Coming out of the University of Pittsburgh after five years with the Panthers’ football program, quarterback Kenny Pickett — coming off of a Heisman Trophy finalist and record-setting season — seemingly had that “it” factor.
That “it” factor is hard to quantify, and often harder to see, but since he’s entered the NFL Pickett has put it on display time and time and time again.
Sunday’s NFL debut for the 2022 first-round pick after halftime against the New York Jets at Acrisure Stadium was more of the same from Pickett. Trailing 10-6 and needing a spark, the Steelers and head coach Mike Tomlin turned to Pickett. He responded by immediately leading a touchdown drive and later added another one in the second half.
However, he made some rookie mistakes and had one rough turnover on a throw to Pat Freiermuth that ultimately changed the game. Though he’s not to blame for the loss, that interception certainly changed things around for the Jets, who responded with two long scoring drives in the fourth quarter against an elite defense.
Despite the mistakes, it was clear that the moment wasn’t too big for Pickett, which has come to be expected from him. That poise he showed and the overall swagger he showed on Sunday, even talking trash to some defenders, was nothing new for personal QB coach Tony Racioppi, who appeared on the 93.7 The Fan Morning Show Tuesday and sang Pickett’s praises.
“A lot of people say the word swagger, and I think that that’s a lot of things. I think there’s underlying, using the word swagger, but underneath that, I would say that would say confidence; he’s got an edge to him,” Racioppi stated Tuesday, according to audio via 93.7 The Fan. “There’s poise, and I’ll say this guys: how many people could go into a game, right? With however many people that stadium holds, chanting your name, with all the pressure in the world without practicing once, really, in four weeks, right? …To just have a calmness to you and a poise to you, but at the same time bring some energy into the huddle.
“I think his experience at Pittsburgh really prepared him.”
Even without practice reps behind Trubisky throughout the first four weeks of the season and limited rapport with guys like Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, George Pickens and even Pat Freiermuth, outside of work in training camp, Pickett stepped right into the mix and performed admirably, which showed quite a bit from the rookie first-round pick.
Again, poise and that “it” factor is really hard to quantify. You know it when you see it though, and Pickett has it oozing out of him. It’s been that way since the 2021 season at Pittsburgh when he reached a new level, really found his confidence and worked his way into that first-round quarterback.
Now, with the job his moving forward, that swagger and poise is going to need to show up in abundance, especially in the next month-long stretch the Steelers are staring down with the Buffalo Bills, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Dolphins and Philadelphia Eagles leading into the bye week.