The success of any NFL team largely depends on the quality of play from the quarterback position. The Steelers look for improvement from Kenny Pickett’s rookie season to hopefully carry them into the playoffs this year. To get to those playoffs the Steelers will have to beat a slew of opposing quarterbacks on their 17-game regular season slate. How good are those QBs and how good is Kenny Pickett compared to them?
Passer Rating vs. QBR: What’s the difference?
There are two commonly used (and often confused) stats for ranking QBs. The NFL uses the statistic of Passer Rating. Passer Rating is purely a mathematical calculation with the only inputs being attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns, and interceptions.
In 2011, ESPN devised a statistic known as Total Quarterback Rating or QBR. QBR adds context to the overall play of the QB. Whereas the NFL Passer Rating only measures how each pass attempt played out, QBR adds context by factoring in such things as down and distance, game time and situation, as well as whether a quarterback is scrambling/under pressure or clean in the pocket.
Additionally, the NFL statistic only measures pass plays while QBR also accounts for quarterback runs and sacks. We will be using 2022 QBR to rank the Steelers' opposing QBs as well as Kenny Pickett. Not all of the Steelers opponent's QBs made the 2022 list as ESPN only ranks QBs with 20 “actionable” plays per game. Handoffs and kneel-downs don’t count toward this play count unless the QB fumbles on the play.
Click here for the complete list of 2022 QBR rankings. Quarterbacks that either haven’t played enough to be ranked or are entering the season as rookies are outlined at the bottom, too.
*Indicates projected full-season QBR based on six games played
Ranking the Steelers opposing QBs in 2023 based on QBR
No. 5: Brock Purdy, San Francisco 49ers*
Brock Purdy is coming off of elbow surgery. The 49ers hope he is ready to start the season, but will he be as effective after undergoing the knife and an off-season of rehab? If Purdy isn’t ready to start against the Steelers on September 10th, San Francisco would turn to Sam Darnold (projected 25th QBR) or Trey Lance (projected 29th).
No. 7: Geno Smith, Seattle Seahawks
Geno Smith had an absolute career year in 2022 throwing for 30 TDs and 11 INTs after 8 mostly forgettable seasons which totaled only 34 TDs and 37 INTs. While his 2022 touchdown total was pretty evenly split with 15 in the first nine games and 15 in the last eight games, his INTs went from 4 in the first nine games to 7 in the last eight. Does he regain his early 2022 form or were those first nine games the statistical outlier to the rest of his career?
No. 9: Lamar Jackson, Baltimore Ravens (Steelers play twice)
Lamar Jackson with the ball in his hand is a potential highlight reel every time he takes the field. He has missed several games at the end of the past two seasons with ankle and knee injuries. Will he be the same electric talent after his latest injury?
No. 10: Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals (Steelers play twice)
Joe Burrow is one of the unquestioned best quarterbacks in the NFL. His play late in the season and in the postseason are the envy of most every team in the league. If Burrow overcomes his training camp calf injury there is no reason to expect anything less than great quarterbacking when the Steelers face the Bengals twice.
No. 15: Trevor Lawrence, Jacksonville Jaguars
Trevor Lawrence, much like Kenny Pickett, cleaned up his INTs as the season progressed. Lawrence threw six in his first nine starts followed by only two in his last eight games. His arrow seems to be pointing up.
No. 16: Jimmy Garoppolo, Las Vegas Raiders
Jimmy Garoppolo only played 11 games due to a foot injury that required surgery. How well he has recovered and how well he adjusts to a new team are legitimate questions surrounding the Raiders quarterback.
No. 19: Kyler Murray, Arizona Cardinals
Kyler Murray is likely to start against the Steelers in week 13 pending recovery from his ACL surgery that limited him to only 10 games last season. As Murray’s running ability is a big part of his effectiveness, the knee injury is certainly a concern.
No. 22: Matthew Stafford, Los Angeles Rams
Matt Stafford played only nine games last year due to a spinal contusion. At 35 years old can he return to the form that propelled the Rams to a Super Bowl two years ago?
No. 24: Ryan Tannehill, Tennessee Titans
Ryan Tannehill saw his QBR take a massive drop after ranking 9th, 4th, and 8th the previous three seasons. Tannehill’s running ability has been a big part of his career success but his 2022 season ended with ankle surgery. At 35 years old can he regain his wheels and return to who he was?
No. 27: Deshaun Watson, Cleveland Browns* (Steelers play twice)
Deshaun Watson only played six games last year after a 23-month hiatus. Before that break Watson’s seasons had ranked 13th, 7th, and 12th. Was his underwhelming performance in last year’s six games due to rust from time off or did those 23 months away affect his ability to play well?
No. 28: Mac Jones, New England Patriots
Mac Jones missed three games early in the 2022 season with a sprained ankle. Throwing 14 TDs and 11 INTs in 14 starts was a step back from his rookie season.
No. 29: Davis Mills or rookie CJ Stroud, Houston Texans (unranked)
Unranked: Jordan Love (Green Bay Packers), Gardner Minshew or rookie Anthony Richardson (Indianapolis Colts)
The remaining group of Jordan Love, Gardner Minshew, along with rookies CJ Stroud and Anthony Richardson are purely question marks going into 2023.
If these in fact are the QBs that the Steelers face they will have six games against top 10 QBs, seven games against bottom 10 opponents, and four against the middle of the pack.
How Kenny Pickett compares
Now that we have the rankings, how does Kenny Pickett compare? The list shows eight games against QBs higher than Kyler Murray’s rank of 19th and eight games against QBs ranked lower than Murray. Why do I bring that up? Because Kenny Pickett’s 2022 QBR tied him with Murray for 19th on the list.
Of the likely quarterbacks on the Steelers' schedule this year, Pickett is right in the middle based on the play of his rookie (partial) season. As we all expect some improvement in his second year, this list is reason to be optimistic that the Steelers could have an advantage at quarterback in most of their games.
Kenny Pickett’s 2022 rookie QBR is exactly in the middle of the pack compared to 2023 Steeler opponent QBs. With serious questions surrounding all of these quarterbacks except for Burrow and Lawrence, it’s very easy to be optimistic about the Steelers' 2023 season, especially with the anticipated second-year improvement of KP!