There have been 52 quarterbacks in NFL history who have started eight or more games as the intended starter in a season while throwing a touchdown on fewer than two percent of their pass attempts. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ Kenny Pickett is number 52 after finishing the season with seven touchdown passes on 389 pass attempts in 12 starts, a touchdown percentage of 1.79.
It’s the lowest mark for any quarterback under the same parameters (having started at least eight games in a season in which he was intended to be the starter) since Sam Bradford in 2011 in his second season with the St. Louis Rams.
Battling a high ankle sprain all season and missing six games, Bradford threw just six touchdowns on 357 pass attempts, or 1.69% of his attempts. He threw 18 touchdowns on 590 attempts as a rookie, and 21 on 551 attempts a year later. In fact, that injury-plagued season proved to be an outlier of inefficiency, even if in a relatively undistinguished career.
It goes without saying that Pickett and the Steelers are going to have to find a way to get into the end zone through the air more frequently after finishing last in the NFL in 2022 with just 12 passing touchdowns—one of which came from former wide receiver Chase Claypool, the other four from Mitch Trubisky.
The last time the Steelers had 12 or fewer touchdowns for an entire season was in 2000, and before that you’d have to go back to the Chuck Noll era in 1989. Before that, 1976. But their touchdown percentage of 2.1 is their lowest in the history of the franchise since the 1940s, back to 1945 when they had zero touchdown passes during a 2-8 season. The game was a bit different back then.
It’s fair to say that their scoring offense through the pass was historically inefficient last season, but are we to assume that it will be similarly poor moving forward? After all, their starting quarterback, Kenny Pickett, was a rookie last season. And he was not put into the starting lineup until week four, nor did he receive much work with the first-team offense through the offseason.
Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence only threw a touchdown on two percent of his passes as a rookie in 2021. He raised that to 4.3 this past season and took his team to the playoffs, winning in the wildcard round, throwing 25 touchdown passes on 584 attempts.
Other quarterbacks under similar circumstances may be better left unmentioned. It’s an inauspicious list including the likes of JaMarcus Russell, Jimmy Clausen, Kellen Clemens, Joey Harrington and Ryan Leaf.
But here’s another difference: of all the quarterbacks on this list, Pickett was tied for the third-most wins in that season, including Johnny Lujack in a 1950 All-Pro season with the Chicago Bears. So there is that. Winning is the end goal. Touchdowns, and passing touchdowns, are a means to that end.