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Steelers-by-position: Quarterbacks

Here is the first in a position-by-position series on the Steelers at the conclusion of the 2022 season as they head into the start of the NFL free agent period, which opens March 15.

Kenny Pickett, Mitch Trubisky, Mason Rudolph
(Free agent scorecard: 1 unrestricted – Mason Rudolph)

The Steelers transitioned from 18 years of quarterback stability with Ben Roethlisberger to bringing in Mitch Trubisky in free agency and then adding Kenny Pickett in the first round of the NFL Draft.

Trubisky wound up starting the first four games of the season before giving way to Pickett at halftime of that first start. He also made a spot start later in the season against the Carolina Panthers with Pickett in concussion protocol.

As a team, the Steelers finished 24th in passing yards per game at 200.6 and last in the NFL with 12 touchdown passes, but that doesn't tell the whole story. Their 571 pass attempts were tied for 16th in the NFL, and the ball-control attack they went with throughout the season – but even more so over the second half of the season – limited how much they threw the football.

"What you saw from us was what was appropriate, particularly over the second half of the year, in an effort to engineer victory," Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. "As we move forward, we're continually trying to get better and get better in all areas, and how does that shape and affect your personality? It does. It does in all three phases. It does individually and in totality. But it's our job as coaches to do what's required to engineer victory, particularly over the latter half of the year, and we did what we did to engineer victory."

Pickett wound up appearing in 13 games, 12 of them starts and going 7-5 in those games. His 389 overall pass attempts were less than 100 than the 470 passes the rest of the rookie draft class had. 

In Pickett's first four starts, he threw for 842 yards with two touchdown passes and five interceptions as the Steelers went 1-3 in those games, with lopsided losses at Buffalo and Philadelphia. Over Pickett's final eight starts, he threw for 1,442 yards with five touchdown passes and just one interception. He posted an 84.0 passer rating post-bye after having a 71.8 rating in his first four starts.

Pickett also led three fourth-quarter comebacks and engineered four game-winning drives in his rookie season, showing plenty of promise beyond simply managing the game. Pickett's three fourth-quarter comebacks were more than Baltimore's Lamar Jackson, Philadelphia's Jalen Hurts, Miami's Tua Tagovailoa or Dak Prescott of Dallas had this season.

In fact, despite the rest of the 2022 rookie class making 15 combined starts, Pickett's three fourth-quarter comebacks were the only ones registered by a rookie quarterback in 2022.

His four game-winning drives – registered for leading a drive that puts his team ahead for good in the fourth quarter or overtime – were tied for third-most in the NFL this season, matching Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes, Cincinnati's Joe Burrow, Buffalo's Josh Allen and Aaron Rodgers of the Packers. That's good company to keep.

Trubisky wound up starting five games and entering in relief in two other games. He completed 65 percent of his passes for 1,252 yards with four touchdowns and five interceptions, three of which came in one game against the Ravens.

Mason Rudolph had a good preseason and looked good in training camp, as well, but did not appear in a regular season game. He was active for just one game this season, that coming in Week 15 when Pickett was out while in concussion protocol.

• Dale Lolley is co-host of "SNR Drive" on Steelers Nation Radio. Subscribe to the podcast here: Apple Podcast | iHeart Podcast

After averaging 44.7 passes in his starts in which he played a full game before the bye week, Pickett averaged just 31.9 passes over his final full seven starts. The Steelers went 1-4 when Pickett attempted 38 or more passes in a complete game, 6-0 when he was under that total in the same circumstances.

Pickett now has 13 games, 12 of them starts, under his belt. The expectation is that he'll take a considerable jump in his second season in the NFL.

Pickett showed a command of the offense and huddle that offers plenty of confidence that he'll take the next step, and he expects that of himself, as well.

He'll hit the ground running in OTAs and training camp as the unquestioned starter, giving him more opportunities to create even more of a rapport with the team's receivers.

Trubisky is under contract for the 2023 season and is a high-end backup. Considering 66 different quarterbacks wound up starting games in 2022 – an NFL single-season record – Trubisky is valuable in that regard. He owns a 31-24 record as a starter in his career and his overall skill set matches up favorably with that of Pickett, always a plus when looking at the starter-backup combination.

After five seasons with the Steelers, in which he posted a 5-4-1 record when asked to start, Rudolph heads into free agency looking for a chance to perhaps compete for a starting job and, at worst, be no less than a No. 2 quarterback.

"Mitch is under contract. Rudolph is scheduled for free agency," Tomlin said. "We'll see what happens."