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Steelers Analysis

How Good Will Kenny Pickett Be in 2024?

The Pittsburgh Steelers seem poised to spend yet another offseason wondering just how good quarterback Kenny Pickett can be.



Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett runs onto the field for a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Oct. 9, 2023. -- Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

How good will Kenny Pickett be? That was the central theme of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2023 offseason, when Pickett looked poised to build off a middling rookie season with a promising finish, with hopes that he would develop into a quarterback of the future.

Last summer, I did some research into quarterbacks that played in their rookie season and made a very basic statistical progression, adding Pickett’s rookie-year stats to the average of the change from the first year to the second year of nine recent rookie starters: Joe Burrow, Justin Fields, Justin Herbert, Jalen Hurts, Mac Jones, Trevor Lawrence, Davis Mills, Tua Tagovailoa and Zach Wilson.

That analysis* predicted that Pickett would most likely finish 2023 with a passer rating of 82.4 and an adjusted net yards per attempt of 5.3.

His actual numbers for 2023? A passer rating of 81.4 and an adjusted net yards per attempt of 5.29. The good news? I’m not a total idiot and my prediction was pretty spot on. The bad news? Those numbers are not very good.

Steelers Texans

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) is stopped by Houston Texans safety Jimmie Ward, right, during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 1, 2023, in Houston. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

Pickett was injured and lost his job to Mason Rudolph down the stretch, but despite that fact, the Steelers seem committed to giving him another shot at the starting job.

“He will (get the starting quarterback job back), but ultimately, there will be competition,” Tomlin said at his end-of-season press conferece. “There’s always competition in this thing. We don’t anoint anyone. I’m appreciative of his efforts and where he is and excited to keep working with him, but certainly he will be challenged from a competition perspective moving forward. Competiion brings out the best in us.”

There are rational reasons to believe that Pickett can be better than he has been. All but six quarters of his 25 career starts have had the much-maligned Matt Canada as his offensive coordinator and playcaller. The Steelers have been in the process of upgrading their offensive line, to mixed results over the last two seasons. 

RELATED: Cam Heyward Thinks People Have Judged Kenny Pickett Too Quickly

Perhaps most importantly, Pickett has been good when the game has needed him to be the most. In those 25 starts, he has seven game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime. Half of his wins (his record as a starter is 14-10) have come via Pickett’s own heroics. 

When trailing with four minutes to play or less, Pickett has a 94.6 passer rating and has completed 71.2% of his attempts on a 9.1 yards per attempt average.

Could the right mix of coaching and growth get a more balanced production out of Pickett, and allow Fourth Quarter Kenny to show himself earlier in the game? Certainly.

But is it likely?

Let’s go back to the same data that steered us correctly in 2023 to find out. If we expand the two-year sample to a three-year sample, we lose one of our nine quarterbacks, as Mills barely played in 2023. But we still have the eight others to go by. On average, those players added 2.4 points of passer rating, 0.3 adjusted net yards per attempt, and completed 1.3% more of their passes.

That makes a projection for Pickett for 2024 of an 83.8 passer rating, 63.3 completion percentage and 5.6 ANY/A. Those would have ranked 26th, 22nd and 24th in the NFL in 2023. So, a little bit better, but not nearly good enough.

If you ignore the intermediary step, and just take the Year 1 to Year 3 improvement on the whole, it’s a little bit friendlier, putting Pickett at an 84.7 passer rating, a 66.1 completion percentage and a 5.6 ANY/A. That’s still not very good.

That doesn’t mean hope is lost. Of our eight-quarterback sample, two — Hurts and Tagovailoa — got significantly better in their third season, posting double-digit gains in quarterback rating.

But four of the eight actually saw their performance decline in Year 3 compared to Year 2.

So as the Steelers look to add a player that can push or compete with Pickett to round out their quarterback room, the expectation should be that No. 8 will most likely not take a big leap forward in 2024.

Steelers Kenny Pickett

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett, Aug. 19, 2023. — Ed Thompson / Steelers Now

* Since doing the previous analysis, I’ve learned more about QBR and that it’s not proper to compare QBR scores from one year to the next. Because it’s adjusted to the league year, the same performance by player in one year to the next may result in a different score, and our quarterbacks are in different draft classes, so they won’t make for an apples to apples comparison.