Mel Kiper Jr. Says Kenny Pickett Would Be Fifth-Best QB Of 2023 Class, Explores OT Options

Not only was Kenny Pickett the first quarterback taken in the 2022 NFL Draft, he was the only one taken in the top two rounds. The 2023 class is the polar opposite with four quarterbacks going in the first round and likely at least three being selected in the top five.

Though it’s just a hypothetical that means little, ESPN Draft Guru Mel Kiper Jr. was asked during a Wednesday conference call how Pickett would fit in with the top of the 2023 class.

“If he were in this draft, I would say he would probably be the fifth spot,” Kiper said. “Solidly at five. Behind that top group. Some would even say he’d be in there with [Kentucky’s] Will Levis…I would say he would still be in that first round as the fifth quarterback taken when four guys are projected in the top five.”

Of course, Kiper is referring to the top group consisting of Ohio State’s C.J. Stroud, Alabama’s Bryce Young, and Florida’s Anthony Richardson. Kiper also mentioned Levis, a likely first round pick but not quite in that slam dunk tier the other three are, fully expected to be some of the first names off the board.

Stroud is lauded for his accuracy, Young for his poise and leadership, and Richardson for his freakish size, athleticism, and great pocket presence. Pickett lacked those top-end tools, which prevented him from being a Top-10 pick, but the Steelers loved his accuracy, leadership, and being familiar with him as a Pitt Panther. Last year, Pickett was Kiper’s #2 overall quarterback only behind Liberty’s Malik Willis, who fell into the third round.

Though the 2023 QB class is loaded with talent, it’s hard to see the Steelers regretting their decision to draft Pickett. Even if they had waited, there’s no guarantee the team would be picking anywhere close to the top of the draft. Meaning, they would’ve either had to trade up like Carolina did or chart a new course of action. Pittsburgh quickly turned the page on the Ben Roethlisberger era, immediately finding his replacement in Pickett.

As Kiper also noted later in the call, taking a quarterback last year creates options this year. He strongly believes in the need for Pittsburgh to draft a cornerback, recently mocking them Maryland’s Deonte Banks, but also noted Joey Porter Jr. as a possible option if he slips or Michigan’s DJ Turner in the second round. Odds are good that the team will draft a corner within their top three picks. It’s just a matter of who and where. But they don’t need a quarterback, not a starter anyway, and though they come from different classes, Pickett may still be judged next to the 2023 group considering how weak the 2022 group is looking.

Beyond the first round, Kiper said the Steelers could look to protect Pickett with an offensive tackle.

“There’s some mixed opinion on Anton Harrison from Oklahoma,” he said. “I thought he could maybe be a mid-first, I’m hearing more second from him. He was a little inconsistent at Oklahoma. He’s gotta get coaching. Matthew Bergeron is red hot from Syracuse. I think when you look at Darnell Wright from Tennessee, we all know what he did against Will Anderson Jr. When he neutralized Will Anderson Jr. in that game. He’s a right tackle. If you want the most athletic guy, that would be Broderick Jones from Georgia.”

Pittsburgh has shown interest in the top tackles this year and have gravitated toward some of the largest men in the draft, like Wright and Dawand Jones, who is 6’8, 374 pounds. With mixed results, the Steelers have brought in hulking tackles in the past, everyone from Max Starks to Mike Adams to Zach Banner. Given their big-boy signings of guards Nate Herbig and Isaac Seumalo along with their interest in Orlando Brown Jr., they’re likely looking for size at tackle, too. They don’t want their tackles to be smaller than their guards.

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