Seventeen months removed from the retirement of franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the Pittsburgh Steelers appear to be on the path to competitiveness again. An impressive start (at least on paper) given that some clubs need several drafts before they become relevant post-franchise QB.
Aside from maybe a pass-defending inside linebacker, general manager Omar Khan and head coach Mike Tomlin filled the Steelers’ holes nicely this offseason. To recap the highlights: The secondary was shored up with the addition of Keanu Neal and Chandon Sullivan and re-signing Damontae Kazee. After very little hesitation at the opening of free agency, Pittsburgh signed linebackers Elandon Roberts and Cole Holcomb, guard Nate Herbig and veteran cornerback Patrick Peterson. Last but not least, on May 24, much-needed depth at outside linebacker was addressed signing Markus Golden to a one-year contract.
Not only was free agency a hit for the Steelers, but they accomplished one of their best drafts in years with offensive linemen Broderick Jones and Spencer Anderson, cornerbacks Joey Porter Jr. and Cory Trice, linebacker Nick Herbig, defensive tackle Keeanu Benton and mountain-of-a-man Darnell Washington at tight end.
All appears right in the world of the Steelers, but Bleacher Report laid out a “nightmare” scenario that could sneak up on the team.
“Kenny Pickett fails to improve significantly on a weak rookie season but Mike Tomlin and a strong defense cause them to win just enough games to leave them without a primo draft pick in 2024,” Brad Gagnon wrote.
That scenario is certainly something Steelers fans have been and continue to be afraid of. Pickett is still an unknown commodity. But after a rocky start, he displayed the traits that should have the team set at quarterback for the foreseeable future. Pittsburgh won seven of their nine games in the second leg of the schedule to climb back into the playoff picture, but the Dolphins dashed those dreams.
Mixed Projections for Steelers QB Kenny Pickett
As far as the media is concerned, the outlook for Kenny Pickett’s second season behind center for the Pittsburgh Steelers is mixed. Pro Football Focus’s initial QB rankings ahead of the 2023 season have him at 22nd between New England Patriots’ Mac Jones and San Fransisco 49ers’ Brock Purdy.
“The best quarterback in what was deemed an awful quarterback class, Pickett performed admirably in his rookie season even though the statistics weren’t necessarily pretty,” wrote Sam Monson. “His PFF passing grade was good enough to rank 16th in the league, but he finished the season with more interceptions (nine) than touchdowns (seven). Pittsburgh’s scheme was toothless and predictable in 2022, and that might be the biggest obstacle standing between Pickett and real improvement in these rankings.”
Everything in Monson’s blurb is accurate. We can only hope that Pittsburgh’s “toothless and predictable” scheme grows some teeth in 2023.
Failed NFL quarterback turned media personality Chris Simms rarely has a nice thing to say about Pickett or Pittsburgh. In his slow drip of a QB countdown, Simms has Pickett ranked 25th above San Fransisco 49ers’ Brock Purdy, but below guys like Baker Mayfield, Justin Fields and Jimmy Garoppolo. He still has a long way to go and a lot to prove, but to be ranked well below Mac Jones is brow-raising.
Thankfully the only opinion Pickett pays any attention to is that of his head coach, Mike Tomlin, and his teammates.