No doubt you’ve heard the phrase “you don’t know what you have till it’s gone”. That’s something Pitt fans will be thinking about over the next year or so.
Quarterbacks are always the most scrutinized position on a football team and that’s especially the case in Pittsburgh with the Steelers and Pitt Panthers. While Ben Roethlisberger has received love for most of his career, that’s certainly not been the case with Kenny Pickett.
Depending on what he decides to do at the end of 2020, we are possibly coming to the end of Pickett’s time as the Panthers leader on offense. We began to get a glimpse of what it will be like without #8 as his ankle injury kept him from playing against Miami.
While Joey Yellen did a decent job in his first start at Pitt, he wasn’t Kenny Pickett. It made me realize that Pickett is a player Pitt fans won’t appreciate how good he is until he’s gone. Is he Dan Marino? Of course not, nobody is. But Pickett could have been great if he had been coached by a decent offensive coordinator and had anything that resembled a running game. He’s had none of that during his career at Pitt.
In most cases, a quarterback is only as good as the players that surround him. Could you imagine how good Pickett’s statistics and winning percentage would have been if he had James Conner or Qadree Ollison in the backfield for a couple of seasons to provide a threat of running the ball? An opposing defensive coordinator hasn’t respected or game planned to stop Pitt’s running game in two seasons and that surely doesn’t benefit the quarterback.
In order for a quarterback to perform at his best, he needs a few weapons around him to make plays. Unfortunately for Pickett, this is the first time he’s really had players surrounding him that have legitimate speed and after the catch playmaking ability. It would’ve been fun to see Pickett throwing to players like Jordan Addison, Shocky Jacques-Louis, Jared Wayne, Jaylon Barden, Aydin Henningham and possibly Solomon DeShields for the next few seasons. Unfortunately, Pickett wasn’t surrounded by talent like this for his first few seasons at Pitt.
The other things that have prevented Pickett from performing and producing at his full potential are a couple of unimaginative offensive coordinators who have refused to use a vertical passing game and his receivers continue to drop passes. The last two seasons, no quarterback in football has been victimized by drops more than Pickett.
So far Pickett has been expected to produce and be great despite not having ANY RUNNING GAME, a poor offensive line, no threat of a tight end in the passing game, a conservative head coach and offensive coordinator and a dearth of playmakers until this season.
It’s a actually a minor miracle—one that really speaks to the toughness of Pickett—that he hasn’t missed more games with injuries considering the amount of pass attempts he’s asked to take every game. Whether it’s having no faith in running the ball or an offensive coordinator that is just pass happy, Pickett is averaging close to 40 pass attempts in a game under Whipple. Considering he’s not working behind the best offensive line, the guy takes a beating but shows up and competes every game. That was evident in the fourth quarter against Boston College, when Pickett was basically playing with one ankle but refused to leave the game.
Although it’s pretty obvious that I’m a fan of Kenny Pickett, I also realize that he hasn’t been the perfect quarterback and made his share of mistakes. Sure he’s missed some open receivers, forced a ball or two, took some bad sacks.
He hasn’t been perfect during his tenure as Pitt quarterback but as I’ve said many times, when listing the problems with Pitt football, Pickett is nowhere near the top of the list. Not even close.
Since we can’t get an honest answer from the head coach, it remains to be see how serious Pickett’s ankle injury really is and if or when we’ll see him again this season. Here’s hoping we do because it’s been fun to watch his development and will be missed when his time at Pitt is finished.