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Steelers Need to Pump The Brakes on Kenny Pickett

It's not time for the Pittsburgh Steelers to put too much on Kenny Pickett.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have a winner, but let's calm down the hype.

4,319 yards. A 6:1 Touchdown to interception ratio. 11 wins and two losses. Heisman finalist. A No. 13 rank nationally for his university.  

These are the wonderful accolades of Kenny Pickett’s lights-out senior season for the University of Pitt. Once considered a fringe quarterback prospect that would likely go in the mid-late rounds, Pickett’s charge - no pun intended for the history lovers - to the top of the 2022 NFL QB draft class was linear.

His senior season was deserving of every accolade and gave Pitt the most national recognition they’ve received in a long time. Now, the NFL season is less than three weeks away and Pickett did nothing more than swap locker rooms at Acrisure Stadium as he’ll remain in Pittsburgh and play for the Steelers.

Some people felt that the Steelers had more pressing needs with their first-round draft selection than taking a quarterback with Mitch Trubisky signed to a two-year deal. Others felt that passing on the Pitt quarterback for the second time in franchise history could spell a mistake similar to the Dan Marino situation in 1983. Regardless, Pickett will begin his NFL career in the same city that his college career took off.

I am as excited as anyone else to see what Pickett can do in the NFL. He’s got the swagger of a Joe Burrow and has lit up the two defenses he’s played so far in the preseason. It can even be argued that he has done enough to wrestle the starting job away from Trubisky but that seems very unlikely unless he throws for 900 yards and 12 touchdowns against the Lions on Sunday.

While Pickett likely won’t start week one, it is hard to imagine a scenario where he doesn’t see the field in 2022. It is apparent that Pickett has already surpassed Mason Rudolph on the depth chart as Pickett is seeing more second-team reps than Rudolph. After all, Pickett did play a fifth season at Pitt and turned 24 in June so he should be much closer to a polished product than most of the quarterbacks taken in this draft.

All of this is great but I do advise caution with wanting Pickett to play right away and thinking he is going to set the world on fire and make people forget so quickly about Ben Roethlisberger.

Pickett was a four-year starter at Pitt. His freshman year looked like a redshirt season for him but he was thrust into starting duty in the final game of the season. What better test than seeing the No. 2 team in the country in your first career start?

Pickett was electric in that game. He only threw for 193 yards on 18 completions but his ability to escape the pocket and make plays happen with his feet was evident. He ran in two touchdowns and passed for another, the most memorable was the 22-yarder where he dove for the pilon in the fourth quarter giving Pitt the lead for good.

The world knew who Pickett was now after he knocked off Miami. However, most of his play the next season was rather uninspiring as he didn’t have a 300-yard passing game until the November 17 game against Wake Forest in 2018. He’d even been held to under 100 yards in a few contests that season.

There are plenty of good defenses throughout the ACC but none were better and more consistent than Clemson’s over the years that Pickett played for Pitt. Pickett had a 1-2 career record against Clemson, finally dispatching of the Tigers in his fifth season when he threw for 302 yards in a 27-17 victory.

The other two outings came in the 2018 ACC Championship game where he was held to under 10 (!) yards passing and a four-interception performance in 2020 against Dabo Swinney’s defense.

Three games against a quality college opponent don’t define a legacy. Pickett did plenty of good at Pitt to warrant becoming an NFL quarterback. He may even become a great one. No one knows until he steps on the field.

I’d like to think that NFL teams are very smart. In a quarterback-driven league, it is puzzling to me to think that Pickett lasted until the Steelers selected at 20 and no other quarterback was selected until the third round.

The early reviews on Pickett seem to include a lot of high praise. He certainly has the athleticism and poise to be a quarterback in the NFL, and a very good one at that. I hope that he can turn into that for the Steelers’ sake. All I am warning is that not every first-round pick is bound to hit and that finding a new franchise quarterback isn’t as easy as snapping your fingers.

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