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Rookie Recap: Kenny Pickett

When the 2022 season ended, Coach Mike Tomlin was quick to acknowledge the role the Steelers rookie class played last year, with contributions coming from top to bottom.

"A lot of guys had an opportunity to have roles and increasingly significant roles," said Tomlin. "I'm thankful for their contributions. We got some quality play from some young guys, which is exciting, but boy, there's a lot of meat on the bone, and we're excited about being a part of their process, too. That's another component of our business model that we don't run away from, we run to, the development of players. To be a component of their growth and development is significant for us and for them."

No rookie played a more significant role than quarterback Kenny Pickett, the Steelers No. 1 pick in the 2022 NFL Draft out of the University of Pittsburgh.

Pickett stepped in as the team's quarterback at halftime of the Week 4 game against the New York Jets and never looked back.

He completed 245 of 389 pass attempts for 2,404 yards and seven touchdowns in 13 games, starting 12 of them. He has also carried the ball 55 times for 237 yards and three touchdowns, including mastering the quarterback sneak.

The other thing he mastered is fourth quarter game-winning drives, coming through with back-to-back efforts in Week 16 and Week 17. In doing so, Pickett became the first rookie in NFL history to have a game-winning touchdown pass in the final minute in back-to-back games.

In Week 16, Pickett led the Steelers to a 13-10 win over the Raiders on a fourth quarter drive that ended with a 14-yard touchdown pass to George Pickens. The Steelers got the ball back with 2:55 on the clock and down 10-6, when Pickett engineered a 10-play, 76-yard drive, completing seven passes for 75 yards and on fourth-and-one getting the yard himself on a quarterback sneak to set up the touchdown.

And he did it with confidence.

"I imagine he was born with it," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "I know that it's not the first time I've seen it. I know it's not the first time that people from Western Pa. have seen it. We've seen him do it next door (at the University of Pittsburgh). I think that's why we have such a great deal of comfort in his intangible quality and from a draft-evaluation perspective. We were in close proximity to it. And when you're in close proximity to it, it becomes less intangible. You can almost feel it. It is real. I don't think any of us are surprised by it."

Against the Ravens in Week 17, Pickett took the Steelers on an 11-play, 80-yard drive, in 3:20 that culminated in a 10-yard touchdown pass to Najee Harris. He showed veteran poise, with no panic at all, completing a 20-yard pass to tight end Pat Freiermuth and a 28-yard strike to Steven Sims on the drive.

"Can't say enough about our young QB," said Tomlin after the Ravens' game. "He smiles in the face of it. He's always ready to be that guy in the moments that we need him to be that guy."

Take a look at photographs of Steelers QB Kenny Pickett from the 2022 season

Pickett, though, deflects the praise elsewhere.

"It's the same every time," said Pickett. "It's just that everyone has to do their job. I've got to find a way to get the guys the ball and get in the end zone. So, it's a team effort, a group effort."

Pickett made his first NFL start against the Buffalo Bills in Week 5 and set team records for most pass attempts (52), completions (34) and passing yards (327) by a quarterback in their Steelers starting debut. He became only the fourth rookie quarterback to pick up a win in his first home start, Week 6 vs. Tampa Bay, since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.

He also become the first rookie quarterback since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to win four plus games and throw fewer than two interceptions over the course of November and December.

And it's just the beginning.

"Here in Pittsburgh, we value the growth that has the potential to happen between Year 1 and Year 2," said Tomlin. "It's natural. They're no longer speculating about what this is. They've had a lap around the track. They've been in some hot situations. They've had some positive results. They've had some negative results. They understand the totality of this in terms of the toll that it takes on them, mentally, physically, emotionally.

"I think all of those things that encompass the experience that is a rookie season is a good springboard to get better and to obviously do it with a quarterback, I'm really excited about that."

Tomlin isn't the only one excited about Pickett's future. His teammates feel the same way.

"I loved seeing how Kenny and the offense started to gel towards the end of the year," said linebacker Alex Highsmith. "Just seeing his growth and what type of leader he is, I'm excited for him to be our quarterback going into the future. He's such a competitor. I could tell that from training camp what type of competitor he was, and just week by week he kept going and getting better."


Pass Attempts:   
52 at Buffalo Bills, Oct 09, 2022
44 at Miami Dolphins, Oct 23, 2022
42 vs. Cincinnati Bengals, Nov 20, 2022
39 vs. Las Vegas Raiders, Dec 24, 2022
38 at Philadelphia Eagles, Oct 30, 2022

Pass Completions:
34 at Buffalo Bills, Oct 09, 2022
32 at Miami Dolphins, Oct 23, 2022
26 vs. Las Vegas Raiders, Dec 24, 2022
25 vs. Cincinnati Bengals, Nov 20, 2022
25 at Philadelphia Eagles, Oct 30, 2022

Yards Passing:
327 at Buffalo Bills, Oct 09, 2022
265 vs. Cincinnati Bengals, Nov 20, 2022
257 at Miami Dolphins, Oct 23, 2022
244 vs. Las Vegas Raiders, Dec 24, 2022
199 vs. New Orleans Saints, Nov 13, 2022

TD Passes:
1 vs. Cleveland Browns, Jan 08, 2023
1 at Baltimore Ravens, Jan 01, 2023
5 more at 1

Long Passes:
57 at Atlanta Falcons, Dec 04, 2022
36 vs. New Orleans Saints, Nov 13, 2022
35 at Indianapolis Colts, Nov 28, 2022
35 at Indianapolis Colts, Nov 28, 2022
33 vs. Cincinnati Bengals, Nov 20, 2022

Completion Percentage:
72.7 at Miami Dolphins, Oct 23, 2022
71.4 at Indianapolis Colts, Nov 28, 2022
66.7 vs. Las Vegas Raiders, Dec 24, 2022
65.8 at Philadelphia Eagles, Oct 30, 2022
65.4 at Buffalo Bills, Oct 09, 2022

Passer Rating:
90.9 at Atlanta Falcons, Dec 04, 2022
87.5 at Indianapolis Colts, Nov 28, 2022
87.0 vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Oct 16, 2022
86.7 at Baltimore Ravens, Jan 01, 2023
85.9 vs. Cincinnati Bengals, Nov 20, 2022

Rush Attempts:   
8 vs. New Orleans Saints, Nov 13, 2022
7 at Atlanta Falcons, Dec 04, 2022
7 at Philadelphia Eagles, Oct 30, 2022
6 at Indianapolis Colts, Nov 28, 2022
1 more at 6

Rushing Yards:   
51 vs. New Orleans Saints, Nov 13, 2022
37 at Philadelphia Eagles, Oct 30, 2022
32 at Indianapolis Colts, Nov 28, 2022
20 at Miami Dolphins, Oct 23, 2022
16 vs. Baltimore Ravens, Dec 11, 2022
1 more at 16

Rushing Average:   
6.4 vs. New Orleans Saints, Nov 13, 2022
5.3 at Philadelphia Eagles, Oct 30, 2022
2.0 at Atlanta Falcons, Dec 04, 2022

Longest Runs:   
23 vs. New Orleans Saints, Nov 13, 2022
16 at Miami Dolphins, Oct 23, 2022
14 vs. Cincinnati Bengals, Nov 20, 2022
13 vs. Baltimore Ravens, Dec 11, 2022
12 vs. New Orleans Saints, Nov 13, 2022

Rushing TDs:   
2 vs. New York Jets, Oct 02, 2022
1 vs. New Orleans Saints, Nov 13, 2022