MOBILE, Ala. — The Pittsburgh Steelers have an interest in bringing in competition for quarterback Kenny Pickett in the 2024 season. They have just one quarterback currently under contract besides Pickett for 2024, and that player, Mitch Trubisky, seems a likely salary cap casualty.
The team could sign a free agent, whether it’s an internal option like Mason Rudolph or one of the numerous external options. They could also draft a rookie player with an early pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, but with the Steelers picking at No. 20 overall in the first round, it’s hard to envision them finding a rookie that could quickly unseat Pickett as the starting quarterback.
Oregon quarterback Bo Nix is one of the players that will probably be available if the Steelers want to use their first-round pick on a quarterback, and he could also be available to them in the second-round, as well.
Most rookies taken in that range would likely not be seen as serious competition for Pickett right away, but Nix is not most quarterbacks. The 23-year-old threw for over 15,000 yards and 100 touchdowns in a five-year college career that saw him set an NCAA record by playing in and starting 61 games.
Nix was a freshman starter at Auburn in 2019, leading the Tigers to an Iron Bowl win over Alabama, a 9-4 record and was voted the SEC Freshman of the Year. But things didn’t take the usual path from there. Offensive coordinator Kenny Dillingham left after Nix’s first season.
A COVID-19 shortened sophomore year under new OC Chad Morris was something of a statistical stagnation for Nix and Auburn went 6-5 and Gus Malzahn was fired.
A third season with a third coordinator in 2021 started with promise, but when Nix was injured and the Tigers lost five straight games to close the year, it was time to hit the transfer portal.
He landed 2,600 miles away in Eugene, Oregon with the Ducks. For someone born in Arkansas and raised in Alabama, it was a huge transition. But there was familiarity in the return to a Dillingham-led offense. Nix thrived with the Ducks, setting career highs with 3,593 yards and 29 touchdowns.
In 2023, it was the same old story, as Dillingham left to be the head coach at Arizona State and Oregon brought in Will Stein as OC. But this time, Nix took the change in stride, and went out and had his best season. He finished 2023 with 4,508 yards, an NCAA-record 77.4 completion percentage, and 45 touchdowns compared to just three interceptions.
Nix has the numbers. What he doesn’t have is the size or arm strength of a prototypical first-round quarterback. He’s hoping his experience can make up the difference.
“I think it’s important,” Nix said during the Senior Bowl in Mobile. “Five offenses in five years. Five different play callers. I’ve been around the block. I’ve been able to learn from a lot of different people who have had a lot of success. They’ve been able to coach a lot of great quarterbacks in the past. Lead a lot of great offenses, all of them in their respectful ways. I think just along the way, I picked up a lot from each individual and grew during my time. I’ve had a lot of experience to grow.”
If Nix is going to come in as a less-than-top-flight quarterback prospect and wrest a job away from a more established starter like Pickett, he’s going to have to hit the ground running in terms of digesting the offense and playbook, and possibly with a limited number of reps. His history suggests that he could be capable of doing just that.
“However that translates to what’s next, I think it just shows the adaptability I have and the comfortability I have being uncomfortable and having to learn knew things,” he said. “I took it as a fun challenge. I’m a football junkie. … It was always fun to me. I’m a fast learner at just adapting.”
TALE OF THE TAPE
Measured at the Senior Bowl: 6-foot-1 7/8, 218 pounds, 9 7/8-inch hands, 30 1/4-inch arms, 74 3/8-inch wingspan.
Nix doesn’t have the prototypical size teams are going to be looking for in a starting quarterback, and he doesn’t seem like an elite athlete, either.
Compared to Pickett, he’s 1 3/8 inches shorter, one pound heavier, with bigger hands but shorter arms.
WHERE WILL BO NIX BE DRAFTED?
Good luck figuring this out. Nix was widely considered to be a late first- or early second-round pick for much of the season, but has seen that stock drop since the end of Oregon’s season. He entered the Senior Bowl week at No. 27 on the NFL Mock Draft Database, and is currently No. 33.
Given his poor performance at the Senior Bowl, that stock could fall toward the middle of the second round.
BO NIX SCOUTING REPORT / HOW DOES BO NIX FIT?
Nix is an interesting type of prospect in many ways.
He does not have a particularly high ceiling. His arm talent is just adequate. He’s not especially big, not especially strong and not especially creative in the pocket. He looks like an average quarterback.
He was able to parlay average physical tools into incredible statistical success with a couple of touchstones. Nix doesn’t turn the ball over. He completes a very high percentage of his passes. He doesn’t necessarily do that with lightning-quick processing, which means he can have some longer stays in the pocket.
In college, it was a combination that worked, probably better than it should have been expected to. Will it in the pros? I think that depends on the fit. There’s not a lot of difference in the scouting report between someone like Nix and someone like Brock Purdy. There’s also not a lot of difference between Nix and Bailey Zappe.
During the week of Senior Bowl practices, Nix really struggled. He didn’t turn the ball over, but he wasn’t completing passes with his usual level of accuracy and anticipation. While he’s a quick study, perhaps the lack of familiarity with his receivers and the offense kept him from taking full advantage of the physical tools he did have? It was odd to see a player so accurate in college look so lost in an NFL practice setting.
The game went better, as Nix led one scoring drive before giving way to Sam Hartman for the rest of the afternoon. But it was still a rough performance for Nix that should hurt his stock going forward.
HOW DOES BO NIX FIT?
Of the rookies that could reasonably find themselves in the Pittsburgh locker room this spring, Nix is probably the best fit to try to unseat Pickett thanks to his experience in different schemes and his ability to pick them up quickly. But his overall lack of upside makes that a strange bet.
The Steelers would likely be better off going with a proven vet if they want a low-upside option. Ryan Tannehill and Marcus Mariota can provide that, and they don’t even need to be taught Smith’s offense. They already know it. It makes more sense to take a rookie that is a bigger risk, but has a higher upside.
Pittsburgh also rarely heavily scouts West Coast teams, so it seems unlikely that they’re going to fall in love with Nix if this week at the Senior Bowl was his best shot at convincing them.