Column | Making the case for Kenny Pickett to be the Steelers’ starting quarterback


AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett participates in drills during an NFL football practice on Tuesday.

By Frankie Richetti, Senior Staff Writer

The Steelers selecting former Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett in the 2022 NFL Draft feels like something out of a movie. 

No need for fans to photoshop the Pitt Panther folk hero into the black and gold threads — Pickett is finally a Steeler. But fans may have to wait to see the rookie suit up for the Steelers as their starting quarterback. 

The Steelers chose Pickett with the No. 20 pick in the draft after a record-shattering 2021 season. Pickett will battle with veteran quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who signed a 2-year deal with Pittsburgh in March.

While Trubisky — a pro bowler in 2018 — has found success in the league, the Steelers should opt to start the rookie. Here are three reasons why Pickett should start right away.

  • The earlier he gets in-game reps with his younger teammates, the better

The Steelers went into this year’s draft with one thing in mind — improving their offense. 

Pittsburgh finished in the bottom half of the league in total offense and averaged just 20.2 points per game in 2021. While the offense was an eyesore for the majority of the season, there were a few bright spots. Rookie running back Najee Harris rushed for 1200 yards and tight end Pat Freiermuth finished second on the team in touchdowns with seven. 

Harris and Freiermuth are both under 25 years old and are major pieces of the Steelers core going forward, along with wide receivers Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool. After those players, there was a good deal of uncertainty, and Pittsburgh knew it needed lots of help on the offensive side of the ball.

Offensive coordinator Matt Canada installs a scheme requiring some quarterback mobility. Obviously, with the aged and relatively immobile Ben Roethlisberger under center last season, it hindered a lot of things Pittsburgh could do offensively. Pickett can unlock some of those things simply based on his fit into the offense, which is why he was so attractive to them at pick No. 20. 

After selecting Pickett, the Steelers immediately sought out to get him some weapons as the draft progressed. In the second round, Pittsburgh selected University of Georgia receiver George Pickens, who had an outstanding 2.2% drop rate across 92 targets over the course of his career in Athens. The Steelers doubled up at wide receiver later in the draft, selecting Memphis wideout Calvin Austin III in the fourth round. 

Austin runs a 4.32 40-yard dash and may be the fastest player at his position in the entire class. The rookie duo at receiver will provide a much needed jolt to the offense and will help stretch the field in a big way. The average age of the Steelers projected offense with Pickett at quarterback is just 24 years old

The Steelers have committed to building around this young nucleus over the course of the next several years. The best way to gel as an offense is through in-game reps. The sooner Pickett gets that chance, the better.

  • The Steelers have the pieces Pickett needs to succeed

Throughout the draft process, various scouts viewed Pickett as the most NFL-ready quarterback in the draft. 

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin shared the same line of thinking and said it was one of the reasons the Steelers drafted Pickett. 

“I agree with that sentiment of his readiness from a professional perspective,” Tomlin said. “It was two things that really attracted us to him from a floor standpoint. We thought he had pro-level anticipation, we thought he had pro-level accuracy.”

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

Unlike most quarterbacks taken in the first round, Pickett won’t have lofty expectations out of the gate. That’s not saying he can’t become a great quarterback down the road, but the Steelers don’t need him to be a star right away.

The Steelers have spent the past two offseasons revamping their core with the intention of taking a quarterback after Roethlisberger’s retirement. Not only did Pittsburgh commit to bringing in players at skill positions, but it also heavily invested in upgrading its offensive line this offseason. The commitment to the offensive side of the ball will surely smoothen the transition for Pickett. 

Pickett won’t walk into a situation where he is set up to fail in his first year due to a talent deficiency around him. There are several stars surrounding Pickett, including Harris, Freiermuth and Johnson, with Pickens and Austin set to make an immediate impact. 

Pickett excelled last season at reading a variety of schemes thrown at him. He needs to continue to tap into that knowledge and take care of the football, and the Steelers will be in good shape this season. The litany of weapons surrounding Pickett makes for an ideal situation — one Pittsburgh should capitalize on. 

  • He will be 24 years old in a few weeks

Quarterbacks can have very long careers, but Pickett will be 24 years old when week one rolls around. 

There have been only two quarterbacks drafted in the first round who were older than Pickett since 1967. This shouldn’t alarm Steelers fans, but it’s absolutely something to note.

Pickett spent five years developing at Pitt. The NFL is obviously a different animal, but at this stage of his career, the Steelers have a good idea of what Pickett can do on the field. Holding a clipboard for a year while sitting behind Trubisky won’t be all that beneficial. 

Waiting to hand Pickett the keys until he’s 25 years old would be a mistake. They can’t afford to take the slow route with him. One of the biggest reasons they were enamored with him throughout the draft process was his readiness — we have already heard it many times. Let him show it.