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Is Trubisky/Pickett The Next Brees/Rivers Dilemma?

The 2004 NFL Draft will forever be remembered as one which featured arguably the top class of quarterbacks in NFL history. The Pittsburgh Steelers can certainly pound the table in agreeance, as their tried-and-true method of allowing a top prospect fall to them paid dividends when Ben Roethlisberger fell to them with the 11th overall pick. One of his classmates, Philip Rivers, was a top prospect in his own right, as he was involved in a draft day swap with the New York Giants for Eli Manning. However, in the 2001 draft, the Chargers had selected Drew Brees in the second round. After mostly sitting behind Doug Flutie his rookie season, Brees gained the starting gig in 2002 and didn’t relinquish it. At least until NFL economics occurred. After all, the NFL is a business model and does no one any favors.

After a rocky two years as the starter, Brees came into his own in the ’04 campaign, albeit after the team invested their first round pick on the aforementioned Rivers. This lit a fire under Brees, and it culminated that season when he threw for 3,159 yards, 27 touchdowns and only seven picks, garnering him a Pro Bowl nod. He suffered a severe should injury at the end of his ’05 campaign, thus opening the door for Rivers.

Why is this important, you might ask? Fast forward to 2022, whenever we all witnessed Pittsburgh watch their finest QB to ever wear the black and gold walk off into retirement. The team was proactive in free agency, wasting no time to sign the #2 overall pick of the Bears in the ’17 draft in Mitch Trubisky. He was thrown into the proverbial fire after a 1-3 start and finished his rookie season with mixed results. In 2018 however, he flashed tremendously, highlighted by a 354-yard, six-touchdown effort in a 48-10 win over the Buccaneers. He led his team to the playoffs that season, and was voted to the Pro Bowl following the Bears’ infamous “Double Doink” playoff loss. His career went downhill after that, but Buffalo, and QB guru Brian Daboll, gave him a shot at rejuvenation last season, letting him sit and learn behind MVP candidate Josh Allen.

Here the Steelers sit, with a high-end reclamation project. With a top defense and an offense flush with skill position talent and an improving offensive line, could this be the perfect scenario to unlock his talents? It’s safe to say that team brass wasn’t willing to wait around, considering Roethlisberger just walked off into the retirement sunset. With their selection of Heisman finalist Kenny Pickett last week, the team now has two first round QB’s on their roster.

Hailed as the most pro-ready QB in the class, Pickett offers a nice package of size, arm strength, mobility and also the added bonus of a bevy of games playing in the elements of Heinz Field. However, the pedigree and talents of Trubisky cannot be ignored. This is the same game that NFL talent evaluators had ranked ahead of guys like Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson. It conjures up images of a similar situation that unfolded with the Chargers back in 2005.

After suffering a torn labrum in the final game of the ’05 season, he was viewed by many as damaged goods. With Rivers as their future in tow, the team offered a contract that didn’t meet Brees’ standards, so he took his talents to New Orleans and the rest is history. Thirteen Pro Bowls, one Super Bowl title, and the most 5,000-yard passing seasons in league history, Brees is a shoo-in for the halls of Canton. Rivers is too, but looking back, who had the better career, and more importantly to this article, did the Chargers make the right choice in sending him out to pasture and riding with Rivers?

As we sit here today, the Steelers may be nearing a crossroads of an eerily similar QB conundrum. Two first-round picks, one an NFL veteran who’s seen the high highs and the low lows, being relegated to a backup spot last season. Perhaps sitting and learning for once finally allowed him to sit back and learn to fully process an NFL offense? Still just 27 years of age, it’s possible his best football may still lay in front of him. Finally surrounded by sufficient talent and a coaching staff who is the direct opposite of the dysfunction, if anyone can bring out the best in him, it’s Pittsburgh.

If Trubisky seizes the starting gig, and flourishes, what does the front office do? Pickett is viewed in many circles as the heir apparent to Big Ben, while also possessing a great aura as the “hometown kid.” His Pro Bowl season yielded 3,223 yards, 24 touchdowns and 12 picks, while still getting his feet under him in an NFL offense, featuring many check downs and screen passes to former Pro Bowl running back Tarik Cohen.

Both possess nearly the same builds, and both also have deceptive mobility, a key element needed to fully tap into OC Matt Canada’s playbook. If Pickett shows why he’s been garnering Derek Carr and Joe Burrow comparisons in the preseason, the job is likely his for the next fifteen years. However, if he struggles and Trubisky flashes, the team could be forced to make a decision similar to the one by the Chargers. We are thousands of miles away from either of these two being in any type of Hall of Fame conversation, especially for Trubisky, but so were the Chargers after that 2005 season. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

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