From the start of his NFL career running onto the field at Acrisure Stadium to open the second half against the Seattle Seahawks under a wave of “Kenny! Kenny! Kenny!” chants, to the storybook ending on a game-winning touchdown pass to Tyler Vaughns with three seconds remaining, Saturday’s NFL debut was a special one for Pittsburgh Steelers rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett.
On the night, playing the entire second half of the 32-25 win, Pickett finished 13-for-15 for 95 yards and two scores, added two carries for 16 yards in the win. At one point, Pickett completed 10 straight passes and really looked poised on the field overall, making the right reads, getting the ball out quickly and showing just how confident he was overall within Acrisure Stadium — a place he played many times before with the Pittsburgh Panthers.
Pickett’s debut was so good that Pro Football Focus’s Michael Renner named it the top rookie preseason debut among the quarterbacks in the 2022 NFL Draft class, edging out the likes of New England’s Bailey Zappe and Atlanta’s Desmond Ridder in the top 3 overall.
“The stat line tells you all you need to know about the difficulty of the throws Pickett was making. He went 13-of-15 for 95 yards (6.3 YPA) with a 5.5-yard average depth of target and a 3.3-yard average depth of completion.That being said, Pickett’s command of the offense stood out immediately,” Renner writes for Pro Football Focus regarding Pickett’s performance in his NFL debut. “He was quick and efficient with the football, averaging a solid 2.75-second time to throw. Pickett also flashed his mobility with three scrambles for 16 yards.
“The level of difficulty simply wasn’t there, though, to make too many sweeping judgments…There’s obviously no shame in taking what the defense gives you, but there’s a big difference between what third-string defenses will give you in preseason versus what NFL starters will give you in the regular season.”
Pickett’s debut was really good — make no mistake about it. But it’s important to remember that he was going against bottom of the roster guys on a bad roster in Seattle and really didn’t do anything truly out of the ordinary overall. He made the lay-ups, as Mike Tomlin says, showed good anticipation, threw quickly and on time outside the numbers, and was really in command of the offense.
That’s largely what you’re looking for from a rookie QB in his NFL debut, especially in the preseason. Takes what’s there, don’t make mistakes, move your unit up and down the field and show the moment isn’t too big for you. Pickett checked all those boxes and then some.
He has to build on the sparkling debut now, especially with tape out there for NFL defensive coordinators to use to gameplan against him as much as possible in the preseason. We’ll see when he gets his reps on Saturday in Jacksonville, but there was a lot to like coming out of the debut against the Seahawks, which has Steelers fans wanting more from the hometown product.