Kenny Pickett was the only quarterback taken in the first two rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft. He’s the only one who is guaranteed to be a starter in 2023, though others like Brock Purdy and Desmond Ridder will have a chance.
The Pittsburgh Steelers knew who their guy was, however, and didn’t hesitate in grabbing him when they could. Part of the reason they were so confident was because of how much they got to see him playing right next door. And Steelers president Art Rooney II believes he showed the same things during his rookie season that gave them confidence in his long-term future.
“You never know what to expect from any rookie, but a rookie quarterback, it’s not easy stepping into that job in the National Football League”, he admitted in speaking to Jenna Harner for WPXI in an exclusive one-on-one interview on Tuesday.
“I think he’s the kind of player that, his work ethic and his attention to detail, I expect that’s gonna allow him to continue to improve and take a jump in year two and probably beyond that”, he added.
The coaching staff had Pickett working primarily with the third-team offense during the offseason behind 2022 free agent addition Mitch Trubisky and veteran reserve Mason Rudolph. Trubisky opened the season as the starter, which appeared to be quietly scripted all along, but Pickett proved worthy of dressing.
Then head coach Mike Tomlin decided to pull the cord and let Pickett loose after the offense continued to struggle under Trubisky into week four. The veteran was benched at halftime and the rookie came in and hasn’t looked back since.
His official stat line on the season is 12 starts in 13 games, 245-for-389 passing for 2404 yards with 7 touchdowns to 9 interceptions. He rushed for 237 yards and three touchdowns on 55 attempts, including many successful quarterback sneaks, and posted a 7-5 record.
As we’ve examined from many angles already, his performance improved significantly as the season wore on, including in ways that don’t always get borne out clearly by looking at the numbers. The most tangible is the fact that he protected the football much better.
Two areas in which he has to improve is in his decision-making and accuracy in the red zone and on deep passing plays. The Steelers had one of the more reliable offenses in the league between the 20s, with long, sustained drives, but you don’t necessarily want incredibly long drives, because they make it more difficult to find the end zone.
Pickett will have a full offseason this time around in which he has the opportunity to function as the starter, with an offense built around him and the chance to gain familiarity and chemistry with his targets. We should have a much better feel for who he will be as a long-term player by this time next year.