To really quantify the great quarterbacks surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2023 and beyond, NFL.com ranked the eight divisions by the strength of their quarterbacks. Not only was the AFC North named the best division for the position but the entire podium, the top three spots, were all held by AFC teams. It’s just another illustration of how the AFC has monopolized the best passers in football and the big hill there is for Kenny Pickett and the Steelers to climb.
Adam Schein, who has been kinder to the Steelers in recent weeks and praises Pickett’s potential, placed the North in pole position, noting Joe Burrow and Lamar Jackson first.
“Burrow has just about everything you want in a franchise quarterback: the leadership, the swagger, the processing ability, the knack for delivering in the fourth quarter…Lamar rightfully received his nine-figure extension a few weeks ago,” Schein wrote. “Just the second NFL player to win MVP in unanimous fashion, Jackson boasts a sparkling 45-16 career record and is the only quarterback in league history with a pair of 1,000-yard rushing seasons. But he’s eager to sling the ball across the yard in 2023.”
Burrow is among the best quarterbacks in football, easily top five and perhaps higher than that, and will soon become the highest-paid quarterback in football. Meaning, the top two earners on an average yearly value basis will reside in the North in Burrow and Jackson. Jackson isn’t in the tier Burrow is but is a dynamic player whose biggest obstacle has been his health. The Steelers have had more success against Jackson than most but their focus comes at the expense of letting the rest of the Ravens’ ground attack run wild.
Schein also lauded the Bengals and Ravens’ weapons for their quarterbacks to throw to. Cincinnati has one of the best groups in football with Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd. They also reloaded with a pair of draft picks in Charlie Jones and Andrei Iosivas, two different body types but downfield-capable receivers. Jones in particular could soon replace Boyd, who is entering the final year of the four-year contract extension he signed in 2019. Baltimore improved its weak wide receiver unit with Odell Beckham Jr. and first-round pick Zay Flowers while having an elite tight end in Mark Andrews and second-year player Isaiah Likely, who popped in 2022.
Cleveland’s Deshaun Watson may be the NFL’s wild card. Once a top quarterback, he sat out the 2021 season, initially due to his unhappiness with the Texans’ front office followed by a looming suspension following sexual harassment and assault allegations. Ultimately, he was dealt to the Browns in 2022 and eventually suspended 11 games before finishing out the year. In six starts, he went 3-3, completed less than 60% of his passes and had seven touchdowns to five interceptions. He’ll play his first full season in three years and the Browns are banking on him returning to form, which Schein expects to occur.
“I assume a full, normal, football-focused offseason and preseason will go a long way toward returning Watson’s game to the form that saw him earn three straight Pro Bowl bids from 2018 through 2020.”
While those are three high-pedigree guys with hardware to show, Schein is confident in Pickett, believing he can make a jump in Year Two.
“I’m a big believer in the upside of this division’s least-experienced passer, Mr. Pickett,” Schein wrote. “The only first-round QB in last year’ draft enjoyed a solid rookie season, but I expect a monster jump in Year 2…Pittsburgh is Pickett’s team, and I envision him running with that mantle in 2023.”
Schein pointed to the investments and upgrades Pittsburgh made to its offense this year, signing OG Isaac Seumalo, drafting OT Broderick Jones, and trading for WR Allen Robinson II as some of the biggest pieces it put around Pickett. As he notes, Pickett is the team’s clear-cut starter compared to a year ago when his rookie role was uncertain, beginning the year as a backup before taking over as starter in Week 5. Pickett will need to make the jump predicted here for Pittsburgh to remain competitive. Not just in the AFC North but around the league. Coming in second and third place on Schein’s list are the AFC East and AFC West. The first NFC team doesn’t show up until fourth place with the NFC North. His worst QB division comes from the NFC South, “highlighted” by Desmond Ridder, Derek Carr, Baker Mayfield, and 2023 1st-overall pick Bryce Young.