When you run a well-functioning organization with a tenured head coach and a smart offensive coordinator, the trepidation of a so-called down market for collegiate quarterbacks doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing to you.
This is, at least, the philosophy by which the Steelers selected Kenny Pickett on Thursday. At pick No. 20, its original pick, Pittsburgh simply waited as a handful of quarterback-needy teams entertained and passed potential fits. The Steelers came into the draft with only Mitchell Trubisky as a long-term succession plan, having ignored a replacement for Ben Roethlisberger in each of the previous few drafts despite his obvious signs of aging. And, with all the excitement of a short, ho-hum slog to the refrigerator, they took a quarterback they’ll probably have running their offense capably for the next decade.
Such is life for Pittsburgh, which is among a small handful of teams that manage to find ideal synergy between ownership and personnel. Synergy between personnel and coaching. Synergy between coaching and the locker room. Sometimes this rare energy doesn’t reveal itself until far later on. Only now we wonder how Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin kept Antonio Brown on the rails for nearly a decade. Only now do we credit them for letting Le’Veon Bell walk out the door, all the while making the playoffs with stunning regularity.
Drafting Pickett is a different kind of organizational undertaking, but within the context of the Steelers’ universe, one with which we’ll grant them the benefit of the doubt. No team does everything right, but certain teams more regularly find themselves winning games, avoiding high-profile stupidity and maintaining the NFL’s closest emotional state to harmony. Think about the other teams we thought might take a quarterback on Thursday—Falcons, Panthers, Saints, Texans, Lions and Commanders. Think about what our reaction would have been had they drafted Pickett, a quarterback whose hand size measured among the smallest in modern NFL history at this year’s scouting combine.
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But in Pittsburgh?
The Steelers are one of those teams, and they understand that the plan is never to pick in the top 10. This year’s draft provided them with an ideal opportunity to grab a long-term option at quarterback without sacrificing any future draft capital. Pickett may be good enough to serve as the Steelers’ opening day starter, or he has the luxury of waiting behind Trubisky, who also, by virtue of wearing black and yellow, has a better chance of playing capable and relevant football in 2022 than he has at most points in his career.
Despite a somewhat frantic presence in the pocket, Pickett is a timely and accurate passer with the kind of pocket mobility the Steelers never have enjoyed in the Mike Tomlin regime. While Roethlisberger spent years extending his receivers’ routes thanks to deft pocket movement and a thick frame that was hard to wrangle, Pickett will be able to evade defenders and pick up first downs with his legs. Paired with offensive coordinator Matt Canada and 2021 first-round pick Najee Harris, Pickett could unlock some of the schematic concepts that made Canada an oft-copied wunderkind of sorts around college football and the NFL, where his suite of jet sweep plays helped propel the Rams to a Super Bowl in ’19.
Of course, we could be saying a lot of this no matter who the Steelers took in the 2022 draft. Had they waited until round seven, trading up for the rights to Mr. Irrelevant, we would watch the player’s collegiate highlight reel through a strained set of eyes and convince ourselves that, maybe, in Pittsburgh, they’ll get the best out of him .
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George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism