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Take 5: Teams under most pressure to ace ’22 draft

Sportsnaut
Mar 3, 2022; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Liberty quarterback Malik Willis (QB16) goes through a drill during the 2022 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Throughout their collective history, few NFL franchises have been more patient than the Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Giants, Kansas City Chiefs, Green Bay Packers and Carolina Panthers.

There’s no question the ongoing ownership of the Rooneys in Pittsburgh, the Maras and Tischs in New York and the Hunts in Kansas City have made their franchises rock solid through the decades. None of those ownership groups have been too hands on. Instead, they leave the work up to their coaches and general managers and coaches and allow them to do their jobs.

It’s similar in Green Bay, where ownership situation is very different. The Packers are owned by 360,584 shareholders. In relative terms, Green Bay is a small and close-knit community and team executives historically have been slow to change coaches or quarterbacks.

Although the Panthers are newer (they came along as an expansion team in 1995), their longtime owner, Jerry Richardson, came from the old-school NFL. Before Richardson was forced to sell the team in 2017 in the wake of allegations of sexual harassment and the use of a racial slur, the team and the league loved to point out the fact he played in the NFL and caught a touchdown pass from Johnny Unitas in the 1959 NFL Championship Game.

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But the patience is gone in Carolina because current owner David Tepper is more like a modern-day owner, who doesn’t believe in sitting still. It’s commonly accepted that coach Matt Rhule must win now to keep his job.

Things aren’t quite so dire in Pittsburgh, New York, Kansas City and Green Bay. But clocks are ticking more rapidly than ever before. That means the Steelers, Giants, Chiefs, Packers, and even the Panthers, are under enormous pressure to ace the upcoming NFL draft, which starts on April 28.

Let’s take a look at each of those situations and why the draft is so critical.

GREEN BAY PACKERS

The natives – and one very important non-native — truly are restless. When February 2023 rolls around it will mark 12 years since quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Packers have won a Super Bowl. That’s 12 years longer than most Green Bay fans expected.

Rodgers has won four MVP awards, but time is running out. Rodgers is 38 and has made plenty of noise about retiring. There also have been rumors he might prefer to finish his career elsewhere.

That means the Packers have to go all-in this season and they are not quite there. Rodgers’ favorite target, Davante Adams, was traded to the Las Vegas Raiders. That means the Packers have to use either the 22nd or 28th overall pick to get a receiver that can make an instant impact.

Either Alabama’s Jameson Williams or Ohio State’s Chris Olave make sense as receivers and Texas A&M offensive lineman Kenyon Green could keep Rodgers happy.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS

Believe it or not, there also is a sense of urgency in Kansas City.

When you have the league’s best young quarterback (Patrick Mahomes) you’re supposed to win the Super Bowl every year. Mahomes did that in the 2019 season, but came up short the last two years.

There was a lot of head-scratching in Kansas City in March when the Chiefs traded Mahomes’ favorite receiver, Tyreek Hill, to Miami. But there was logic behind the deal. Coach Andy Reid is 64 and won’t be around forever and the Chiefs have needs at multiple positions. In exchange for Hill, they got a 2022 first-round pick, a second-round pick and two fourth-round picks in addition to a 2023 sixth-round pick.

The Chiefs have three picks in the top 50, including Nos. 29 and 30. They could use one of their early picks on Williams, Olave or Georgia’s George Pickens to replace Hill, but that would be only part of the puzzle. As last year showed, the offensive line and the defense also need help.

The Chiefs need to come out of this draft with at least three players that contribute right away. Georgia defensive tackle Devonte White, Minnesota defensive end Boye Mafe and Central Michigan offensive tackle Bernhard Raimann could step right in and start.

PITTSBURGH STEELERS

This is a unique situation because the Steelers have had only three coaches (Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin) throughout most of the lifetimes of most of their fans. Tomlin isn’t on the immediate hot seat because he’s had only two non-winning seasons.

But quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, a constant during Tomlin’s tenure, retired and that likely means there will be a step back. While most scouts agree there are no quarterbacks in this year’s draft worthy of top pick consideration, general managers, coaches and even owners have a way of using a shoehorn to fill a need.

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Would it be totally outrageous for the Steelers to do something out of character? Not really. It would make a lot of sense for them to go with the quarterback from the hometown college – Pittsburgh’s Kenny Pickett. Given Tomlin’s job security, Pickett wouldn’t have to play right away. He could wait a year and then takeover.

Besides, does anybody really think Mitchell Trubisky is the long-term answer?

NEW YORK GIANTS

Coach Brian Daboll and general manager Joe Schoen are new, but you can bet they – at least subtly – been told to get back to doing things the “Giants Way.”
Think about the nucleus of the franchise’s last two Super Bowl wins, which came after the 2007 and 2011 seasons. Pass rusher Michael Strahan was the face of the 2007 team.

Quarterback Eli Manning was the poster boy in 2011, but that’s only because guards Chris Snee and David Diehl made Manning look better than he was. In recent years, unsuccessful regimes have drafted running back Saquon Barkley, quarterback Daniel Jones and receiver Kadarius Toney. The results haven’t been great and that’s why this year’s draft is so important for the Giants.

They hold three picks in the top 36. That should translate into three first-year starters.

If Schoen and Daboll want to stick around long, they would be wise to stay away from flashy skill-position players and go with what’s tried and true in New York. Oregon defensive end Kayvon Thibodeaux or Purdue’s George Karlaftis could fit the Strahan model or Alabama’s Evan Neal or N.C. State’s Ikem Ekwonu could help make Jones look like Manning.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

There are rumblings around the league that Tepper is doing what several owners around the league foolishly have done in recent years. That’s encouraging your coach and general manager to take a quarterback they don’t really want.

But that might be the best thing Rhule and general manager Scott Fitterer could do. Taking Liberty quarterback Malik Willis probably won’t translate into a lot of wins in 2022. But, if Willis shows any signs of promise, Rhule still could have a job in 2023.

–By Pat Yasinksas, Field Level Media