Kenny Pickett ended his rookie campaign on a high note, winning six of his last eight starts, which included game-winning touchdown passes in the final minute of the fourth quarter in back-to-back games (Week 16 against the Raiders and Week 17 against the Ravens). Pickett was the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to accomplish that feat.
Pickett displayed moxie, grit and poise in Year 1, but his numbers were still subpar. He never threw more than one touchdown pass in a game. He finished 32nd in passer rating (76.7), 30th in yards per game (184.9) and 23rd in completion percentage (62.3). Overall, he had a 7-9 touchdown-interception ratio, which is obviously not gaudy.
Cody Benjamin of CBS Sports thinks Pickett needs more than just “grit” to enter the upper echelon realm of signal callers in the NFL, which is why he had him ranked as the fifth-worst staring quarterback in the NFL. C.J. Stroud, Anthony Richardson and Bryce Young, all of whom have never played a down in the NFL, were even ranked ahead of Pickett. Jordan Love, who’s only thrown 83 career passes, was also slotted ahead of Pickett at No. 24. Pickett was ranked ahead of only Mac Jones, Baker Mayfield, Desomond Ridder and Sam Howell.
“How far does ‘grit’ get you? Certainly few young QBs are better-suited to grow thanks to an improved Steelers front and pass-catching group, but Pickett thrived more as a late-game fighter than efficient full-timer as a rookie,” Benjamin wrote.
After an aggressive approach in free agency and the draft, Omar Khan and assistant general manager Andy Weidl have set Pickett up with the proper tools to succeed, especially with the additions to the offensive line. Of course, offensive coordinator Matt Canada also plays a key factor in Pickett’s development and overall success of the unit. However, a substantial leap for Pickett in Year 2 should be the expectation.
I don’t think anyone would categorized Pickett as a top-15 quarterback in the NFL, but it’s a pretty big slap in the face to be ranked behind three rookie quarterbacks and Love. Kyler Murray as the 20th-best quarterback is pretty rich, too. Russell Wilson had an absolute dreadful season last year, but I guess his past success justifies him being slotted at No. 19. Overall, Pickett should have been ranked a few spots higher in the low 20s.
Work ethic and commitment will never be an issue for Pickett. He’s been getting after it with personal quarterback coach Tony Racioppi all offseason. He also worked out with a slew of his receivers and backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky in South Florida in February. Pickett knows that if the Steelers want to get back to being legitimate contenders, it all starts with him.
“I feel like it all starts with me and my play,” he told Steelers.com. “I’ve got to be the guy that takes us there. I’m ready to take it on. …
“As long as I continue to work and push myself in the offseason to make that leap and master our system and kind of own it the way you see these other quarterbacks in the league own it, that’s kind of what I want to get to. It’s not going to happen overnight. I understand that. But I’m going to do everything in my power to get there.”