Should the Steelers Start Kenny Pickett Right Away?
When the Pittsburgh Steelers were on the clock with the 20th overall pick in the 2022 draft, there was evident pressure to select a quarterback following Ben Roethlisberger's retirement. The appeal to choose Kenny Pickett over the other options, maybe who had higher ceilings — such as Malik Willis and Desmond Ridder — was how pro-ready Pickett looked. And, even though it's early to secure anything during preseason, the projection is coming to fruition, however, the sense around the organization is Mitchell Trubisky will be the starter at the beginning of the regular season.
The plan was always trying to compete right away. The Steelers think they have an elite defense and good offensive weapons to justify it. The option to have an inexpensive young quarterback to round out the roster does make sense - Pickett wouldn't need to be as good as Justin Herbert right away to justify the process.
Steelers QBs in the preseason so far:
Vs. Seahawks 4/7, 63yds, TD
Vs. Jaguars 5/8, 60 yds
Vs. Seahawks 13/15, 95 yds, 2 TDs
Vs. Jaguars 6/7, 76 yds, TD
Vs. Seahawks 9/15, 93 yds, TD
Vs. Jaguars 17/21, 127 yds, TD
If the idea was to bring a polished prospect and he looks like one, why wouldn't Pittsburgh start him immediately?
Well, there are some factors.
First, the offensive line is in awful shape. It might be realistically impossible for any quarterback, young or veteran, to play at a high level under these circumstances. The lack of investment there is palpable.
Take a look at the projected starters:
LT Dan Moore Jr. (2021 4th-rounder)
LG Kevin Dotson (2020 4th-rounder)
C Mason Cole (UFA, formerly with Arizona and Minnesota)
RG James Daniels (UFA, formerly with Chicago)
RT Chukwuma Okorafor (2018 3rd-rounder)
None of which mentioned above is playing better than expected. While any QB will have trouble playing behind this group, there is a reasonable argument to protect the rookie. Playing in this situation could derail Pickett's confidence and force him to develop bad habits that would harm his long-term development.
Moreover, Trubisky is a more mobile and athletic player, which would help for the offensive coaching staff to plan pocket movement and even throws outside the pocket.
The second reason for the Steelers to choose Trubisky over Pickett right away is the culture, a central aspect for head coach Mike Tomlin's management style.
If the coaching staff and the front office evaluated that this roster is capable of winning now, it makes sense to put on the field the quarterback who gives the team the best chance to win immediately, even if it's not the perfect long-term decision. Trubisky is far from an above average quarterback, and he showed his limitations during his stint with the Chicago Bears but his experience and athletic ability might justify the idea of starting him over Pickett.
The Steelers are in a tough spot quarterback-wise, while the defense is ready to compete. Trubisky may be the best quarterback right now and fits the cultural demands for the moment, but Pickett was and is valued for his potential to impact the game right away, and also has a higher ceiling.
It's not an easy decision, and nobody should be surprised if both quarterbacks end up starting games for the team in 2022.