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Hines Ward: ‘It’s Unfair’ To Compare Kenny Pickett’s Rookie Season To Ben Roethlisberger’s

Some draft picks are Hall of Famers. Others are going to flame out rather quickly. The vast majority will fall within the vast expanse in between those two poles. We don’t know where the Pittsburgh Steelers’ most recent first-round pick, quarterback Kenny Pickett, is going to land. But former wide receiver Hines Ward doesn’t believe anyone, including fans, should be comparing his first season with his predecessor’s, Ben Roethlisberger.

I think it’s unfair to compare Kenny to Ben’s situation”, he told Harrison Graham on Chat Sports’ Steelers Talk recently. “When Ben came into the league, we had a veteran group of guys. Every position was loaded with veteran guys that were already Pro Bowlers, All-Pros, and things like that…When Ben came into the league, it was really, ‘Ben, just don’t mess it up’”.

While there was a mixture of players, they already had a veteran-laden team. Including Ward, who was 28 by then, and their other top receiver, Plaxico Burress, 27. And they had Hall of Fame running back Jerome Bettis as well.

Troy Polamalu and a few others were still early in their careers, but they had a front line including Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, and Kimo Von Oelhoffen, with James Farrior, Joey Porter, and Clark Haggans at linebacker, and Deshea Townsend and Chris Hope in the secondary.

Do the current Steelers have a veteran presence? Of course they do. They have a trio of All-Pros on defense as the core of that group. There are some other veterans as well. But they haven’t necessarily been established as being in leadership positions. Nor have many of them had long starting histories.

Just look at Pickett’s offense in particular. His running back and tight end were second-year players, as was his left tackle. He had a rookie wide receiver. His offensive line was just put together and largely consists of young players or veterans just brought in from the outside. With a new coach.

I’m not sure many people exited the 2021 season thinking the Steelers are just a quarterback away from winning the Super Bowl. The Steelers of 2004 kind of were there—after all, they proved it within two years of drafting Roethlisberger.

Pickett is probably not going to take them to the Super Bowl in 2023, if we’re being realistic. Few in this league ever get to do what Roethlisberger did. After all, he was the youngest starting quarterback to ever win.

Ward’s point is that the Steelers today are simply in a different place than they were when Roethlisberger first stepped in nearly two decades ago. It is dishonest for anybody to try to evaluate his rookie season by those standards.

That doesn’t mean there isn’t room for fair critique of his play, of course. He still has to get a lot better in some pretty important areas moving forward. But he’ll do that on his own timeline with this team, the only team he gets to play for.

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