Mike Tomlin has known it for a long time. His Pittsburgh Steelers teammates are aware. And now, the respect for Kenny Pickett is there from one of the game’s most respected offensive minds. The Steelers’ rookie triggerman has the qualities of a great professional signal-caller, former New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton recently said on FOX Sports’ The Herd with Colin Cowherd.
“I see football intelligence,” said Payton, who coached future Hall of Fame passer Drew Brees for over a decade and a half. “I see someone who processes quickly. He certainly has it. You know, when we try to find those intangibles with his teammates. You can tell. You can watch a quarter of a game and tell his teammates think (that).”
— matthew luciow (@Luciow1992) January 4, 2023
After he guided the Steelers on late, game-winning drives in back-to-back contests, the spotlight on Kenny Pickett has gotten brighter over the past two weeks. The calm and cool demeanor in which fans in the Steel City have grown used to was on display during both of those marches.
Combined, Pickett went 12-for-15 for 144 yards and two scores on those series, the second of which coming in a hostile environment in Baltimore. The ice in his veins has kept the Steelers alive in the playoff race and earned him the Joe Greene Award as the team’s top newcomer.
For Payton, the relationship between player and team has been instrumental. Knowing the ins and outs about an individual, what makes him tick, and the confidence he possesses — far before picking up the phone on draft day — is quite the advantage.
“When you share a building, which is unique, right?” Payton said. “The Steelers and the University of Pittsburgh. You have that much access to personality, skill set, all of the other intangibles. That’s invaluable.”
In a thin prospect cycle at the position, Pittsburgh made sure not to let him past its first-round turn last spring, even after adding veteran and former second-overall pick Mitch Trubisky to the quarterback room. The situation appeared ideal for Pickett.
“They weren’t forced to start him or play him this year,” Payton said. “They arrived at him.”
Under the direction of Trubisky, the offense was stagnant, taking away the chance for Pickett to take some time and soak things in. Those at the top felt the season slipping away early. Not only has the decision to give Pickett his opportunity gone the way the Steelers would have hoped, but those across the football landscape have taken notice, too.