Each week, CBS Sports’ Josh Edwards has ranked the top-15 rookies in the NFL, and for the first time all season, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett has cracked the list, appearing at No. 15. Pickett’s coming off a game where he led his second game-winning drive in a row in Pittsburgh’s 16-13 win over the Baltimore Ravens to keep the Steelers playoff hopes alive heading into Week 18.
“Outside of sacking himself on a bootleg, Pickett avoided the critical mistakes that have defined his other starts. He has done a great job attacking soft spots in a zone,” Edwards writes in justifying Pickett’s selection.
Pickett replaced Christian Watson at No. 15 on a list that had some movement from Week 17 to Week 18, including Houston Texans running back Dameon Pierce somehow moving up four spots while missing his team’s loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars due to injury. It’s fair to criticize aspects of Pickett’s performance this year, but it’s a major stretch to say his starts have been defined by critical mistakes, especially recently.
Pickett dealt with interception issues throughout his first few starts, and you can argue the interceptions cost the Steelers two games this season, one against the New York Jets (and to be fair to Pickett, only one, maybe two of those picks were really his fault) and another against the Miami Dolphins. If you want to say that his mistakes defined those two starts, then go for it. But since the bye week, Pickett hasn’t really made those mistakes. His second-half performance against the Bengals in Week 11 is the only time since the bye where Pickett has truly looked overmatched, so I don’t really understand that comment given the quarterback’s play over the last seven weeks.
It’s hard to compare players across positions, and in terms of pure talent/production, Pickett’s spot at No. 15 is probably fair. The rankings “are not based on statistical performance but rather overall play,” so obviously team performance isn’t really considered and it’s a pure talent rating. But in terms of overall impact in terms of rookie performance, I’d be hard-pressed to put Pickett outside the top five. He plays the most important position of any rookie on the list, and Pickett’s play is a big reason why the Steelers are still in playoff contention. While a guy like Tyler Linderbaum (No. 8 on the list) has been a stud for the Baltimore Ravens at center this year, the Ravens are probably still a playoff team with a lesser player at the position. The Steelers aren’t still in contention with someone worse at quarterback.
Still, given the talent of this rookie class, and the way the rankings are done, I’m not going to argue with Pickett’s placement on the list. All that matters is that he’s been producing in a big way for the Steelers in recent weeks, and hopefully, he keeps it up in a must-win Week 18 against the Cleveland Browns.