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

The buildup to the Pittsburgh Steelers draft has been analyzed in overwrought and unnecessarily complicated fashion.

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

When somebody is selected, his name gets crossed off.

When the Steelers choose at No. 20 overall, they will take the highest-rated player left on their board, with potential for slight variance based on Coach Mike Tomlin’s whim.

“Clues” left via reference to sweet tea, who ate wings with whom, sporting a beatific expression on the sideline at somebody’s pro day or hiring an extra position coach … all that drivel is meaningless carny idiocy. The Steelers have a process, and they follow it.

Do the Steelers seem interested in picking a quarterback?

That makes sense, given that their Hall-of-Fame quarterback just retired after 18 seasons.

But it doesn’t make sense given that they signed free agent Mitch Trubisky. If you’re drafting your long-term starter now, Mason Rudolph would have been an adequate bridge QB.

Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett’s stock seems to be dropping, perhaps because of his baby hands. Perhaps that shouldn’t mean anything, but it appears quite significant.

Missing out on Pickett wouldn’t 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 couldn’t cut it at Auburn. So, he moved to a school so far away from the Power Five that it isn’t in a conference and plays an independent schedule.

Rate Willis’ measurables. Drool over his potential. But his adjustment to the NFL will be more difficult than most quarterbacks’, and presumably take longer. (To be fair, Ben Roethlisberger also did not attend a Power Five school, but he played in the Mid-American Conference. That’s better football.)

If it sounds like I’m not impressed by Pickett and Willis, I’m not. It’s not certain that either would be a first-round pick in next year’s draft, which will be flush with better quarterbacks.

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

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

So perhaps the Steelers should take a different path.

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

The running game should improve.

The Steelers should use their first-round pick on a defensive lineman, preferably Georgia’s Jordan Davis if he’s not been picked. 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 that gap.

Trubisky seems a better bet than Pickett or Willis, anyway. Trubisky is 27. He was the second pick overall in 2017. (That’s 18 choices higher than No. 20, if you’re keeping score at home.) He’s got more talent. He made the playoffs twice in four years with Chicago.

But the Steelers won’t out-quarterback anyone in the AFC North anytime soon. Find an alternate route.

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