Could Kenny Pickett Emerge as a Top-15 QB for Fantasy Football in 2023?

Pittsburgh Steelers QB Kenny Pickett didn’t post big numbers as a rookie, but there are reasons to think a major fantasy football breakout could happen in 2023.

If you’re simply looking at box scores, Kenny Pickett’s 2022 performance is never going to pop: 6.2 yards per attempt with seven touchdowns against nine interceptions in 13 games. Woof.

But that’s not you. You’re here, and that means you’re serious about fantasy football. It means you’re well aware that future fantasy success can come from anywhere and that development isn’t linear. Pickett certainly had some bad moments, but there was enough good down the stretch to inspire this question, so let’s take a look.

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The Path for Kenny Pickett To Finish as a Top-15 QB

First, let’s evaluate what we saw in the second half of last season (Weeks 9-18). His aDOT ranking spiked from 27th to 12th, with his average throw traveling 14.6% further.

We know that deep throws are valuable when it comes to realizing upside, and believe it or not, Pickett was throwing those passes at an elite rate during this stretch. In fact, in the second half of the season, only four quarterbacks had a higher passer rating on more deep attempts per game than Pickett: Jalen Hurts, Trevor Lawrence, Joe Burrow, and Tua Tagovailoa.

That’s not bad company to keep, and when you consider that not a single one of Pickett’s 42 attempts in that sample was intercepted, the Steelers should have confidence in continuing to stretch the field.

Deep passes and rushing. That is how fantasy quarterbacks succeed in 2023, and Pickett can do both. There were four QBs last season who had a 10-yard rush in six straight games during the 2022 season: Justin Fields, Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, and Pickett. Now we are onto something!

The last piece of the puzzle is a trust fall of sorts. While there are stats to support the earlier claims, the “Year 2 growth” narrative requires creativity.

I’m not here to sell you on Pickett being near the athlete of a Lamar Jackson-type, but I think he is firmly in the next tier after those signal-callers that make a fantasy living with their legs. Mitch Trubisky, Justin Herbert, Daniel Jones, and Trevor Lawrence are all recent examples of the athletic profile I’m looking at.

Pickett is set to make starts 13-29 this season, and those four QBs I just listed averaged 17.5 ppg during that stretch in their respective careers. If you’re curious, 17.5 ppg would have checked in at QB11 on a per-game basis last season.

Let’s look at that Herbert comparison a little closer.

Herbert’s Rookie Season:

  • 4.3 ypc with 234 rush yards
  • 7.35 aDOT with a short completion rate of 74.9%

Pickett’s Rookie Season:

  • 4.3 ypc with 237 rush yards
  • 7.51 aDOT with a short completion rate of 74.0%

Those are eerily similar numbers, and to be honest, isn’t the Steelers unit a poor man’s version of what Herbert is working with in Los Angeles? Both have a veteran slot receiver that is flanked by a high upside deep-ball threat (draft George Pickens while you’re at it!) with a versatile running back behind an average offensive line. A poor version, but similar bones, and that is encouraging, with Herbert ranking as QB6 in ppg since entering the league.

Final Verdict

I rank in tiers, so while Pickett isn’t a top-15 quarterback for me, he is in the same tier as my QB15 (Dak Prescott). It is difficult to project Pickett to finish in the top 15, but that’s more a result of the depth at the position than it is any negativity directed toward the Steelers sophomore. So yes, my answer is yes. Pickett could finish as a top-15 fantasy performer at the position, and I think it actually has a decent chance of coming through.

The potential to take a big step in Year 2 is real, and the talent supporting him is well above average. In a division with Joe Burrow, Lamar Jackson, and Deshaun Watson, this offense is going to be asked to score, and with the AFC South teams on their schedule, there are more than a few favorable spots. Give me the right odds, and I’d bet on Pickett cracking the top 15 this season!

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