I don’t know that the Pittsburgh Steelers were deadest on drafting any quarterback they had a first-round grade on this year—some have reported as much; it has also been reported that they had first-round grades on three quarterbacks this year.
But we know that they had the highest grade on Pittsburgh’s own Kenny Pickett, because he was the one that they drafted, prior to which no other quarterbacks had been taken. Indeed, as you’re surely aware, it would be several dozens picks later before another was taken. So why Pickett? His future, and former would-be offensive coordinator, explained part of that.
“His anticipation and his accuracy—to me, at quarterback, that’s the one thing that everybody has to have, and that’s the hardest to change, the hardest to coach”, Matt Canada said in the new episode of the Steelers’ web series, The Standard. “I’m not saying you can’t, but accuracy and anticipation is a really, really big part of the position”.
We’ve looked at the numbers before, of this quarterback class, of the last several quarterback classes. When you isolate for solely quarterback performance, Pickett really is, overall, a pretty accurate quarterback. He was victimized by a lot of drops in 2019 and 2020. Then he posted a completion percentage of 67.2 last year, a huge outlier, so there you go.
One of the truisms about scouting the quarterback position is that, indeed, accuracy is one of the things that very rarely ever improves significantly over time through coaching. Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills is a rarity and should not be held up as the rule-buster rather than the exception that proves the rule. For every Allen, there are a dozen inaccurate college quarterbacks who are inaccurate professional quarterbacks with short if not non-existent starting careers.
And it’s not just accuracy—the ability to put the ball where you want to—but also, as Canada said, anticipation—the ability to know where to put the ball. The thing is, Pickett’s downfield accuracy is not great, really, merely average. There are more variables the deeper down the field you get, though, making it harder to isolate quarterback performance in those scenarios.
So how is Pickett going to look in terms of accuracy at the NFL level? Are we going to get the 67-percent guy that the Panthers saw last year, when he completed 334 of 497 pass attempts for 4,319 yards and 42 touchdowns to just seven interceptions? Will he follow the Joe Burrow career arc?
Well, if NFL teams thought he would, he sure as hell wouldn’t have lasted to the 20th overall pick. But can he help the Steelers win a Super Bowl? That’s the only question that matters when all is said and done. That’s the goal. Every year. Period.