If you’re looking for something to be mad about on this Sunday, Matt Cassel’s your guy. Earlier in the week, he posted his way-too-early 2023 QB rankings with Kenny Pickett all the way down at 27th. He finished behind the likes of Andy Dalton, Russell Wilson, and Jacoby Brissett while finishing just barely ahead of Baker Mayfield and Davis Mills.
Cassel offered a brief explanation for each player and had some pointed words for Pickett’s game.
“Kenny Pickett needs to limit mistakes, stay on the field and show some consistency. Throwing game-winning touchdowns with less than a minute left in consecutive games might be a glimpse into Pickett’s moxie. He’s going to need it to carry the weight of one of the league’s most historic franchises on his back.”
There’s some issue to take with those comments. While Pickett ended the year with more interceptions (nine) than touchdowns (seven), he only threw one interception following the team’s Week Nine bye week and that one was heavily pressured induced. As we noted earlier in the offseason, the only QB with at least 150 attempts from Week Ten on who had fewer interceptions than Pickett was Jared Goff, who threw zero.
So if Pickett is throwing too many interceptions, the same goes for the rest of the league.
Pickett missed some time due to injury but they were a pair of concussions out of his control. Given the league’s strict protocols and Pickett’s own self-reporting of symptoms, and kudos to him for it, it’s hardly a knock. He also changed helmets late in the year to hopefully reduce the force to his head when hitting the ground. Pickett’s play evened out by year’s end and he flashed great moments, especially in his Week 17 win over the Baltimore Ravens. On the road, in primetime, leading a stellar game-winning drive and playing well throughout the game.
There’s no question the pressure is on Pickett and he has to take steps forward as a sophomore. The training wheels are off, at least they should be, and while the offense will still be based around the ground game, Pickett will have to average more than the less than one touchdown per game he had as a rookie.
While it’s a rosier painting of Pickett than what Cassel provided, it’s fair to say he’s not even close to being the 20th-best quarterback in football. He probably should be a couple spots higher, there’s no question Russell Wilson’s resume and the allure of what Sean Payton can do for him are the only reasons why Wilson isn’t ranked at the bottom and Dalton being ahead of Pickett is just baffling.
What Cassel’s list does appropriately highlight is how tough the AFC North and AFC is. Of his top seven quarterbacks, six of them reside in the AFC and two – Joe Burrow and Lamar Jackson – are in the division. Aaron Rodgers, his eighth-best quarterback, could soon join the AFC if the Green Bay Packers trade him to the New York Jets. Small improvements won’t be enough for Pickett and the Steelers to get over the hump. He and they will have to make marked progress.
But come on. He’s better than Andy Dalton.