Safe to say rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett and his high level of play through two preseason games is forcing the Pittsburgh Steelers’ hand at quarterback position ahead of the start of the regular season.
All offseason, the belief was that veteran free agent signee Mitch Trubisky was going to be the guy to open the season Week 1 on the road against the Cincinnati Bengals with Mason Rudolph likely as the No. 2 and Pickett as the No. 3 and mostly inactive on game days. Following a slow start to his first NFL training camp, which was no unexpected, Pickett has turned it on and shown just how NFL-ready he was coming out of the University of Pittsburgh, where he had a record-setting season on his way to an ACC championship and a Heisman Trophy finalist.
Through two preseason games, Pickett is 19-for-22 for 171 yard and three touchdowns, sporting an impressive 138.6 passer rating in just under three quarters of action against the Seattle Seahawks and Jacksonville Jaguars. There was the game-winning drive against the Seahawks at Acrisure Stadium, and then the sparkling two-minute drive to close the half against the Jaguars that has turned heads and raised eyebrows regarding the No. 20 overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
The calls for him to be the starting quarterback are getting louder and louder. On Monday, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin hinted that the starting quarterback job remains an open one and could be determined in the preseason finale against the Detroit Lions Sunday at Acrisure Stadium.
Tuesday morning, former NFL quarterback turned ESPN analyst Tim Hasselbeck, appearing on Get Up!, made the case for Pickett’s time as the starting quarterback to be right now, rather than keeping him on the sideline to learn and grow.
“I think Kenny Pickett’s the starting quarterback by Week 4,” Hasselbeck stated on Get Up! Tuesday morning, according to video via the NFL on ESPN YouTube page. “You heard Adam [Schefter] refer to Kenny Pickett as the ‘young kid.’ The reality is, he’s not a young kid, which is one of the reasons why I think they should play him right away.
“…Kenny Pickett has nearly 50 starts at the college level. Some guys get drafted based on potential of what they might be. Some guys get drafted because they might be ready to come right in and play. That, to me, is Kenny Pickett,” Hasselbeck added. “He wasn’t a potential pick. He was a pick because he played a lot of football, weathered the storm as a college quarterback and I think people liked what they saw. For me, I wouldn’t put him on the sideline to learn the game. He’s learned the game. It’s time for Kenny Pickett to actually play.”
Hasselbeck, who played in the NFL from 2002-07, makes a great point about Pickett when it comes to seeing the field and needing to play. Coming out of Pittsburgh, Pickett was praised for being the most NFL-ready guy out of the likes of Desmond Ridder, Carson Strong, Malik Willis and more. So far throughout training camp and the preseason, that’s been the case.
He looks ready to go right now, and is really forcing the Steelers’ hand at the position. Tomlin stated all offseason that he wasn’t going to put a number or anything else on when Pickett would be ready and worthy of the starting job. Instead, Tomlin stated he’d let it play out on the field and make the decision to go with the guy that gives the Steelers the best chance to win.
So far, that looks like Pickett through no fault of Mitch Trubisky or Mason Rudolph, both of whom have looked good throughout training camp and the preseason. Pickett has just found another level under the bright lights compared to the other two, throwing with great anticipation, good overall ball placement and having a strong command of the huddle and grasp of the offense.
Sitting him on the bench at this point might be a mistake. He’s done everything asked of him and has played extremely well. Of course, keeping him out of the starting lineup might be to protect him behind a woeful offensive line that is still trying to gel and find its game, but there’s something to be said for Pickett’s pre- and post-snap abilities to digest what’s happening at a lightening-quick pace, allowing him to get rid of the football quickly and to the right area of the field, helping the Steelers offense move the football consistently.
We’ll see how it plays out Sunday at Acrisure Stadium against the Lions. Don’t be surprised if Pickett looks really good once again and is the starting quarterback moving forward. It’s starting to look more and more like it’s time.