Is the latest assessment of Kenny Pickett a sign of disrespect?

NFL, Pittsburgh Steelers

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The Pittsburgh Steelers are expected to start Kenny Pickett No. 3 on the depth chart. It’s no surprise, but does it underestimate Pickett’s potential?

The consensus is in: Steelers rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett is expected to start off the season as the third-string quarterback on the depth chart behind Mason Rudolph and Mitch Trubisky, according to ESPN’s Brooke Pryor.

“Pickett, the Steelers’ first-round pick, took third-string reps throughout minicamp and OTAs, and with Mitch Trubisky and Mason Rudolph in front of him, there’s a good chance he finishes training camp in the same place. With two other veteran quarterbacks on the roster, the Steelers aren’t rushing Pickett’s development. They can afford to be patient with the rookie and put him in a position to take over in the future by moving him along slowly and deliberately in his first year in the NFL. Trubisky has plenty of starting quarterback experience and is already emerging as a leader — plus his skill set matches offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s preference for pre-snap motion and quick throws. Rudolph looked steady in offseason training and was more consistent than Pickett.”

This declaration, affirmed by TribLive’s Mark Madden, comes as the Steelers begin training camp. With so little tape of Pickett with the team, how can these predictions come in so early and so confident?

What analysts expect of the future is based on what’s been seen in the past and the present moment. As Pryor notes, Pickett is taking third-string reps at camp, and veterans Rudolph and Trubisky have a better grasp of the NFL game and of the Steelers system as of now. As dazzling as Pickett was at Pitt, he is still very much in the development stage as a rookie quarterback — and the Steelers prefer to develop their rookies.

As Steelers Depot’s Dave Bryan notes, the Steelers did the same thing when they drafted their last franchise quarterback in 2004. Ben Roethlisberger entered the summer as the third-string quarterback, but a knee injury to Charlie Batch moved him up to become the backup for Tommy Maddox. When Maddox went down with an elbow injury in Week 2, Roethlisberger went in and went on a 13-0 NFL takeover.

Pickett’s relegation to third is less a statement on his talent and ability and more an indication of how to Steelers used to do things — and frankly, how most NFL teams used to do things.

Is Steelers depth chart ranking Kenny Pickett No. 3 a sign of disrespect?

The cheers to have Trey Lance start over Jimmy Garoppolo in San Francisco or have Justin Fields start over Andy Dalton in Chicago are a relatively recent phenomenon — or, at least, heeding those kinds of calls is something new.

Having Bill Belichick start Mac Jones over Cam Newton is something of an anomaly, as most college quarterbacks, despite their prowess, aren’t truly “NFL-ready.” Even Jones, who has demonstrated an incredible ability to make quick reads so young in his professional career, was aided by a relatively conservative offense. Jones was deemed the preferred quarterback over Newton, but most teams are in a situation where the rookie quarterback is chosen with the idea that they’ll be the quarterback of the future.

Even though Trubisky and Rudolph have been plenty mocked for their mistakes, they still possess valuable experience that makes them more adept to lead drives in a game. Pickett is a talented passer, but the gap between college and pro is profound. Being talented doesn’t mean being ready, and it does for very few individuals.

Roethlisberger played his rookie year; Tom Brady went in only after Drew Bledsoe was injured; Aaron Rodgers had to wait three years behind Brett Favre. Kenny Pickett’s place in line is by no means an indication of what he’s capable of, but an assessment based on his experience level. The Steelers are making a call that some may deem conservative, but by allowing Pickett to develop instead of throwing him into the fire — the way Sam Darnold, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields and many other rookie quarterbacks have struggled under fire — Pickett could be the better for it in the long run.

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