No team ever selects a quarterback in the first round of the NFL Draft with the intention of moving on from them just a few years later. The goal is always to get a 'franchise' QB -- one who can stick around for the long haul. The sad reality is that, more often than not, teams bust on first-round quarterbacks. The Pittsburgh Steelers might be the most recent example.
Kenny Pickett is in his second season with the team. Following a nearly flawless preseason, fans were expecting a big jump from the former Pitt product in Year 2. However, things have somehow gotten worse in 2023.
Pickett is currently 30th among quarterbacks in EPA (Expected Points Added), via rbsdm.com, and he ranks near the very bottom of the league in yards per attempt, adjusted yards per attempt, and passer rating.
With mock draft season starting back up again, Fox Sports took a stab at predicting every pick in the first round, based on current NFL standings. With the 21st overall pick, Jason McIntyre has the Steelers going with Duke quarterback, Riley Leonard. Here's what he had to say about this selection.
"21. Pittsburgh Steelers: Riley Leonard, QB, Duke- Jason McIntyre via Fox Sports
I'm not totally done with Kenny Pickett yet — he'll probably get a chance next season if the inept offensive coordinator is replaced. Leonard, a 6-foot-4 kid from Alaska who probably will remind too many people of Daniel Jones, was off to a hot start before a high ankle sprain sidelined him. He might return to school in an effort to bolster his draft stock, or he could just roll some of the Clemson and Northwestern footage where he looked like an NFL QB."
This is not at all what Pickett stans want to hear. Heck, it's not what any Steelers fan wants to hear. Even those who weren't a big fan of the Kenny Pickett selection to begin with (like me) are pulling for him to turn things around so he can help elevate the play of this franchise.
The clock could be ticking for Kenny Pickett
Sadly, that just hasn't been the case. In today's NFL, expectations are higher than ever and quarterbacks are on a thin leash. Take Zach Wilson and Trey Lance, for instance. Both players were top-3 picks in the 2021 NFL Draft. However, very early in their careers, their respective teams recognized that they weren't going to cut it.
The Jets traded for Aaron Rodgers following a season in which Wilson was benched for Mike White and Joe Flacco, while the 49ers -- despite spending three first-round picks to move up for Lance -- shipped their former first-round QB to the Cowboys for pennies because he wasn't meeting expectations.
The Pittsburgh Steelers have a tendency to be loyal to a fault, but if this team finishes as one of the worst offenses in the league, it's not unfathomable that they could draft a quarterback in the first round next year -- especially when you consider that it wasn't Omar Khan who drafted Pickett in the first place.
Riley Leonard is a quality prospect out of Duke who has some tools to work with. He hasn't put up gaudy numbers so far during his junior season, but he's got a quick, accurate release to go with impressive mobility.
If Kenny Pickett doesn't pick up his game in a big way, it's not unreasonable to think that a quarterback could be on their radar in a remarkably strong 2024 QB class.