The Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback competition is wide open following the team’s 32-25 win over the Seattle Seahawks in the preseason opener. While Mitch Trubisky started the game — and has received the majority of the first-team reps in camp — he was pushed by the performances of Mason Rudolph and first-round pick Kenny Pickett, who led the game-winning drive in his first NFL action.
With the QB competition seemingly nowhere near an end, it’s fair to wonder how the prolonged decision-making process will impact the offense, both in reality and fantasy football.
Steelers QBs Share Gametime
The Steelers played all three of their QBs against the Seahawks on Saturday. Trubisky started the game with an impressive touchdown-scoring drive and completed 4 of 7 passes for 63 yards and a touchdown. Then, Rudolph, the lone holdover at QB, completed 9 of 15 passes for 93 yards and a score, with the TD coming off an impressive toss to wideout George Pickens in the back of the end zone.
From there, Pickett, the rookie, made his debut with a strong performance. Pickett led a game-winning touchdown drive to go along with an impressive stat line. Pickett completed 13 of 15 passes for 95 yards and two TDs. While head coach Mike Tomlin complimented Pickett’s performance, he alluded to it as a learning opportunity.
With training camp winding down and the preseason entering its second week, the clock is ticking on a decision, especially for the sake of chemistry. If Rudolph or Pickett were to overtake Trubisky, they’d have to figure out their chemistry with the starting line and their weapons in short order.
Trubisky In Poll Position?
Remember, Trubisky has been the primary first-team QB, so he has had the most time with the weapons. While Rudolph is obviously familiar with Chase Claypool and Diontae Johnson — and made the great TD throw to Pickens — ideally, you’d want the starting QB to get plenty of time with his targets.
Pickett, who has run with the third team for most of camp, seems like the wild card in the competition. Yes, he balled out against future CFL, USFL, and XFL 3.0 players, but he has yet to face top competition. It’ll be interesting to see how the Steelers determine their No. 1 QB, as Trubisky still seems to be comfortable in the driver’s seat, despite strong preseason debuts by Pickett and Rudolph. — Mike Kaye, PFN Lead NFL Reporter
In fairness to Trubisky, Rudolph, and Pickett, all three quarterbacks played well in their first action of the 2022 season. Specifically, Rudolph deserves praise. He could have mentally packed it in after the blind-side sack and fumble on his first snap but didn’t. Instead, two plays later, he and George Pickens had the highlight play of the game. It’s the best throw Rudolph has made in the Black and Gold. It’s also the only time fantasy managers want to see that connection in action.
Rudolph caps the ceiling of the Steelers’ offense. We’ve seen enough at this point to infer either Trubisky or Pickett would be the better option. For as good as he looked, Rudolph is the QB3, or at least, that’s where he should be.
Pickett Shines In Preseason Opener
While Pickett stole the show, including his game-winning drive and TD to former USC WR Tyler Vaughns, Trubisky looked like the Buffalo version of himself, not the Chicago version, further complicating Tomlin’s coming decision.
In terms of pure upside, Pickett has the edge on Trubisky. However, given Pittsburgh’s likely sub-par offensive line, Pickett will need to react quickly with pressure in his face while making the correct read. That’s asking a lot from Day 1. It’s also a lot to ask from Trubisky, who struggled when pressured in Chicago. With that said, both QBs are mobile enough to get out of the pocket and demonstrated so on Saturday against Carolina.
Whether it’s Trubisky or Pickett, either is likely an upgrade over where Ben Roethlisberger was in his career. The concern will always be volume and who is left out at any given moment. No matter how good Trubisky or Pickett is, can they feed Najee Harris, Diontae Johnson, George Pickens, Chase Claypool, and Pat Freiermuth with enough volume to warrant starting them all? I’m skeptical.
Ideally, Trubisky starts the season, which buys Pickett more time to grasp the offense and, once ready, is inserted in the QB1 spot. It’s unlikely the positional players take a significant change in value, but Pickett likely will be ranked higher each week, but neither will reach higher than mid-range QB2 value in 2022. — Tommy Garrett, PFN Senior Fantasy Analyst
How could the Steelers’ betting odds be impacted?
Most training camp battles won’t have much of an impact, if at all, on betting odds. But if there’s one position we know impacts the odds, it’s the quarterback.
The prevailing belief in the football world has been that Trubisky would open the season as the starter. He started the Steelers’ first preseason game and was lifted after just two series. Trubisky appears to be the favorite.
At the same time, it’s unlikely he makes it through the season as the starter. Although Rudolph is currently the QB2, I’d be stunned if Trubisky was benched for anyone other than Pickett.
If and when a QB change happens, we’re likely to see a slight change in the Steelers’ betting odds. It really depends on how Pickett plays in the final two preseason games and what the public’s perception of him ends up being. If the public views Pickett as a clear upgrade on Trubisky, totals will tick up, and spreads will adjust against the Steelers. If not, we likely won’t see any change at all.
The key for bettors will be to figure out what a QB change actually means. Since the market reacts to the bets being placed, if the consensus is misinterpreting the impact of a QB change, there could be inefficiencies to exploit for bettors.
Steelers’ QB competition could impact their 2023 NFL Draft plans
There’s a lot we don’t know about the Steelers’ QB situation, most notably who will be the starter in Week 1 and beyond. But there is one thing we do know. After shelling out first-round capital for Pickett, the Steelers will, at some point, give him the reins. It’s just a matter of when. And if it happens in 2022, how early or late will it be?
There’s a realistic scenario where Trubisky starts the majority of the 2022 season. It depends on how well he plays and how quickly Pickett develops behind the scenes. At 24 years old, Pickett is an older rookie, but even older rookies need to acclimate to the NFL environment. Thus, while Trubisky is unspectacular, his veteran steadiness might give him an edge early.
Even so, while there is uncertainty surrounding the timeline with Pickett, his presence essentially precludes the Steelers from taking a quarterback early in the NFL draft, at least for the next couple of cycles.
If Pickett gets his chance and consistently underwhelms — like Trubisky did in Chicago — then maybe things change. But at least for the 2023 NFL Draft, Pittsburgh can put QB off to the side. Even in the later rounds, they won’t have a need, as they added Chris Oladokun late in the 2022 NFL Draft.
Valuable Minutes For The Rookie
As for Pickett himself, it’s a little too early to say how he’s progressing. He was effective in his first preseason opportunity, completing 13 of 15 passes for 95 yards and two scores. But he was largely playing against third and fourth-stringers. Pickett didn’t push the ball down the field as much as one would have liked. He did, however, operate the offense with efficiency, make plays out of structure with his mobility, and smooth off-platform ability.
Going further, Pickett also flashed improvement with his pocket poise. There were times when pressure threatened around the edge, and Pickett didn’t bail early or flee through the back door. Improving that poise will be key in supplementing Pickett’s development. Whether it will get him on the field quicker remains to be seen — that’s not entirely up to him. But constant progression can only help the rookie.