Kenny Pickett was a first-round pick and the top quarterback selected in his draft class for the Pittsburgh Steelers. At the time, though, his class was regarded as one of the weakest in recent memory.
Pickett was the only quarterback selected in the top 70 selections during 2022. It was the first time that had happened in the NFL draft since 1996.
But Pickett’s growth as a rookie and this offseason has his stock on the rise. So much so, in fact, that he not only remains the top signal caller in his class, but one of the most promising young quarterbacks in the NFL.
At least that’s how The Athletic’s Randy Mueller, the former general manager of the New Orleans Saints, sees him. Mueller ranked Pickett the top developing young quarterback in the NFL heading into 2023.
“Pickett’s play is the most polished and diverse of this group. He has a feel for the pocket, can process info and get the ball to targets based on the coverage in a timely fashion,” Mueller wrote. “He is advanced beyond the others, so timing and anticipation are obvious when watching him go through reads and progressions.
“He plays with a sense of confidence, and Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada is calling plays now without restriction.
Jordan Love, Justin Fields, Mac Jones, Sam Howell and Desmond Ridder were the other quarterbacks Mueller included in his list of young, developing signal callers. Mueller ranked Pickett at No. 1.
More Pressure on Steelers OC Matt Canada Than QB Kenny Pickett?
Based on preseason performances, it’s hard to argue with Mueller’s assessment and ranking of Pickett. The second-year quarterback completed 13 of 15 passes for 199 yards and 2 touchdowns with zero interceptions this preseason.
On all five of the drives he orchestrated the offense, the Steelers scored touchdowns.
Pickett’s preseason play has raised expectations in Pittsburgh, but Mueller argued that the pressure still isn’t on the young quarterback.
“I actually think there is more pressure on Canada to advance the versatility of this offense than there is on Pickett to execute it,” Mueller wrote. “I don’t see Pickett holding the Steelers back, and in fact, they can win because of him, not despite him.”
He certainly didn’t hold them back in the preseason. On third downs, Pickett went 4-for-4 with 87 yards in three preseason contests. It’s a small sample, but he averaged nearly 22 yards per attempt.
The stellar play in the preseason has likely bought Pickett some good will with the Steelers fan base.
However, offensive coordinator Matt Canada has been on the chopping block since the team started last season 2-6. Canada may need to lead the Steelers offense to a strong season to keep his job.
Pickett’s One Weakness According to Randy Mueller
Obviously, Pickett isn’t without flaws. Mueller identified his pocket awareness as something he needs to improve.
“Pickett is sneaky athletic but at times will still flush the pocket for no apparent reason,” Mueller wrote. “I’d love to see him hang in there longer.”
The young Steelers quarterback can extend plays and pick up first downs with his legs. But the next step in his development could be staying in pocket more often to find a big play rather than just picking up a first down.
Of the young, developing quarterbacks on Mueller’s list, Jones and Fields have the most experience. But they each joined the league a year ahead of Pickett.