What's the Deal with Pickett's Ceiling?

Everyone supposedly knows it; Kenny Pickett doesn't have a high ceiling. I've heard more than my fair share of comments from people saying we should've taken Willis because of his arm strength and mobility and this and that and the other thing and all these traits that equate to his "high ceiling." I hear that phrase thrown around all the time when talking about the Pickett selection. People always talk about ceiling this and ceiling that, but I believe that people have a distorted perspective on what ceiling means.

At its core, ceiling means nothing less than "how good do I think this player can be." Now it's worth mentioning that nobody can ever truly know a players ceiling. I point out, much to the dismay of all reading this, that Tom Brady is the best example of this fact. Tom Brady wasn't drafted in the 6th round because of any behavioral issues like Antonio Brown or because he had some really good physical talent but was just too raw like any number of famous late picks and undrafted players where that type of player tends to go. He was drafted there because nobody thought he was going to be any good. In other words, he went in the 6th round because he was projected to have a very low ceiling. As we all know that projection was wrong, and now here we are 22 years and 7 super bowls later with this quarterback who had a higher ceiling than any player in NFL history. All that to say, no one can really know a player's ceiling. You can, however, analyze a player's traits and make an educated prediction of what that ceiling will be.

When talking about ceiling at the quarterback position there are three categories of traits to look at. You have the intangibles of any athlete at any position such as work ethic, character, leadership, and intelligence for the game. Secondly, you have the mechanical physical traits such as accuracy, ball placement, pocket presence, and footwork. Lastly, you have the athletic physical traits such as speed, elusiveness, arm strength, and that intangible sense for the game. All of these traits and more that I didn't list factor into how good a player can be. The problem with ceiling is that people often only look to the last category to determine ceiling, and while it is a huge part of the equation, it is not the only part of the equation, and acting like it is can lead to gross misanalysis of a player's capabilities. Take infamous Raiders bust JaMarcus Russell, for instance. Coming out of the draft he was legendary for his incredible physical traits, with reports saying that he could famously throw a ball 50 yards on his knees. Now as we all know, Russell failed to use his physical gifts due to a paltry work ethic, and was out of the league just as soon as he was in it. Some would argue that he never hit his ceiling, but I would argue that he did and that his ceiling was, in reality, very low and was so low because of that work ethic. Think about it, how is saying that JaMarcus Russell would've hit his ceiling if he had just had a stronger work ethic and love for the game any different than saying that Mason Rudolph could hit his ceiling if he just was able to run faster and throw more accurate passes? In both cases the player is being held back from greatness by an aspect of their game that they never took the time to work out, the only difference is that in one case the issue is physical while in the other it's mental. A flaw is a flaw, and a player can only reach as high as their abilities, mental or physical, will let them.

That brings us back to Kenny Pickett. When people say that Pickett has a low ceiling, what they mean to say is that he doesn't run as fast or throw as far as a guy like Desmond Ridder or Malik Willis. While that may be true, that isn't the whole picture. Kenny Pickett has shown multiple traits throughout his college career that, in my opinion, give him a much higher ceiling than people give him credit for. For one thing, he is very accurate at all levels of the field. His old coaches at Pitt have said this, his new coaches in the Steelers organization have said this, and every scout has said this about him. Kenny Pickett is among the most accurate quarterbacks in this class, if not the most accurate quarterback. Moreover, he is accurate at all levels of the field, throwing for an adjusted accuracy rating of over 80% total and an adjusted accuracy rating of 56% on passes 20 yards or more down the field. Both of those are very good numbers, and are even better when you take into account that Pitt ran a pro style offense during Pickett's tenure, meaning that he didn't inflate his accuracy stats with screens and swings the way that guys like Matt Corrall did. He was throwing the ball down the field and well in his time at Pitt, and that is one of the most important traits a quarterback can have. Guys like Brady, Brees, and Rogers have all built careers on their elite accuracy, and if Pickett can even bring some of that accuracy to the table, then we'll have a quarterback to work with.

Pickett also has a very good work ethic that has manifested itself in a very clear desire and ability to improve throughout his college career. In my eyes, this is one of the most important qualities that any player can have, not just a quarterback. By all accounts, Pickett spent his college career working and improving, and that work and improvement showed on the field with gradual improvements in all areas of his game that eventually led to his explosive championship season at Pitt. In my eyes, work ethic is the most important trait to measure in analyzing ceiling because not only does that mean that he'll be able to capitalize on his physical abilities, but he'll also be able to improve on those physical abilities. This work ethic has also given him a great intelligence for the game. He can read defenses, he can manipulate defenders, and he can do all of these things to make plays all across the field. Again, by nearly all accounts he is one of the smartest quarterbacks in this class, and to me that fact alone raises his ceiling even higher.

When people talk about ceiling as I mentioned before, they often mean the pure physical gifts that you can't learn from a positional coach. Attributes such as speed, elusiveness, and arm strength. While true that Pickett is by no means the best in his class in these areas, he is also by no means poor in these regards. Pickett can move. He showed a knack for doing it both in the pocket and scrambling for yards and even for touchdowns. He also, while by no means having a cannon on his right shoulder the way that some of his contemporaries do, can push the ball downfield in a way that the Steelers have not been able to do for a few years now. Nobody will be mistaking him for Lamar Jackson or Patrick Mahomes, but in the same vein nobody will be mistaking him for what we saw from Drew Brees or Big Ben at the end of their respective careers. This is a guy with physical tools that, when combined with his smarts and his work ethic, can be used to make plays and win games. Again, to me that sounds like a ceiling rising.

At the end of the day, only time will tell what Pickett is able to do on an NFL roster. I would be hypocritical if I wrote this whole thing about how you can't possibly know how good a player will be until he gets out there then finished by claiming that I know exactly how good this player will be before he gets out there. That's not what I'm trying to say here. What I am trying to say, however, is that this talk about how he has such a low ceiling doesn't make much sense either. When I look at him play and how he carries himself on and off the field, I see a guy with a lot of the tools needed to get the job done and to get the job done at a high level. I'm not gonna throw the word elite out there because the guy hasn't even set foot on an NFL field and I'm not crazy, but I am going to say that anything, good or bad, is possible. Until we do know how good Pickett is, here's to hoping for a long successful career from him and all of our other rookies, and here's to hoping that they can all help us reach the ultimate goal of adding to that trophy room.

The opinions shared here are not those of the editorial staff of Behind the Steel Curtain or SB Nation. These posts are not approved in any way by the editorial staff of this web site.