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Steelers All 90: Kenny Pickett More Ready for Physical Toll of NFL Season



Steelers Minicamp QB Kenny Pickett

The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Kenny Pickett in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft to be the successor of Ben Roethlisberger. The team’s original plan to keep him on the bench quickly shifted after Mitch Trubisky‘s level of play did not meet expectations and the offense struggled mightily in the first three and a half games of the season.

Pickett finished his rookie season with more interceptions (nine) than passing touchdowns (seven) but seven of those interceptions came within the first four weeks of his playing career. Pickett led the team to a 6-2 record over the final eight games of the season with one of those two losses coming when Pickett was forced to leave the game due to suffering the second concussion of his season.

While he improved steadily with each game that he played, Pickett suffered two major head injuries which made him go to work on his body this offseason to cut down on the threat of missing time.

“The hits up here are just a little bit different and they’re over a longer period of time,” Pickett said. “Being able to withstand hits, and if need be, deliver some hits if I have to score, or whatever it may be, I just think I kept my speed and added a little bit of weight.”

Pickett’s numbers from 2022 were obviously underwhelming but that is the story for many rookie quarterbacks during their first season. Year two of a player’s NFL career is usually when they show their biggest jump in growth and the expectations for Pickett are no different, not only does the team expect Pickett to make a huge leap, but so do many of the “experts.”

RELATED: Kyle Brandt: Kenny Pickett Can Jump Into Elite QB Tier in 2023

There is less optimism for Pickett’s offensive coordinator, Matt Canada to construct a more improved offense for Pickett to lead. But according to Pickett, the offense is in a great place heading into training camp, and with the extra plays that they added, he cannot wait to get to camp.

“I’m excited where the offense went this spring, I think it’ll be good,” Pickett said about the current offense. “[C]oming off the spring and what we did, I’m excited to get to camp.”

Pickett is going to enter his first season as the Steelers’ full-time starting quarterback in 2023 and fans should expect him to take a Josh Allen or Trevor Lawernce-esque jump in his growth and level of play. With the defense and an improved offense line, Pickett has a solid chance to lead the Steelers back to the playoffs for the first time since 2021.

RELATED: Kenny Pickett Deemed the Next Trevor Lawrence 

8 • Kenny Pickett, Quarterback, Pittsburgh
6-foot-3, 220 pounds, 25 years old, 2nd Season

Acquired: The Steelers drafted Pickett out of the University of Pittsburgh with the 20th overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Steelers Kenny Pickett

Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett (8) throws a pass during a game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Acrisure Stadium in the 2022 season.

Last seasonAs a rookie in 2022, Pickett started the season as the backup to Mitch Trubisky. Pickett made his NFL debut in Week 4 against the New York Jets and provided an instant impact as he scored two rushing touchdowns. The Steelers did end up losing that game but it gave Pickett the starting job moving forward.

The Steelers first won a Pickett start in Week 6 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers but he was forced to leave the game early due to suffering a concussion. The first win that Pickett played the whole game came in Week 10 against the New Orleans Saints. In that game, Pickett completed 18-of-30 pass attempts for 199 yards. After the Steelers’ bye week, Pickett led the team to a 6-2 record over their final eight games which included back-to-back game-winning drives against the Las Vegas Raiders and the Baltimore Ravens.

In total as a rookie, Pickett started 12 games and appeared in 13 for the Steelers. He completed 245 of his 389 passing attempts for 2,404 yards, seven touchdowns, and nine interceptions.

Kenny Pickett drops back to pass as the Steelers face the Ravens on Jan. 1, 2022 in Baltimore. (Mitchell Northam / Steelers Now)

Kenny Pickett drops back to pass as the Steelers face the Ravens on Jan. 1, 2022, in Baltimore. (Mitchell Northam / Steelers Now)

2022 13 12 245 389 62.9 2,404 7 9

CollegePickett originally committed to Temple but decided to re-open his recruitment and eventually committed to the University of Pittsburgh. As a freshman in 2017, Pickett appeared in four games and recorded one start in Pitt’s season finale against the second-ranked Miami Hurricanes. In Pitt’s upset victory over Miami, Pickett completed 18-of-26 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown. He also added two rushing touchdowns in the contest.

In 2018, Pickett became the full-time starter for the Panthers and started all 14 games as a sophomore. He completed 180 of his 310 passes for 1,969 yards and 12 touchdowns. Pickett led the Panthers to their first ACC Championship Game appearance against the Clemson Tigers.

As a junior, Pickett started 12 games and completed 61.6% of his passes for 3,098 yards and 13 touchdowns. He led the Panthers to a 7-5 record and a Quick Lane Bowl victory over Eastern Michigan in 2019.

In 2020’s COVID-shortened season, Pickett started nine of Pitt’s 11 games and threw for 2,408 yards. He matched his 2019 touchdown to interception ratio as he tossed 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Pitt opted to not play in a postseason game even though they were eligible in 2020.

Pickett took advantage of the NCAA’s rule of extra eligibility due to COVID and returned to Pitt for a fifth season. In 2021, Pickett lit the record books on fire. He started 13 games and led the Panthers to an 11-2 record, an ACC Championship Title victory, and a Peach Bowl appearance. He completed 334 of his 497 passes for 4,319 yards, 42 touchdowns, and only seven interceptions.

The 11 victories ranked the most by a Pitt quarterback since Dan Marino in 1981. He was also the first Pitt quarterback to be named an All-American since Marino in 1981. Pickett finished third in the Heisman Trophy voting and won the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award.

Over the course of his Pitt tenure, Pickett threw for a school-record 12,303 yards and 81 touchdowns. He also finished his career ranked first in Pitt’s history in total offense (13,112), touchdowns responsible (102), 300-yard passing games (16), and 400-yard passing games (five). In total, Pickett started 49 of his 52 career appearances and threw for 81 touchdowns and 32 interceptions.

2017 4 1 39 66 59.1 509 1 1
2018 14 14 180 310 58.1 1,969 12 6
2019 12 12 289 469 61.6 3,098 13 9
2020 9 9 203 332 61.1 2,408 13 9
2021 13 13 334 497 67.2 4,319 42 7

Salary cap and future: Pickett is entering his second professional season and will cost $3.19 million against the Steelers’ 2023 cap space. Pickett is owed $870,000 in base salary and $2.32 million in bonuses. He is signed with the Steelers through the end of the 2025 season but the team can decide to exercise Pickett’s fifth-year option due to him being a first-round pick.

The rest of the 90:

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