Expectations are seemingly rather high entering the 2023 season for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
So, too, are the expectations for second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett.
Pickett, who started 12 games last season for the Steelers, closed his rookie season in strong fashion as the Steelers went 7-2 down the stretch. Pickett played a key part in that run to close the season and finish 9-8, orchestrating three fourth-quarter comebacks and four game-winning drives, showing some of that promise in big moments.
Coming off of that close to his rookie season, along with the additions around him that the Steelers made in the offseason to shore up the roster, Pickett is the second-year quarterback “most likely” to take a leap in 2023, according to CBS Sports’ Chris Trapasso, edging out San Francisco’s Brock Purdy for the top spot.
“The Steelers organization knows how to properly build a team. Omar Khan is a new-ish GM but learned under the criminally underrated Kevin Colbert for years, and Khan has Pittsburgh’s roster pointed in the right direction after another non-losing season. George Pickens looks bound for superstardom. Allen Robinson II was added in the offseason. Diontae Johnson is an established possession target who gets open regularly. Lightning-bug Calvin Austin III returns from a serious rookie-year injury. Then there’s Pat Freiermuth at tight end and third-round pick Darnell Washington from Georgia,” Trapasso writes regarding the weapons surrounding Pickett entering Year 2. “The offensive line should be more reliable in Year 2 of the Pickett era with Round 1 selection Broderick Jones and critical free-agent guard signing Isaac Seumalo from the Eagles. Now, the Steelers aren’t absolutely loaded. But they have a surplus of young, exciting talent up front and out wide — and not to mention Najee Harris in the backfield — for Pickett.
“The Steelers will know what they have in Pickett after 2023. He’s most likely to take the ever-important early-career leap.”
Adding the likes of veteran wide receiver Allen Robinson II and left guard Isaac Seumalo, along with rookie left tackle Broderick Jones and tight end Darnell Washington offensively gives Pickett the protection he needs and the weapons for when he throws the football. On paper, there doesn’t appear to be any real “holes” offensively around Pickett.
Pickett certainly has the “it” factor for the position. He’s as calm, cool, collected and confident late in games on potential game-winning drives as he is on the first series or two of a game. The stakes don’t faze him. Neither do the bright lights nor the overall moment.
Though he’s just 13 games into his career and the numbers don’t look all that great, it certainly feels like the Steelers have the right guy for the job moving forward, based on his leadership, moxie and overall confidence, even in weighty, pressure-packed moments. Nothing ever feels too big for him, and he has an unwavering confidence that he can get the job done.
It’s very clear the Steelers have their QB1 for the foreseeable future. Will he be able to ascend into that “franchise QB” tier, one that gives them a chance to win no matter the opponent every time they step between the white lines? That remains to be seen.
If Pickett can find that consistency throughout games, he can become that franchise quarterback the Steelers searched for ahead of the 2022 season and believe they found. The moxie and leadership is real, but from an on-field production standpoint, the rookie has a long way to go, and that’s perfectly fine.
A big leap in 2023 seems to be on the horizon for Pickett. If he’s able to ascend to another level with his play, the Steelers should be playoff contenders quickly this season. Expectations might be high for the second-year signal caller, but he’s exceeded expectations his last two seasons in college and in the NFL.