For as much praise as the Pittsburgh Steelers may have received over the past calendar year or so with the various moves that have been made under Omar Khan and Andy Weidl in the front office, the reality remains that their success or failure on the field is ultimately tied to the growth of their young quarterback.
The Steelers drafted Kenny Pickett 20th overall in the first round in 2022. He had a promising rookie season that is generally regarded as having looked better than the stat sheet might say, particularly with regard to touchdown passes, but nobody was writing him in for the Pro Bowl just yet. Many are on board with him developing into a winner, though. That includes former Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman.
“I think Kenny Pickett is going to take a major jump forward”, he told Ron Cook and Joe Starkey on 93.7 The Fan yesterday. “I think that experience that he was able to get last year [will be valuable], and I think he’s underrated as an athlete, and I think he’s only going to take another jump. I think by year three you’re truly going to have a very good quarterback in Pittsburgh”.
Of course, 2023 is year two, which suggests that Spielman doesn’t necessarily think we’re going to be seeing a Pro Bowler on the field in Pittsburgh this season. And we probably won’t, in terms of stats, but that doesn’t mean this is a team that isn’t going to be able to win games.
The offense is still growing and coming together, having likely added, for the second offseason in a row, two new starting offensive linemen. It should also feature other new key contributors in veteran wide receiver Allen Robinson II and rookie tight end Darnell Washington.
That’s not to mention the internal growth of other second-year players beyond Pickett, particularly second-round wide receiver George Pickens, whom Spielman believes is going to develop into one of the game’s premier receivers, and undrafted running back Jaylen Warren.
Of course, it comes down to what happens on the field, including the plays that are run and how they are set up, and for at least one more season, that’s the projected domain of Matt Canada as the Steelers’ offensive coordinator.
From what we know, Canada, entering his third season in that post, is in the final year of his current deal. This figures to be the ultimate performance evaluation test. If he doesn’t take this offense a significant step forward, it’s virtually impossible to imagine him being back in 2024.
By then, Pickett is supposed to be “a very good quarterback”, according to Spielman—and certainly it’s true that quarterbacks don’t stop growing after their second season. There’s no reason not to expect Pickett to be better in 2023 than he was in 2022, and in 2024 than he will be in 2023. One hopes he continues to grow every year. Eventually, the end goal is for it all to lead to more rings.