Data Shows Steelers Are Asking Far Too Much Of Their Rookie QB

AP Photo

Remember to follow us on Twitter and Facebook for continued Pittsburgh Sports coverage: 

Kenny Pickett isn't a Top 10 quarterback.  Not in touchdowns, not in passing yards, nor is he a Top 10 quarterback in talent, yet.  Of course he's not.  Because Pickett is a rookie playing the most difficult and most important position in all of American sports.  

So why then as a rookie are the Pittsburgh Steelers asking Kenny Pickett to have a pass rate in the Top 10?

There are just nine quarterbacks who throw the ball more per snap than Kenny Pickett.  Tom Brady, Justin Herbert, Matt Ryan, Josh Allen, Matthew Stafford, Tua Tagovailoa, Patrick Mahomes, Kirk Cousins, and Joe Burrow.  That is the full list of starting quarterbacks that are asked to shoulder more of their offensive responsibility than the Steelers rookie quarterback.  

Not only is Pickett a rookie, but going into training camp he was listed as the third string quarterback.  He wasn't named the starter until Week 5 of the regular season.  Pickett has also now only played three games from start to finish in his entire NFL career.

However, even with this lack of experience, a training camp where he received very little first team reps, and a former 1st round running back on the roster, offensive coordinator Matt Canada has asked Pickett to throw the ball 56% of the snaps he is on the field.  That is simply an outrageous number for a rookie.  

It is obviously a different league than it was when Ben Roethlisberger was a rookie back in 2004.  However, Big Ben had one regular season game in his first two seasons where he topped 30 pass attempts. Pickett has attempted 38 or more passes in all three full games he has played so far.  It took until Week 9 of Roethlisberger's third season to attempt 50+ passes in a single game.  Pickett was asked to do so in his first start.

Even Patrick Mahomes wasn't asked to attempt 50+ passes until his 14th career start and Josh Allen didn't do so until his 4th season.  Joe Burrow finally eclipsed 50 pass attempts in a single game this season, and it took overtime against the Steelers to do so.  These are the young quarterbacks that the whole league should be modeling their development after, but the Steelers are asking Pickett to shoulder much more of the responsibility than they had to that young.  

It is a gross misuse and poor development of a rookie quarterback and there are two people to blame:  Matt Canada and Najee Harris.  Matt Canada is the greatest example of failing upwards.  He had one good season with Pitt when he was dependent on Quadree Henderson being the quickest guy on the football field and James Conner being James Conner.  Aside from that, he just isn't an NFL-caliber coordinator.  He was barely even a college-caliber coordinator.

His inability to form a functioning offense was apparent last season and has continued into this one.  The Steelers are the worst in every quantifiable offensive stat in the league.  They don't sustain drives, they are always facing 3rd and longs, and they cannot get the ball in the end zone.  It's a disaster.  So instead of trying to do something different, Canada simply continues to depend on Pickett throwing the ball 40+ times per game.

However, this could be in large part due to the lack of success shown by last season's first round pick, Najee Harris.  Harris had a clip go somewhat viral this week of a reception where he needed three yards for the first down.  Facing a single defender, Harris chose to do a little dance and get tackled before the line to gain instead of lowering his shoulder and picking up the yards.  

The clip is a perfect personification of how his running style has been all season.  Harris simply does not have the ability to lower the shoulder, break tackles, or pick up extra yards.  He fears contact  For all intents and purposes so far Harris is a draft bust.  He absolutely still has time to turn that narrative around, but to this point Najee Harris has been a draft bust.

So the burden falls heavily on the shoulders of Kenny Pickett.  In a position where there are not enough guys in the world to fill all 32 starting roles, we are asking a rookie to be the best player on the team.  It's not possible.  

Being an NFL starting quarterback is extremely difficult, and no matter who you are or how good you were in college, nobody can effectively throw 40+ times in their rookie year and expect good results.  Mike Tomlin is failing in his first attempt to develop a rookie quarterback and I fear it is stunting the growth of Pickett permanently.  He is simply being asked to do too much.