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Kenny Pickett, Pair Of Steelers Coaches Among ‘Most Important’ NFL Figures For 2024

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The 2023 NFL season just came to a close Sunday in Las Vegas with the Kansas City Chiefs winning their second straight Super Bowl, but it’s never too early to shift the attention to the 2024 season.

That’s exactly what ESPN’s Dan Graziano did Tuesday morning. In a piece for ESPN.com, Graziano highlighted 80 players, executives and coaches who will be the “most important” for the NFL in 2024. 

Unsurprisingly, a trio of personnel from the Pittsburgh Steelers’ franchise were highlighted. That includes quarterback Kenny Pickett, head coach Mike Tomlin and new offensive coordinator Arthur Smith. All three have various amounts of pressure and expectations that they’ll be staring down.

For Pickett, entering Year 3, it is a pivotal season for the former first-round draft pick. In his first two seasons in the league, Pickett has had some promising moments. He’s led the Steelers to a 14-10 record in his 24 career starts.

But his numbers are rather poor overall — just 13 touchdowns and 13 interceptions through the air — and he never took that second-year leap many expected in 2023. He ultimately dealt with a number of injuries late in the season and never got his starting job back after Mason Rudolph came off the bench as the No. 3 QB and grabbed hold of the job.

Now though, with Smith in the fold and still having the public backing of the organization, Pickett is entering a make-or-break season.

“The Steelers’ 2022 first-round pick finished 2023 as a healthy backup to Mason Rudolph during Pittsburgh’s surprise run to the playoffs. That doesn’t bode super well for his chances of being the Steelers’ franchise quarterback,” Graziano writes regarding Pickett for ESPN.com. “What becomes of Pickett if the Steelers bring in someone like Russell Wilson or Justin Fields?”

Finishing the 2023 season healthy and as the backup to Rudolph as the Steelers won three straight games down the stretch to reach the playoffs was not a good look for Pickett. The offense was noticeably better with Rudolph under center and had a legitimate downfield passing attack, something that Pickett wasn’t really producing during his time as the starter.

But following the end of the year, Tomlin stated that Pickett will go into the offseason as the Steelers’ starting quarterback. Despite those comments, the Steelers have been tied to a number of other quarterbacks so far, including Wilson and Fields. Neither seems all that realistic, but the Steelers have to get better quarterback play, period. It might not come from Pickett, so there might be a need for an upgrade.

It’s a very difficult time in Pickett’s career. Teammates seemed to gravitate more toward Rudolph last season down the stretch, and Pickett’s confidence seemed shaken due to that, even as a captain.

Big year ahead.

As for Tomlin, he is one of 26 coaches — head coach, coordinators and assistants — whom Graziano highlighted as a key figure for 2024. Same for Smith, whom the Steelers officially hired on Feb. 2. 

“Having somehow, once again, avoided his first losing season as an NFL head coach, Tomlin is still feeling the heat from the Steelers’ recent lack of postseason success,” Graziano wrote, according to ESPN.com. “Like a lot of teams, Pittsburgh needs to figure out the quarterback position, which will go a long way toward deciding whether it can move up from good to great.”

Tomlin is feeling some heat for the lack of playoff success in the last decade, especially after losing in the Wild Card Round to the Buffalo Bills in blowout fashion in January on the road. However, that heat isn’t coming from inside the building much as the Steelers are set to give Tomlin another extension, keeping him as their head coach for the foreseeable future, and rightfully so.

Of course, he needs to figure out the quarterback position. He has stated publicly that he still believes in Pickett, but his decision making late in the season proves otherwise. We’ll see what type of interest he has in other quarterbacks in free agency or via trade this offseason.

As for Smith, he faces a tall task of getting the Steelers’ offense back on track, coming to the Steel City after a three-year tenure in Atlanta as the head coach, going 7-10 in all three seasons.

“He was a very successful offensive coordinator in Tennessee before his three-year head-coaching stint in Atlanta. Now he’s back in the coordinator role in Pittsburgh, where a decision looms on quarterback. Can he help make this offense more efficient?” Graziano writes regarding Smith. 

Smith was a very successful coordinator in Tennessee in 2019 and 2020, helping the Titans put up franchise-record scoring numbers in the process. He oversaw Derrick Henry’s 2,000-yard rushing season and helped quarterback Ryan Tannehill throw for 55 touchdowns in the two seasons combined.

Now, he’s stepping into a similar situation in Pittsburgh with Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren entrenched at running back, talented receivers on the outside in Diontae Johnson and George Pickens, and a solid tight end in Pat Freiermuth. It comes down to the quarterback though.

We’ll see if Smith can get the same type of success out of Pickett or another veteran quarterback as he did with Tannehill. If he can, the Steelers could be very dangerous in 2024 — and beyond.



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