After an illustrious 18-year career as the starting quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger decided to hang up his cleats and move on to bigger and better things. After his elbow surgery in 2019, everyone could tell that he was not the same “Killer B” as he once was.
In his final year, Roethlisberger was 40th in Total Points Earned Per Pass, 36th in Positive Play Percentage, and 30th in Independent Quarterback Rating (IQR) out of 42 quarterbacks who had more than 100 pass attempts in the regular season.
As a going-away gift, he has left his predecessor with a low floor to improve the Steelers offense. The question is will that predecessor be Mason Rudolph, Kenny Pickett, or Mitch Trubisky?
The 26 year old Mason Rudolph has had four seasons in the Steelers offense to prove that he is more than a backup QB. In 2019 after Roethisberger’s elbow surgery, Rudolph was given the keys to the offense full-time with 10 appearances. Even though he was able to keep the Steelers in the playoff hunt, he was unable to take the offense to the next level and performed as a below-average QB statistically.
|Adjusted Net Yards/Attempt||5.0 (35)|
|On-Target %||72.9% (35)|
|Independent QB Rating (IQR)||91.8 (25)|
|Total Points Earned Per 60 Plays||3.4 (34)|
|Positive Pass %||41.9% (35)|
|INT %||3.2% (32)|
This season is best remembered for being carried off the field against the Ravens with his facemask sawed off and was involved in an incident with Myles Garrett on the field.
In 2021, he was given another opportunity with Roethlisberger out due to COVID against the Lions at home. Rudolph was unable to pull out the win in a 16-16 tie against a team with the second worst record in the league. He went 30-50 with 242 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT.
With the additions of other QBs via free agency and the NFL Draft, it seems as though time has expired for Rudolph’s opportunity.
In 2021, Kenny Pickett was able to take full advantage of the extra year of eligibility due to COVID. Pickett’s 334 completions, 4,319 passing yards, and 42 TD were all good for Top 10 in the FBS and single season records at Pitt, resulting in an invitation to New York City as a Heisman Finalist.
Pickett then cemented his legacy by leading the Pittsburgh Panthers to their first ACC Championship since joining the conference in 2011 and a Peach Bowl appearance. All of his success in his final season as a Panther resulted in him being the 20th overall pick in the NFL Draft by the Steelers.
Requiring only a 25-step walk across the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex to his new home, how big of a step will Pickett actually have to take to win the starting job?
|Metric||2019 (Rk)||2020 (Rk)||2021 (Rk)|
|Adjusted Net Yards/Attempt||5.5 (125)||6.1 (72)||8.8 (10)|
|On-Target %||76.6% (28)||80.0% (14)||78.1% (23)|
|Independent QB Rating (IQR)||92.3 (95)||94.7 (66)||125.6 (7)|
|Total Points Earned Per 60 Plays||13.3 (58)||11.5 (51)||15.4 (19)|
|Positive Pass %||40.6% (114)||44.2% (68)||50.6% (10)|
|INT %||1.9% (53)||2.7% (76)||1.4% (18)|
Over his final 3 seasons at Pitt, Pickett was able to improve in many key areas that led to the Panthers success offensively. Importantly, Pickett was able to reduce his Interception Percentage from 2020 to 2021, which he will need to keep low if he wants to win the starting job in Week 1.
Pickett was able to produce these numbers with Pitt offensive coordinator Mark Whipple’s pro-style offense, where the Panthers ran 12 Personnel 38% of the time. His familiarity with a pro-style offense as well as Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada (who recruited Pickett at Pitt) is a positive when factoring in the time required to learn the Steelers offense.
If Pickett is able to build on his knowledge of the offense, continue to limit turnovers, and improve his accuracy in the Steelers offensive scheme, he will certainly be on the fast track to the starting job in 2022.
In the 2017 NFL Draft, the Chicago Bears traded up to the 2nd overall pick to draft Mitch Trubisky. At the time, Trubisky was considered the top QB prospect in the draft after a prolific career at North Carolina. His best season with the Bears was in 2018, where he amassed 289 completions, 3,223 yards, and 24 TD. This performance helped earn the Bears an NFC North crown.
Unfortunately, he was unable to regain the success that he had in 2018 and only led the Bears to one more Wild Card round appearance.
|Metric||2018 (Rk)||2019 (Rk)||2020 (Rk)|
|Adjusted Net Yards/Attempt||6.6 (16)||5.0 (36)||6.0 (27)|
|On-Target %||75.3% (33)||75.0% (24)||75.0% (34)|
|Independent QB Rating (IQR)||95.2 (24)||81.2 (38)||87.4 (32)|
|Total Points Earned Per 60 Plays||5.0 (31)||2.1 (39)||-1.4 (40)|
|Positive Pass %||49.8% (14)||43.1% (30)||53.0% (6)|
|INT %||2.8% (29)||1.9% (19)||2.7% (32)|
Even though the Bears made the playoffs in 2020, Trubisky was again below-average in his final season as the starter. He was 40th in WAR out of 44 QBs with a minimum 100 passing attempts in the regular season. Additionally, his Interception Percentage spiked back up to 2.7%.
Unable to take the Bears offense to the next level, the Bears declined his 5th-year option and Trubisky then signed with the Bills to be their backup.
In Buffalo, Trubisky only played in 4 games behind MVP candidate Josh Allen. However, he was able to sit and learn in an offense that resulted in 4,284 Net Passing Yards, a 47.5% Positive Pass rate, and 11.5 Total Points Per 60 Plays, all good for Top 10 in the NFL.
Trubisky’s experience and opportunity to reset behind a successful offense may prove to be the main factor that can land him the starting job Week 1.
In OTAs, it was apparent that Trubisky was taking the majority of first team reps, followed by Rudolph then Pickett. When it comes to rookies, Tomlin has historically made every one of them earn their stripes by putting in the grunt work in the offseason. Therefore, Pickett taking the third-team reps comes as no surprise early on.
Expect this to be a true battle between Trubisky and Pickett for the starting job in the offseason. Pickett coming in at the age of 24 and running a pro-style system already puts him in a good spot to compete for the job with the experienced Trubisky.
Whichever QB can make the least amount of mistakes and make the correct decisions in Matt Canada’s RPO/Play-Action scheme will win the job Week 1.