin, was a fan of Lamar Jackson when he was coming out of Louisville. Back in 2018, the Steelers head coach was front and center in attendance for Jackson’s Pro Day.
To be clear, mobility and rushing ability are two different things. You can have plus pocket mobility, something that Tom Brady has displayed throughout his career, but not be a threat to escape the rush and run the football. Then you have guys like Jalen Hurts, who don’t always look comfortable working from within the pocket but function well out of structure and as a designed runner.
Tomlin’s answer had me thinking more about the latter specifically. On fourth and short, or similar situations in the red zone, having a guy behind center that’s at least a threat to run the football or escape the pocket is significant for a defense to game plan around. What that does for the offense, is it gives your play caller additional flexibility and adds a completely different element to your personality.
There are several guys in the upcoming 2022 NFL draft class that fit this description. One of them immediately came to mind when hearing Tomlin’s comments today: Matt Corral.
The red shirt junior from Ole Miss had arguably his signature collegiate game this past weekend against a ranked Arkansas squad. Corral finished the day 14-21, passing for 287 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also added another 94 yards on the ground to go with two more rushing touchdowns.
Corral is arguably the best dual threat signal caller in this year’s class and put on a show against the second-best pass defense in the nation coming into the game.
Another interesting component of this is that the Ole Miss offense leads the entire nation with 24 fourth down conversion attempts, converting on 18 of those which also leads the nation. Why does Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin have so much confidence in his offense in those situations? His trust in Corral.
The Steelers search for their next franchise quarterback will certainly be interesting to watch unfold. I would encourage fans to be a bit more open-minded about the possibilities out there, because after all, this is unfamiliar territory for Tomlin. He will have a lot of say in who the next signal caller is, as he should.
The Steelers could go a number of different directions and it will be interesting to see what archetype they choose at the league’s most important position.
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