Former Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett is a lot of things: the holder of all major passing records at Pitt, a Heisman Trophy finalist, an ACC champion, and now a Pittsburgh Steeler.
Pittsburgh selected the 6-foot-3 passer 20th overall on Thursday night with mixed emotions from its fan base.
Pickett’s selection is a feel-good, storybook moment.
When the camera cut to Pickett after Steelers legend Franco Harris enthusiastically announced the team’s first-round pick, Pickett — who will turn 24 in June — was seen crying tears of joy as he held the phone to his ear and the crowd of 200 erupted around him in a New Jersey bar.
“We circled the globe, at least the United States here, exploring and researching,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said after the selection. “It’s funny — we ended up with the guy next door.”
It’s the longest since 1997 that a draft went that far without
selecting a quarterback and the first time since 1983 that a Pitt
quarterback was taken in the first round. Dan Marino was selected 27th overall by the Miami Dolphins.
Not selecting Marino with
Pittsburgh’s 21st pick was something Art Rooney, the late founding owner of the Steelers, griped about for years after the draft was long over.
“We’ve got to find a way to keep this kid in Pittsburgh,” Rooney said about Marino prior to the ’83 draft, according to the book “ROONEY”.
This time, the Steelers took the hometown kid, for better or worse.
The Steelers, who signed
Mitchell Trubisky in March, were
Pickett was still on the board to snag at No. 20.
Maybe that alone should have been a red flag for Pittsburgh. The QB-starved Saints and Lions passed on the New Jersey native.
However, the Steelers took a chance on Pickett, and it appears they’re ready to build this homegrown talent to be the eventual successor to Ben
Pickett provides what
Roethlisberger couldn’t in his final seasons: mobility.
Offensive coordinator Matt
Canada demands a mobile QB for his offense to succeed, and an aging Big Ben wasn’t the right fit for the system. Pickett rushed for 20
touchdowns in college, showing the ability to use his legs to extend plays and make passes outside the pocket.
Plus, he has a decently strong arm to match, along with maturity and experience.
By opting out of the 2021 draft to pursue a fifth season at Pitt, Pickett was able to clean up his mechanics, fine-tune his game and prove
himself worthy of a first-round selection.
He played 52 games in five years with the Panthers, who share the Steelers’ home stadium of Heinz Field, and is undoubtedly the most NFL-ready QB in this draft class.
Pickett had a 62.4 completion rate, with 1,045 successful passes for 12,303 yards and 83 passing touchdowns at Pitt. He holds the all-time and single-season records for most passing yards, touchdowns and completions in the program’s history.
For all the pros that come with Pickett, there are also cons.
The four-year starter and two-time Pitt captain threw 32 interceptions — seven in 2021 — and fumbled 38 times during his college career.
The fumbles can be pinned on Pickett’s overdiscussed hand size. His hands measured 8½ inches, if you haven’t heard yet. That’s about a quarter-inch smaller than Taysom Hill’s, which was the smallest QB hand size in the league last season.
It could also be that hand size is just another meaningless statistic thrown around to generate excuses for a lack of control.
Either way, Pickett averaged
nearly a fumble per game, which isn’t acceptable in the much more competitive NFL.
Let’s face it, while the ACC is a respectable conference, Pitt doesn’t regularly see top-tier competitors. Pickett played just one ranked team in 2021. The Panthers cruised to a 45-21 victory over No. 16 Wake
Forest to claim the ACC championship.
In that game, Pickett completed 20 of 33 passes for 253 yard and
two touchdowns without an
Overall, Pickett was 5-6 against ranked teams at Pitt.
While he has plenty of playing experience, he doesn’t have a ton against high-caliber teams. If he lands the Steelers’ starting job, he will be routinely put against big names like Lamar Jackson, Joe Burrow and now Deshaun Watson. Whether he can compete is yet to be seen.
Pickett is a work-in-progress.
He needs to be better at handling the football from under center, making smarter post-snap decisions and not leaving the pocket purely because he can.
The Steelers now have three quarterbacks in Pickett, Trubisky and Mason Rudolph.
For now, Tomlin says it’s anybody’s position to win, but why take a quarterback in the first round if you have confidence in the two currently on your roster?
Pickett’s selection means the Steelers have faith that he’ll be more than just a second-stringer sooner rather than later.
They passed up the more-hyped, less experienced Malik Willis for him, after all.
It also means that Rudolph, with his 10 starts in five years as a backup, may be on his way out of town, and that Trubisky’s career as a Steeler may be over before it could ever start.
While there’s no telling what fate has in store for the Steelers’ quarterback carousel by the start of training camp in July, much less next season’s kickoff, Pittsburgh has captured the feel-good moment of the 2022 draft.
Hopefully Pickett’s play can live up to it.