(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)
At the NFL Owners Meetings in Palm Beach, Fla., earlier this week, Tomlin made sure to emphasize the impact of quarterback mobility in today's game when asked about the Steelers ranking dead last in run defense in 2021. Since the beginning of last season, Tomlin has obsessively talked about how mobile quarterbacks are changing the game.
“I’m not blaming it on anyone or anything,” Tomlin said via Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I just think particularly in today’s game, when you talk about stopping the run, you better acknowledge the defeating of blocks and making tackles. Quarterback mobility is a more significant part of the game than it’s ever been in today’s game.”
Tomlin also said the league-wide yards per rush attempt last season (4.3 yards) was one of the largest in history.
“It wasn’t because teams are running the ball more effectively, it’s because they are utilizing the quarterback as a runner,” Tomlin said. “Now you’re playing 11-on-11 football, so do the math. Guys have to defeat blocks to make tackles in today’s game to be effective at stopping the run.”
In the last two seasons of his career, Ben Roethlisberger was basically just a statue in the pocket. He was a shell of his former self when he made a career out of escaping pressure and extending plays. It was obvious that Roethlisberger's lack of mobility held back the offense, especially in Matt Canada's system, who needs a mobile quarterback to have any chance to succeed.
The Steelers signed a mobile quarterback in free agency, as Mitch Trubisky rushed for 1,057 yards and eight touchdowns and averaged 5.6 yards per carry in four seasons with the Bears. Trubisky excels when doing RPOs and play-action bootlegs, which fits right in with what Canada wants to do.
Trubisky is a solid bridge quarterback, but it's very unlikely that he'll ever live up to his No. 2 overall selection in 2017 or be a franchise quarterback. That's why if Mike Tomlin truly believes that Malik Willis is a franchise quarterback, the Steelers should trade up for him in the draft.
There's no guarantee that the Steelers will get one of the top quarterbacks in 2023. You never know what can happen. And it's well-known that Tomlin is intrigued by Willis and the aspect of having a mobile quarterback. The Steelers have a lot of other holes to fill and have just seven picks in this year's draft, so it certainly would be a risk to trade up into the top 10, but the gamble could pay off for the next 10-plus years if they get it right on Willis.
While it's important to note that it's college stats compared to pro stats, according to Pro Football Focus, the quarterbacks with the most missed tackles forced since 2014 are Lamar Jackson (140) and Malik Willis (140).
Along with having the knack to make defenders miss, Willis also possesses a rocket arm. Accuracy and decision-making are still major concerns, however, that's why he'll have to sit a year behind Trubisky and learn the ropes of the pro game.
The potential with Willis is alarming, though. He by far has the most upside in this year's quarterback class. It will be interesting to see just how much Tomlin loves Willis on draft night, and if he'll power a move to trade up for him. Remember, Kevin Colbert is retiring after the draft and this is Tomlin's first chance to truly draft a quarterback in his career. Roethlisberger was drafted in 2004, three years before Tomlin arrived in Pittsburgh. He might as well go all-in if Willis is the one.