Clearly, the Pittsburgh Steelers don’t have one of the best quarterback situations in football. But despite spending a first round pick on QB Kenny Pickett in 2022, CBS Sports believe the Steelers’ situation has more questions than answers. Cody Benjamin ranked all 32 quarterback situations around the league and placed Pittsburgh’s a lowly 22nd and placing it in the “uneasily settled” category, a group of teams who have a clear starter but “prime candidates to explore an upgrade in the next year or two.”
Recapping Pittsburgh’s situation, Benjamin writes:
“A year after arriving as Pittsburgh’s first Day 1 QB pick since Ben Roethlisberger, Kenny Pickett has at least shown he’s got a fighting spirit, standing tall on a sluggish offense to guide several clutch late-year outings. He was also handled with kid gloves in an old-fashioned approach, so it remains to be seen what kind of ceiling he has as a gunslinger.”
By now, Pickett’s rookie season is well-understood by Steelers’ fans. He passed Mason Rudolph to open the season as the team’s #2 quarterback before replacing Mitch Trubisky midway through Week 4. He took his lumps and Benjamin is right the Steelers often conservatively used him but things smoothed out by year’s end. Pickett made more plays out of structure, became a more effective downfield thrower, and showed his clutch gene with two game-winning drives over the final three weeks.
Still, the overall numbers weren’t pretty. Pickett threw more interceptions (nine) than touchdowns (seven) while the Steelers’ offense ranked 26th in points per game, barely scoring more than they did in 2019 with a young Mason Rudolph and rookie Duck Hodges. Of course, baseline numbers need to be placed into context and not all of those interceptions were Pickett’s fault. He and the rest of the offense also took fantastic care of the ball after the bye week, playing a ball-control style that dominated time of possession and was the league’s #1 third down offense after Week Nine.
Benjamin’s comments essentially say we haven’t learned enough about Pickett to judge him. Some of that, of course, is fair, and the jump he does (or doesn’t make) early into 2023 will be telling. On paper, he should see significant improvement in play given his rookie year experience and the continuity and talent this offense possesses. They have two talented wide receivers in Diontae Johnson and George Pickens, two downhill running backs in Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren, a trusty tight end in Pat Freiermuth, an offensive line that took major steps forward, and a whole offseason to add additional pieces.
Pittsburgh’s QB situation ranked behind the New England Patriots, Arizona Cardinals, and Denver Broncos. The Cardinals went through a mess of quarterbacks last year and while Kyler Murray has made splash plays, he’s also had just as many struggles and tore his ACL late last year. Sean Payton will try to be Russell Wilson’s savior but it’s hard to see him recapturing the magic he had in Seattle. The Steelers ranked one spot ahead of the Tennessee Titans and two ahead of the Houston Texans.
The top situation in the league was unsurprisingly awarded to Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. The New Orleans Saints ranked dead last with no clear starter and a low first round draft pick that’ll make it almost impossible to nab one of the top arms of this year’s draft, a factor that pushed teams like the Texans and Indianapolis Colts ahead.