It’s not often a player can get drafted from college to the pros and not even have to change practice facilities. But the Pittsburgh Panthers and the Pittsburgh Steelers have a unique relationship that creates equally unique draft opportunities. One of those was getting to draft Pitt’s Kenny Pickett in 2022 to be the Steelers’ next franchise quarterback. But beyond that connection, the Steelers’ history of security and stability is the best place for a rookie quarterback to go.
Appearing on Ben Roethlisberger’s Footbahlin podcast that aired Sunday evening, Pickett said staying in Pittsburgh was ideal for his professional career.
“I was lucky to land in this place to be honest,” Pickett told Roethlisberger and co-host Spence. “Just the franchise and everything that happened before me. You look at other places and it’s just kind of more of a rocky road, like they’re building there. I feel like I came to a place that had a really good foundation obviously with where [Ben] left off.”
While 2022 was a year of transition, closing out the Roethlisberger era and beginning Pickett’s chapter, along with other changes like a new GM, the Steelers didn’t change much outwardly. Mike Tomlin remains their head coach, the second-longest tenured coach in football, and this wasn’t a terrible team starting from the ground up. Pittsburgh has been competitive for two straight decades and didn’t feel rushed to start Pickett out of the gate, signing veteran Mitch Trubisky nearly two months before drafting Pickett. If anything, they took too long to turn to Pickett, who showed he was capable to start Week One, but didn’t see action until Week Four before being named starter Week Five.
Draft day was an eventful one for Pickett. He wasn’t like Bryce Young and knew exactly where he was going or even a Top Five quarterback who had a good guess at his range and the teams interested. Pickett wasn’t drafted until the 20th pick in what turned out to be a down class. He was the only quarterback selected in the top two rounds.
The culture and inner-workings of a franchise can determine a rookie’s success as much as just about anything else. There’s countless examples of that over the years. Houston’s David Carr and Cleveland’s Tim Couch were two talented quarterbacks who might’ve thrived in different situations but were thrown to the wolves on bad teams right away, chewed up and spit out by the relentless nature of the league. Pickett and the Steelers took their lumps, no doubt, but quickly found their footing and ended the season on a high note, going 7-2 after the bye and nearly making the playoffs.
Coming into this situation also lends itself to expectations and pressure. But it’s a challenge Pickett is ready for.
“That’s why I just kind of work real hard at it. Just to kind of uphold the standard that’s been set by [Ben] and Terry before me and all these other great players. So I definitely was lucky in that sense.”
Expecting Pickett to be the next Bradshaw or Roethlisberger would be setting him up for failure. But 2023 is the season to prove he can be the team’s franchise quarterback, not just its starter of the present. A big year that leads the Steelers into the playoffs and hopefully win a game, their first since 2016, would go a long way in cementing that.
Catch the entire interview at the link below.