The One Trait that Has Led to Kenny Pickett's Continued Success

Photo credit: AJ Mast/Associated Press

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I have watched Kenny Pickett play football for a long time.  As a Pitt fan, Pickett made a big statement to me right away when he beat the No. 2 ranked Miami Hurricanes in his first college start.  It kept Miami out of the National Championship that season and I've been a fan ever since.  So I became even more of a fan when my hometown Pittsburgh Steelers drafted him as the first quarterback off the board before this season.

Pickett has always been pretty mobile, and an accurate passer, but there's one trait in particular that I believe he's carried over into his NFL career that has led to early success.  I know some will immediately jump on this and say "what early success?".  If you're one of those, you just don't know football.  Kenny Pickett has shown in his first seven NFL starts that he belongs in the league.  Or at least it is far too early to write him off.  He also has won 2 of his last 3 starts and that is specifically the success I am pointing to.  Because in each of his last three games, Pickett has not turned the ball over.  

Pitt fans know that has always been Pickett's M.O.  Take care of the ball, manage the game, run for first downs when needed, and have a much higher TD count than INT count at the end of the season.  In his first full season of college football, 2018, Pickett had just 6 interceptions to his 12 passing touchdowns.  You could see even then that this guy was not going to give the ball, and the game, away when called upon.  

 He had similar numbers in 2019, throwing 13 touchdowns and 9 interceptions.  2020 was an odd ball season with COVID, and if you take out the Clemson game entirely where Pickett threw four interceptions, he had an 11/5 TD to INT ratio.  Then, Pickett had his true breakout, and Heisman-worthy year in 2021.  

On his way to an ACC title, many accolades, and ultimately becoming the first quarterback drafted in 2022, Pickett threw 42 touchdowns and just 7 interceptions in 2021.  A truly outstanding season, especially in terms of taking care of the ball.  The guy just does not turn the ball over, and it's carrying over into the NFL.

Of course, as any young quarterback does, Pickett struggled when he was first called upon by the Steelers.  He threw three interceptions in his first game against the New York Jets.  Albeit, two of the interceptions went through receivers' hands and the last one was on a Hail Mary to the end zone, but three interceptions nonetheless.  He also had an awful day against the Miami Dolphins, throwing three interceptions in that game as well.  

However, as he has acclimated himself to the game speed increase of the NFL, those numbers have come down considerably.  The bye week also appears to have helped as well.  In the last three games since the bye, Pickett has not turned the ball over.  Zero interceptions and zero fumbles in three straight NFL starts as a rookie.  That's impressive.  

And it certainly hasn't been because the Steelers have stopped relying on the youngster.  He threw 30, 42, and 28 times against the Saints, Bengals, and Colts respectively.  He is throwing the ball at an unprecedented clip for a rookie quarterback.  The Steelers are giving Pickett the reigns, and he has put them in a position to win every game since the bye.  He even led them on a game-winning touchdown drive on Monday Night Football against the Colts with Najee Harris injured on the sideline.  

Pickett has taken one of the major reasons that made him successful in college and has continued with it into the NFL.  And it's working.  He takes care of the ball and doesn't give teams the opportunity for quick scores after a costly interception.  If Pickett continues to take care of the ball and manage games, there's no reasons the Steelers can't continue to win with Kenny under center.