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Kenny Pickett’s projected sophomore leap isn’t just about stats

Pickett doesn’t need mega box scores for 2023 to be a success.

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into his second year as the starting quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Kenny Pickett faces high expectations. While many fans may equate a “big season” with eye-popping statistics, it’s important to recognize that success can come in various forms. Pickett’s impact extends beyond the traditional box score, as the Steelers’ offensive strategy leans heavily on the run game and a formidable defense. It’s entirely possible that Pickett can make a substantial leap as a player and contribute to the team’s success without necessarily putting up gaudy passing numbers.

Pickett’s first step toward a breakthrough season lies in fully embracing his role within the Steelers’ offensive scheme. With running backs Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren poised to be focal points of a clock-churning ground attack, Pickett must recognize that his role extends beyond pure passing statistics. He can make a significant impact by efficiently managing the game, making smart decisions, and executing critical plays when needed.

While the Steelers’ offense may focus on the run, it doesn’t diminish Pickett’s responsibility as the team’s quarterback. He must exhibit strong leadership and command the offense with confidence. Pickett’s ability to read defenses, make pre-snap adjustments, and distribute the ball to his bevy of talented playmakers will be paramount to the team’s success.

With the emphasis on the run game, many fans are calling for Matt Canada to implement more play action passing. Pickett’s skillset is suited for that type of Kyle Shanahan-esque scheme. By effectively selling the run and utilizing his arm talent to connect with receivers on well-timed throws, Pickett can keep defenses off balance and create explosive plays downfield. While the volume of passing attempts may be lower, the quality and impact of these throws can be significant. Improving the efficiency of the passing game is paramount.

Pickett already possesses a special ability to excel in situational football, as we saw often in the latter half of 2022. Whether it’s converting third downs, leading efficient two-minute drills, or making crucial plays in the red zone, Pickett’s decision-making and execution in high-pressure situations will continue to be vital for this Steelers team. Especially by avoiding turnovers, managing the clock effectively, and capitalizing on scoring opportunities.

Because the Steelers offensive success in 2023 will be predicated on a physical brand of football led by the ability of the offensive line and running game to control the clock and set up the passing attack, Kenny Pickett’s numbers may not reach the heights of the elite QBs in the AFC who put up huge 2nd-year numbers like Joe Burrow or Justin Herbert. In a balanced offensive approach that prioritizes the run game and relies on a formidable defense, “making the leap” might look a little different for Pickett. But as the season unfolds, it will become clear that his impact extends far beyond the stat sheet, solidifying his place as a valuable asset to the Steelers’ quest for success.