Tim Benz: Based on minicamp, some of the narrative on why Steelers drafted Kenny Pickett has already changed

Based on how offensive coordinator Matt Canada laid out the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback competition, we should trust our eyes as to what we were seeing during last week’s minicamp practices.

“Mitch (Trubisky) is No. 1, working with the ones and doing a really good job with that,” Canada said last week. “Mason (Rudolph) is No. 2, and Kenny is No. 3. We are working that way based on experience and based on resume. We have been clear that this has been a laid-out plan of how we are going to evolve and who our quarterback is going to be for the 2022 season.”

What is left unsaid by Canada is, that if Trubisky is terrible in training camp and the preseason, then Rudolph or Pickett could still take over. In Pittsburgh over the years, we’ve seen many other quarterback plans scrapped early on for various reasons.

We saw Ben Roethlisberger take over for Tommy Maddox in Week 2 of the 2004 regular season due to injury. Then Big Ben held the job for almost two decades.

We saw Maddox take over for Kordell Stewart in Week 3 of 2002, the year after Stewart went to a Pro Bowl and an AFC Championship game. We witnessed Jim Miller start Game 1 of the 1996 season only for Mike Tomczak to start the next 15. In 1985, Mark Malone started eight games, David Woodley started six and Scott Campbell started two.

So pardon me if I’m a bit dubious of assuming this alleged “laid-out plan” is going to have that much staying power. Especially with the six-game gauntlet the Steelers have to start the season.

But if that’s what the Steelers are actually planning on, especially because of “experience and resume,” then we really need to change one narrative about how (and why) the Steelers drafted Pickett in the first place.


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We need to stop harping on Pickett being 24 years old. We need to stop referencing his 49 starts at Pitt. We need to back off all the talk about his NFL-ready maturity and his ability to hit the ground running as a Day 1 starter to help the team in 2022.

Because apparently none of that mattered in the first place.

It may have sounded nice on draft night. But if the plan was to go with Trubisky as the starter the whole time anyway, then that part of the analysis was just an easy way for Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin to explain away why they didn’t draft Liberty quarterback Malik Willis instead.

Or Michigan safety Dax Hill. Or Utah linebacker Devin Lloyd. Or Georgia defensive lineman Devonte Wyatt. Or any of the other pre-draft speculated names that were still on the board.

To that end, if the team genuinely thought — as so many suggested in advance of the draft — that Willis (eventually drafted at No. 86 by the Tennessee Titans) had higher upside than Pickett, but needed a lot of seasoning, they could’ve taken Willis and groomed him for a year or two under Trubisky.

After all, if Trubisky falters and part of the plan as laid out by Canada is to have Rudolph be the No. 2, then Pickett likely won’t be in the mix on game days anyway.

And that probably would’ve gone for Willis, too. So what’s the difference if either player was projected to be a third QB?

The “NFL-ready experience” spin on the franchise’s decision is reduced to nonsense, then, if the perceived plan is to have Pickett be the third quarterback on the depth chart.

Until or unless the other two get hurt or stink.

By extension, what the Steelers are truly telling us is that the choice of Pickett over Willis was solely based on talent evaluation. They flat-out think that Pickett always has been — and always will be — better than Willis. The talking point of Willis being potentially better than Pickett someday, if he had time to incubate and learn, was empty filler the whole time.

Furthermore, the whole concept that Pickett was a better choice than Willis — or any other draftable player at No. 20 — to help the Steelers improve on 9-7-1 a year ago to AFC title contenders in 2022 is equally null and void.

None of this is to say that drafting Pickett was a bad selection. If the Steelers truly think Pickett is a future franchise quarterback with Super Bowl upside and was the best QB on the board, then taking him at No. 20 was the right thing to do.

Now Pickett better prove them right, and they better hope that someday Willis doesn’t prove them wrong.

It just appears we are going to have to wait a while for either QB to get his chance.

Tim Benz is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tim at tbenz@triblive.com or via Twitter. All tweets could be reposted. All emails are subject to publication unless specified otherwise.

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