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Fans and media have failed to understand Kenny Pickett and the idea of a new QB

You can tell Steelers fans and even the media aren’t used to witnessing the transition from an accomplished veteran to an inexperienced rookie at the quarterback spot.

Syndication: Beaver County Times Michael Longo/For USA Today Network / USA TODAY NETWORK

As a young Steelers fan growing up in the 1980s, I had a hard time envisioning the franchise being led by any other head coach but Chuck Noll, the legendary figure dubbed The Emperor.

“What will it be like when/if Noll ever leaves?” I thought with the kind of naivete that would only suggest I wasn’t quite ready to deal with real-world issues.

Turned out, it wasn’t so bad.

Bill Cowher succeeded Noll as head coach in 1992, and thanks mainly to the cupboard being far from bare, the Crafton native used “Noll’s players” to reignite the franchise and the passion of its fans.

Of course, the success Cowher had over the next six years, but especially right away, was the exception and not the rule when it came to new head coaches in the National Football League in those days.

It still is the exception in 2023.

Being an NFL head coach is a hard job.

The same is true for being an NFL quarterback. That’s especially the case when it comes to being a rookie NFL quarterback.

The job gets even tougher when you’re replacing a legend such as Ben Roethlisberger, who retired following the 2021 campaign.

That became Kenny Pickett’s reality after Pittsburgh selected him in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft.

Pickett struggled following his rather-quick insertion into the lineup midway through a Week 4 matchup against the Jets at Acrisure Stadium—the quick hook for veteran Mitch Trubisky was an inevitable outcome for those who know NFL history—and never really stopped struggling for the remainder of his rookie campaign.

Sure, there were those two game-winning drives in Weeks 16 and 17, respectively, but Pickett spent the majority of his rookie season looking fairly pedestrian—or mid, as the kids say.

Heck, “mid” may have been preferable to how Pickett actually played in 2022. He ranked near the bottom of just about every quarterback metric except “guts,” “courage,” and the “it factor.”

It’s been six months since the Steelers finished their 2022 campaign with a 28-14 victory over the Browns at Acrisure Stadium. Pittsburgh closed the season on a 7-2 run to preserve yet another non-losing year for head coach Mike Tomlin.

This would normally give fans hope for the following season, if not for the question marks surrounding Pickett. I mean, his rookie stats—including seven touchdowns and nine interceptions—have been repeated so many times on talk radio and social media, I wouldn’t even need to see them on a screen if they were lyrics in a karaoke song.

Pickett is near the bottom of every quarterback power ranking heading into 2023.


“Is Kenny Pickett the fourth-best quarterback in the AFC North?”

Considering one of those quarterbacks is a former NFL MVP, while the other two are Joe Burrow and Deshaun Watson, Pickett damn sure better be the fourth-best signal-caller in the AFC North.

It shouldn’t be a surprise. Pickett is heading into his second season. Don’t get me wrong, he did okay for himself in 2022. He hung in there. He seemed to grow.

Yet, we still have questions. We still have concerns. We still aren’t sure if Kenny Pickett is the future of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

We still debate the 2022 draft. We talk about offensive linemen who may have been better choices in Round 1.

We have concerns about offensive coordinator Matt Canada. I get those concerns, but Pickett probably would have struggled a great deal if Andy Reid was his OC in 2022; I’m not saying Pickett would have struggled to the same degree—after all, much like Bruce Arians, Todd Haley and Randy Fichtner, Canada is the sole reason for the sorry Steelers season(s)—but he likely would have had a hard time processing Reid’s complex offense.

Heck, Pickett may have struggled even more under Reid, considering Canada’s much simpler “Saturday-ish” offense.

We wonder about Mike Tomlin and why he restricted Pickett to “game manager” status as a rookie and are concerned this will be the case again in 2023.

“I’m still not sold on Kenny Pickett,” you say with his second training camp fast approaching.

You’re still not sold?

You think Kenny Pickett is the fourth-best quarterback in the AFC North?

You wonder about the future of the team and whether or not it’s in the right hands?

No duh!

I get the concerns and questions, but why are you asking them over and over again, as if you just woke up from a feverish nightmare?

You failed. Seriously, you failed in your very first attempt (at least in the social media age) at watching the Steelers transition from a quarterback legend who answered all the questions throughout his historic career to a rookie who hasn’t even answered one other than perhaps “good character?”

I don’t know how old you are—and I hate to play the “age” card—but this was what it was like in the 1980s once Terry Bradshaw retired right before the 1984 campaign.

Bradshaw barely played in 1983, so really, it was Cliff Stoudt who was the first one to try and replace a legend at the most important position in team sports.

After Stoudt, it was David Woodley, Mark Malone, Bubby Brister, etc.

I can go on and on, naming every single quarterback who came through the ranks after Bradshaw left, but that would take ages.

That’s kind of the point.

The odds of replacing a legend with another legend are pretty damn long, but at least the current Steelers went about trying to do it right away. They smartly recognized the importance of the quarterback spot, which I believe they failed to do in the 1980s after Bradshaw left.

“I think Pickett’s ceiling is Kirk Cousins,” you might say.

I refuse to put limits on anyone, but the Steelers would actually be defying the odds even if Pickett smacks his head on “Cousins” and doesn’t go any higher.

So, will Pickett have an expanded playbook in 2023? I don’t know for sure, but probably.

Will Tomlin take the training wheels off Pickett in 2023? Maybe not for every ride, but they’ll likely be gone completely by the second half of the season—no coach is dumb enough to use a first-round pick on what he thinks will be a career game manager.

Will Canada hinder Pickett moving forward? It all depends on what you mean by that. I think it’s pretty damn tough to hinder the truly great quarterbacks. If Pickett has the goods, I don’t believe any offensive coordinator will hold him back.

Finally, is Kenny Pickett the answer at quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers?

Nobody can possibly predict that after just one season—even a season full of struggles—but get this...

That’s totally normal.