The Pittsburgh Steelers used their first-round draft selection on the man they believe will be their franchise quarterback. They wouldn’t have drafted him in the first round if they weren’t confident in that. But at the same time, that doesn’t mean that Kenny Pickett will be the Steelers’ starting quarterback when they take the field this September.
As is their modus operandi, Pittsburgh didn’t go into the draft unsecured, and Ben Roethlisberger’s retirement was certainly not a surprise. Even last year, they made sure to sign Mason Rudolph to a one-year extension so they knew at least that they would have him under contract for 2022.
Earlier this offseason, they also went out and signed former first-round pick Mitch Trubisky to a modest two-year deal. Prior to the draft, he was the presumptive favorite to start, but Pickett will obviously have a chance as well—as will Rudolph, as the team expects.
“It makes for a great competition between those three”, third-year wide receiver Chase Claypool said over the weekend, speaking from the Parlor Games Celebrity Basketball Classic even in Las Vegas, via Ryan Gaydos of Fox News. “Those guys want to come out on top. No matter who it is, we’re going to be pretty good”.
Of the three, Trubisky is by far the most experienced. The second overall pick of the 2017 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears, he spent his first four seasons as their primary starter, and he does have a 29-21 record, including a 25-13 record over his last three years starting.
Last season, however, he spent almost all of his time on the bench, signing a small one-year contract to serve as the backup to Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills. He has talked about how that was a good experience for him that will serve him well in his next starting opportunity.
But now he has a rookie first-round pick to fend off, and one regarded as the most NFL-ready of the class. Head coach Mike Tomlin made it explicit that he expects Pickett to be in the running to be their starter this year.
Even though almost nobody would bet on him, Rudolph remains nominally in the race as well. He is the only quarterback on the roster who has ever played in the Steelers’ system before, or with the Steelers’ skill players. And it’s not as though he is entirely devoid of talent.
The good news is that, whoever does win the quarterback job will have plenty of tempting targets to throw to. In addition to Claypool, the Steelers have Diontae Johnson at wide receiver, and they just added George Pickens and Calvin Austin III in the draft. On top of that, they have a young Pro Bowl running back in Najee Harris and a blossoming tight end in Pat Freiermuth.