Something is off in the conversation surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback position and the development of first-round rookie Kenny Pickett. It’s been bugging me for a while now, and I think the bye week has allowed me to figure it out.
Whenever there’s a conversation about the Steelers’ offense and how the quarterback situation has been managed, one specific thought is frequently brought up. Even Bill Cowher mentioned it when rightfully calling out Matt Canada for his offensive game plan.
I’m talking about Kenny Pickett being “the quarterback of the future” for this franchise.
I’m not saying Pickett can’t be the future of the Steelers. Nor am I saying he’s shown he won’t be. But to suggest he’s definitely the long-term answer Pittsburgh was hoping for when drafting him with the 20th overall pick is eminently optimistic.
The truth is Pickett has A LOT to prove.
Even if you want to blame Canada for the struggles on offense (which is definitely fair as he’s the main problem for the unit right now), we simply can’t act as if Kenny didn’t arrive at Pittsburgh with plenty of question marks around him.
Those would be the very same uncertainties that made him drop until the 20th pick to be taken by an NFL team that didn’t even feel the urge to trade up to get him. I’m talking about his pocket awareness, patience in the pocket, and overall athleticism.
The Ringer has him as the 35th-best QB in the league this season. He’s 21st in the NFL in on-target throws (%) per Pro Football Reference. Meanwhile, he’s 15th in turnover-worthy throws while failing to make up for the risks by ranking in a grisly 36th spot in big-time throws, per PFF.
Can Pickett survive in the NFL? Probably. Can a better offensive coordinator further his game? Maybe. But is he the definite best option for the Steelers at quarterback in the future? Ah, that’s where it gets interesting.
An early look at the Steelers’ next April
I know it sucks, but a 2-6 record at the bye week is enough to start some draft talk. If the season ended today, general manager Omar Khan would have the following draft picks at his disposal:
1st Round, 4th overall.
2nd Round, 35th, 43rd (via Bears) overall.
To be direct, the Steelers would probably be in a position to draft a quarterback OR trade up a few spots to secure one. Having two second-round picks probably keeps the door open for such a move in case the team improves its position in the standings over the second half of the season.
Next year’s Draft should prove to be very different from the one in 2022. After only one quarterback (Pickett) was taken in the first two rounds this year, there are those who believe that more than five quarterbacks could be taken in the first round next year.
That includes high-end prospects at the position like Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud. But also includes others like Will Levis from Kentucky, who is the #7 overall prospect for ESPN’s Todd McShay, for example.
What if the Steelers are in a position to draft a prospect they project to be a quality starter in the NFL? Do they pass on him just because they took Pickett a year before? To fall into such a sunk cost fallacy would be nothing short of nonsensical.
Keep in mind, the AFC North is a division that now has Deshaun Watson, Lamar Jackson, and Joe Burrow. Try winning that with a quarterback that isn’t a big-time athlete who can take the offense to the next level on a consistent year-to-year basis.
Sure, right now, Pittsburgh should be worried about putting their rookie in the best position to succeed in order to know everything there is to know about him to make the best possible decision.
But it’s way too premature to be giving Kenny Pickett the title of “the quarterback of the future” for the Steelers.
Featured image via Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports