Steelers’ best bet must be Trubisky
By Bill Contz
For the Mirror
With July here, spirited debate will soon rage as to when Kenneth Shane Pickett should be formally installed as the heir to Ben Roethlisberger’s throne.
With veteran Mitch Trubisky in the same locker room, I contend that this debate would be a tad premature.
Recent history tells us that when lottery pick QBs are pressed into service during their inaugural campaigns we can expect, at best, pedestrian results.
Trevor Lawrence and Zack Wilson both struggled mightily on terrible Jacksonville and New York Jets teams last season while top pick Joe Burrow went 2-7-1 in his rookie year (2020) with Cincinnati and Kyler Murray went 5-10-1 in 2019 with Arizona.
Also recall that Jared Goff and Carson Wentz were selected one-two in the 2016 draft. Ditto for 2015’s Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. All four saw action in their first seasons and along with Trubisky are no longer with the teams that drafted them.
The list of rookie QBs that have been thrown into the fire in the AFC Central before ending up colossal catastrophes is a long one, with the Bengals and Browns demonstrating a particular affinity for this wasting high choices on the likes of Akili Smith, David Klingler, Tim Couch, Brandon Weeden and Brady Quinn.
Pundits generally agree that 1983 was the deepest quarterback draft class in NFL history with three future NFL Hall of Famers taken in the first 27 picks. Even those guys struggled as rookies.
John Elway looked confused and overmatched as a rookie, going 4-6 as a starter while completing just 47% of his passes. Todd Blackledge started zero games in 1983 while Tony Eason started four. Jim Kelly opted for the USFL, Ken O’Brien went 1-4 in his five starts his rookie year, and Dan Marino promptly sat for his first six games.
I would argue that Trubisky is more than chomping at the bit to prove his naysayers wrong. He spent last season watching Josh Allen, the established starter in Buffalo, steer his team to the AFC East crown and a playoff win before a narrow OT loss in Kansas City.
Trubisky is healthy, has the necessary experience (50 career starts) and a career 64% completion percentage.
As importantly, he possesses both the mobility and arm strength to successfully run Matt Canada’s offense effectively. He is also hoping to parlay a solid performance into a long-term contract likely elsewhere.
There is a reason the 49ers chose to sit Trey Lance behind Jimmy Garappolo, and the Packers have slow-played Jordan Love. There is much to be gained from watching the job done right. Even Aaron Rodgers sat behind Brett Favre for three years.
Pickett put up gaudy numbers his senior year at Pitt (42 TDs, 4,319 yards, 67% completion rate) but did so against one of the softest D-1 schedules in recent memory. Despite a very weak QB draft, the Steelers spent the 20th selection on him for several reasons, most notably his long-term potential.
Don’t get me wrong: I do like Pittsburgh’s lofty selection of Pickett but very few (if any) rookies are ready to step in week one, and it would be a mistake to do so given the experience of the other quarterbacks currently under contract.
Contz was a starting offensive tackle on Penn State’s first national championship team in 1982 and played six NFL seasons with New Orleans and Cleveland. He published a book in 2017, “When the Lions Roared: Joe Paterno and One of College Football’s Greatest Teams.” He resides in Pittsburgh.