NFL - Football News

Joe Starkey: Kenny Pickett the next Joe Burrow? Steelers can only hope.

PITTSBURGH — I want to believe it. I really do. Kenny Pickett becomes the Steelers' version of Joe Burrow?

That would be incredible.

That would change everything.

Burrow wasn't just great in his first full season quarterbacking the previously pathetic Cincinnati Bengals. He was transformative. He was historically amazing.

As a story from The Athletic illustrates, Burrow was both the most aggressive quarterback in the NFL and the most accurate. That's almost frightening when you think about it.

It means he threw more into tight coverage than anybody — normally low-percentage throws, obviously, with a defender within a yard of the receiver — but still managed to lead the league in completion percentage at a robust 70.4%.

And he did so under extreme duress. Like the time the Tennessee Titans set a playoff record by sacking Burrow nine times only to see him complete 76% of his passes (28 of 37) for 348 yards in a massive upset victory that put Cincinnati in the AFC championship game. Burrow was sacked a league-high 51 times during the regular season.

So again, ponder this: The quarterback who faced maybe more pressure than anyone, and who attempted the most high-risk passes, also led the league in completion percentage, finished second in passer rating and led the Cincinnati blankin' Bengals to a division title and the Super Bowl.

How did Burrow not win league MVP? (Yes, I know, it's a regular-season award, so take out "Super Bowl" from the previous paragraph and tell me Aaron Rodgers did more than Burrow.)

As the story put it, with Burrow about to sit out the regular-season finale, "What Burrow is pulling off in his first full season is remarkable and unprecedented."

Can Pickett pull off a similar trick, this year or next or whenever he becomes the Steelers' starter?

That seems like a ludicrous ask, but some prominent voices seem to believe it's possible. Or at least that Pickett could approximate Burrow's success, which would be more than good enough.

One is former Pitt star LeSean "Shady" McCoy, who recently made this proclamation on the "I Am Athlete" podcast: "Kenny Pickett is the truth. If you watched his last year in college, he was going crazy ... and he (didn't) have these players like Alabama and all these other (schools)."

Pickett did have Biletnikoff Award winner Jordan Addison, but let's not get in Shady's way here. He was about to deliver the money line: "Listen, I'll say it like this: Joe Burrow, Kenny Pickett, I can't see the difference."

There are plenty of similarities. I'll acknowledge that. They are about the same height (Pickett 6-foot-3, Burrow 6-4) and almost exactly the same weight (220 pounds) — and I'm guessing you've heard that both have minuscule hands. Burrow memorably tweeted the following when that concern arose before the Bengals drafted him: "Considering retirement after I was informed the football will be slipping out of my tiny hands. Please keep me in your thoughts."

Both also broke out big time in the final year of their college careers to become fist-round picks (Burrow first overall). Burrow won the Heisman Trophy. Pickett finished third two years later. Both are mobile enough to cause problems and can make pretty much any throw. Neither lacks confidence.

In fact, a noted quarterback whisperer echoed McCoy in his praise of Pickett. I asked one Tony Racioppi — who was on his way to train Pickett in New Jersey on Tuesday afternoon — on 93.7 The Fan if he could think of an NFL comparable for Pickett.

I probably don't have to tell you who he mentioned. Just know he worked closely with Burrow in separate four-day sessions in recent years at the prestigious Manning Passing Academy and has worked with Pickett for several years.

Racioppi said he is one of only four coaches the Mannings allow to work with quarterbacks, and of all the ones he could have compared Pickett to, he chose Burrow.

"I think the (comparison) is legit," Racioppi said. "I just think it's the way they both throw it. They're both better athletes than people think. They're both accurate. They both process information so well. They're both ultra-competitive dudes, both quick processors. Joe is a coach's kid. Kenny's dad (Ken) is a Hall of Famer at Shippensburg (linebacker, Class of 2012). They're both ultra-confident without being cocky — kind of how you want your quarterback to be, right?

"Both of them, they're the magnet in the room. They walk in, and everybody gravitates to them. Both are very similar in that way."

Racioppi and McCoy are inherently biased here, of course, but both are worth a listen.

The Steelers can hope, right?

___ (c)2022 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Visit the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette at www.post-gazette.com Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

This story was originally published July 1, 2022 2:30 AM.

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