It was easy to see from the start. The 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers were predestined to be top heavy, in more ways than one.
The rebuilding Steelers were extremely young and inexpensive on offense, older and more expensive on defense. Any end of season accolades or awards would most likely have to be earned by one of the Steelers defensive stalwarts. The new look offense would need plenty of time and patience.
One possible area of recognition for the Steelers young collection of offensive talent that seemed rational at various points of the season was the All Rookie teams. Especially after rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett assumed control of the starting spot about a quarter of the way into the season, although he missed time behind center on a couple of occasions due to concussion protocol.
Pickett didn't enjoy instant NFL success, which really shouldn't have come as much of a surprise. Pickett was operating behind the Steelers latest edition of a revamped offensive line, fortified by experienced free agent acquisitions Mason Cole and James Daniels. Their talent was unmistakable and much needed, but the chemistry needed for steady and sustainable improvement takes time to develop.
Pickett's stable of young skill position talent was impressive, but also short in the tooth. It seemed like Pickett encountered multiple first-time NFL experiences on an almost weekly basis. Like any young standout worth his salt, Pickett seldom repeated the same mistake twice.
Pickett was an interception waiting to happen in the first few games of his NFL career, as it took him some time to adjust to the speed of the game, and to balance risk assessment with ball security. Pickett was sensational in that regard over the second half of the Steelers season. He showed excellent leadership qualities and clutch tendencies in the Steelers surging second half of 2023, resulting in a 7-2 finish.
I thought Pickett's consistent growth throughout his rookie season, plus the aforementioned clutch tendencies he displayed in the Steelers strong finish to 2022, might be enough to earn Kenny Pickett a spot on the 2022 PFF All-Rookie Team.
I was wrong.
Although Pickett was the only quarterback taken in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft, and the only rookie QB to start the majority of his team's games this season, it still wasn't enough to warrant the top spot on the All-Rookie team.
Pickett finishing the season with a winning record didn’t matter. Even with multiple wins featuring his aforementioned clutch abilities, plus some of the best ball security improvements in season I have ever seen by a rookie quarterback, Pickett was beaten out for a spot on the All-Rookie team by ‘Mr. Irrelevant’ himself, San Francisco 49ers QB Brock Purdy.
Although PFF mentioned Pickett's steady improvement throughout the season, and his apparent potential as the QB of the future for the Steelers, they chose Purdy for his truly impressive performance guiding the 49ers offense when it was needed most.
Purdy's statistics during his rookie campaign speak for themselves. The most impressive statistic of them all; the 49ers won all five of Purdy's starts to end the season on a 10-game winning streak. While it's obvious that the 49ers possess a championship caliber roster, Purdy's 107.3 passer rating as a starter showcases his immense contributions to the 49ers winning efforts.
He did an incredible job of keeping the 49ers runaway train on the right tracks after being thrust into the role unexpectedly.
Purdy became the first ‘Mr. Irrelevant’, the moniker awarded to the last selection in every NFL Draft, to ever throw a regular season touchdown pass in NFL history. Purdy waited so long to be drafted because he isn't the ideal physical specimen teams are coveting at the position. He stands a shade over 6-feet tall, has borderline NFL arm talent, and his RAS score offers nothing to write home about.
Pre-draft evaluations suggested Purdy was a marginal QB prospect with a career backup ceiling. However, NFL level intangibles are almost impossible to predict until they are revealed.
What Brock Purdy lacks athletically he makes up for by being ultra intelligent and competitive. The notorious slow heartbeat, coupled with the calm and confident demeanor that naturally creates leadership and inspires loyalty. How do you define that on a pre-draft evaluation? Purdy showcased those qualities during his collegiate career at Iowa State, as his teams were often successful, even though they were outmanned on many occasions.
Now Purdy finds himself being asked as a rookie to be the ultimate game manager for the most talented and complete roster in the NFL, in my opinion. The 49ers have to be considered a favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, but Purdy is easily their biggest question mark.
How long can Purdy keep this Cinderella story going? While it makes for intriguing theater, Purdy and the 49ers can only hope for a ‘Happily Ever After’ ending. You just never know, that's why they play the games. Crazier things have happened.
As I have mentioned in recent articles, I am particularly interested in the results of the 2022 playoffs for selfish reasons. I want to see if an elite level roster can triumph over an elite level quarterback. That's what this season's Super Bowl could potentially turn out to be.
Kenny Pickett and Brock Purdy share plenty of similar attributes and intangibles, many of which I already mentioned. Pickett is without a doubt the superior athlete with the higher ceiling of the two, but Purdy definitely landed in the optimal circumstances for immediate success. If Purdy proves to possess some Pickett-like magic in the clutch during the most opportunistic moments of the playoffs, don't be surprised to see Purdy participating in the Super Bowl this season.
Pickett is currently focused on the future, while Purdy definitely has to focus on the present, and the golden opportunity that he has been given. Hopefully he performs to the best of his abilities, enough to warrant future consideration as a starting quarterback in the NFL.
Purdy has already defied the odds, why not exceed all expectations for his NFL future. Wouldn't that make for a fascinating NFL Film's storyline someday?