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Saunders: Steelers Winning, Pickett Succeeding Better Than Any Draft Pick



Steelers QB Kenny Pickett

The Steelers won on Monday night, which is usually an unabashedly well-received thing in Pittsburgh, but in an upside-down season, that wasn’t necessarily the case.

As Kenny Pickett led the Steelers to a fourth-quarterback comeback for the first time in his career, he also led the Steelers’ 2023 draft pick to a seven-spot plummet from fifth to 12th.

The Steelers do not have a good chance of having notable team success this season. At 4-7, they remain in last place in the AFC North. Even after beating the Colts, Five Thirty Eight pegged their chances of making the playoffs at just 3%.

So as a result, many have turned their sights early to the 2023 NFL Draft as a source for potential hope for the future, and the high draft pick that the Steelers hold represents the biggest hope for an injection of talent that could turn around the franchise.

It’s tempting to just hope the team gets on with the 2022 season with as many losses as possible for the biggest possible haul of draft capital. The fanbase is somewhat split on the issue.

But here’s the problem with that line of thinking. It’s one thing to be able to turn off the television, go rake leaves or get your Christmas shopping done and then check Twitter to see another loss, shrug your shoulders and go about your life.

But the team has to actually play all the games remaining on their schedule. And it’s not going to be easy to lose very many of them.

The Steelers play the Atlanta Falcons this week. They’re 5-7 and have double-digit players on the injured reserve, including former first-round pick Kyle Pitts and have the No. 26 overall defense and No. 29 scoring defense.

They also play the 4-8 Carolina Panthers, who have already fired their coach, the 5-8 Las Vegas Raiders that probably should, and have the 4-7 Cleveland Browns at home. Even the Baltimore Ravens, the lone team on the slate with a winning record, have been a good matchup for the Steelers recently, with Pittsburgh winning four straight.

It’s one thing to say that it would be better for the team in the big picture to lose more of those games than to win them. But the problem with that line of thinking is that a lot of very, very bad things would have to happen to current team in order for them to lose many of those games, let alone most of them.

The Steelers could lose some star players injuries. That’s probably not anything anyone is rooting for. Beyond that, the players with the most variability in their outcomes are the team’s young players. Minkah Fitzpatrick is not likely to suddenly be very bad. Neither is Chuks Okorafor likely to suddenly be a Pro Bowler. Veteran players largely are what they are.

If there’s a chance for the Steelers to stay healthy and underachieve, the most likely way for that to happen is for the Steelers young players to stop showing development or regress.

For the Steelers to go out and lose the rest of their games and end up with the No. 2 overall draft pick, how badly do Kenny Pickett, George Pickens, Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth have to play for that to happen? And what damage would that poor play do to the future prospects for the team compared to what would be gained by the higher draft pick?

When the Steelers turned things over to Pickett at quarterback, they did so despite him likely not being able to immediately provide better results at the position than Mitch Trubisky. It took Pickett eight games to put up a game close to as good as Trubisky’s best this season.

Instead, they made the rest of this season about Pickett and his development, and hoping to have an answer going forward at the game’s most important position.

It’s going to be impossible for Pickett to develop positively in a fashion that makes everyone comfortable with him being the Steelers starting quarterback going forward and for the Steelers to lose a lot of these remaining games.
If the Steelers don’t have a quarterback, that does far more damage to their future prospects than dropping even 10 or 15 spots in the draft.

So go ahead, root for Pickett and root for the team and do it without reservation, because him succeeding, and the team succeeding because of it, is the best thing that can happen the rest of the way this season.

And hey — a 3% chance isn’t nothing.

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