Pittsburgh Steelers 2022 Draft Targets: Kenny Pickett

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In my series of draft targets for the Pittsburgh Steelers, I've talked a good bit about the team's desire to select a quarterback.  So it's only appropriate that I finally talk about the quarterback in the draft that Pittsburgh fans have the most familiarity with.  Pitt's own Kenny Pickett seems to be a consensus first-round pick, but with speculation mounting that he may fall down the board, it's time to start recognizing that Kenny may be acquainting himself with Heinz Field for many more years to come.

We've been lucky to see Pickett grow before our very eyes here in Pittsburgh, so it's no surprise to us Pitt fans that Pickett is slated to go in the first round of the draft.  He has provided us plenty of highlights over his time as a Panther, which has been a lot when you consider how long he has been at the helm.  It's not too often you come across a guy that was the starting quarterback for his college team for four years but Pickett can proudly say that.  He also started one game his freshman season, in the very last game against the #2 ranked Miami Hurricanes.  He led the Panthers to the upset, was responsible for three touchdowns, and it was there that the legend of Kenny Pickett was born.

We've talked a lot on this site about how incredible Pickett was in his days in the blue and gold, but if you happened to miss it, here are just a few of his accomplishments.  Over his five-year career at Pitt, he amassed 12,303 passing yards and 81 passing touchdowns, to go along with 809 rushing yards and 20 rushing touchdowns.  He finished as Pitt's all-time leader in passing yards, pass completions and passing touchdowns.  

In 2021, he had his name in the Heisman Award consideration, earning a spot as one of the finalists.  While he may not have won, there's no denying how important Pickett was to this team and university over his five years as a Panther.

I've already discussed quarterbacks Malik Willis and Matt Corral and the skill sets that each possesses in this series of articles.  While Pickett is a great passer and very capable runner, he has shown something that neither of those two have - NFL readiness.  Pickett is believed to be the quarterback in the draft that is best equipped to start right out of the gate.  It's this ability that has made the Carolina Panthers so enamored with him at pick #6.  They tried the Sam Darnold experiment at quarterback last season, and after seeing how much of a failure it was, there were beliefs that they could be the top suitor for Pickett.

However, there has been some thoughts over recent days that the Panthers may go a different route with their selection, which could make Pickett available to Pittsburgh.  And that is something Steelers fans should be delighted with.  Pickett showed off everything at Pitt that scouts adore - throwing, running and maybe most importantly, experience.

At Pitt, he showed he was able to make all of the throws.  He was an elite passer and the statistics he amassed show that very clearly.  Not to mention, he was also able to use his legs effectively to get out of the pocket when it broke down or when he saw a lot of green grass in front of him.  Example A of this is the infamous fake slide run in the ACC Championship game against Wake Forest.  He's not Lamar Jackson with the ball in his hands, but he's clearly able to make defenders miss.  Pickett also had the most touchdowns against defensive blitz calls among all Power-5 quarterbacks last season. The Steelers have expressed that they're looking for a quarterback with mobility and Pickett has proved his worth in that department quite well.

There's a lot to like with seeing Kenny Pickett in the black and gold for reasons beyond his playing ability.  He's very familiar with Heinz Field and Pittsburgh.  There will be no adjustment that comes with guys getting acclimated to a new city out of college.  He's accustomed to the weather that Pittsburgh has to offer during football season and while there was has been a lot of discussion about his "small hands," don't let that detract you in the slightest.  He hasn't any discernible issues handling a football in the cold Pittsburgh temperatures that come sooner than most of us here would like.

So where does Kenny fit on the Steelers with Mitchell Trubisky already signed?  Their affinity to draft a quarterback has been well documented over the course of these articles and Pickett is easily the one that is most game-ready.  However, with Trubisky in place to start Week 1, the Steelers don't need a quarterback to start immediately.  They have the luxury of having their pick ease into the starting role.  For this reason, Pickett may not be the answer for them.  

Because we have seen so much of Kenny Pickett in college, we have a pretty good idea of the type of quarterback he will be in his years as a professional.  As the most experienced quarterback in the draft, we are seeing most of his upside already.  Other quarterbacks in the draft, namely Malik Willis, are rawer but potentially have a higher ceiling.  With the proper tutelage, they can become significantly better than they already are.  For Pickett, that might not be the case.

This isn't a knock on Pickett.  He can still be a very good and successful quarterback in the league.  It's just that he's the safer, less flashy option.  His range of outcomes appears to be more limited than the others.  While his floor is higher, his ceiling is lower.  And while it's always good to have a high floor, with Trubisky already signed for two years, the Steelers may be willing to take the risk and try to hit a home run with this pick.

All in all, there's a lot for the Steelers to like with Pickett's game, I'm just not so sure they like him enough to trade up to select him.  I still think Malik Willis is their top priority if selecting a quarterback, but if he is already off the board and Pickett is available when the Steelers' pick comes around, Kenny could very well end up staying in the Burgh.  

It all comes down to what the Steelers have in mind for their long-term vision.  While Willis is the flashy choice, Pickett is by far the safer option.  I just hope not too safe.  I would love to see Pickett continue to make Pittsburgh his home, I just hope the Steelers agree.