Every team has draft choices they’d like to have back. The Pittsburgh Steelers are no exception. Putting aside the more famous draft blunders like Artie Burns and Devon Bush, perhaps the biggest gaff of all was passing on Jalen Hurts in the 2020 draft. Pittsburgh decided to draft Chase Claypool just four selections before Hurts would be taken by Philadelphia. Why didn’t the Steelers draft Jalen Hurts, a potential franchise quarterback? We attempt to answer that question here:
1. The Ben Roethlisberger conundrum:
We have made this point several times over the years, but it bears repeating. The Pittsburgh Steelers were under the false impression that they could squeeze one more Super Bowl out of the aging, and broken down body of Ben Roethlisberger. Five reasons why extending Ben Roethlisberger is a huge mistake for the Steelers Even after missing the entire 2019 season with an elbow injury, Mike Tomlin and company stood fast with the idea that Big Ben could return to form and lead them to another title.
In keeping with that thinking, the next two drafts were dedicated to bolstering the playmakers surrounding Roethlisberger. Chase Claypool was the type of receiver the Steelers quarterback loved. A big, fast, physical freak who in theory could make big plays down the field. The next season, Kevin Colbert continued his attempt to recreate the killer B’s style offense by drafting Najee Harris in round one, and Pat Freiermuth in round two. This despite a significant need to improve the offensive line. The results were not unexpected. Roethlisberger never regained his championship form, and the reach on drafting Claypool did not turn out well. Claypool was traded in less than three seasons, and Ben Roethlisberger retired just two years later.
Read our take about drafting Jalen Hurts in the time leading up to the 2020 draft here: Could Jalen Hurts be the next Kordell Stewart?
2. The Steelers weren’t good at evaluating quarterbacks:
This franchise did not have to worry about the quarterback position for close to two decades. None of the quarterbacks they did draft during the Ben Roethlisberger era amounted to even sufficient backups. Landry Jones was at best a marginal backup in his time in Pittsburgh. Joshua Dobbs remains in the league, and was probably the best quarterback drafted since 2004. Even then, the Steelers front office evaluation of this position can be questioned. They allowed Dobbs to walk away in favor of Mason Rudolph. A questionable decision at best when you look at the body of work for both quarterbacks.
Rudolph was drafted in the third round in 2018. He was widely thought of as the possible heir apparent to Roethlisberger at the time. The now infamous quote by Kevin Colbert stating that the team “had a first round grade on Rudolph” only strengthens the theory this team was not at all good at evaluating the position. As it turned out, Rudolph could not even keep the job from the undrafted Duck Hodges in 2019. Is it any wonder the Steelers didn’t draft Jalen Hurts with a track record like this?
The Steelers are risk averse:
The Steelers organization is not known for taking big swings on risky players. Sure they made a huge trade acquiring Minkah Fitzpatrick in 2019. Fitzpatrick was former first round pick however, with all the traits of a great safety. There was very little risk that he would not perform extremely well in Pittsburgh.
Drafting Jalen Hurts did represent a good deal of risk in 2020. For starters, Hurts was known more for his legs than his arm. Then there was the fact that he was actually replaced as the Alabama quarterback for not being able to move the offense in the National title game. He eventually transferred to Oklahoma and had a very successful season passing and running. Once again however, many wondered if Hurts’ new found success was more due to the coaching of Lincoln Riley. Riley was known to be an offensive genius, in a league infamous for not playing much defense.
Mike Tomlin is defense first coach:
We all know the background of Mike Tomlin is on the defensive side of the ball. We also found out how much he is still involved in the defense, and its play calling after the retirement of Kieth Butler. Butler confirmed what many of us already knew, that Tomlin did the majority of play calling on that side of the ball. All that is to say it was easier for Tomlin to continue to concentrate on defense when he had a Hall of Fame quarterback under center.
Why draft Jalen Hurts and have to start all over? Better to draft players to prop up Roethlisberger, and win with defense. Even now when forced to move on, there have been no changes to the failing offensive scheme. Mike Tomlin is perfectly content grinding out his late 90s style offense. Hence the fact Matt Canada still has a job despite one of the worst scoring offense two years running.
In the end, there are many reasons why the Steelers draft Jalen Hurts. Most of which stem from their overall evaluation of the quarterback position. From falsely believing they could win with Ben Roethlisberger far too long, to not being able to scout the position in the draft. Only when this franchise absolutely had to did they address quarterback. Hopefully Kenny Pickett can help everyone forget them passing on Jalen Hurts in 2020.