With the start of Pittsburgh Steelers’ training camp a little under two months away, all eyes remain on the quarterback position in the Steel City as veterans Mitch Trubisky and Mason Rudolph and rookie first-round draft pick Kenny Pickett find themselves engulfed in a three-way competition for the starting quarterback job.
So far, after two weeks of OTA sessions at the Steelers’ UPMC Rooney Sports Complex on the South Side, there’s a relatively clear pecking order for snaps with Trubisky — the free agent signee in March — getting first-team reps and Rudolph right behind with second-team reps. That’s left Pickett and fellow rookie Chris Oladokun with third and fourth-team reps, but it’s quite clear that Pickett will see the field in 2022 as the starting quarterback in Pittsburgh at some point, whether that’s early in the season or later.
Despite there being a quarterback competition overall, there’s a best and worst-case scenario for Pickett’s rookie season on the field, according to CBS Sports’ Chris Trapasso, who broke down the numbers for the Steelers’ first-round draft pick at No. 20 overall.
According to Trapasso, the best-case scenario for Picket on the field, based on 450 pass attempts in 2022, includes a 64% completion percentage, 7.4 yards per attempt, 3,330 passing yards, 22 touchdowns, 11 interceptions, 32 sacks taken, and a QB rating of 92.3. On the flip side, Trapasso’s worst-case scenario for Pickett in his first year in the black and gold on 450 pass attempts would include a 58% completion percentage, 6.6 yards per attempt, 2,970 passing yards, 14 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 41 sacks, and a 72.2 QB rating.
— Steelers Depot 7⃣ (@Steelersdepot) June 1, 2022
Not a huge fluctuation overall in the numbers when it’s all boiled down, but a lot rides on the offensive line’s improvement or regression, according to Trapasso.
“These predictions are based on 450 pass attempts, which is relatively low, but I felt it necessary to factor that Pickett may not start Week 1, the Steelers have old-school workhorse Najee Harris in their backfield, and the Steelers giving off a strong “we want to win games 17-14″ vibe,” Trapasso writes. “At 450 pass attempts over 17 games — which, again, isn’t a given for Pickett as a rookie — would equate to an average of around 26 tosses per game, which isn’t significantly low and just four pass attempts per game lower than Jones’ average in 2021.
“That 7.4 yards-per-attempt average would narrowly eclipse [New England’s Mac] Jones and [Los Angeles’s Justin] Herbert in their respective rookie seasons,” Trapasso added. “Pittsburgh’s offensive line is marred with uncertainty, but it’s not crazy to believe it will be a much-improved unit from 2021’s atrocity given the experienced Dan Moore and Kendrick Green got last season and the acquisition of James Daniels on the interior. The skill-position group is sneaky good — not amazing — so Pickett will be supported well at the receiver and tight end spots, which of course is integral for any young quarterback. “
— Steelers Depot 7⃣ (@Steelersdepot) May 31, 2022
Trapasso is spot-on in regards to the vibes the Steelers are giving off in a year of transition, aiming to play ground-and-pound football while providing smothering defense on the other side of the football. That could handicap Pickett’s overall numbers, should he get onto the field relatively quickly, much like Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie season numbers were handicapped in 2004 due to a run-heavy scheme overall.
Of course, things will come down to the play of the offensive line, like Trapasso points out. While the Steelers have a ton of skill overall with Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, Pat Freiermuth, Najee Harris, and more, including fellow rookies George Pickens and Calvin Austin, success will come down to the time and overall protection Pickett is provided once he’s inserted into the lineup.
It’s unlikely Pickett reaches the best-case scenario or the worst-case scenario. Chances are, his rookie-year production will fall somewhere in the middle, which would be a positive step forward for the Steelers in 2022.