Kenny Pickett Is a system quarterback, and that’s okay
This is America, and this is NFL football in 2023. We want greatness and we want it now. When it comes to a young NFL Quarterback, this attitude is especially common among frenetic fan bases dying to find a franchise-caliber player at the position to lead their team to glory. We all want the next Patrick Mahomes or Joe Burrow a ready-made superstar primed for early-career success. Unfortunately, not all rises to stardom look the same.
For Kenny Pickett and a Steelers fan base used to perennial contention and elite quarterback play, the pressure is absolutely on in 2023. We all want greatness for #8 and we want it now. After watching the young signal caller display some impressive intangible qualities and playmaking skills in the second half of 2022, fans are ready for a huge 2023 season that would vault Pickett into the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks. There’s just one thing many of us are overlooking:
Kenny Pickett will be a System Quarterback in 2023.
There it is, the dreaded label for any quarterback. Many believe the phrase simply means, “a guy who really isn’t really that good on his own but can thrive (to a point) in the right system.” Just another Jimmy Garoppolo, Jared Goff, insert-any-non-elite-NFL-QB-here type player. I’d have to politely disagree.
First of all, I would argue that the greatest quarterback in NFL history, Tom Brady, was a “system QB”. I could say the same for Payton Manning and even Drew Brees. It’s not a slight. Rather, it’s a complimentary title given to those who play their best and raise the level of those around them by efficiently operating the system they are running.
The fact of the matter for Kenny Pickett is that, in 2023, he will be asked to operate within the confines of a specific scheme, and will be tasked with making sure it runs like a well-oiled machine. In truth, a successful season for Pickett probably doesn’t equate to elite statistical output this year, and those counting on a massive jump in that regard would be wise to look a little deeper into coordinator Matt Canada’s design for the offense in 2023.
The Steelers offensive philosophy will likely look very similar to the end of 2022 where the team was content to matriculate the ball down the field with a variety of power and zone running schemes to maximize the skill sets of Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren behind the upgraded offensive line. From that foundation, it makes sense to design a passing game built around motion and, hopefully, more play-action concepts to take advantage of defenses who will try to load up to stop the run.
That offensive style isn’t necessarily conducive to massive passing statistics, especially considering the relative inexperience of the quarterback running the show in Pittsburgh. The point is, however, that Pickett’s numbers don’t need to be overtly elite for 2023 to be a successful season for the young quarterback. Much more important for the Steelers will be his ability to control the game by making the right reads pre-snap and post-snap and set up his assortment of weapons to maximize their individual skill sets.
That’s not to say Kenny Pickett can’t have a good statistical season. Just don’t be surprised if that looks a little more like Jacoby Brissett’s stat line in 2022, which was on pace for almost 4,000 yards, 19 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions over a 17-game season, than Justin Herbert’s (4,739 yards 25 touchdowns, 10 interceptions). I’d also expect a decent share of big plays in clutch moments from Pickett in his second season, building off of what we all saw and loved last year. But to expect Pickett to be the second coming of Joe Burrow is unrealistic.
To clarify, I’m not saying that Kenny Pickett will be nothing more than a scheme-dependent player over his whole career. He may well prove he’s the kind of play-making quarterback that Steelers fans grew accustomed to in Ben Roethlisberger’s heyday. It’s important to note, though, that Roethlisberger himself thrived in a system early in his career as the guy who put it all together for those early 2000s teams dominated by defense and smash-mouth running games.
If Pickett can do something similar in 2023, the Steelers could be in for an unexpectedly magical season, even if the youngster needs more time before establishing himself as a truly elite quarterback in the NFL.