Outgoing Pittsburgh Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert believes that he’s leaving the team in the capable — albeit smallish — hands of former Pitt Panthers quarterback Kenny Pickett, the team’s first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft. But not everyone agrees with the assessment made by Colbert, head coach Mike Tomlin, and the rest of the Steelers organization.
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The Steelers ‘Selected the Riskiest (QB) Prospect’
Count Ian Wharton of Bleacher Report among the skeptics. In his May 2 feature on “The Biggest Draft Mistakes That Could Have Been Avoided,” Wharton labels the selection of Kenny Pickett in Round 1 as the single-greatest error in this year’s draft — a more egregious mistake than the Carolina Panthers drafting Matt Corral instead of trading for Baker Mayfield, and worse than the New England Patriots “reaching” for offensive guard Cole Strange in the first round, to name but two of his other criticisms.
“The Pittsburgh Steelers not only overestimated the quarterback market, but they also selected the riskiest prospect among the top passers,” says Wharton, who regards at least two of the other quarterbacks in the 2022 class as being better than Pickett.
“Desmond Ridder was a more consistent producer throughout his career and boasts a better arm than Pickett,” offers Wharton. “Malik Willis has one of the strongest arms in the NFL and elite rushing ability, at least providing a chance he could go toe-to-toe with the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Deshaun Watson,” referring to three of the top quarterbacks in the AFC.
“Pickett has his strengths on roll-outs and short passes, but he’s all too similar to new teammate Mitchell Trubisky,” concludes Wharton, having noted that Ridder was drafted — by the Atlanta Falcons — 54 picks after Pickett went off the board, and Willis lasted even longer, selected No. 86 overall by the Tennessee Titans.
“If Pickett is indeed limited to an average ceiling, the Steelers will be stuck in mediocrity as they look to replace him in a few years,” concludes Wharton, who believes the team’s coaching staff, defense and receiving corps deserves better.
PFF: ‘Serious Concern About How (Pickett’s) Game is Going to Translate’
Of course, Wharton isn’t alone in fearing that Pickett isn’t going to measure up to being a franchise quarterback. In its grades for all 32 first-round picks, Pro Football Focus (PFF) calls the pick “below average,” noting that Pickett was the No. 4 ranked quarterback on PFF’s draft board (behind Willis, North Carolina’s Sam Howell and Ridder).
“There’s some serious concern with how his game is going to translate in the NFL,” says Anthony Treash on behalf of PFF. “The Pitt quarterback averaged 3.19 seconds per throw in 2021, tying for the third-slowest mark in the FBS. In fact, it would have been the slowest among NFL quarterbacks this past season.”
That said, if Pickett is going to reach his potential, “He has to be quicker and more decisive with his decision-making instead of panicking and holding onto the ball,” concludes Treash. “And speeding up a quarterback’s processing is easier said than done — it’s a significant issue.”
Pickett Will Be Surrounded by an Enviable Collection of Talent
On the other hand, Kenny Pickett comes into a situation that is much more conducive to success than that experienced by most top quarterback prospects. It’s not just that he comes to a playoff team — and an organization that hasn’t had a losing season since 2003.
He also looks to be surrounded by an enviable mix of skill players on offense, including 2021 first- and second-round picks Najee Harris (RB) and Pat Freiermuth (TE), plus talented starting wide receivers Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool. Not to mention a pair of intriguing rookie wideouts in George Pickens and Calvin Austin III, the latter of whom has been called the ‘Biggest Day 3 steal’ of the 2022 draft.
Moreover, if Tomlin determines that Pickett needs time to get acclimated to the NFL, the Steelers can roll with free agent acquisition Mitch Trubisky until it’s time to make the transition.
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