Kenny Pickett spent five years with the Pittsburgh Panthers. He’ll be turning 24 years old in a couple of weeks. And he needed all of that experience to get him to where he landed, as the 20th overall pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers last month during the 2022 NFL Draft. He knows that as well as anybody.
“It was huge”, he said during rookie minicamp of the significance of returning to school last year in his development and getting him here. “Being with Coach [Mark] Whipple and Coach Whipple’s offense, the pro system, I think it just really gave me a good platform and a good baseline to be where I am now, so I felt pretty good out there today”.
The 2021 season was not Whipple’s first with the Panthers—in fact, it was his third, and last, as he’s now with Nebraska—but there was a development over time within that offense, growing into more of a pro system since they were able to implement more last year due to fewer COVID-19 restrictions.
As you probably know by now, Whipple was the quarterbacks coach for the Steelers in 2004-2006, which overlaps with the first three seasons of Ben Roethlisberger’s career, so Pickett has already worked with his predecessor’s position coach—both his first and his (second to) last, the latter being Matt Canada, who is now (finally) his offensive coordinator. He talked about that back in February.
“It’s pretty cool to be coached by Coach Whip, who had Ben, and then I got to learn from him”, he said during the pre-draft process. “A lot of things that he taught Ben, he was teaching me these past three seasons at Pitt. So the possibility of getting drafted there would be really unbelievable”.
Well, now that’s happened, and he’s coming from a system built by Roethlisberger’s first quarterbacks coach to now an offense built by the man who recruited him to Pittsburgh and who was Roethlisberger’s final offensive coordinator, and penultimate position coach.
Pickett really blossomed during his final year, leading the Panthers to a conference title. He completed 334 of 497 pass attempts for 4,319 yards and 42 touchdowns to just seven interceptions, which are by far the best numbers he put up in his career—not dissimilar to Joe Burrow’s final college season.
All of this simply means that he should be able to get the basic, fundamental elements of the mental aspect of the quarterback position at the NFL level down relatively quickly. That doesn’t necessarily mean that his game is going to entirely transfer to the pros or that he’s going to be successful.
But having that one final season to work out the issues in his game and in his process was obviously of great benefit to him, and as he said, provided him with the platform to have the best opportunity to succeed at the next level.