Kenny Pickett did the math 16 months ago and it turned out to be very simple.
The University of Pittsburgh quarterback could have entered the draft in 2021 and taken a chance, knowing he likely wouldn’t hear his name until the third day of the draft.
It was tempting. At some point, he even seemed likely. Pickett actually went through the whole Senior Day thing at Heinz Field in November 2020. The event includes practices and interviews for college football prospects.
Still, the feeling of having unfinished business nagged him. Also the feeling of what could happen.
Beyond putting up dazzling stats or racking up big-play videos, Pickett understood that if he led the Panthers out of the ignominy of a poor level of play they’d been stuck in for 40 years, everything else would fall into place.
And so it was that Pickett showed up on a Friday afternoon, adrenaline pumping, after a whirlwind 18 hours. The New Jersey boy who had envisioned himself being selected in the first round since he was 7 years old was now standing next to Art Rooney II, president of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
He held a No. 1 Steelers jersey in his hand. The team from the city where Pickett played for about five years had made him the 20th overall pick in the 2022 NFL draft a day earlier.
He was the only quarterback selected in the first round.
Pickett understands the pressure that comes with the decision to stay in this territory. He knows that he is tasked with eventually being the heir to Ben Roethlisberger, who retired in January. He is clear that winning is the most important thing for the franchise that selected him.
The 23-year-old is taking it all in.
“This is where I wanted to be when I made the decision to come back,” Pickett said. “So I’m ready for it.”
Pickett is the fourth quarterback the Steelers have selected in the first round since the 1970 merger. Terry Bradshaw is a Hall of Famer. Roethlisberger will surely accompany him.
As Rooney highlighted on Friday, Pickett broke virtually every passing record held by Dan Marino in Pitt, whom the Steelers passed in the 1983 draft.
Pickett insists he’s ready for whatever comes, including the training camp battle with Mitch Trubisky and Mason Rudolph for the right to start in Week 1, and the expectations of an ardent fan base.
If he wanted the easy way out, he would have signed up for last year’s draft with the goal of being a mid-round pick and not having to carry that weight on his shoulders.