Kenny Pickett has been excellent during his rookie preseason, but here’s why the Steelers probably shouldn’t start him in Week 1 vs the Bengals.
Since the moment the Pittsburgh Steelers selected Kenny Pickett with the 20th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, I wanted him to see the field as soon as possible in his NFL career. In my mind, there was no sense of delaying the inevitable. Pickett turned 24 years old shortly after the NFL draft, and he is supposed to be the future of the team — not Mitch Trubisky or Mason Rudolph.
While I would love to see Pickett take the stage against Joe Burrow as the Steelers face the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 1, I’m beginning to think that this might be a really bad idea. This has nothing to do with how Pickett has played in the preseason. If anything, he has proven that he’s more prepared than most of us even thought he would be. However, I simply do not trust Pittsburgh’s offensive line.
This was one of the single greatest concerns I had entering the 2022 offseason. While I didn’t mind Pittsburgh going after James Daniels and Mason Cole, they neglected the OL in the NFL Draft yet again, and I worried that this group simply wouldn’t be good enough. So far, it looks worse than I could have imagined.
Kendrick Green has been a nightmare at left guard. Mike Tomlin made the decision to start him in each of their first two preseason games, and he could not have looked much worse as he was routinely bullied at the point of attack and can’t stand his ground against bigger, stronger defensive linemen. Fortunately, Kevin Dotson is projected to start, but he hasn’t been the most consistent player either.
In addition, left tackle Dan Moore has not taken the leap forward we were hoping for in his second NFL season. In the Jaguars game alone, he was torched off the edge by Josh Allen and nearly got Mitch Trubisky flattened on numerous occasions. He also gave up a sack in his second preseason game to go with a handful of pressures in the first half.
What’s really concerning is that James Daniels — the player many expected to best of the group in 2022 — has looked like a below-average guard so far in training camp and the preseason. He has been beaten with power too often and his hand placement and technique have been sloppy.
Steelers should test the waters with Trubisky first
It’s not that I want Mitch Trubisky to get killed back there, but I think the Pittsburgh Steelers would be wise to make him the guinea pig against the Bengals in Week 1 of the regular season. If the offensive line looks like it did against Jacksonville, Trubisky will be on his back far too often.
Obviously, I don’t want Mitch to get hurt out there, but there’s no sense risking an early injury to the player who was drafted to be your franchise quarterback. Likewise, horrendous offensive line play could prove to rattle Pickett’s confidence early in his career. This isn’t always the case (Joe Burrow is an example of that), but having no trust that the pocket will hold up can cause a QB to be timid.
With how terrible the offensive line has looked in the first two preseason games, my argument would be to start Trubisky and allow several games for this OL to mesh. There isn’t guaranteed to be much improvement throughout the season — even with this very young group. However, I think giving the OL a bit more time together to build chemistry and improve their technique and consistency might be what we need before I’d be willing to throw Pickett to the wolves.
Again, this has nothing to do with Kenny Pickett’s performance during the preseason or late in training camp. I really do think he could be ready to lead this team. However, I would worry about him getting injured and getting his confidence shaken behind an offensive line that could be one of the worst in the league early in the year.