There was a short outburst when rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud threw his 14th touchdown of the season (please note: as of this writing he has 15 now), surprising the total number of touchdowns that Kenny Pickett has completed in over double the games played for the Steelers. Some fans were quick to come out and defend Pickett, citing various reasons for this ugly-looking stat to make themselves feel better.
While Stroud having a hot start to his career doesn’t guarantee him long-term success, it is a little disheartening to see such a blatant difference between the two first-round quarterbacks. This is especially true considering the general belief that Stroud needed some work at the pro level in order to achieve his ceiling. Pickett was hyped as pro-ready despite lacking elite traits.
The opposite has been true from the “pro-ready” aspect, as Pickett looked bad as a rookie and has yet to really make a jump in year two. Stroud has been on fire since joining the Texans and is a likely rookie of the year. It is 100 percent a bad thing that Stroud has looked and statistically performed so much better than Pickett has.
Pickett playing so much worse than Stround has to concern the Steelers
Some valid differences can and should be pointed out between the two players. Stroud was a top-five pick in what was seen as a top-heavy quarterback draft class. Pickett was taken at pick 20 in what looks like one of the worst quarterback classes in recent memory. It would be understandable that, in due time, Stroud would outperform Pickett.
What is more concerning is that, despite being a rawer prospect, Stroud already looks leaps and bounds better as a quarterback than Pickett does now. All of this despite only starting for two seasons in college (Pickett started four) and being three years younger than the Steelers option.
It isn’t like the Texans are a powerhouse either. Their line has been marginal and very injury-prone this year. Tank Dell has been a bright spot at receiver but I would argue that Pickett has the better weapons. Pittsburgh also boasts two running backs better than what the Texans are currently offering.
The only real upgrade that Houston has is, arguably, Bobby Slowik as their offensive coordinator. Slowik has a system akin to the 49ers which naturally benefits a quarterback. Matt Canada is everyone's favorite punching bag (and understandably so), but talent will also shing past poor coaching.
Topping Pickett’s career stats in eight games isn’t just a difference in coaching. It is a compliment to Stroud, who has a very clear bright future ahead of him given his strong start. It is also a knock on Pickett, as “raw” rookies shouldn’t be outperforming him like that.
All you have to do is flip on the game film. Stroud shows a lot more confidence in the pocket and progresses through reads far better than Pickett ever has as a pro. The same can be said for fellow rookie Will Levis. I’m curious how his end-of-the-year stats will be considering he will have played close to what Pickett did as a rookie.
It is getting harder and harder to justify the selection of Kenny Pickett right now. The hope was that the learning curve would be short so that he could turn around and be a contending team earlier in his career. You sacrifice the elite traits for that. Unfortunately, Pickett looks like much more of a work in progress than even some of the current rookie quarterbacks.
So yes, it is telling that Pickett has looked as bad as he has while these rookies have shined. While Pickett can still get better, he seems to be behind the curve of what you would want in a franchise quarterback. That ceiling is getting progressively lower, and the play of some younger players around him is certainly disheartening.