Steelers QB Kenny Pickett
Ceiling: 10-7, Wild Card contender
When the Steelers were on the clock at pick 20 in this year’s draft, they had every QB prospect available to them. Some, like myself, thought they would go the high-upside route with Malik Willis. Instead, they went with the player who was basically in the building for 6 years already. Kenny Pickett was a fringe NFL prospect going into the 2021 season, but early on it was evident that he was a different player than he had been in the past.
He had career highs in every major passing category, including throwing more touchdowns in his last season (42) than in the rest of his career at Pittsburgh (39). It was a very Joe Burrow-esque rise for him as a senior, although not quite as dramatic. Overall, Pickett was a solid prospect who has a good chance to be the Steelers new starting QB sooner rather than later.
If he does indeed win the job, he brings athleticism and playmaking ability to an offense that desperately needs it. It’s no secret that Ben Roethlisberger was a sitting duck for his last few seasons, and the offensive line imploding didn’t help. The Steelers invested in the offensive line in free agency and added playmakers in the draft, giving whoever the QB is a chance to succeed.
The AFC projects to be tougher than ever, but the Steelers are talented enough to compete for another playoff berth with even just average play from Pickett. The defense alone will keep this team in most games, so it will fall on the offense to determine their ceiling.
Floor: 6-11, Pickett loses confidence
Regardless of how pro-ready a rookie QB is billed as being, you can never know for sure how they will handle the jump to the NFL. It’s just a fact of life in the pros that rookies struggle more often than they excel. Pickett is viewed as a relatively safe prospect, but there are some concerns I have with his game.
He has a bad habit of bailing from clean pockets to make plays on the move, something that won’t be nearly as easy to do in the NFL. He has a good arm but nothing special. He is a good athlete but won’t run away from as many defenders as he did in college. None of these concerns would spell disaster by themselves. If they all show up in his rookie season, however, it could get ugly.
It doesn’t have to be the end of the world if Pickett struggles in his first season, but the coaching staff needs to be careful with him. If he is learning and growing every week despite struggling, then letting him play through the growing pains could work out long-term. If he is spiraling or falling into really bad habits, it may be best to pull him before he loses confidence.