Willis owner finds moments before Steelers pick Kenny Beckett was their ‘man’

Throughout the entire pre-draft process, it was very apparent that the Pittsburgh Steelers and head coach Mike Tomlin were hot on the tail of Liberty star Malik Willis.

Many, including this author, thought Willis would be the Steelers’ first-round man at the center, whether that was a deal to make it into the top 10, or sitting in 20th overall, adding a man of impressive physique. The traits are in the position, even if it takes a year or two to sit down and learn the nuances of the job.

Instead, as is well known at this point, the Steelers went in a different direction in 20th overall last week in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, snatching Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett as the first quarterback off the board, surprising Willis. And his camp, causing some disappointment.

According to Willis coach, Sean McEvoy, knowing he wasn’t headed to Pittsburgh was a hard pill to swallow, especially after all the interest the Steelers had in the months before the start of the 2022 NFL draft. Sitting until the third round when he was arrested by Tennessee made it more difficult for the double-threat quarterback.

“Pittsburgh has obviously been tough. It was something Malik felt good about, with the conversations Malik had with senior Pittsburgh officials and decision-makers during the process and his visit,” McEvoy told Jeff Howe of The Athletic, regarding Willis’ slip.
“So there was a moment to let Malik know that’s what’s going to happen, so it’s no shock when they give you a different name than yours. That was the hardest moment on Thursday night.”

“Because after that it’s like, what next? There weren’t a lot of teams at the end of (round one) looking at QB. There’s obviously a possibility that the team will trade through to the end of the first round for a year five option. But the idea is Kind of getting away from it being a first-round pick as the last few picks have dwindled.”

Once the Steelers picked Pickett up 20 overall, no other quarterback came off the board at the back end of the first round, all of the second round, and most of the third round until the Atlanta Falcons snatched away Cincinnati’s Desmond Ryder at No. 74 overall, 54 picks after Beckett got off the board.

Twelve picks after Ridder in the third round, Willis relegated the Titans, giving him the perfect place to sit and learn behind veteran quarterback Ryan Tannehill, 34.

“I am fortunate to have a place to come back to in my country and appreciate the opportunity to play at the next level,” Willis told reporters. “It wasn’t really hard. At the end of the day when you have no control over something, it’s not something you can really be angry about. I am grateful to be here and to be a titan from Tennessee.”

It will be interesting to see how Pickett and Willis’ careers fare, considering the Steelers did a lot of work on the quarterback leading up to the draft, including Ridder, Sam Howell and even Matt Corral. To hear Welles’ camp talk about it, he kept the Steelers very close to the jacket, deceiving many into believing he was Willis the whole time at full-back before Beckett – their team’s best player on their board – fell into their arms.