It hasn’t been the start to the 2023 season that many hoped Kenny Pickett would have. Despite adding some new weapons and looking sharp in the preseason, he has looked like an absolute disaster since taking the field. He lacks the accuracy he displayed, his pocket presence has been poor, and his ability to progress through reads has been lackluster.
A lot of fans have been quick to find excuses as to why Pickett has looked so bad. Matt Canada is the ever-present punching bag, and while he has certainly been bad, he isn’t entirely at fault for Pickett. Acting like Canada is the only issue is silly when Pickett has played as he has is blindly overlooking some inherent issues.
An even worse idea has begun to circulate around the internet. With Pickett now having started in a season's worth of games, we have a general idea of what he is as a player. Unfortunately, the results haven’t been great. That hasn’t stopped Steelers fans from making some absolutely ridiculous comparisons.
Some Steelers fans are getting desperate
With Pickett struggling as much as he has out of the gate, a swarm of fans have taken to social media to compare Pickett's first handful of starts to other names like Josh Allen and Justin Fields. In an attempt at a “gotcha” moment, Pickett usually has nearly identical stats, or even slightly better stats than some of those aforementioned names.
The argument is simple: if Allen looked worse than Pickett early on, then there is a real chance Pickett would develop into a quarterback like Allen is now.
On paper, there is some logic to this. Unfortunately, the quarterback position isn’t created equally. Like any prospect, there is a spectrum of skills that players have as they leave college. On one end, you have the quarterbacks who have rare traits; arm strength and the ability to make plays on their own. While these rare physical traits could turn them into elite players, they usually struggle with a lot of the mechanical things a quarterback also needs.
On the flip side of things, you have more technically sound prospects who lack the elite traits but are capable of making plays in school. Their ceilings are far lower, but they can play and excel earlier in their careers. Neither prospect is inherently better. The technically sound ones are safer, but if you hit on the traits player, you usually have a great player at a premium position. They also tend to bust easier.
That isn’t to say that there isn’t a learning curve for everyone. No matter how “pro-ready” a prospect is, there will be a curve once you enter the NFL. That said, that curve will be different depending on the type of prospect. Traits players will likely need more time before they are competent starters, but even safer prospects will need some time to hit their objectively lower ceilings.
Let’s break this down as the best-case scenario for each position. Joe Burrow was taken after a long stretch in college. While he lacks elite arm strength and athleticism, he was a very technical passer. While he has certainly improved as a pro passer, he hasn’t made these insane leaps that other prospects have. He has also greatly benefited from having a trio of talented receivers for the past few seasons.
On the flip side of things, you have Allen in Buffalo. A player who comes out of Wyoming with an incredible arm but lacks the refinement you want in a pro. He took three seasons before he found his footing, and while he lacks the plethora of weapons that Burrow has, he still plays at an elite level.
Pickett is a classic safe quarterback
Pickett is a lot more Burrow than Allen. He had a long career in school, doesn’t have those elite passing traits, but was seen as a conventionally “pro-ready” prospect. Thus, when I compare him, I’m doing it with similar types of players. Compare Pickett’s stats to a Burrow, Tua Tagovialoa, or Mac Jones.
Frankly, I expect Pickett to have better stats than a more conventional developmental name. That is the reason why comparing his early career stats to a Fields or an Allen is ridiculous. Yes, both sides of the fence have a curve, but Pickett, in theory, should be much farther along.
That isn’t to say that Pickett is a bust or a lost cause. While his early play has been concerning, overlooking that by comparing him to prospects that we knew needed a longer learning curve is silly. We can admit that Pickett has struggled while also still saying that he isn’t done growing.
So please, if you are going to find solace in Pickett’s early struggles by comparing him to guys you have no right to, keep it to yourself. Pickett has struggled, and if you need to find a reason to explain it outside of his poor play, that doesn’t make it a fact. Again, his story isn’t completely written yet, but please stop explaining his bad play with silly player comparisons.