The Pittsburgh Steelers didn’t wait very long after the conclusion of the 2021 season to confirm that the quarterback position was first and foremost among their various priorities. Signing Mitch Trubisky prior to the 2022 NFL Draft and then selecting Kenny Pickett in the first round eliminated any doubt that Mike Tomlin and Pittsburgh’s front office might be willing to sacrifice success this season for the sake of meeting other pressing needs.
Based strictly on what we’ve seen in two preseason games, it appears the Steelers will kick off the 2022 regular season with a trio of competent aspirants for the team’s starting QB job. Trubisky and Mason Rudolph share the difficult experience of getting stuck in unfortunate circumstances during the early years of their NFL careers. Trubisky’s development clearly wasn’t helped by the Chicago Bears’ seemingly endless coaching merry-go-round and the lack of support Mitch endured under former Bears head coach Matt Nagy. As for Rudolph, there never was any question that he would be relegated to holding a clipboard on the sidelines for as long as Ben Roethlisberger remained healthy enough to play.
Both Mason and Mitch will benefit as players from the keen competition shaping up at quarterback this season. But while it’s not beyond the realm of possibility, it seems somewhat less likely that either Rudolph or Trubisky will earn the right to define the Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense over the long term by stepping into the dominant role Big Ben filled for so many seasons.
Whether or not he’s named as starting QB for Week 1, Kenny Pickett has already shown enough flashes of star potential to be considered the player who will determine whether Pittsburgh finishes this season with a settled quarterback situation.
In 2004, Ben Roethlisberger came charging out of the gate as a rookie, compiling a stellar 13-0 record in the games he started. While that looks like it might be a bar too high for Pickett to reach in 2022 (considering the fundamentally different team he’ll be working with), the rookie nevertheless is likely to have ample opportunity to fulfill his promise as the first quarterback chosen in this year’s NFL Draft.
Despite the unfortunate breaks endured by both Trubisky and Rudolph in the initial phase of their careers, each quarterback has notched enough regular-season snaps in the league that many fans (and probably some coaches) already have judged them as never more than journeymen players. Conversely, we won’t truly know what the Steelers have in Pickett until we see him perform in games that count against first-team, NFL competition. That’s why Pickett seems most likely to be the player who will determine the ultimate wisdom of the Steelers’ major commitment to the quarterback position in the 2022 NFL Draft — a draft widely assumed to be unusually thin at the all-important position.
Given the challenges presented by the Steelers’ 2022 regular season schedule, plus some nagging questions about the OL, it seems practically irrelevant whether Pickett, Trubisky or Rudolph gets the nod in Week 1 against the Bengals in Cincinnati. It seems more likely that at least a substantial portion of the upcoming season will resemble the early years of Terry Bradshaw’s career, when Chuck Noll platooned quarterbacks to determine which one would give him the best chance to win. Mike Tomlin faces a similar circumstance this season and he has already signaled his intention to encourage a similar competition.
Of course, there are some well-known drawbacks to tossing a young QB prematurely into the NFL fray. At the same time, the pressure to win is such that no head coach can afford to stand pat with a QB who cannot move the offense consistently.
So what do you think, Steelers Nation? Is it better to ease Kenny Pickett into the pro game by sitting him down for the first part of the season, or should the Steelers embrace the philosophy that the future is now? Do you think the jury is still out on Mitch and Mason or that either one might exceed expectations to emerge clearly as the Steelers’ starting QB? In the big picture, does it really matter who’s named the starter in Week 1?