May 9—Scouts have had plenty to say about the Steelers’ draft picks in the weeks since the NFL draft. But what do those who’ve watched them closest think of their fit with their new team? The Post-Gazette is finding out with questions for beat writers who covered each pick in college.
Today, the Post-Gazette’s own Johnny McGonigal gives us the scoop on first-round pick Kenny Pickett.
Many have speculated that because other QBs fell past 52, then surely the Steelers could have had Pickett at that spot in the second round as well. What say you?
That’s an interesting thought exercise. It’s easy to say now that Pickett would have been available to the Steelers at 52. But I was told the Lions liked him after having him in for a top-30 visit. Pickett’s camp also perked up when the Lions traded up to 12th on draft night. Perhaps they would have selected him at 46th overall. Maybe Carolina would have traded future picks to move into the second round ahead of the Steelers. It’s difficult to play revisionist history, especially with something as hectic as the draft.
Comparisons to past NFL quarterbacks have been flying since Pickett was drafted. Dan Marino was the obvious one. But I’ve seen names from Andy Dalton to Jared Goff in the past few days, as well. If you have to name your top comp having watched Pickett more closely than anyone else, who would it be?
A comparison I saw over draft weekend and agreed with was one made by ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky, who likened Pickett to former Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo. For as much as Pickett grew as a cerebral passer in his final year at Pitt, his trademark has always been his improvisational skills. His touchdown throw to Melquise Stovall against Tennessee, for example, is a throw I feel like I saw Romo make. And it’s those types of plays that the Steelers were missing with an aging, immobile Ben Roethlisberger.
Many have called Pickett the most NFL-ready QB in this draft. What does that mean for his upside? Does he still have room to grow at 24? Or is this an “is who he is” situation?
It’s a compliment for Pickett that he was considered the most NFL-ready QB in the draft class. But the idea that he had a “high floor, low ceiling” was something he and his camp never agreed with. “He’s gotten better every year. So how can you say his ceiling is what it is?” Pickett’s longtime quarterbacks coach Tony Racioppi told me days before the draft. “Every offseason he’s gotten better. … I don’t see that changing.” Now, I’m not Racioppi or Orlovsky or a former quarterback who can tell you for certain what Pickett’s ceiling is. But I also saw him continue to get better year after year at Pitt.
What is your understanding of the nature of Pickett’s relationship with the Steelers before the draft process? Much has been made about the fact that Pitt and the Steelers share a facility. But what does that really mean for the relationship?
I remember being at the combine and Pickett telling the story about his encounters with Mike Tomlin dating back to when he was a freshman. “There are those benches when we come off the practice field, and he’d always come over and hang out with us for a little bit in the summer,” Pickett said. “… I wouldn’t leave the bench until he left. It’s been five years, so a long time that I’ve known coach.” Mutual understanding is so crucial when it comes to the head coach and quarterback position in the NFL. Surely, Tomlin could have established that with Desmond Ridder, Malik Willis or another draftee who went to school hundreds of miles away. But when you’re trying to replace a guy like Roethlisberger, doing so with another longstanding relationship can’t hurt.
What role did position coach Mark Whipple play not just in making Pickett a better college quarterback, but in making him an NFL-ready prospect?
If Pat Narduzzi didn’t bring back Whipple as Pitt’s coordinator for 2021, Pickett would have either left for the NFL or transferred to another school. The fact that he returned to be with Whipple says a lot about not only their bond, but also the quarterback’s belief in his pro-style system. Whipple and his scheme allowed Pickett to do a little bit of everything. He pushed the ball downfield, checked it down on screens and was afforded the liberty to go through several progressions on intermediate throws. There was trust there, built over three years. That showed on the field and developed Pickett into a passer who can thrive (or at least make do) under any circumstance.
Adam Bittner: [email protected] and Twitter @fugimaster24.
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