At least he’s ranked higher than Baker Mayfield, amirite?
CBSSports.com released its first 2023 quarterback power rankings on Thursday, and Kenny Pickett, the quarterback of your Pittsburgh Steelers, came in 28th.
Why the disrespect?
Pickett was ranked lower than Bryce Young, Anthony Richardson and C.J. Stroud. They’re all rookies!
Pickett was rated lower than Lamar Jackson. He’s a running back!
Pickett was ranked lower than Aaron Rodgers. He’s a tool!
Pickett was rated lower than Kirk Cousins. He’s Kirk Cousins!
What the frick?
This isn’t a sign of disrespect for the Steelers' second-year quarterback. It’s plain old reality, a harsh pill to swallow if you don’t know how hard it normally is for young and inexperienced quarterbacks to perform fresh out of the box.
You shouldn’t be surprised by Pickett’s quarterback ranking at all if you watched the Steelers' offense a year ago. It was abysmal. It was boring. The Steelers finished 23rd in total offense in 2022. They scored 28 measly touchdowns—including 12 through the air.
For his part, Pickett passed for 2,404 yards, seven touchdowns and nine interceptions. He had a quarterback rating of 76.7. The 2022 first-round pick from Pitt appeared in 13 games, started 12, and never once broke out statistically over four-full quarters in any one of them.
Where else should he be ranked?
It might be a bit weird that CBS placed three rookie passers above Pickett in these power rankings, but you have to understand that these things are often done to generate discussion and debate (and articles like this one).
It doesn’t really matter who Pickett is ranked behind; at the end of the day, it’s hard to argue with his placement on the list.
Pickett was mostly bad in 2022.
Sure, he had his moments. As CBS Sports points out in its description, Pickett showed “grit” and toughness in 2022. He hung in there under very difficult situations. Pickett struggled but didn’t wilt. He bent but didn’t break. As a great man is often fond of saying, the moment wasn’t too big for the rookie quarterback who didn’t make his debut until the second half of a Week 4 game vs. the Jets at Acrisure Stadium.
A few weeks later, when a dejected Pickett walked off the field after throwing a red zone interception in the final seconds of a loss to the Dolphins on a Sunday night in Miami, that same great man—Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin—told Pickett that there would be better days ahead.
Sure enough, Pickett came through at the end of the season when faced with similar high-stakes situations and orchestrated last-second wins vs. the Raiders and Ravens, respectively.
“Kenny bleeping Pickett,” said that same great man, Tomlin, after Pickett threw the game-clinching touchdown pass to running back Najee Harris in the final seconds of the aforementioned win at Baltimore.
But Pickett was still mostly pedestrian during those victories against Las Vegas and Baltimore. In fact, he might have been less than that. That’s okay because every pedestrian must crawl before they can walk. Similarly, most rookie quarterbacks must struggle before they can excel.
Pickett struggled mightily last year. Nobody can argue that. However, that “grit” CBS referred to? It's now manifesting itself in many ways—including the young quarterback’s desire to get better. You heard the stories earlier this offseason of Pickett’s fiancee telling him to go work out because he seemed miserable when he wasn’t working toward his goal of being the best quarterback he could be. You hear the stories of Pickett’s film study—the dude reportedly has his own office at the Steelers’ facilities. The man added 13 pounds of muscle this offseason. When Pickett is being interviewed, like during a recent appearance on Ryan Clark’s Pivot Podcast, you can see in his face that he’s determined to be the best.
Pickett isn’t there yet, however, and until he gets there, or at least drastically improves his play on the field, he’s going to stay ranked right where he is.
As he should.
I think Steelers fans are conditioned to see any low rating of a starting quarterback as disrespectful. While that was certainly true during the vast majority of Ben Roethlisberger’s career—some of those rankings were just mind-boggling—it’s not the case with Pickett.
At least not yet.
It’s up to Kenny Pickett, through continued work, drive and determination, to improve his game to the point where we’re justified in viewing a low quarterback ranking as a true sign of disrespect.
Until he does, these rankings will continue to be a harsh reality.