The Pittsburgh Steelers certainly believe that they have a long-term answer under center in second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett. But there seems to be more questions than answers regarding the former Pitt star outside of the building in the national media.
Pickett continues to be much of the focus in the offseason for the Steelers and rightfully so as a lot rides on him entering his first full season as a starter in 2023. If he takes a sizable step forward, so too will the Steelers’ offense. If not, it could be more of the same this season on the offensive side of the ball for the Black and Gold.
That uncertainty, coupled with some underwhelming production as a rookie, has Pickett as the biggest quarterback question for the Steelers from ESPN’s Dan Graziano, who Thursday questioned whether Pickett is the long-term answer in the Steel City.
“Did you know that, over the second half of the 2022 season, Pickett went 6-2 and ranked eighth in the NFL in Total QBR? Well, I didn’t until I just looked it up. He wasn’t particularly dazzling during this stretch — a 59.4 completion percentage and just five touchdown passes over that stretch aren’t the kinds of numbers that get them to bust out the chisels in Canton. But it would be silly to say he didn’t show progress as the season went on,” Graziano writes regarding Pickett being the Steelers’ biggest question mark under center. “The Steelers’ passing game was one of the worst in the league, with a seems-like-a-typo total of 12 touchdown passes on the season. They didn’t change coordinators — Matt Canada is returning — and the big addition to the receiving corps was a 30-year-old Allen Robinson, who has caught a total of 71 passes over the past two years. So it might be that the Steelers aren’t in position this year to figure out whether Pickett is the long-term answer. But if they continue to see the kind of tangible progress he showed in the second half of his rookie season, that’ll at least be something.”
Based on the way the Steelers closed the season on offense last season, particularly in the second half on a 7-2 run that saw them narrowly miss the playoffs, and then go out and add a number of pieces offensively, the argument can — and should — be made that this is the season the Steelers are in position to see if Pickett is the long-term answer.
Adding the likes of veteran wide receiver Allen Robinson II and left guard Isaac Seumalo, along with rookie left tackle Broderick Jones and tight end Darnell Washington offensively gives Pickett the protection he needs and the weapons for when he throws the football.
Pickett certainly has the “it” factor for the position. He’s as calm, cool, collected and confident late in games on potential game-winning drives as he is on the first series or two of a game. The stakes don’t faze him. Neither do the bright lights nor the overall moment.
Though he’s just 13 games into his career and the numbers don’t look all that great, it certainly feels like the Steelers have the right guy for the job moving forward, based on his leadership, moxie and overall confidence, even in weighty, pressure-packed moments. Nothing ever feels too big for him, and he has an unwavering confidence that he can get the job done.
That rubs off on his teammates and has guys rallying behind him.
It’s very clear the Steelers have their QB1 for the foreseeable future. Will he be able to ascend into that “franchise QB” tier, one that gives them a chance to win no matter the opponent every time they step between the white lines? That remains to be seen.
If Pickett can find that consistency throughout games, he can become that franchise quarterback the Steelers searched for all offseason ahead of the 2022 season and believe they found. The moxie and leadership is real, but from an on-field production standpoint, the rookie has a long way to go, and that’s perfectly fine.
In another year under offensive coordinator Matt Canada, which hopefully coincides with Canada taking the shackles off of the offense in Pittsburgh, if Pickett can take a major step forward it would go a long, long way towards putting an end to the questions regarding Pickett’s future as the long-term answer in Pittsburgh, at least from the national media.