‘Young Playmakers’ Make Steelers’ Kenny Pickett a Favorite to Win Prestigious Rookie Award

Kenny Pickett Pittsburgh

Quinn Harris/Getty Images Kenny Pickett of the Pittsburgh Panthers looks to pass against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on October 13, 2018.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have had more than their share of detractors for selecting Pitt Panthers QB Kenny Pickett No. 20 overall in the 2022 NFL Draft. One NFL analyst called the move the “biggest mistake” of the draft, and longtime Steelers insider Gerry Dulac took issue with the selection as well.

But Ben Linsey of Pro Football Focus (PFF), notes that Draftkings has Pickett as the current favorite to win Offensive Rookie of the Year for 2022-23. In Linsey’s mind, Pickett is fourth-most likely to take home the prestigious award, behind wide receiver Drake London of the Atlanta Falcons, running back Breece Hall of the New York Jets, and wide receiver Treylon Burks of the Tennessee Titans.

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Kenny Pickett Widely Seen as ‘NFL-Ready’

“Pickett has the best chance to start among the rookie quarterbacks as the only player at the position selected before the third round. He was also billed throughout the pre-draft process as one of the most ‘NFL-ready’ quarterbacks, as he is fresh off a dominant 2021 season at Pitt,” notes Linsey, before adding that “Pickett’s 92.2 PFF grade tied Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud for the best in college football, and he led all quarterbacks in this draft class in accurate pass rate on throws five-plus yards downfield.”

On the other hand, Pickett isn’t a “shoo-in,” as Linsey puts it, to win the Steelers’ starting quarterback job, as former No. 2 overall pick Mitch Trubisky will also be competing, having inked a two-year deal as an unrestricted free agent.

Linsey also worries about how Pickett’s game will translate to the NFL, noting “concerns about Pickett breaking structure when he doesn’t need to and holding on to the ball too long.” That’s a trait that tends to correlate with poor quarterback play at the NFL level.

One final concern is that Pittsburgh’s offensive line remains a work in progress, and Pickett (or Trubisky) might not enjoy the same level of pass protection as many other starting quarterbacks.

‘Young Group of Playmakers’ Another Reason to Be Excited About Pittsburgh’s Offense

But whoever plays quarterback for the Steelers in 2022 will benefit from what looks to be a strong group of skill position players, led by running back Najee Harris, who was a Pro Bowler as a rookie in 2021.

The Steelers have also found their tight end of the present and future in 2021 second-round pick Pat Freiermuth, and have a pair of dynamic starting wide receivers in Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool. Add high-upside rookie wideouts like George Pickens and Calvin Austin III to the mix — the latter of whom has been called the “biggest Day 3 steal” of the draft — and you have a “young group of playmakers,” as Linsey puts it, who figure to make Pittsburgh’s offense more exciting than it has been in many years.

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Finally, it almost goes without saying that quarterbacks have the inside track toward winning Offensive Rookie of Year (OROY), and Pickett was the only QB selected in the first two rounds of the 2022 NFL Draft.

Justin Herbert (Los Angeles Chargers) was the most recent QB to win OROY, preceded by Kyler Murray (Arizona Cardinals) in 2019 and Dak Prescott (Dallas Cowboys) in 2016, per Pro Football Reference.

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