QB Kenny Pickett stays in Pittsburgh, chosen by Steelers in 2022 NFL Draft

PITTSBURGH — For months, the Pittsburgh Steelers have searched across the country for Ben Roethlisberger’s successor. Turns out he was right in front of them all along.

With the No. 20 pick in the NFL Draft, the Steelers selected Pitt’s quarterback Kenny Pickett Thursday night, making him heir apparent to Roethlisberger and the only quarterback selected in the first round.

“We’ve been around the world – or at least the United States – here for the past few months, man, just exploring and researching,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “And it’s funny, we ended up with a guy next door.”

Pickett watched the draft of a party with his parents and family in New Jersey, and as soon as he saw the 412 area code appear, he knew where he was headed.

“I know the area code pretty well,” Pickett said with a laugh. “I had a pretty good idea who it was. I was speechless. It’s been a lifelong (dream), 23 years of hard work to get to this point. It all came in one phone call “It was probably one of the best feelings of my life. I’m so excited to start and work with the guys that have been next to me my entire career in Pittsburgh.”

And, by selecting Pickett, the Steelers potentially avoid making a mistake similar to Dan Marino’s, when they passed on fellow countryman Panther in the 1983 NFL Draft. After returning for a fifth season – his fourth as that starter — Pickett exploded for 42 touchdowns en route to an ACC championship.

“It was a good decision for him to stay in school,” said general manager Kevin Colbert. “He just talks and preaches about what you can do when you stay and continue to develop and become a first-round pick. Kenny is special, and he grew from – like I said, we saw him come in as a freshman. You knew who he was, and when he became their starter, you just continued to watch him grow in the great season he had.”

In Pickett, the Steelers believe they have a mature player with a high floor and the kind of mobility and precision needed to thrive in the NFL — and in offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s system. Canada recruited Pickett from Pittsburgh, although they were unable to train him as a Panther.

“He’s got a quarterback in his pocket, he gets the guy moving, and I think that’s underappreciated in my game,” Pickett said. “I feel like I’m doing a really good job of getting out of the pocket and making plays, and he does that naturally with his game design. I feel like he’s doing all the big things he wants and that’s why he recruited me for his attack. That’s why I feel like I’m in Pittsburgh, now, again. I can’t wait to get back there, obsessed with the playbook. All I will do is learn this playbook and be a Pittsburgh Steeler.

The Steelers had their pick of quarterbacks with the selection, but the organization opted to go with Pickett over Liberty’s Malik Willis and Cincinnati Matt Coralmaking him the first quarterback selected in the 2022 draft.

“We’re super, super excited to be able to draft Kenny Pickett with our first-round pick,” Colbert said. “Honestly, I never thought it would happen to us at 20. Exciting times for us, for Kenny, for the University of Pittsburgh and for Pittsburgh in general. It’s awesome. We couldn’t be more excited.

He later added: “Obviously when you take this guy first he was our first choice, and again I can’t take anything away from the rest of this group, but Kenny was clearly our first choice in this position. “

The Steelers brass did their due diligence in evaluating 2022 quarterbacks, traveling across the country on pro days, but they picked the 24-year-old Pickett largely because of his NFL prep and of the maturity they’ve seen from him on and off the court during his five years as a Panther – a trait they greatly appreciate in someone slated to succeed a Super franchise-winning quarterback Bowl.

“Kenny is just a mature, level-headed guy,” Colbert said. “A lot of times, like when we study quarterbacks, we don’t just watch them on the field, but we watch them off the field, when they go out, how are they with their teammates, how do they interact with their coaches , how do they conduct media interviews. We talk to Kenny about how he’s going to handle this in this market as he goes from a University of Pittsburgh great to a potential Steeler great.

“But it will be different for him. He will no longer be a college player, he will be a professional and there will be different expectations. But we think the maturity he has shown on and off the pitch will help him in this business.”

Because of that maturity, Pickett will have the opportunity to compete for the starting job with former first-round quarterback Mitch Trubisky and 2018 third-rounder Mason Rudolph, Tomlin said.

“I know the competition pretty well,” Pickett said. “I’ve done it all my life. I know how to be a good teammate and compete at the same time. I’m excited to join the quarters room, get to know these guys and improve. We’re all racing after a championship. That’s what matters. That’s what I’m looking forward to doing.”

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